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It’s never a good sign when a hiking journey begins with a shout for “Help!”
We were just five minutes into a stroll through the mangroves in a nature preserve near Barra de Navidad, Oaxaca just outside Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific Coast when I saw my hiking companion stuck ankle-deep in quicksand.
Surrounded by waters teeming with crocodiles and with us outfitted in beach dresses and strappy sandals, it was evident we were woefully unprepared for a walk in a Mexican swamp.
In my companion’s defence, I had invited her to join me for a simple beachside lunch at La Ballena Restaurant, located at the mouth of the Colotepec River, while I conducted research for a magazine story. But Hurricane Carlotta had destroyed the previously well-groomed trail through the mangroves, ripping up trail markers and rerouting the lagoon.
Now, the trail was a jumbled mess of vegetation and we needed to rely on Survivorman skills to get us to our cocktails.
“”Maybe if we hang onto a tree branch for balance?” I suggested as I looked at the log bridge and the murky water below. No easy task when you’re carrying a purse.
The lagoon, swamp, beach and river estuary we were exploring are located 20 minutes from Puerto Escondido, just past La Punta.
Read on for more about this day trip and why you should put it on your list of things to do on a visit to Puerto Escondido.
Laguna Palma Sola
This fascinating lagoon eco-system is located east of the mouth of the Colotepec River and is best accessed by road rather than riverbank. Several government agencies, such as National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) have partnered with a cooperative of 23 families from the Santa Maria de Colotepec Barra de Navidad community to ensure the protection, conservation, restoration and development of the lagoon’s unique eco-system.
To visit the heart of this eco-tourism project watch for the Embarcadero Palma Sola sign where a guide is available to offer a tour of the lagoon channel in a non-motorized boat.
During the tour, he will point out the resident population of crocodiles. Once hunted for their meat and hide, crocodiles were nearly wiped out along Oaxaca’s coast.
Crocodiles in Barra de Navidad Oaxaca
Now, thanks to recovery efforts, more than 350 crocodiles make their home in the Palma Sola lagoon alone.
Unlike Hollywood movies that show crocodiles aggressively attacking anything that falls in the water, these crocodiles seem more interested in snatching egret than people.
Iguanas can also be seen sunning on large tree branches or munching on vegetation.
According to facts I’d gathered while researching the Puerto Escondido Travel Guide, the lagoon has a resident population of 350 crocodiles.
They feed on garza blanca and other birds. Not, presumably, people who fall into the water. But Oaxaca’s tropical deciduous forest is filled with deadly snakes such as the coral snake (coralillo), poisonous vipers and yellow-bellied sea snakes.
Much like Manialtepec Lagoon, best known for its bioluminescence, the roots in the mangrove forest are important to Oaxaca’s coastal system and the survival of its wildlife.
Mangroves serve as a filtration system, stopping soil sediment from washing out to sea and reducing erosion from storm surges.
During the rainy season, the lagoon meets the ocean and tiny fish, shrimp and shellfish enter to spawn in the lagoon. This, plus the accumulation of nutrients delivered by the rivers supports a healthy diversity of flora and fauna.
La Ballena Restaurant in Barra de Navidad Oaxaca
After a very hot trek across hot sand, we arrived at La Ballena restaurant, a humble palapa in the middle of a vast expanse of sun, sand and sea. Located on a stretch of undeveloped beach, this humble eatery is named after a 21-metre long grey whale that washed up on the sand.
It offers a shady palapa where you can enjoy a cold cerveza or soft drink, grilled seafood and handmade maize tortillas.
The bones of the whale were relocated from La Ballena’s former location at the mouth of the Colotepec River and are proudly displayed at the new restaurant in Barra de Navidad Oaxaca.
We grabbed a table and cracked open a pair of chilled beers.
“Best day ever,” said my pal.
“Totally,” I agreed.
According to the Handbook of Wilderness Survival, certain items — such as proper gear, planning and mental attitude–are critical to surviving under adversity.
We might have struck out on the map and gear but we’d done one thing right. We’d enjoyed every minute.
Travel Planner for Barra de Navidad Oaxaca
How to Get to Barra de Navidad: The lagoon, swamp, beach and river estuary is located 20 minutes from Puerto Escondido, just past La Punta.
To get there to Barra de Navidad, take a colectivo marked Barra de Navidad from anywhere along Highway 200 Carratera Costera going southeast. Don’t take the colectivo marked Barra as it stops on the opposite side of the Colotepec River.
Disembark at the last stop in Barra de Navidad, a small farming community. An interesting iguanarium is located in Barra de Navidad and is well worth a visit. From the colectivo drop-off point, it’s a 30-minute walk to La Luna Azul restaurant and a 40-minute walk to La Ballena restaurant. The road is well-marked and partly-shaded by tamarindo, chico and mango trees but be sure to bring water, a hat and insect repellent.
Hotels: The closest hotel to Barra de Navidad is Hotel Casamar Suites in the Brisas de Zicatela neighbourhood of Puerto Escondido.
At Barra de Navidad, cabanas have recently been constructed to accommodate tourists who wish to overnight. Check at La Ballena restaurant for costs and availability
Sea Turtles: Olive Ridley turtles also lay their eggs on this long beach and the cooperative operates a sea turtle corral, regularly hosting baby turtle releases once the eggs have hatched. Call ahead to check for dates and times.
Phone: 954 100-7730
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
And that’s not the end of things to do in Puerto Escondido! Read our Essential Puerto Escondido Travel Guide for more information on hotels, beaches, things to do, day trips and more in Puerto Escondido. Or go directly to these posts:
Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
Read more about Michele Peterson.