There are some seriously awesome Oaxaca surf towns. This guide reveals the best and all the rest you need to know.
An introduction to Oaxaca surf
Don’t be fooled by the booming crowds of surfers that head down Puerto Escondido each year. Oaxaca surf remains right on the Mexican frontier. Not including that legendary big wave on Playa Zicatela, we’d say this region is undiscovered and untapped swell territory. That’s mainly down to just how massive it is and how undeveloped it is. You can drive for hours on end on the 200 coast road and not pass a single major town. It’s a true mecca for those who don’t mind scouring dusty shoreline tracks and empty bays for hidden swells.
Of course, the Oaxaca surf scene in PE (that’s everyone’s fav at Puerto Escondido) is a whole other story. That’s a mega famous spot with barreling tubes that have given rise to the nickname Mexican Pipeline. Pros break boards and bones on that monstrous beachie every summertime, but there are also a few other spots in the vicinity. It’s so famous that we actually think it deserves a guide into itself.
Drift out of there and Oaxaca saddles up some pretty nice right-hand points, along with a good range of beach breaks. South-facing is the name of the game, so summer reigns supreme. Winter can see mellow shoulders when there’s a wrap-around, so it’s December, Jan and Feb is you’re looking to learn in these parts.
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This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing Mexico
Oaxaca surf at a glance
What’s in this guide to Oaxaca?
Where is Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is one of the largest states in Mexico. It’s in the south-west of the country, with a huge coastline that runs roughly east-west and then bends a little to the north. The main town is Oaxaca the city, which is famed for its indigenous cultures and food. That’s about six hours in the bus in total. A comfier way to travel is with a connecting flight to Oaxaca from CDMX and then an onward transfer to the coast from there. If you’re booking into a Oaxaca surf camp, it’s worth asking for help with all that. Or…even better, score yourself one of the few internal flights that go to Puerto Escondido International Airport, which is the gateway to the Oaxacan coast and the main surfing town in the region.
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Oaxaca surf towns and surf spots
Oaxaca clocks up nearly 540km of coastline. That’s more than a whole load of small countries. The point? There’s no shortage of working surf spots. And there’s no shortage of variety. Check it out…
Puerto Escondido is unquestionably the most famous of the Oaxaca surf towns. In fact, we’d go as far as to say it’s one of the most famous surf towns in the whole world. Because of that reason, we’ve got a dedicated guide to its various breaks and beaches. For now, let’s just say it’s armed with a mega XXL beach break on the main Zicatela Beach – we’re talking a curling tube that’s fodder for surf magazines from May until September (when it works best).
We’ve got a full guide to Puerto Escondido surf
Mark our words: Manzunte’s star is rising. Out of the spotlight because most of that goes to Puerto Escondido, this small town is rising fast on the Oaxaca surf scene. Chilled and easy going, it’s a gathering spot for yoga practitioners and New Age healers. The surf scene relies on mainly dumpy shorebreaks, but some hold up well to give rights and hollow rides. It’s generally better for a casual surf trip.
We’ve got a full guide to Mazunte surf
Much like Manzunte before it, Zipolite is an upcoming Oaxaca surf town. It’s set along a large, long south-facing beach that has the effect of stretching out the swell and offering multiple peaks with a bit less punch to them. It’s still hardcore in summer, and the point breaks to the west can be positively slabby in August. However, a few rental spots have popped up and they can help direct beginners to where’s the easiest.
Check our full guide to Playa Zipolite right now
The uber-wild stretch of shore around the Huatulco reserve isn’t really for surfers. It’s protected by the bum of the Oaxaca coast that cuts off a lot of any W swell. One standout spot is San Augustin, which can peak some nice waves in the middle of the summer. Needs to be big though, so keep an eye on those forecasts.
Barra de la Cruz
Barra de la Cruz is another of the world-class right points that the eastern half of Oaxaca state is known for. It’s pretty remote, so doesn’t suffer from big crowds like up in Puerto Escondido. What’s more, we remember it being a pretty epic drive through the jungles on the 200 coast road.
The break itself is a hollow and fast right that’ll have foamers frothing at the mouth. Manage to paddle in with the shorty and it’s a skyrocket of a ride that borders on closeout when it’s big but comes with steep shoulders for all your cutback needs when it’s moderate.
Salina Cruz/Punta Conejo
Salina Cruz is located in the eastern half of Oaxaca state. It’s right in the middle of the some of the best south-facing spots the region has to offer. The creme-de-la-creme of them are right-hand point breaks, and there’s now a whole load of Oaxaca surf camp establishments making a living of touring surfers who come on the hunt.
The most iconic break in the area is the photogenic right at Punta Conejo. Coming off a rugged headland to the west of the center, that really finesses itself on headlong S swells with long rides that can cruise across the bay for more than half a click. It’s sectiony and rippable and lovely for a shortboarder that knows what they’re doing.
Oaxaca surf hotel options
Your search for the top Oaxaca surf camp can end here. We’ve got our eye on the best the region can muster. They’re below…
Villas Carrizalillo ($$-$$$)
Villas Carrizalillo is pretty awesome. Just 1.5 miles from Zicatela Beach, these sleek suites come with a Spanish hacienda feel, snake plants and ferns in the nooks and crannies, and salt-washed balconies filled with hammock that overlook the Pacific Ocean. There’s also a curvy pool out back for post-surf chills.
Cocolia Hotel ($$$)
Man, the Cocolia Hotel is something really special. It’s not your classic Oaxaca surf camp, but rather a boutique eco hotel hidden in the jungles above Manzunte. That’s what this part of Mexico is all about if you ask us! The price might be high, but you’ll be treating yourself to a forest-shrouded pool and Scandi-cool rooms with canopy views.
Punta Escondida Surf Camp ($$)
The Punta Escondida Surf Camp is leading the way down in Salina Cruz – the less-visited eastern half of Oaxaca. It’s got good access to some of the state’s top right-hand point breaks, a pool, and an on-site bar.
Surf camps in Oaxaca
You can also score some fantastic all-inclusive surf packages in Oaxaca. They really revolve around the town of Puerto Escondido and we’d say they generally lend themselves to more experienced riders looking to push into the expert bracket from advanced, or go up from intermediate.
We’ve actually put together a dedicated guide to the 7 best surf camps in Mexico – a couple of which are in Oaxaca.
- 2 Week Surf and Stay in Puerto Escondido – Run by Oasis, this program is nothing if not comprehensive. The overarching philosophy is both fitness and elite surfing. You do sessions in core training and flexibility, all specifically designed to up surfing ability. Surf lessons are two hours per day and there’s never more than two students per instructor. It’s the one we’d go for if you’re intermediate or advanced and want something to really push the skill level in PE.
- 7 Day Holistic Reconnection Yoga and Surf Retreat in Puerto Escondido – More chilled and easy-going, this camp is a balance between yoga and surf. Guests pick which they’d like to do each morning (one session is included) and then get treated to a day of vegan lunches and evening yoga if they’re still supple. Accommodation is in charming eco-cabanas.
- 8 Day Budget Surf Camp in Puerto Escondido – Go for this if you’re tight on cash. It’s also run by the acclaimed Oasis Surf and Language School (the same that runs the 2-week course above) but it’s focused on all levels of surfer and is way easier on the bank account.
Step-by-step guide to planning your Oaxaca surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Oaxaca surf…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step five: Enjoy!
When to surf in Oaxaca
There are only two seasons to consider if you’re planning a surf trip to Oaxaca. The first is the Mexican summer and the other is the winter. There’s a pretty quick transition between the two, although it’s not as immediate as the monsoon changes that happen in other parts of the world (Asia, we’re looking at you!). Here’s a look at both…
Summer is the peak season for surfing in Oaxaca. It’s the time of the year when the southern swells start kicking and you’ll be able to notice that right away. Famous spots like Puerto Escondido will fire up almost overnight. They can be mid-height rollers one morning in April and booming triple overhead XXL swells the next. The middle of the summer is when crowds in the lineup are biggest. Most days are shortboards only, because mellow isn’t in the summer vocab. Early session trump the lot on account of rising onshores. It’s also super hot, so bring plenty of sunscreen and mozzie spray!
The winter seasons sees the main southerly swell systems start to wind down. That’s not a major problem, and you’ll still find some of them raging in to mid November. After they’re done, you’re relying on westerly groundswells and NW wrap-arounds, which understandably won’t have the same moxie as they do up in Cabo San Lucas. Still, winter and the spring combine to give smaller waves in general. They’re great for beginners and improvers wanting to switch to the point breaks up the Oaxaca coast. Pros should hold on for summer.
The best surf shops in Oaxaca
Oaxaca’s surf shops are mainly concentrated in the town of Puerto Escondido. However, there some others stretched along the coast by other surf spots…
Surf Shop Puerto Escondido
We really liked this small little establishment in PE. It’s not got racks and racks of hardware. It’s just a chilled, locally owned pitstop for some nicely designed surf gear and a good chat. A mug with a print of someone ranging through a Zicatela barrel anyone?
Surf Shop Swell
Surf Shop Swell is located on the main road of little Manzunte. It’s small but that’s all you need in this upcoming wave destination. There are rails filled with boardshorts and rash vests, but the main thing we’d come here for is the small second-hand rail. They’re actually rarer than you think in this region, so can be a gift if you want something cheap to surf on.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Oaxaca
Hit the beach
Oaxaca has some of the most lovely coastline on the Mexican Pacific. There, we said it. The beaches are simply lush. We particularly like the long, wide bay at Zipolite, which has sunsets that will have you drooling, and the hidden cove of Playa Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido.
There’s hardly a better way to balance out all that salt water and sand than a trip to Santiago Apoala. Hidden up in the wild mountains of Oaxaca state, the village is becoming a hub for eco tourism. You can go there to hike trails, see traditional weaver workshops and swim in roaring waterfalls. Sadly, it’s more than nine hours by road from Puerto Escondido and the drive in isn’t for the faint hearted.