For Digital Nomads: La Punta / Zicatela — Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Jun 19, 2021 by Yihwan Kim. 12 min read.

I’d heard so many good things about Puerto Escondido: the pristine beaches, low-key vibes, and beautiful sunsets. It’s a hidden gem, people would say — nothing like tourist-ridden Tulum. Sadly, it wasn’t for me.

Beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
📸: Marco Samaniego

A couple months ago, I came across a rare opportunity to invest in a rental property in Puerto Escondido, just blocks away from Playa Zicatela. The would-be deal came from a trusted source who’d done his due diligence and emphasized the risks and uncertainty ahead. Still, I was convinced. Let’s make it happen, I said.

I’ll save the specifics of why the deal seemed so attractive for another day. For now, I’ll say that I was seriously considering committing without ever having stepped foot in Puerto Escondido, let alone seeing the condo itself. But after a good night’s rest (I typically save big decisions for the morning), I realized that probably wasn’t the best idea.

Besides, this seemed a perfect excuse to see the beach-side paradise I’d heard so much about. With palm trees and fruity drinks dancing before my eyes, I clambered aboard a tiny turboprop plane in Oaxaca City, bound for the Oaxacan coast.

Friends recommended that I stay in La Punta, which is located on the southern tip of Playa Zicatela. The entire length of Playa Zicatela is known to be the more touristy part of town, relatively distanced from the center that sits closer to the airport. La Punta has historically been the underdeveloped part of Playa Zicatela, though the ubiquitous construction in the area clearly signalled that things were changing.

I stayed for a few nights in Pantai H, which offered cozy accommodations just a few blocks from the main walking street in La Punta. The A/C was strong and the Internet fast (when it wasn’t down for the entire town — more on that later). Saymar, who runs the place, was a kind and gracious host.

Eventually I moved to the north side of Playa Zicatela to spend a couple nights in Hotel Santa Fe. This hotel’s seen better days, but it’s still one of the nicer ones in the more developed, traditionally-touristic zone of Playa Zicatela (often referred to as just Zicatela). The A/C took a while to fill up the cavernous rooms (if at all), but the WiFi was usably fast from public areas of the hotel (again, when it was available).

I had toyed with the idea of staying a month in Puerto Escondido, but found myself on a tiny Aeromexico barbie jet headed for Mexico City after just 5 nights. The property deal ended up falling through, but after visiting I now know that I wouldn’t have gone through with it anyway. Puerto Escondido just wasn’t for methough it might be for you.

Even though I probably won’t be back anytime soon, I’m still glad I visited. It’s worth checking out Puerto Escondido for yourself.

Work ⇌ Caffeinate

💻 work friendly
good coffee

You’ll notice that the Selina, which is probably the most frequently-mentioned co-working spot in Puerto Escondido, is not on this list. That is because it, in my humble opinion, sucks. The main café area blasts music all day and night, with people mingling about barefoot on the sand (sand, not sandy) floor. What work do people actually get done here?

To be fair, the “co-working” section is separate, but not much better. It’s a cramped area tucked away in some forgotten corner as an afterthought, packed with too many people fighting for too few seats. Good luck taking calls here. The only redeeming quality of this Selina, and probably why it attracts anyone at all, is that it is one of the few places in all of Puerto Escondido that offers fast, semi-reliable WiFi.

Many people opt to work in the adjoining café, Amarisa — and I really mean many people. The place is always packed, with the dinky A/C unit struggling to keep up. Go for the pastries, not the co-working.

Save the 250 MXN (~$12 USD) you would spend for a Selina co-working daypass on a hearty meal and good coffee at Finca Las Nieves “El Cafetal” just up the street. In fact, $12 would cover several visits. The WiFi isn’t great (sometimes it doesn’t work at all), but you’ll find a spacious area with plenty of tables to go around. Plus, you’ll have a great view of the beach.

If you’re in La Punta, the Amarisa there is much more spacious, and therefore more conducive to getting work done. The WiFi is as good as it gets, and the food is pretty good too. I also worked for a bit one morning at Café Nduva Punta, which offers a sizeable outdoor seating area just steps away from the beach.

The excruciating heat kept me from exploring as many coffee shops as I would’ve liked, but Ojitos Abiertos in La Punta and Dan’s Café Deluxe in Zicatela were on my list. I didn’t have a chance to visit, but pictures online looked promising.

Kayaking on the coastline of Puerto Escondido
📸: Juan Manuel Pastorino

Eat

📍 local
🗺 not local
🥗 healthy(ish)

Only three places? I know it’s sparse compared to the relative novel of food recs I wrote for Oaxaca City, but it is what it is — partly a function of my only being in Puerto Escondido for a week, but mostly because the food is nothing to write home about in the first place.

The restaurant business is tough, and to survive you have to cater to what the people want. In the La Punta / Zicatela area of Puerto Escondido, most of the people are tourists and foreigners — and it seems like what they want is an endless supply of mediocre pad thai, pizza, and burgers.

There’s also no shortage of pseudo-healthy vegan establishments that sell kale smoothies and granola (unless you’re running a marathon or hiking Kilimanjaro, eating fistfuls of granola isn’t that healthy). If nibbling at wilted spinach and drinking carrots fills your spirit, you’ll feel right at home.

One notable exception I stumbled across was Nu’ó’c Sabor Vietnamita, a relatively new establishment selling decent summer rolls and rice bowls in a low-key sidewalk café meets open sandbox environment. Those searching for authentic bún bò huế or bánh xèo will be disappointed, but then again why would you be searching for that on the southern edge of Mexico? The food is more than good enough, great in fact, for Puerto Escondido.

I’ve also heard good things about Restaurant Brisa Del Mar, which offers expansive views of the coastline. It gets packed during peak hours though, as I learned when I arrived drenched in sweat from hiking up the hill to the restaurant. The thought of my sweat-drenched self mingling with strangers was enough for me to nope out of there pretty quick. I’m sure the strangers appreciated it too.

I should mention you can find great seafood in La Punta and Zicatela. The fancier restaurants are fine, though my best meals were in more hole-in-the-wall type joints. Unfortunately, they’re now hard to search for on Google Maps, and the one that I was able to find sadly seems to have permanently closed.

Most of my final meals in Puerto Escondido were at Santa Fe Restaurant, the hotel restaurant a mere 30-second walk from my room. At first I felt dejected, defeated, even ashamed to have retreated to the hotel restaurant of all places. After all, I’d always considered hotel restaurants to be in a sad, lonely purgatory, reserved for those not brave or worldly enough to venture out for better bites.

But you know, Santa Fe Restaurant really wasn’t that bad: beautiful views, strong WiFi (when it was working), good service, decent food. It’s on the pricier side by local standards ($10–15 USD per plate for dinner), but the portions are generous, and some could easily last me two meals. If I ever found myself in Puerto Escondido again, I’d be happy — and not the least bit ashamed — to swing by.

Why Puerto Escondido wasn’t for me

Despite all the high praise for Puerto Escondido, I couldn’t last a week there. What went wrong?

People playing volleyball on the beach, sunset in the background
What's not to love? 📸: Ben Turnbull

The suffocating heat — with no escape

Some people like the heat. After all, hot yoga and saunas (including the Oaxacan equivalent, the temazcal) are all things that people apparently participate in voluntarily.

I do not like the heat. I can’t stand it. I’d sooner freeze in desolate tundra than lounge about in tropical heat. That being said, my tolerance for heat and humidity has acclimated somewhat over the years, especially through my travels in Southeast Asia. In other words, I thought I’d gotten used to it. Plus, people told me not to worry about humidity in Puerto Escondido. It’s a beach! It’s breezy!

It’s true that the few hours right around sunrise and sunset are quite nice. I enjoyed running on the beach in the wee hours of the morning, listening to the waves crash ashore and slowly drift back to sea. Also, the sunsets were admittedly hard to beat.

But all other times of the day were unbearable, especially between the hours of 11am and 4pm. The sun was vicious. The only other time I felt the sun so strong was in Abu Dhabi, or maybe Phoenix during a heat wave. The key difference was that there’s no where to hide. In Bangkok I could dip into one of many air-conditioned 7/11’s for a break from the heat. Even in Oaxaca City, I could just switch sides to walk along the shady side of the street.

In Puerto Escondido, there is no escape. Most buildings are either too short or too far apart to offer meaningful protection from the sun. A 15-minute walk to Oxxo felt like marching through the Sahara. And once I start sweating, I just don’t stop.

It got to the point where I stayed inside all day except for a few hours at the tail ends of each day. What’s the fun in that?

Terrible WiFi

While I knew fast WiFi was hard to come by in Puerto Escondido, I underestimated how fragile the network could be. Fiber optic connections are definitely available, and I was initially thrilled to find the Internet speeds at Pantai H regularly exceeded 50Mbps.

Then came the blackout. On my third day in Puerto Escondido, the Internet shut off in large swaths of town. At first I thought it was just my hotel, so I walked to the café next door. Nope, no WiFi there either. I went door-to-door along Zicatela beach, finding a total lack of connectivity everywhere I went. Even cell service didn’t seem to be working.

I later learned this is quite common. This time, only one service provider (Infinitum I think) went down, but I’m told that sometimes all of them go out at once. Cellular services (data, phone, and text) can fall over too. Every now and then, the only way to contact the outside world is through a landline (assuming the power is still on) or satellite phones.

Even when the Internet is “on” and “fast,” the connection remains unstable. So you might see 20Mbps one second, only for it to cut out completely for a few seconds (or minutes), before coming back online again. This might work if you don’t require a continuous connection, but it definitely didn’t work for me.

80% of my work day is meetings, and after the eleventeenth dropped Zoom call, I started dialing in on my phone instead. When my old-fashioned telephone calls started dropping too, I gave up and decided to “go on vacation” for my remaining days in Puerto Escondido.

My personality

I can’t say I’m a “chill” person. For example, the idea of idly sitting on a beach, for no other stated purpose than to “relax,” is incredibly foreign to me. My mind would just race with all the things I could be doing with that precious time. I’d curse the blatant inefficiency of it all. Relax?! I don’t need to relax! You relax!

So I don’t think I represent the quintessential Puerto Escondido persona. After all, people who come here tend to seem relaxed, chill even. Case in point, Playa Zicatela is famous among the surfing community, and surfers from around the world flock to its shores to catch waves.

There is definitely a pervasive eat, pray, love vibe all over Playa Zicatela: yoga classes and dream-catchers, healing crystals and chakras, green juice and açaí bowls. In fact, some areas could easily be mistaken for a scene right out of Canggu in Bali. I’m not judging (really, I’m not). I’m just saying it’s not for me.

Also, there’s a not-so-subtle irony when people describe Puerto Escondido as “non-touristy.” When I looked out at the sea of foreigners, renting surfboards and bikes, tapping away on laptops while cheesy conga music blared in the background, setting up for another game of sunset volleyball on the beach — I couldn’t help but wonder. Who are they? What am I?

But why it might be for you

If you’ve read this far and thought “geez, what a grouch” — then Puerto Escondido might be for you.

In all seriousness, there’s a lot to love about Puerto Escondido. It espouses a calmer, more tranquil way of life. Internet out for the day? No worries, I’ll get to those emails when I do. Stressed out? Let’s walk to the beach and meditate where the waves wash ashore. I passed many people doing exactly that during my early morning jogs. What a wonderful way to center yourself and find peace each and every day.

Maybe you don’t mind the heat. Maybe you’re one of those weirdos that actually likes it and would happily sweat it out in a temazcal. Maybe you’re the rare digital nomad who doesn’t need constant WiFi access — in which case, what do you do? Or maybe the Internet access doesn’t have to be constant, where you can send emails, upload videos, or push to main whenever it comes back online again.

Maybe you like to surf, scuba-dive, or just hang out on the beach. Perhaps walking to a beautiful sunset every evening — or waking up to the sounds of the ocean every morning — would be your version of paradise.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Puerto Escondido every year. That might be a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly 10 million that visit Cancún in the same time period, but still — that’s a lot more than one. So why take my word for how it is?

You should see how you like Puerto Escondido for yourself.

Turtle on the beaches of Puerto Escondido
Here's a baby turtle for reading this far 📸: marco antonio

Everything else

Getting In / Around

Puerto Escondido International Airport (PXM) is a quaint landing strip that handles a dozen or so flights a day. If you want to fly from Oaxaca City, your only direct option as of writing is Aerotucán Aerotaxis. There’s plans to expand the airport in the next few years (one reason buying property seemed like an attractive investment), after which we might see an expanded route network.

If you want to drive, expect an ~8 hour journey on twisty roads with hairpin turns. However, a major highway is under construction that should cut the travel time to about two and a half hours. It’s expected to be completed within the next few years (yet another reason — do you see the pattern here).

If memory serves me right, a private regulated taxi from the airport to La Punta cost about 300 MXN (or ~$15 USD). I’m told you can get much cheaper fares if you hike outside the airport grounds to the flock of taxis waiting by the gate, but be advised it’s a ~10 minute walk that could feel even longer under the burning sun, especially if you have a lot of luggage.

This probably goes without saying, but there is no Uber or Lyft in Puerto Escondido. But taxis are readily available, and going up and down the length of Playa Zicatela should run you about 40–50 MXN (~$2 USD).

Accommodation & Food Costs

Staying in La Punta / Zicatela was a bit more expensive then I was expecting. Granted, I’d arrived during La Semana Santa, which is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) travel weeks of the year. Most places were sold out, and I was lucky to find a spot in Pantai H by connecting with Saymar directly. One night in Pantai H cost about 1,200 MXN per night (~$70 USD), and a night in Hotel Santa Fe was almost double that.

If you don’t book accommodations last minute for the busiest travel week of the year, costs should be lower.

Most AirBnBs run between $600–$1,500+ for La Punta / Zicatela area, though it’s not hard to find something much more expensive. Like I said, this part of Puerto Escondido isn’t exactly a bargain destination.

Around the world, eating “local” will generally be much cheaper than splurging on “international” cuisines. The problem is that in La Punta / Zicatela, international spots outnumber local ones 10 to 1. With that in mind, most meals ran between 80–150 MXN ($4–8 USD), with higher-end tabs easily double or triple that. For example, a chicken bánh mì at Nu’ó’c Sabor Vietnamita cost 110 MXN (just over $5). That’s not exactly cheap. In fact, it rivals prices you’d find stateside.

I don’t doubt you could visit Puerto Escondido for much cheaper. You could stay in a dorm room at a hostel and eat on a shoestring budget. In that case, I’d recommend staying closer to the center of town, where there’s fewer tourists to drive prices upwards.

Delivery service

What — no Rappi?! Indeed, after weeks of Rappi’ing (is that a word?) in Oaxaca City, the lack of Rappi came as a bit of a shock. I’m told that people have had good experiences with local delivery services that take orders through WhatsApp, but I didn’t have a chance to try any out during my relatively short time in Puerto Escondido.

Here’s one example of a local delivery service:

Delivery service: +52 951 312 0438 Delivery service business details
Didn't try this myself — let me know how it goes

Safety

I feel Puerto Escondido is a reasonably safe town, but the same sensible precautions you’d take anywhere in Mexico are required here too. Don’t carry flashy things, and always be aware of your surroundings.

In particular, don’t walk on the more remote parts of the beach at night, not even with a group. Muggings can happen in isolated areas after the sun goes down.

I don’t know how common this is, but I’ve heard about unfortunate run-ins with the police. One friend was “arrested” and brought to an ATM to pay the “fine” — and was cleaned out several hundreds of dollars.

I can’t say I ever felt unsafe in Puerto Escondido myself, but I recognize that I’m a fairly well-travelled male who was only in town for a few days. You may want to ask locals and people who’ve been living in Puerto Escondido for a while to get more informed opinions.

Language & Communicating

Seeing as how La Punta / Zicatela caters to tourists, it’s no surprise that almost everyone I ran into spoke English. In fact, most seemed shocked that I spoke Spanish.

Would I come back?

To La Punta / Zicatela? Probably not. To elsewhere in Puerto Escondido? Maybe, especially if it’s to a villa like the one below.

Where to next?

South Lake Union (SLU) — Seattle, USA

Villa on the shores of Puerto Escondido
📸: Jose Mizrahi

Comments? Thoughts? Let me know! @yihwan 🐦


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