The Ultimate Guide to Puerto Escondido Surfing

by Asia Kaczmarczyk

Puerto Escondido surfing is among the most famous in Mexico. You will probably have seen those triple overhead beach breaks. But there’s more to it than just those barreling screamers in this Oaxacan jewel…

Puerto Escondido surf

Puerto Escondido surfing at a glance

The good:

  • One of the most famous beach breaks in the world – Playa Zicatela
  • Chilled, authentic Mexican character
  • Good surf competitions throughout the year

The bad:

  • Zicatela is really dangerous on heavy days
  • Shorter season than a lot of Mexico that’s limited to the summer
  • Getting busier

This is a part of our greater guide to surfing Mexico.

What will I find in this guide to Puerto Escondido?

An introduction to the Puerto Escondido surf

Puerto Escondido has been a major hotspot on the Mexican surf scene since the 1950s. That said, it was the 80s and the 90s that really brought it to the fore, as surfing got more daring and advances with gun surfboards brought the town’s gnarly beach break into play. These days, just a mention of the name Playa Zicatela should be enough to stir the hairs on Kelly Slater’s neck. We’re talking a heavy, pounding shore break that’s unpredictable and superfast.

But that doesn’t mean that Puerto Escondido surfing is totally beyond your limits. There are other places to paddle out here. A few point breaks around the famous bay combine with lovely Carrizalillo just around the head, offering more swells for different levels. What’s more, the town is a great base for exploring the surfing coast of Oaxaca region more generally. And it’s a lovely place to be, with vibrant Mexicana streets and little taco stands right by the Pacific. You might just fall in love, even if you do get pounded on the breaks!

Where is Puerto Escondido?

Puerto Escondido sits on the Pacific Coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounces wa-ha-ka). Conveniently, that puts it on the main Mex highway 200. The town does have a small airport, but there’s just a few domestic connections to Mexico City and Oaxaca (the city). Nearest entry points are likely to be either Salina Cruz (four hours’ drive to the east), Oaxaca city (six hours through the mountains to the north), or Acapulco (seven hours along the coast to the north-west).

Puerto Escondido waves

Puerto Escondido surf spots

The surfing in Puerto Escondido might revolve around its heavy beach break, but there are a few other options worth having on the radar when you swing into town.

Playa Zicatela

Pros only

Zicatela surf is legendary throughout the world for offering some of the gnarliest beach breaks on the planet. Up there with Waimea Bay, it borders on the world of big wave. Na, scratch that, it positively is big wave when things get pumping in the summer months. They call it the Mexican Pipeline and it can handle swells that score well over 10 feet. Sets are pretty unforgiving too, with waves jacking out of the bay and peaking at unpredictable points. From there, it’s a steep and racy takeoff into a barrel that moves right to left across the beach. Some seriously spectacular drop ins can be witnessed. But – and we say this with the utmost seriousness – it’s NOT for beginners!

La Punta

Intermediate+

La Punta is the intermediate practice ground of Zicatela Beach. Located at the southern end on the point break, beyond the legendary swells of the main centre, it’s less powerful and more maneuverable than its brochure-fronting compadre. That’s not to say Punta is a cinch. It’s not. You’re looking at hefty rips and pretty challenging lefts that can be quick. Smaller days will attract the surf schools. Bigger days can be a little messy off the rocks. Watch out for exposed reef and crowds.

Playa Carrizalillo

Beginners+

Playa Carrizalillo hides in a wide horseshoe bay along the coast to the west of Zicatela. First thing that hits you? This is one stunning beach, with palm trees swaying in the breeze and proper soft golden sand. Beyond that are two separate point breaks that both move inwards to the centre of the beach from their respective headlands. Mellow is the keyword. Best surfed at middle or low tide with about chest height. Lots of the local surf schools will come here but you can also rent boards right on the bay for around 500 pesos.

What’s the best Puerto Escondido surf hotel?

This famous big-wave spot on the Mexican Pacific is loaded with places to stay. No matter if you’re after luxury 5-star service or a cool Puerto Escondido surf hotel, there are options on the menu…

Selina Puerto Escondido ($$)

There’s something truly lovely about waking to the sound of the Pacific waves lapping against the rocks just outside your bedroom window. That’s precisely what’s on offer at the Selina Puerto Escondido, where the best rooms boast views across the ocean. Other draws are the traditional thatched ceilings and the quirky organic-style interior design. Additionally, the hotel is within easy walking distance to Marinero Beach and Zicatela.

Booking.com

Shavanna Hotel Boutique ($$)

Boutique doubles, twins and suites with huge king beds and cushiony mattresses await at the Shavanna Hotel Boutique. Interiors there are stylish and uber clean, drawing in muted colours with natural woods and concrete tones. Finally, the outside courtyard boasts a large communal pool and lots of space to sunbathe in privacy.

Booking.com

Hotel Casa Pridda ($$)

Simple but clean and spacious rooms are the order of the day in Hotel Casa Pridda. Located just to the south of Zicatela proper, it offers a good option for escaping the hubbub of the town centre. Additionally, some options come with a balcony, and all get access to the medium-sized pool that’s in the central forecourt. To be honest, it’s just nice to be in the midst of the palm trees somewhere a little more remote.

Booking.com

A guide to the Puerto Escondido surfing season

Puerto Escondido is a little different to the northern parts of Mexico – Nayarit, Cabos – when it comes to surfing. This far around the bend on the Oaxacan coast, you’re less likely to get the benefit from the dominant N-NW winter swells. Things can actually even get flat on some days between December and March, though that’s not very common. More likely is you get mushier waves that don’t hold up as well.

If you’re searching for Puerto Escondido in full swing, the summer is the ticket. May to August feels the full brunt of southerlies from the Southern Ocean. That powers up the shore breaks on Zicatela and brings all the gun board-touting pros into town. Mornings are the best, with heavy sets pounding onto the beachfront. However, midday can get blazing hot and even catch some cross shores that mess it up a little.

Ocean storms play a part in the action from September onwards. They could offer even more punch (not that it’s needed) down on Zicatela, but there’s also a chance they’ll just rough things up. Generally speaking, later in the season is more unpredictable with oncoming swells. Finally, November is the tail end of it all, offering a decent balance of big days and overheads for improving intermediates.

Puerto Escondido Beach

Puerto Escondido surf shops

Puerto Escondido certainly isn’t short of surf shops. From the centre – just to the north of that iconic Zicatela surf – to the beachfronts, you’ll find places to buy and rent boards and more all over the town.

Central Surf Shop

Central Surf Shop doubles as a school and has recently occupied a new location closer to the highway running through PE. That means it should be easy to find, but you might not even need directions – spray-painted boards are emblazoned with Mexicana colours just out front. Additionally, There’s a good selection of rentals along with myriad vests, rash vests, surf wear, beach wear, waxes – the lot.

Odyboards

Founded in Cali in 2001, Odyboards is now back in the birthplace of its famous in-house shaper, Ody. Part workshop, part retail outlet, it brims with all sorts of boards. There are swallow tails and shorties, there are guns and longboards. Importantly, every product is glassed and shaped entirely by hand on the site, so you know you’re buying real Mexican surf gear when you head this way.

Where to eat in Puerto Escondido

This is Mexico, folks – you’re not going to be short on places to eat! Basically, the whole of Benito Juarez Avenue is awash with taco shacks and whatnot. In addition, there are oodles of beach bistros in the mix with refreshing margaritas on the menu. Our pick would include:

Almoraduz Cocina de Autor

A little pricy, yep, but wowza! The food at Almoraduz Cocina de Autor is a real modern Mexican feast. It’s epicurean mixed with Latin passion, all with a punch of great Pacific seafood and just a little spice the interior space is elegant and earthy, and there’s also an outdoor terrace for those hot summer evenings after the big waves.

Restaurant El Nene

At the end of bustling Benito Juarez Av in the heart of Puerto Escondido, Restaurant El Nene cooks up cracking Mexican tacos and enchiladas on a simply grill. There’s cold beer and a selection of tequilas to match. What’s more the takeout option is great if you’re heading down to watch a Zicatela surf competition!

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Puerto Escondido

Waves too small (or too big)? Ditch the board for a few hours with all the other things there are to do in Puerto E instead of surfing…

Pacific boat safaris

The seas around Oaxaca aren’t just awesome for surfing. They also teem with wildlife. There are now oodles of marine safari outfitters in Puerto Escondido who can take you past the shore breaks to see what’s on show. Sightings regularly include dolphin pods and rare sea turtles. Pretty cool, eh?

Pacific ocean wildlife

Laze on the beach

Puerto Escondido is blessed with some of the best beaches in the whole of Oaxaca state. Yes, these draw surfers, but they are also a gift on flat days. We’d say check out Playa La Punta for the sunset – it’s stunning as the rocks glow red and yellow in the later hours. Playa Principal is great for people watching – the fishermen go there in the early morning. Playa Manzanillo, meanwhile, is a doozy for its soft sands and clear blue waters.

Laze on the beach

This ultimate guide to Puerto Escondido Surfing is always being updated and changed. If you think we’ve missed something or gotten something wrong, we’d sure love you to get in touch. You can use email or just drop a message in the comments below.

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