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Although it’s best known for its beautiful beaches and rich Oaxacan culture, there are many other things to do in Puerto Escondido, Mexico beyond lounging on the beach or exploring its amazing food scene.
While living in Puerto and writing about the Pacific Coast of Mexico for Fodor’s, WestJet and Lonely Planet, I’ve been blown away by the many opportunities to experience the awe-inspiring power of nature. There’s so much to discover when it comes to outdoor adventure in Puerto Escondido!
Here are my favourite things to do when it comes to eco adventure tours, water sports, outdoor attractions and wildlife watching if you’re visiting Puerto Escondido, Mazunte or Huatulco.
1. Go Birdwatching on a Tour of Manialtepec Lagoon near Puerto Escondido
If you’re interested in wildlife, one of the top things to do in Puerto Escondido is explore Manialtepec Lagoon, a convergence of three ecosystems, each hosting unique flora and fauna, just 20 minutes outside of the city.
Although the state of Oaxaca has less than 5% of Mexico’s total land area, it’s home to 50% of Mexico’s plant species, 60% of its bird species and 50% of its mammal species.
There are 285 species of birds found in the region and it’s possible to see up to 70 species of birds on a trip to this protected lagoon near the pueblo of Bajos de Chila, just 10 minutes outside Puerto Escondido.
In 2017, ornithologist Mike Malone retired his popular Hidden Voyages Ecotours, so now your best options for a tour of Manialtepec Lagoon are Dimar Agency, Javier Santos and Lalo Ecotours (scroll down for their contact information).
2. Take a Bioluminesence Tour of Manialtepec Lagoon at Night
Wondering what to do in Puerto Escondido at night? You don’t want to miss the Fosforescencia or Phosphorescence Excursion. It’s an experience only available at certain times of the year when conditions are right.
During this unusual phenomenon, a unique alchemy of ocean currents and water temperature draw dinoflagellate plankton into Laguna Manialtepec or Manialtepec Lagoon, a deep lagoon located 20 minutes outside Puerto Escondido.
Although it’s beautiful to experience the lagoon at night during a full moon, the best time to see the plankton glowing is on a moonless night. That’s when the bioluminescence of phosphorescent plankton is most magical.
Much like fireflies of the north, the half-plant half-animal organisms glow with a white light creating an eerie shimmer to the water. It’s even possible to jump into the water of the lagoon and swim with the bioluminescence.
Read more about the special tours in our post on the unique Bioluminescent Tour of the Lagoon,
3. Swim with Dolphins in the Wild
Another cool thing to do in Puerto Escondido is do some marine life watching on the ocean. From November onward, it’s possible to enjoy whale watching as migrating humpback whales pass through local waters. Year-round you can see sea turtles, manta rays and many types of dolphins.
Tour operator and dive instructor Deep Blue Dive (located in Beach Hotel Ines) offers a morning excursion with a great track record of sightings. They are also responsible tour operators and don’t chase whales or harass other marine life by getting too close.
During my most recent trip with Lorenzo Bini of Deep Blue Dive, hundreds of dolphins were racing alongside our boat. They were jumping and spinning much like in this incredible Video of Spinner Dolphins in Puerto Escondido.
4. Go Whale Watching in Puerto Escondido
Another one of the top things to do in Puerto Escondido on the water is to witness various species of whales as they migrate south to give birth to their calves. They then return with their young on their way back north so you’ve got a few opportunities to see them.
Although you can often see humpback and false killer whales (pseudorca crassidens) offshore major beaches such as Bacocho and Zicatela, the best way to see them is on a whale-watching excursion by boat.
To reduce potential stress and disturbance to the whales that can interrupt their feeding or cause injury, be sure to choose a tour operator that follows responsible whale-watching principles. That includes not chasing whales, staying out of the No-approach zones ( behind and in front of the whales), reducing engine noise and more.
The best month for whale watching in Puerto Escondido is February but the season begins in January and ends in April.
5. Release Baby Sea Turtles in Mazunte and along Oaxaca’s Coast
Watching sea turtle eggs hatch and seeing the baby sea turtles emerge and run to the ocean is a feel-good activity for all ages.
Puerto Escondido and the coast of Oaxaca is one of the world’s top destinations for nesting olive ridley sea turtles, so your likelihood of seeing a sea nesting is quite high during the months of July-December.
One of the top things to in Puerto Escondido with kids is to visit the Mazunte Turtle Centre in Mazunte. This conservation centre regularly hosts baby turtle releases year-round. Read more about it in this post about excursions from Huatulco.
Or, for a family-friendly option closer to Puerto Escondido, head to Playa Bacocho. The Hotel Villa Sol (Bacocho Beach) and Vivo Resort (northwest of Puerto Escondido) both often offer turtle release experiences for their resort guests during high season from December to March.
6. Explore Archeology on a Day Trip to San Pedro Tututepec
While many people are familiar with Monte Alban and other major archeological sites in the central valleys of Oaxaca, few know about the ancient civilizations of Oaxaca’s coast.
During the Late Postclassic period (A.D.1100–1522 CE), the Mixtec capital of Tututepec was the head of a tributary empire that controlled much of southern Oaxaca. Archeological excavations show that it was one of the largest pre-hispanic sites by area in Mexico.
Today, it’s possible to learn more about the ancient city by taking a day trip to San Juan Tututepec, about an hour northwest of Puerto Escondido. Travel by car or via shared colectivo van (marked Rio Grande) until you reach the turnoff to transfer by taxi to “Tutu.”
Among the town’s many attractions, an absolute must-see is the Museo Comunitario Yuca Saa (which means bird mountain in the Mixtec language).
The exhibits include beads, jewellery, pottery in the shape of animals and birds as well as other items confirming the belief that Tututepec was an important regional trade centre.
Many local Mixteco people continue to worship the ancient deities of the moon goddess, the god of rain and the god of wind.
7. Experience an Unforgettable Pacific Coast Sunset
Pacific Coast sunsets are incredible. Watch for the “green flash” a rare phenomenon sometimes seen as the sun drops below the horizon.
Be humbled by the majesty of a brilliant sunset from vantage points in La Punta, Zicatela and Carrizalillo.
The best places to enjoy a margarita or other cocktail at sunset include Espadin Restaurant (located within Villas Carrizalillo Hotel), the rooftop of the Ben Zaa Hotel or any of the beach bars in La Punta or Zicatela Beach.
It’s also possible to go surfing at sunset to get up close and personal with the magical merger of sky and surf.
8. Go Horseback-riding and Soak in Hot Springs
For an unforgettable day trip, journey into the foothills of the Sierra Madre Sur mountains by horseback with a local guide.
Along the way, you’ll spot lizards, see butterflies, be surrounded by unique vegetable and even cross the river by horseback until you arrive at the stunning Atotonilco Hot Springs.
These steaming thermal hot springs are considered therapeutic so plan to stay and relax awhile.
Learn more about this adventure in our post on Riding Horseback to Atotonilco Hot Springs
Contact local trail-riding expert Javier Santos (044 954 1350188 or via email at email@example.com) who has a stable of horses and offers tours by horseback as well as lagoon and waterfall tours.
9. Grab a Fishing Rod and Enjoy Lunch on a Secluded Beach
When it comes to popular day trips from Puerto Escondido, both Agua Blanca and Roca Blanca are secluded beaches worth spending a peaceful day at. Both are located less than an hour by car from Puerto Escondido and are in opposite directions so you’ll need to visit them separately.
They’re perfect places to spend a day lazing in a hammock enjoying fresh oysters, grilled whole fish and cold beer.
At Roca Blanca it’s also possible to do some ocean fishing from the shore or watch the local divers swim out to catch the fish that will be on the daily menu.
Read more about how to plan the perfect day in our post on Roca Blanca: Untouched Mexico.
10. Go Swamp Trekking at Barra de Navidad
Hike the jungle and tour a crocodile-infested lagoon at Barra de Navidad (Oaxaca), just a five minute ride out of town past La Punta. When it comes to adventurous things to do in Puerto Escondido, getting scared silly is a good sign you’ve ventured far off the beaten path.
Learn about hiring a local guide to explore this incredible wild lagoon. From bird-watching to dining on fresh-grilled fish at the water’s edge you’ll feel as though you’re far from civilization.
11. Go Surfing in Puerto Escondido
Surfing is definitely the top outdoor adventure in Puerto Escondido. Zicatela Beach is considered one of the world’s top surfing destinations thanks to the Mexican Pipeline, a challenging break best attempted by skilled surfers. In the summer season, Zicatela is known for its monster-sized waves and international surf tournaments that draw professional athletes such as such as Coco Nogales and others.
However, there are many other beaches in Puerto Escondido suitable for beginners. We suggest contacting Zicazteca Surf School (located at the Hotel Rockaway on Zicatela beach) or Oasis Surf and Language School (on the Rinconada ) for skilled instructors, surf lessons and surf tours for all levels.
Be sure to pack a good supply of sunscreen suitable for surfers as the sun is hot on this stretch of the Pacific coastline. Opt for an eco-friendly brand and help protect the ocean reefs and environment.
12. Witness a Sea Turtle Nesting at La Escobilla Nesting Beach
La Escobilla is one of Mexico’s top sea turtle nesting beaches. It’s a protected beach and an important habitat for olive ridley sea turtles so you need to be accompanied by a guide. It’s also possible to see sea turtles nest at Santa Elena near Aqua Blanca Beach.
Read more about Santa Elena and sea turtles in our post on Escape to Gecko Rock Resort in Mexico’s Sea Turtle Country.
13. Go Skydiving at Zicatela Beach
If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, a fun thing to do is to go skydiving in Puerto Escondido. You’ll leap from a plane into the clouds and then catapult through the air to land on the sand of Zicatela Beach.
At Skydive Puerto Escondido the instructors are certified by the USPA (United States Parachute Association). Novices go tandem with an instructor so don’t worry, they won’t just toss you out of the plane solo. Skydiving isn’t without risk so do your research first!
14. Go Hiking in Coffee Country
15. Plunge into a Wild Jungle Waterfall
Depending upon the season, another fun thing to do in Puerto Escondido is to go exploring the many waterfalls along the coastline. The closest major waterfall to Puerto Escondido is the Cascada La Reforma or La Reforma waterfall.
Most tour companies in Puerto offer escorted day trips here but this is totally a trip you can do independently. There’s an entrance to the waterfalls (with a modest admission fee) as well as a tienda and washroom facilities.
Further afield, but perhaps even more impressive are the Cascadas Mágicas de Copalitilla, near Huatulco. You’ll need to overnight in the area to visit these falls but they’re worth it as the hike to the falls is truly spectacular.
More Amazing Things to Do in Puerto Escondido
And that’s not the end of things to do in Puerto Escondido! Read our Essential Puerto Escondido Travel Guide for more information on taking surfing lessons, finding hotels and vacation rentals, exploring the food scene, taking day trips and more. Or go directly to these posts:
Do you love food, drink and outdoor adventure? Want to be the first to receive news, giveaways, recipes and more about things to do in Puerto Escondido? You can subscribe to the free A Taste for Travel mailing list here
Tel: 011 52 954 582-0276
Deep Blue Dive Puerto Escondido
You can book online or stop at their office located within Hotel Ines on Calle del Morro, Zicatela Beach
Tel: 01 (954) 1189037
Javier Santos Tours – Hotsprings by Horseback; Waterfalls Hike: Manialatepec Lagoon
Dimar Travel Agency – Tours to Manialtepec & Chacahua Lagoons; Huatulco & Mazunte Tours
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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.
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