I’d use this to get around: Collectivos. These are amazing for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it means, essentially, riding in the back of a pick-up truck with a bunch of strangers. They’re all over the place and easily identifiable by their white paint and blue plastic canopy, à la chuck wagon circa whenever people used covered wagons to get around. Cost per ride is M$5 (less than CDN$0.50) and they’ll take you from one end of Puerto to the other, through the main part of el centro and along the highway that sort of divides the town in two. They run all the time and stop whenever you flag them down. To get off, just push a little doorbell thingy on the wall and the driver will pull over ASAP. If safety and comfort are more important to you than cultural immersion and balancing a shoestring budget, take a cab. They, too, are everywhere and cost between M$30-40 depending on distance and time of day. Or walk. Or surf. Or don’t move.
I’d stay here: Anywhere in Zicatela. The little strip of restaurants, bars and hotels is a short walk or collectivo from the main centre, but it’s fine because this is where you’ll want to be most of the time anyway. It’s beautifully clean, relatively safe and positively stunning. There are tons of options for accommodations, from hostels to hotels to condos for rent, and I haven’t heard a bad word spoken about any of them. Another beautiful spot is the area surrounding Carrizilillo Beach. Tons of ex-pats with condos rent their vacation homes during various seasons for various prices and lengths of stay. Eglantina Condos are beyond gorgeous, so if you’re in Puerto for a spell and are past the point in life where shared bathrooms and sleeping in hammocks appeal to you, this is a sweeeeeeeeeet spot. If you’re really looking to drop some cash on a view and a little slice of heaven, check out Villas Carrizalillo. WOW. Nice digs.
I’d eat here: There’s a spot in the Zicatela hood called Casa de Dan. Most of the time, the food is just OK. But on Fridays and Saturdays, they put up the best fish tacos in town. Down the road a stretch, tucked away like the hidden oasis that it is, lies a hostel called Osa Mariposa. They serve vegetarian food and it’s all delicious, especially the black bean burgers. They do veg sushi on Sunday nights as well, which is a nice option if you’re taking my advice and heading to Guadua for some drinks and dancing later on. The best breakfast I had in Puerto came from a little spot near Carrizalillo called Villa Mozart y Macondo. The grounds are really eclectic, the espresso really fresh and the massive plate of fruit with granola and yogurt really, really tasty. Last, but not least, I’d head to the market for lunch at least once while you’re in town. Sort of in the center of the whole thing is a kind of food court situation that’s made up of little cantinas with virtually identical menus, all of which offer typical authentic Mexican (read: delicious) comidas. I have no real inkling as to which ones, if any, are better than others so my suggestion is just to go to the one that’s got the most customers.
I’d drink here: Back at Osa Mariposa, there’s also a mescal bar. If you haven’t tried mescal (similar to Tequila but more pure and more potent) then this is the place to do it. There’s a wide selection and friendly, lovely, knowledgeable staff who love to share the good word about the region’s favourite product. While you can get mezcal at several if not all of the bars in town, the tropical tranquility of Osa Marisposa is perfect for sitting around feeling your tongue gradually go numb. On Sundays, head to Guadua for a dance party on the beach. The atmosphere’s casual and fun, as is the music and, if you’re lucky, some local guapos will put on a jaw-dropping breakdance spectacle until the floor gets too crowded for their antics. There are bars all along the strip in Zicatela, of which Kabbalah is the super late night spot. Café Babylon, which does amazing coffee and crêpes during the day, offers live music most nights. (They also have the best book exchange selection in town, FYI).
I’d do this: Hang ten. For those who are just learning to surf, Carrizalillo Beach makes for a great little bunny hill. If there’s no surf, it’s still a gorgeous spot for swimming and putting away half a dozen beer under a palapa. Win-Win! Of course, if you’re any sort of good, you have lots of options along the main beaches between the Bahia Principal and La Punta. Waves range in size and level of difficulty from, “I could probably spend an hour or two out there messing around,” to, “If I don’t make it out alive, tell my brother he can have my truck.” The Mexican Pipeline is the most awesome of the breaks and hosts a few international comps every year. It also claims a few international lives every year, so don’t get cocky and beware the deadly undertow. I’d also take a day trip to Mazunte, Zipolite and San Agustinillo if I were you. These are three small fishing villages all in a row just south of Puerto Escondido with gorgeous, secluded beaches, quaint little cafés and tons of hammock-hanging palapas. Zipolite is nude-friendly, if clothes are getting on your nerves, and San Agustinillo has a bit of surf at the far end of the beach, but Mazunte was my favourite. It’s a quick, rickety old bus trip down the road, then either a cab or a collectivo to get to the beaches. All told, the trip from A to B takes about an hour and a half and costs anywhere from $5-10, return.
I wouldn’t do this: Walk alone at night, especially on the beach. Puerto is a really safe, really friendly town, but there have been armed muggings along the beach, even during the day, so exercising caution and common sense is highly recommended. If you don’t need it, don’t bring it. And if you have it, don’t flaunt it. If you use it, you might lose it. OK, that’s enough.
Bonus Tip: There is a great iPhone/iPod/iPad app called Puerto Escondido Travel Essentials. It’s got everything you’d ever need or want to know about Puerto from a Canadian semi-ex-pat who knows all and wants to share it with you.