PUERTO ESCONDIDO, MEXICO — Along a barely discernible roadway, a dog leans back lazily as it settles in to resume its snooze in the dusty shade. Bells toll, not on the hour or half of it, but somewhere in between, as they seem to announce their own purpose to the moment. Roosters can be heard, as can the children in schoolyards, all in the distance but seemingly close by at the same time.
A shopkeeper sweeps the walk in front of her store, while on the beach men gather around the ice van as it delivers its frosty cargo to be distributed amongst the boats and the days fresh catch. Looking out to sea, a pair of humpback whales can be seen, their breathy spouts of mist marking their presence across the horizon.
This is Puerto Escondido, as it always has been.
Quietly tucked into the Pacific shoreline and just down from the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Oaxaca, the town hugs the meandering shoreline like a child with its favourite blanket. Named from the legend of a woman in hiding (La escondida, the hidden one) it’s obvious that this rustic jewel of the West Coast has remained off the radar of mainstream vacationers, almost as if by choice.
Above: The tiny sea turtles put up a real struggle to return to the ocean after being hatched.
An hour’s drive from Huatulco airport, serviced by numerous charter airlines, or accessible by a short hopper flight from Mexico City, Puerto Escondido is as much a treat for winter weary souls as it is for the adventurous spirit.
Our hosts, Felix and Cherie, allowed us to share time in the villa hideaway they built overlooking the Pacific, and from there we were able to venture out to discover the delights in beach wanders, shopping, dining and casual nighttime entertainment.
There is much to enjoy walking the streets of Puerto Escondido, or within a short drive in any direction outward from the town. The mayhem folllowing a weekend fishing derby on Playa Manzanillo Beach was fabulous to enjoy, just as the casual relaxation was to be found at the other end, under the umbrellas serviced with intriguing seaside delicacies, and of course, cold beers.
If you are a foodie, then you’re in for a real treat. It seemed that each and every menu we saw offered tantalizing choices with an amazing attention to detail, each with blended recipes of sea and flora that provided endless opportunities of exciting and delectable discoveries.
Wrapped around the town and its random lowrise architecture, is a seemingly endless stretch of beaches, some of which are famously ranked among the world’s best.
Above: The Mexican seaside town has plenty of restaurants that offer up spicy dishes caught fresh from the sea.
Heading just east of the main beach (Playa Principal), lies one of the most famous beach breaks in the world, Playa Zicatela. Producing year-round waves in the two to five metres plus range, this is home to world-class surfing events in August and November.
A little further down the beach is la Punta (the Point) almost a throwback and timeless village setting of psychedelic painted storefronts, hostels, surfboard rentals and roadside feed spots, again with some fabulous food offerings that belie their humble street presence.
If you truly want to escape from it all, a 20-minute drive down the highway can take you to Playa Aqua Blanca. Somewhat of a local secret, it offers empty beaches of beautiful calm waters for swimming, adventurous snorkelling, and is serviced by a couple of sleepy palapa restaurants providing fresh seafood, cold beer and the ever-present mezcal (alcoholic) choices. There’s even a choice of hammocks slung between the table settings for the inevitable napping events.
Lifestyle pursuits and personal investment choices are slowly drafting their presence, as evidenced by the Vivo Resort development that lies along the beach west of here. It’s the vision of Cary Mullen, a Canadian ski Olympian now turned resort developer. You could almost refer to him as a lifestyle consultant, with the intriguing “pretirement” opportunities he’s made available in the area.
Above: Former Canadian ski ace Cary Mullen is heading up the development efforts in this laid-back area.,
A new destination, Vivo combines the getaway pampering of a beautiful seaside hotel along with hassle-free ownership opportunities, but also provides custom development lots and support for those inclined to build their own villa within the adjoining neighbourhood plans.
“We have something for everyone” say Mullen, “whether they want just a week or two, or are wanting to build their dream home as part of their lifetime getaway plan.”
Vivo is also a philanthropic sponsor to the sea turtle sanctuary, located midway between Vivo and Puerto Escondido on Palmarito beach.
A must-do exploration for all ages, the Palmarito Turtle Release Program is in existence almost solely through the ceaseless efforts of its dedicated volunteers in a life’s work that is truly humbling.
Living within a couple of wind-worn tents, the lonely duo ventures out each night by ATV to locate fresh turtle nests in the dark, then re-locates the clutches to the safety of their netted compound. Visitors to the isolated experience are briefed on the history and daily tasks, then after carefully washing their hands in seawater, encouraged to assist with the evening’s release.
The experience of seeing hundreds of tiny turtles scurrying forth seeking the pounding seas, quickly becomes an emotional roller coaster for its viewers. Equally frenzied, then completely worn out, the critters erratically navigate the sand pits, waves and other hazards of the beach to finally arrive at the water’s edge. Seemingly the finish line to the event, it is in fact the start line of a much larger quest for survival.
Established in 2004, the Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue organization is now successfully releasing some 40,000 – 60,000 turtles a year, and is truly making a difference to their fragile and critical survival.
Back in town, the evenings out are just as much an adventure, as you can wander the streets and enjoy the treasures of the markets, dining opportunities or some of the live entertainment found at the individual beach bars and restaurants.
Well lit, and ablaze with colour, there’s new discoveries every few steps – crafts, clothing, snacks, drinks and even furnishings are all setup as part of the nightly custom, in defiance of the actual bylaws.
When hunger sets in, the restaurant choices abound. And, if you have a friend familiar with wines, as we are fortunate to, then the experience of dinner takes on new heights. Fabulous and imaginative cuisine is paired with wonderful wine choices from local and afar vineyards, and all at prices that are a fraction of what you might expect.
So whether for a short getaway, or as an extended multi-month plan away from the winter’s cold, you‘ll find that the charms of Puerto Escondido have a way of working their way into your heart on first sight, and then calling you back time after time, like a seaside Shangri-la in the shimmering warmth of the setting sun. •