Surfing sessions were definitely one of the highlights of our memorable trip to Mexico; the waves were great, but the scenery and the atmosphere under the Mexican “cielito lindo” completely exceeded our expectations. This article describes our personal experience in Mexico, which does not include all the surf spots there, but rather just one, a world-renowned surf town called Puerto Escondido.
Puerto Escondido, literally the hidden harbour, is a little fisherman’s town in the state of Oaxaca in the South West of Mexico on the Pacific coast. Due to its proximity to the equator, both air and water in Puerto Escondido stay warm all year long with the temperature of Pacific current varying from 27 to 33 degrees Celsius. Despite its fame for surfing, Puerto Escondido remains pleasantly rough around the edges with no large hotels or noisy nightclubs on the beach and, thanks to its spread-out nature, the town rarely feels urban.
The best-known surf break in Puerto Escondido is on the Zicatela Beach – 3.5 kilometres of golden sand and crashing waves. You will see a giant Mexican flag towering over the beach. The beach break, called the Pipeline of Mexico, draws surfers from all over the world since it offers good surfing conditions all year long. The best offshore wind though is in the rainy season in the summer. It is a wide break point, so you have enough space to take waves even when the waters get crowded. Nevertheless, the place is recommended only for advanced surfers, as the waters have a lethal undertow and fast-breaking waves, which are dangerous for beginners. For this reason, Zicatela has lifeguards who rescue several careless people most months. A friend had an accident there, because he foolishly used an eight-feet longboard, known as the gun, which is not nearly swift enough for the steep and rapid waves of Zicatela, and he hurt his head with one of the fins.
Another surf break in Puerto Escondido is called La Punta, located on the southern extremity of the Zicatela Beach. It’s a quieter easy-going part of the beach, favoured mainly by backpackers and beginner surfers. As the name indicates, La Punta (the point) has a point break, which means that waves are the result of the current breaking against rocks. Thus, this is a very reliable spot, producing surfable waves even when the open sea is still. The disadvantage of La Punta is the lack of space. First, the waves always break at the same point, cut by the rocks on the left, which leaves a limited amount of space to take waves. Furthermore, the place is not only popular with surfers but also fishing boats and flocks of seabirds. I have seen a brown pelican and a fisherman fighting over a fish; the man, standing on the boat and pulling a freshly hooked fish by the tail out of the thieving bird’s beak. I highly recommend you go there early, at around 6:30 or 7AM.
The third break in Puerto Escondido is in the scenic emerald cove of Playa Carrizalillo that’s reached by a stairway of 157 steps. There, a reef break causes waves break further out, resulting in few, if any, waves on the shore. It’s popular for swimming and is the perfect place for beginner surfers, so most surfing schools will take you here on your first lesson.
The local surfer community in Puerto Escondido is extremely friendly compared to some other places where I had surfed. Of course, there are some exceptions, but most people will easily engage in conversation, follow the surf etiquette, or even cheer for you when you take a wave. It does help though if you speak some Spanish. There are also many surfers coming from the USA, Europe, and Latin America. The colourful hammocks, coconut trees, and reggae rhythms make the area of La Punta very laid-back. There are small-scale accommodation options next to the beach; cabins, hostels, camping, a lot of them owned by non-Mexicans, even Slovenians. We stayed in modest and relaxed Cabanas Buena Onda in a shady palm grove on the beach, a genuine surfers’ paradise!
In general, Mexico is known for being budget-friendly, especially the Pacific coast. Nevertheless, prices can vary depending on your needs and wishes, so I can only speak of my own expenses. The surfboard rental cost me 200 pesos or 9 euros a day. Be careful not to damage the surfboard as they can be quite touchy about that. I haven’t tried any surfing classes, but I believe the prices range from 500 to 700 pesos. Concerning other expenses, you can get a decent traditional Mexican meal for around 150 pesos and a cabin on the beach for around 400 pesos a day.
There are plenty of other things to do around Puerto Escondido if you get tired of surfing. From dolphin- and whale-watching tours to organised trips to Chacahua or Manialtepec lagoons. At night you can witness the magical phenomenon of bioluminescence, a production of light by living organisms in the lagoons. Since we had a car, we drove there ourselves and asked local fishermen to give us a boat ride, which ended up costing us only 150 pesos per person. Swimming in the lagoon surrounded by millions of microscopic lights proved to be a once-in-a-life-time experience.