Zipolite and the Coast of Oaxaca: A Visitor’s Guide
In a place where time seems to pass a little more slowly, where the locals are unpretentious and laid back, where happy hour is an all-day affair, where you're free to roam naked on the beach and feel the rush of the strong Pacific Ocean against your bare skin, it's all too easy never to want to leave.
At least, that's how I felt about Zipolite, a tiny beach bum town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-hah-kah).
What to See and Do
In Zipolite, there may not be a whole lot to do, but that's exactly the point. There are hardly any organized activities or tours, like the ones you would find in an all-inclusive resort, so don't expect constant entertainment. This is a place for relaxation and being as lazy as you like, although there are a few highlights that should not be missed.
Playa Zipolite The best thing to do in Zipolite is... absolutely nothing. Spend your days relaxing on Playa Zipolite, a long stretch of uncrowded beach where clothing is optional and the surfing is good. Walking the whole length of the sandy beach and back again is a nice way to break up a day of lounging on the playa. You'll find the waterfront lined with various inexpensive bars and restaurants where you can refresh with a cold drink or two while listening to the waves repeatedly crash on the shore.
A word of warning: the waves here on the coast of Oaxaca are powerful and the current is strong. Flags indicating the strength and danger of the ocean are posted on the beach every day and it's best to take heed of the warnings. That being said, jumping into the frothy waves and taking a dip in the ocean to cool off is hard to resist and, if you're careful, can be lots of fun.
Playa del Amor Follow the spray-painted signs at the eastern end of Playa Zipolite up the staircase to reach Playa del Amor, a secluded beach in a little cove where you'll find local fishermen hauling oysters from the ocean. You probably won't be able to do much swimming here because the water can be too rough, but Playa del Amor is still worth a visit for the rocky views of the coast.
Zipolite Street Art Zipolite may not be a very big place, but step outside and you're likely to come across some colorful street art in no time. If you need a break from the beach, exploring the town and finding all the hidden pieces of art in the back alleys is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Laguna Manialtepec About an hour and a half drive north of Zipolite, you'll find Laguna Manialtepec, a large fresh and saltwater lagoon. During the day, it's the place to go for bird enthusiasts, but after dark is when the real magic happens. Wait until the sun has set to witness an extraordinary display of bio-luminescence due to the high amount of plankton in the water. At night, small boats take passengers out into the middle of the lagoon where visitors can jump into the warm water, making the liquid sparkle and shimmer in a completely surreal way.
It's best to visit the lagoon on a cloudy or rainy day, when the moon is hidden, as this will make the bio-luminescence brighter and easier to see.
There are many local providers that offer tours to the lagoon. If you're staying at any of the major hotels on the coast, chances are they'll stop by your hotel almost every day asking if you'd like to join the tour. For a personable, local tour guide, call Cesar at 958-109-8612.
Surfing The coast of Oaxaca is a surfer's paradise. With swells ranging from one to several meters high and talent to match the pros riding the waves on Oahu's shores, it's easy to spend your days watching surfers gliding effortlessly on the water (or being eaten by the waves!). If it's your first time surfing there are plenty of places along the shore that offer lessons for people of all skill levels.
Puerto Ángel This sleepy fishing village is located in a small bay surrounded by rocky cliffs. With hardly any people around I found the streets and beach of Puerto Ángel incredibly peaceful. The local cemetery, which is built on terraced levels in the hillside, is particularly beautiful especially during the weeks surrounding Dia de los Muertos (end of October and beginning of November).
Mazunte This small beach town west of Zipolite has a relaxed, hippie vibe and plenty of expats and foreigners that call it home. With a scenic beach located in a curved bay and some alternative cafes selling kombucha and other health foods, Mazunte is a pretty neat place to walk around and explore.
Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga The Mexican Turtle Center in Mazunte is an aquarium and research facility dedicated to Mexico's ocean turtle species, as well as some freshwater and land species. Visitors can get a close-up view of some of the turtles in large tanks. On a side note, there are many locals that provide boat tours to view sea turtles swimming in the wild (during these tours, it's also likely that you'll see dolphins!).
Punta Cometa Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean is a small peninsula known as Punta Cometa, which happens to be the southernmost point in Oaxaca and the place to go for an unforgettable sunset, as well as postcard views of the rocky coastline.
It's a bit of a local secret, and if you don't know how to get there, it's easy to miss. From Mazunte, take the turn off from Calle Rinconcito towards Playa Mermejita. Turn left up the road past the Cabanas Balamjuyuc until you reach the entrance of the park around Punta Cometa. Take the path to the right labeled as Sendero Corral de Piedra Poniente and you should reach Punta Cometa in about 15-20 minutes.
Where to Eat and drink
There are a few little taco places located along the main street in Zipolite, which are great for a cheap bite to eat, but here on the Pacific coast you really should try some fruta del mar. From octopus ceviche to oven-baked fish to shrimp pizza, you'll find an array of seafood dishes in almost all of the restaurants. If seafood isn't really your thing, there are still many other appetizing options, from Mexican to Italian restaurants, and a number of little cafes with good coffee, pastries, and sweet crepes.
Luna y Sol Pizzeria Who would expect to find some of the best thin-crust pizza in a tiny beach bum town on the coast of Oaxaca? Not me, that's for sure. Not only is the pizza at Luna y Sol delicious, but you can also watch the chef prepare your order and bake it in the stone oven located in the center of the restaurant.
Los Almendros Head to colorful Los Almendros for the best spiced ceviche mixto (mixed seafood) in all of Zipolite!
Restaurante La Sirena If you're walking down the beach, at some point you can expect someone from La Sirena to approach you advertising the daily food and drink specials. Don't be shy - this place has some of the best fish quesadillas or pescadillas, as well as 2-for-1 beer and cocktail deals, all for the lowest prices.
Posada Mexico One of the coziest and most romantic on-the-beach restaurants, La Posada features an extensive menu of Italian and Mexican dishes, including great pizza, homemade pasta and seafood. They also serve breakfast and lunch.
Bang-Bang Located conveniently in the middle of Playa Zipolite, Bang-Bang is an inexpensive bar with a hippie vibe where you'll find a mixed crowd of locals, backpackers, and expats. The centerpiece of this beachfront bar is a ping-pong table, where guests can revel in a friendly game or two with a beer in hand.
Where to Stay
Zipolite is thankfully still a destination on Mexico's Pacific coast where mega hotel chains and all-inclusives have yet to put down roots. Instead, here you'll find a collection of smaller boutique hotels, hippie bungalows, and beachfront cabanas to fit each budget.
Hotel Nude If you're looking for pure relaxation with a touch of luxury there is only one place to consider: Hotel Nude. Located on the western end of Playa Zipolite, Hotel Nude is comprised of individual bungalows, some with ocean view and some facing the inner courtyard and pool area. The rooms are spacious with comfortable, king-size beds that include a mosquito net to drape closed at nighttime. Given the style of the bungalows, there is no air conditioning in any of the facilities but every room comes with a fan that provides enough air flow to sleep comfortably. Each bungalow has it's own balcony complete with a hammock to hang out in if you need some time away from the beach. Wi-Fi is included, but can be weak depending on where your bungalow is located.
The hotel also has a restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The dishes served are primarily Mexican cuisine and the prices are on the higher end in comparison to other places in Zipolite. You do not need to be a guest of the hotel to dine in the restaurant, and if you have the chance, be sure to try the fish tacos!
Hotel Nude offers guests the option to be nude anywhere on the property of the hotel, except for inside the restaurant.
Most travelers visiting Zipolite and the nearby towns will arrive in the state of Oaxaca via the airport in Puerto Escondido. At the airport, taxis are readily available when planes arrive. Note that the last 20 minutes of road before you reach Zipolite is narrow, winding, and dark at night - take your time and drive carefully.
For transportation significantly cheaper than a taxi, you can take a colectivo (shared transport) which make stops at various places and towns. Be sure to ask the driver if he's going to where you want to go. Prices for colectivos are usually between $10-15 pesos per ride.
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