A ROAD-TRIP FOR THE INTREPID: MEXICO'S PACIFIC COAST
Now, we know that when someone says Mexico these days, all thoughts spring to Tulum; it’s designer hotels, crystal clear cenotes & private beaches… But we’re not afraid to say, we’re just not toeing the line. Whilst we enjoyed our stay in Tulum, ate some wonderful food, and revelled in the history & geology (nerdy, we know) our favourite time in Mexico by far, was our slightly ramshackle road trip along Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.
In no uncertain terms, this was not a well planned adventure. But some of the best places you find are the ones you stumble upon and, to our absolute delight, we stumbled very well.
Where: South-west Mexico
How Long: 10 Days
Get there from: Oaxaca City, Mexico
Connected by a series of colectivos, but best experienced by car or van, the round trip from Oaxaca down to the pacific coast and back is one we won't be forgetting in a hurry. Below is a suggested itinerary; a combination of what we chose to do, in an order we should have done it (ahh, the benefit of hindsight). You can find our handy road-trip map here.
START: OAXACA TO San Jose del Pacifico
If you’re planning a round trip you can spend time in Oaxaca at the end (you may need the urban comforts). Instead, head straight out of town towards San Jose del Pacifico, 135km South. This hillside town provides a perfect opportunity to break up the journey to the coast. It also provide a perfect opportunity to sample the alternative lifestyle. You’ll know you’re close when painted toadstools start adorning the sides of the road. A magical hill-town with magical views.
Pack some coffee & rent a cabin like this for the night. Wake up to panoramic views across misty mountains clad in Mexican jungle.
San Jose DEL PACIFICO TO PUERTO ESCONDIDO
Keep your head on the switchback turns up and down the mountain roads leading to the coast. We had a brilliant time driving these, but the locals floor it out of the bends & can catch you off-guard coming around tight corners.
As you emerge from the mountains the jungle thins and you’ll very quickly enjoy your first views of the Pacific. Hang a right once you hit Puerto Angel & drive the coastal road (in some-cases, track) towards Puerto Escondido.
Its not difficult see why it is so popular with surfers. Playa Zicatela has 3.5km of golden sands and and some of the worlds best surf. Chill out or party, Puerto Escondido can accommodate both.
If you’re looking for something really unique and a little more designer, stay at Casa Tiny (Casa Pequena), an architectural & design marvel not far from town or the beach.
Puerto Escondido to Mazunte
A short drive along the coast will bring you the quieter surf towns, defined by sand dusted roads, a laid back energy & sun bleached hammocks along the beach.
Mazunte is worth staying a couple of nights (if anything to recover from Puerto Escondido). Celeste del Mar Eco-Hotel is a beautiful space to stay. Extend your trip & sign up for an immersive Hridaya Yoga Retreat at the school here. The centre also offers simple accommodation for attendees.
Mazunte to Zipolite
Zipolite is something of a secret gem of Mexico, first ‘discovered’ by the hippies in the 70s it’s now a haven for artisans, surfers and clothing-optionalists. Chill with the locals at bonfire lit beach-parties and avoid looking too closely at the nude-dude meditating in the midday sun.
Stay at Casa Mixteca for plenty of space, beautiful interiors & an opportunity to be free of sand (especially if you’ve joined aforementioned nude-dude and bathed in the buff). It’s a steal at around £34 per night, set back from the beach, but you still wake up to the sound of waves. Alternatively check out Soiree, another beautiful guesthouse from an interiors perspective.
Eat at La Passion Grill; Fresh fish, homemade breads & possibly the best guacamole we had in the whole of Mexico… Big claims. But so true.
Zipolite to Concepcion Bamba
Time to get a little more rustic…
On your way along the coast you’ll reach Santa Cruz Bamba. There’s an unsealed road leading down to the beach and towards the little village of Concepcion Bamba. This place is very much OFF the beaten track, so it’s not high on places to stay. You’re only real option is 'Cocoleoco Surfcamp' but it’s worth the gamble. Once you’ve made friends with the guard-donkey you'll find welcoming owners (who make mean buttermilk pancakes for breakfast), friendly fanatical surfers, and not much else. The accommodation is basic but the beaches are not. Spectacularly deserted; it’s just you, beautiful waters & perfect waves.
CONCEPCIOn BAMBA TO PLAYA AZUL
Right, this is where we get seriously rogue. Next stop is even further off-track and, fair warning, may be little rustic for some.
Come off the main road just after you pass through Salina Cruz (best not to stay there, bit rough) and head down to Playa Azul. Find the restaurant 'Enramada Buena Vista' and sleep in one of their rooms for the night. To say they are simple is more than fair, but don’t let this discourage you. We can only assume this place get’s busy in the high season, but from what we experienced there’s a high chance you’ll be the only ones there. Either way, ask nicely and the owner will no doubt fire up the grill and serve you fresh prawns, charred white fish, nachos & guacamole, washed down with many a chilly Corona.
You’ll wake up to a spectacular sunrise & 5kms of deserted white sand beaches all to yourself.
Playa Azul to Oaxaca City
Ready for civilisation, make your way back to Oaxaca City. It’s not a short jaunt, so break up the journey by stopping at these three places:
- The Magdalena Tlacotepec’s Ojo de Agua: A natural swimming hole ideal for cooling off. Legend has it that the Zapotec princess Donaji came down from Guiengoola to cool off here. The water is crystal clear, and emerges at the foot of leafy trees. There are changing rooms & toilets on site. Worth noting that this place can get busy on hot days.
- The frozen waterfall Hierve el Agua: Hot springs perched on the edge of a cliff, bracketed by fantastical rock formations created by mineral laden water. Need we say more?
- The Pueblos Mancomunados in Sierra Madre: An excellent spot to stretch legs on a short or longer hike with spectacular views across Oaxaca’s tropical ruggedness.
If you’re anything like us, after the above itinerary you’ll be ready for a few home comforts. Staying at either of the following offer exactly that and much, much more:
Finally, sample the warm sour-dough at Boulenc for lunch, and book dinner at Criollo (one of Oaxaca’s finest). With several shots of chilled mezcal, be sure to toast to your intrepid road trip adventure.
So that’s it, you’ve survived! Either head home with your intrepid traveller badge or fly/bus over to the Yucatan Peninsular to see what East Mexico to offer…yes it will include tacos and tequila
This road-trip was possible the best thing we did in Mexico, there is something special about taking off into the unknown and exploring a country away from the the standard routes, the often reviewed hotels and “must-dos”. The best way to do this is to negotiate local buses, but we decided we would rent a car for this particular trip.
If you’re taking inspiration from this itinerary, then book your car now using Rental Cars
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