Mexico is one of the world’s greatest gifts to surfers. A place as wild and friendly and beautiful and adventurous as you want. And while the season is wrapping up for this year, it’s a great time to hunker down, start pinching some pennies and get your shit together for next year’s mission south of the border. Below is a comprehensive guide to what to expect in one of the most wave rich countries in the world.
Let’s face it, you’re reading this article to know about the surf. And if you’re planning a trip to Oaxaca, it’s to surf. If you’ve heard about Oaxaca before, it’s because of the surf. And it’s safe to say, the surf in Oaxaca can get good…very good…really damn and all together perfect. It’s home to an array of beach, point and reef breaks that have westerly swells pumping in from the depths of the Pacific.
The most world renowned of all of these is Puerto Escondido. Even when the surf is “small” it’s got juice. And you’ll be breaking boards. And it can really hold any size and it’s a chore to not get barreled at the “Mexican Pipeline.”
The next spot on the list is right-hand point dream Barra de la Cruz. Since hosting the WCT Rip Curl Search competition in 2006 this has been a top destination for surf junkies globally. On a good day there are a couple of barrel sections and a long wall that will have you creaming from the point all the way back to the beach. There are countless breaks on this stretch of coastline, many of which are inaccessible by road so you need to get a guided boat tour to make the most of these. This makes the trip a bit more expensive, but you can’t put a price on perfect waves that you’ll have all to yourself and your mates with no sign of civilization in sight. There are an abundance of tour guides in the area that will share their knowledge of the local spots, again, worth investing in. Many of these companies are based down in Salina Cruz. Chances are if you’ve seen surf footage of Oaxaca, a lot of it is from down here. Be sure to take guided tours of the area and you will not be disappointed.
The best time to surf Oaxaca is generally June-October. This is no secret, so the crowds thicken out fast in the summer months. It is also the rainy season, which brings a bunch of those pesky flying buggers with a taste for blood. We were lucky enough to get a week off work just as the first swell of the year was about to kick in a few weeks ago and managed to get away with only a couple of nibbles, but have heard plenty of horror stories
El Cafecito is an outdoor restaurant with palm leaf canopy that sits on El Morro, the road running parallel to the main beach at Puerto Escondido. The prices may seem a little much but the oversized, American-style portions make up for it. It’s an ideal spot for breakfast to set you up for a day of getting pounded by the intimidating Puerto boomers. Just down the street is a mural dedicated to the late, great, legendary skateboarder, Jay Adams, who spent a lot of time in Puerto.
If you’re visiting Oaxaca then there is one regional classic meal that you must try out. The tlayuda (known as the ‘Oaxacan pizza’). It’s a big tortilla packed with your meat of choice, refried beans, pickled cabbage, avocado, salsa, occasionally mole sauce and Oaxacan cheese, then folded in half and toasted until crunchy. While on the subject: eat Oaxacan cheese. I have a lactose intolerant buddy who risked a night of ‘weepy ringer’ for this stuff and couldn’t get enough of it, that should say enough. For the ‘best tlayuda in Oaxaca’ go to Tlayudas Arely Huatulco, a buzzing no-frills restaurant with live soccer on tv, live musicians and jovial ambience that will have you warming to the region before you get a chance to order the first round.
Of course you have the international usual suspects as a staple in most bars and restaurants: Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Sol, etc. but there are a few good Mexican craft/artisanal beers that should be tried out and deserve a mention. One in particular is Cucapá, a company based in Mexicali (Baja California) with a range of flavors to quench that post-surf thirst. For a more local taste try out the Bendita beer, brewed in Santa Catarina Juquila. Head to the Teufel Nano-Brewery for a sample of the local and regional delights if you’re around that area.
The true drink of choice in Oaxaca is the less commonly known sister of tequila mescal. They are made via a similar process, but tequila is by law only to be made of one specific variety of agave plant; agave tequilana. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made of 30+ varieties. I heard that the best mescal in Mexico is made up in the nearby mountains of Oaxaca, having tried some of the home-brew I can vouch for this. It’s hay-zoos strong but smooth as the local shapers are at ding repairs. A trademark of many brands is to have a mescal worm (actually a caterpillar) preserved inside the bottle, the person who finishes the bottle is apparently supposed to eat it. My friend did this at a festival and was tripping balls for a good 5 hours, probably worth a go.
Mexican coffee is up there with some of the best in the world and can compete in quality with that from: Indonesia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Ethiopia — all the big coffee dogs. Not far from Huatulco town is the coffee plantation of Pluma Hidalgo, a place that produces one of Mexico’s finest roasts. Take a short trip up to the stunning Sierra Mountains to be welcomed by the chirpy locals. Beware though, it can get cold (in comparison to the 365 day t-shirt and short combo down on the coast) up in them there hills so you may need another layer — like maybe hoody.
It doesn’t take much Mexican beer and mescal in your belly to get you in the mood to test out those wobbly legs after a day of cruising some of the funnest waves of your life. A good spot to start off the evening is La Crema, a bar/restaurant playing good music from reggae to salsa with a bit of Interpol in-between and hosting locals, travelling surfers and girls alike. If your legs aren’t up for it there are plenty of sofas to veg out on.
If you really want to get your party on in Oaxaca the Puerto Escondido is your best shout. Congo, Sativa Terraza & Bar and Mayca Son La Rumba cater to a variety of tastes. If you pick the right mescal then you may be in for the pleasant surprise of a hangover-less morning, but it can easily swing the other way.
Hualtulco town has a vibrant atmosphere with bars playing music that echoes around the streets and into the town square. You will find live musicians hopping between restaurants and bars to serenade the guests and get the local vibes in your veins. Puerto Escondido’s bar scene also has many options depending on your mood/taste. Of course there are plenty of salsa vibes going down but if electronic beats are more your thing you won’t struggle to find drinking holes that cater to your taste.
The aforementioned La Crema in Crucecita seems to be a good place to start off. I was there on a Saturday having a quiet beer and pizza and there were plenty of girls around. As with many surf locations they mixed with a bunch of dudes in tow, but there were a couple of lonely looking chicas at the bar getting the drinks down. I’m told that Puerto Escondido is the place to go if you’re after a hook-up. The town is the best developed in the area and has loads of bars & clubs to choose from. All you have to do is spend a few minutes on the beach and there is plenty to distract you from the waves.
Huatulco is a good mid-point between Puerto Escondido and Salina Cruz. It is also a convenient 10-15 minute drive from the airport. I stayed in a couple of hotels while in town. Hotel Maria Mixteca is a very affordable place right next to the town square, but the real gem is Hotel Mision de los Arcos, ran by a super friendly Floridian and her local Mexican husband (mention What Youth when you book). Again, this is very reasonable priced and right next to the square. They are more than happy to recommend local surf guides and give advice for spots to checkout. Head further south into Salina Cruz and the surf camps have accommodation deals that they include with the guided tours. But take note, it can be rustic down there….
Two words: HEAVY WAVES, especially if you are in Puerto. Other potential issues to consider are: corrupt police, thieves, dehydration….nothing major. There are also rumors of those big fish with sharp teeth, but apparently not worth worrying about as they have more than enough real fish food to eat. The tour guide said he saw one in his entire 32 years of surfing along the coastline so your odds are pretty good. We didn’t have any of these issues on our stay but it is not unheard of.
Fly into Huatulco airport and there are a couple of car rental companies there that sure know how to rip off the tourists. Best bet is to get into contact with a surf guide or hotel that you plan on staying at and you’ll likely be able to find vehicles for half the price through their contacts. With a shit ton of breaks scattered along Oaxacan shores a road trip will not be short of spots to choose from. However, as mentioned before many of the beaches are inaccessible by road, so you will miss out on a few hidden gems. Be careful of taking the unknown roads too confidently as there are potholes bigger than your mates Mum that you used to joke about in high school. That plus the sketchy cliffside drives that crumble away after a heavy summer rain.
For road trips here you should be safe in boardies most of the year. You will need a range of boards depending on the time of year you visit. They get VERY big waves here but there are smaller days too. You could be reaching for the big wave gun one morning and then looking down at the groveler the next. If you score decent surf here on your stay then you will be sure to find leaving a lot harder than you expect.
Watch our video from Salina Cruz with Jack Freestone and Dillon Perillo called: “Crack”