Meagan Drillinger
Meagan Drillinger

Last week, there was an article on the front page of the New York Times' travel section (and a full spread) about the coast of Oaxaca -- the Costa Chica, to be exact. When I saw it, my heart sank.

For the past four years the Costa Chica, and Puerto Escondido in particular, has been my hideaway. The place in Mexico that I retreat to because most travelers to Mexico go ... everywhere else. As soon as I saw the headline, I thought, "Well, there goes Puerto." As I started reading the article, my heart sank further because it nailed everything I loved about the destination.

The Costa Chica is one of the most magical, beautiful, culturally intact parts of Mexico. It's a beach destination that has not suffered from overdevelopment and mass tourism. There are no chains, and most businesses are locally owned. It's absolutely a place in Mexico to visit.

"It is really important to understand Puerto Escondido," said Heriberto Sanchez, owner of the Puerto Experience, which runs insider tours in Puerto Escondido and the surrounding area. "You really have to know your client, as well. You have to give them the right accommodation and the right services, because if you don't find them their right Puerto, they're going to have missed expectations." So if your clients are headed to Costa Chica, here is what you should know.

Puerto Escondido is a sleepy, surfer fishing town at its roots. In fact, in the 1990s, it was little more than a web of dirt roads. Slowly but surely it has been undergoing a transformation. Dirt roads have been paved, beaches once made for camped-out surfers are lined with hotels, small restaurants and bikini shops. There is luxury, sure, but it's out of the way and almost feels out of place in a destination like this, which has been beloved by locals and backpackers for decades. Still, where it is today is a step above backpacker. Hostels exist, especially close to the waves, but the city has certainly elevated itself. Today it's a mix of surfers, travelers, Canadian snowbirds and retirees. 

Hotels

There are no chain hotels in Puerto Escondido. There are no all-inclusives. If your clients are headed there, it's boutique all the way. It's possible to do lavish luxury, with boutique glamor hotels that were mentioned in the article, but what the article does not mention is these hotels are about 40 minutes away from Puerto Escondido, with not much atmosphere and certainly no local flavor. If your clients are going here, they will be comfortable and pampered, but it's not the Puerto Escondido that people have come to know and love.

Vivo Resorts is about 10 minutes north of the airport and offers luxury-style condominium accommodations with hotel services. With 12 miles of uninterrupted beach and mountain views, this is one of the best beach resort options in Puerto Escondido.

Close to the main beach, and near the downtown, is Hotel Santa Fe, which is a charming and laidback inn with a pool, restaurant, and a warm and welcoming staff. It's just steps from the main beach, Playa Zicatela, and is a quick ride to the main downtown areas of Puerto Escondido.

Things to do

Puerto Escondido's location between the sea and the mountains leaves the door open to endless opportunities. Surfing is the most obvious draw to Puerto Escondido, but there is so much more. The area is home to bioluminescent bays, ziplining in the mountains, horseback rides to hot springs and waterfalls and more. It is truly an adventurer's paradise. But it also has plenty of wellness options. Don't expect luxury spas, but if clients want to try the authentic temazcal sweat lodge experience, yoga, massage and thermal baths, Puerto Escondido is a haven for healing. 

Where to eat

Puerto Escondido is not a destination for fine dining. But that is not to say that the flavors are not full and the atmosphere original and vibrant. The most "high end" restaurant is Almoraduz, a restaurant that has been written up in the foodie magazines time and time again. Its menu is eclectic and deeply rooted in Oaxaca traditions, but elevated for the 21st century. Still, as "elevated" as it may be, it's still an open-air restaurant where the best dressed will still be wearing shorts.

Down on the beach, El Coste Cevicheria & Grill slings some of the freshest seafood around. Owned by a local Puerto Escondidan, he cut his teeth watching his mother cook in her restaurant from an early age. Today it's one of the best restaurants on Zicatela, with a vibe that is bohemian and airy.

Some of the best, and most casual, spots to dine are in town. Here you'll want to visit Juquilenas, a restaurant run by mostly women. This restaurant is up by the local mercado and serves a wide range of local delicacies from enmoladas (chicken enchiladas in mole), to grilled steak and chorizo, flor de calabaza quesadillas, and more.

"There is literally something for everyone in Puerto Escondido," said Sanchez. "Don't be afraid to explore. Connect with the people. Try the food. When people make the most out of Puerto they are always blown away."

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