“You shouldn’t tell people here that,” a bronzed, bushy-haired local warns after I explain that I’m a writer who is in Puerto Escondido for an assignment. He stubs out a cigarette in a lime wedge and says, “We want to keep this place a secret.” Listening to the various accents surrounding me on the patio—French, Bostonian, Italian, New Yorker—I can’t help but think that someone has already spilled the pinto beans. Still, while drinking a 25-peso beer oceanside with miles of empty beach and sea ahead, it’s certain to me that Puerto Escondido is different than any other tourist destination in Mexico.
Located on the Pacific Coast of the country’s Oaxaca state, this small town has long been known by surfers who flock to the massive waves that can form here (some hitting well over 20 feet). For those who don’t hang 10, the name Puerto Escondido may still sound familiar—it has secured a spot on many “hidden gem” travel lists over the last decade or so, including a recent mention in The New York Times’s story on must-visit places for 2017. The surfer’s paradise has slowly been rising to prominence with increased real estate investment, but is still far from hitting its peak.
On a calmer day, I decide to take advantage of what the surf has to offer at La Punta. “I think you like jumping off more than surfing,” my instructor Kirra laughs, admiring my unique surfing style. Named after Kirra Point in Australia’s Gold Coast, one of the world’s most famous surf breaks, she’s a whiz in the waves, competing in local surf competitions and tackling 15-foot swells—all while still in high school. Her dad is the lifeguard and surf pro at Vivo Resorts, a new hotel on the outskirts of town that serves as my home for the trip. “One more wave and we can go,” Kirra promises.
Located on a 12-mile beach just a 20-minute drive from Puerto Escondido’s town centre, Vivo Resorts was founded by two-time Canadian Olympian downhill skier Cary Mullen. The resort is currently made up of for-purchase and for-rent condos, as well as a select amount of private villas both already available and still being built. The clubhouse, complete with additional condos, a restaurant, and spa, is currently under construction, slated to be finished by the end of 2017. What’s completed now is a set of comfortable, roomy condos, many with ocean views. These accommodations come with a full kitchen with craftsman cabinetry, and contemporary bathrooms accented with onyx sinks.
On the western side of the resort, calmer waters call. Laguna de Manialtepec is an eight-mile-long stretch where the fresh water of the Colotepec River meets the Pacific Ocean. A boat can be taken from just off the highway, a short ride from the resort, and toured through the Laguna. My knowledgeable guide is quick to spot well-hidden wildlife such as green herons, ospreys, vultures, and great blue herons. We pass by a man with two passengers in his boat, heading towards the shore line. “He catches boa constrictors for tourists,” my guide explains, and I remove my hand from the rippling waters.
A few minutes later, the boat arrives at a quiet beach set between the river and the ocean. Coconuts are offered, the juice slurped up with a straw before the shells are cracked open so the flesh can be eaten with lime, salt, and hot sauce. A dip in the warm ocean water is followed by a cooler, more refreshing swim in the river, which flows from the mountains.
Essential to the region of Oaxaca is the cuisine, which can be sampled at its best in Puerto Escondido’s centre market. Heavy, spicy scents of local dried chillies, fresh cacao beans, and coffees waft from vendors’ booths, making the air smell of mole negro. Lunch at Espadin Restaurante is an elegant preparation of local ingredients. Perched cliffside, overlooking the popular Carrizalillo Beach, the restaurant is part of Villas Carrizalillo, a beautiful and quaint hotel with rooms teetering over the ocean. My waiter suggests a locally-caught grouper for the table, prepared with adobo sauce and served with ubiquitous and essential beans and rice. The dish comes covered in the thick, brick-red sauce, best mopped up with tortillas and washed down with salty and sweet margaritas. But I shouldn’t tell you how good it is—you’ll have to try it for yourself. Just don’t tell anyone.