Exploring the state of Oaxaca has been a personal highlight of our Mexico vanlife adventure. There are so many places to see off the well-worn tourist circuit. It has been a revelation having the ability to get out, explore and camp in the van as we overland through this stunning part of the country.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this leg of our journey has been our time by the sea. The Oaxaca coast is one of Mexico’s most beautiful natural resources. It is here that having your own vehicle really comes into its own. Oaxaca is, for the most part, not as developed as other regions in Mexico. Much of the coastline is made up of isolated beaches unreachable by public transport, without hotels, shops, restaurants, or holidaymakers.
We spent almost two months exploring this wild and rugged Oaxaca coast. Now, we have put together a basic itinerary of some of our favorite stops along the way, the must-see Oaxaca beaches (Oaxaca playas), our favorite Oaxaca beach towns, and the hidden gems along the coast of Oaxaca.
Getting to the Best Beaches in Oaxaca
Getting to the best beaches in Oaxaca by private vehicle is relatively straightforward. The Sierra Sur separates the coast from Oaxaca City in the north. The drive south down the 175 is beautiful but slow going. Although Oaxaca is only 150km (as the crow flies) from the sea, the drive takes upward of 6 hours. During which, you wind up the range to 2,500m and down the other side back to sea level.
We strongly recommend breaking up the drive by stopping off at San Jose del Pacifico. This beautiful mountain town, about halfway between the city and coast is a destination in its own right. San Jose is the perfect place to take a break for a day or a week.
The 175 takes you all the way to Pochutla where you can join route 200 which runs along the Oaxaca coast.
It is possible to drive directly from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido on the 131. This route is about 50km shorter. However, the road condition is not great and can be especially treacherous after the wet season.
You can also drive directly to Salina Cruz via 190. We haven’t driven this way ourselves so can’t comment. It also puts you a long way east of many of the best beaches in Oaxaca.
Coming from the state of Guerrero in the west (inadvisable now in 2019 with current crime levels) or Chiapas to the east is even simpler. The 200 coastal route, runs from Nayarit in the north all the way down to Guatemala. It is straight and well-maintained.
The Best Beaches in Oaxaca for Free Spirits: Zipolite, Mazunte and San Agustinillio
These three consecutive beaches are some of the best beaches in Oaxaca. With their distinctive, laid-back vibe and hippy culture, they have become a beacon for free-spirited travelers from all over the world.
The beaches of Mazunte, San Agustinillo, and Zipolite are beautiful and unspoiled. They strike a balance between the modern conveniences of a small, coastal, tourism-based community, while not suffering from over-development.
These pretty Oaxaca beaches are recognizable by their rocky coves, palm trees, and faded palapas that dot the beaches, as well as jungle-covered headlands enclosing each beach.
Here you will find low-key beach bars and restaurants run by local families, delicious bakeries and health food stores, yoga studios, and wellness spas. Zipolite also holds the title of Mexico’s only recognized ‘nude friendly’ beach. There is also some surf with beach breaks at Zipolite and San Agustinillo.
The clincher for vanlifers? Absolute beachfront camping is allowed by the local authorities and communities on the public beach parking in Zipolite. It’s always nice to find somewhere that offers picturesque camping while still being close to some restaurants, shops, and bars. There’s always a number of vanlifers parked at this popular overlanding spot. Wake up to waves crashing and watch the sunset over sea every evening from this million-dollar spot.
Leave yourself at least a week to properly soak up the three Oaxaca beaches, though you could easily spend a month here exploring or just relaxing.
Huatulco National Park: The Best Beach in Oaxaca for Nature
Here 30,000 acres of stunning beaches and wild coastal forests have been designated a national park.
The town of La Crucita borders the park on the eastern side. It is possible to drive into the national park from La Crucita. On the western side, the small beach town of San Agustin sits just inside the park itself.
We opted to stay in San Agustin, the tiny town on the park’s westernmost beach. We chose to stay here because it was less developed than La Crucita. The downside is that, without a road into the national park, you’ll need to hire someone to take you there by boat.
Playa San Agustin is reached via a narrow dirt road that connects the town to the coastal route 200. Trundle down the track for about thirty minutes before you emerge on the stunning beach. Be prepared for local tour operators to rush you offering parking, accommodation, and food.
The beach of San Agustin is beautiful though surprisingly busy with a local community that runs on fishing and tourism. Fishing boats bob in the calm turquoise waters which are protected by the headlands at either end of the beach and the Isla de San Agustin in front.
While there were one or two free overlanding options listed in iOverlander here, we took the opportunity to camp directly on the beach at a specialty overlanding campsite, ‘Don Taco’. The camp is well-equipped and the Dutch owner-managers understand well the requirements of their guests.
Huatulco National Park
We were also able to organize a boat ride into the national park from the camp owner-operator Franz. He showed us many of the bays and beaches of the park before dropping us off at Playa La India. We had the gorgeous beach to ourselves for a few hours before we were beset by tour boat operators, bringing rowdy groups of snorkellers and blaring Latin pop from their boats :(.
Two to three days should be sufficient to experience the national park and relax in San Agustin before moving on to your next beach destination along the coast of Oaxaca.
Agua Blanca: The Best Beach in Oaxaca for SunsetS
This Oaxaca playa is a bit of a local’s secret with fewer international visitors than many of the more tourist Oaxaca beaches.
The beach was relatively quiet in November and early December when we visited. Another beach not yet spoiled by hordes of tourists.
The beaches of the Agua Blanca are remarkable for their low rocky headlands providing dramatic views and plenty of rockpools to explore. The rocks and dangerous currents make swimming more difficult here. A great place to fish off the beach, sun on the beach and enjoy the spectacular sunsets each night.
This is another opportunity to wild camp right on the Oaxaca playa. Watch the sunset over the sea in front of your porch each day. You will also get to enjoy the convenience of restaurants and shops in the small town.
Two days here and you’ll be ready to continue up the road toward the port city of Escondido, one of the most popular Oaxaca beaches and a popular Oaxaca beach town.
The Best Beaches in Puerto Escondido
One of the more developed towns on the coast of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido has its own airport and some development yet still manages to retain that small beach town feeling. Although the tourism industry is booming here, there is enough room to get off the beaten path.
Whether you want to learn how to surf or prefer basking in the sun, there is an Oaxaca playa in Puerto Escondido for everyone! Below is a list of the best beaches in Puerto Escondido to visit!
La Punta for Surfing
Learn to surf in La Punta Escondido. Around La Punta, a backpacking and alternative traveler scene has emerged. Here you can find beach bars, cafes, yoga and surf schools. Backpackers, surfers and holidaymakers from all over the world mingle here.
The surf at the protected point is often quite small compared to the exposed northern end of Playa Zicatela. Hordes of tourists, learning to surf, crowd the small waves falling over each other. An interesting place to visit for a couple of days but not our favorite beach to stay at.
You can camp at the beachfront car park at La Punta but it is not beautiful and it is busy late into the night.
Playa Coral, Carrizalillo for Relaxing
Spend a day (or a few) at Playa Coral in Carrizalillo. The most beautiful swimming beach in the town of Escondido (and maybe of all of the Oaxaca beaches). This small cove has gorgeous aqua water and a rocky seafloor. It is more protected and calmer than the surfing beach of Zicatela. As one of the prettiest beaches in Mexico, Playa Coral is perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
Playa Zicatela for Monstrous Surf
Check out the heavy beach break at Playa Zicatela. The exposed beach of Zicatela is known for its monster shore break. This wave can get as big as 25 feet. Surfers from all over Mexico and the world come to prove themselves on this heavy wave. Most days of the year there is a big powerful wave breaking just off the steep shore. But when Zicatela is really firing get down to this beach to see the locals and ballsy visitors take on this legendary wave.
With the collection of backpackers, surfers, and holidaymakers spread between, La Punta, Zicatela, and Carrizalillo, the bars and restaurants that line the beaches of this lively town are usually packed in the evenings and it’s a good place to meet people and party.
San Pedro Mixtepec to Watch Sea Turtles Return to Sea
You will need your own set of wheels to get to this amazing Puerto Escondido beach. A nice break from the busy Puerto Escondido you can find wild camping in San Pedro Mixtepec, here, on a deserted beach just 8km north of the tourist town. Here you can camp on the beach completely alone next to a small laguna.
With nothing here but a few palms, an old palapa, and kilometers of exposed beach, you’ll need to entertain yourself here. Although if you’re lucky, you may witness baby sea turtles hatching here at night time before making their pilgrimage to the sea.
A great place to camp for a few days to escape the hustle and bustle of Puerto Escondido or en route to your next destination.
Puerto Escondido can be touristic in places, but it has a lot to offer if you dig a little deeper. We recommend spending two weeks here to experience the different beaches and the town itself.
Chacahua: The Best Beach in Oaxaca to Escape
This gorgeous coastal community straddles the sliver of beach that separates Laguna Chacauha from the sea. Hidden behind a huge lagoon covered in complex mangrove forests and swarming with crocodiles, it is not so easy to reach. Those who make the journey here are rewarded with the beauty, natural abundance, and laid-back charm of this isolated beach.
Getting To Chacahua
One hour north of the town of Puerto Escondido is the National Park of Laguna Chacahua. To access the beach village of Chacahua you have two options drive around the lagoon, or ferry through it. The ferry is quicker and more spectacular but a little expensive and also means you won’t be able to sleep in your car. Accommodation is around 100 pesos for tent camping and cabanas start from 300 pesos.
The ferry is the quickest option and a spectacular journey in itself. From Puerto Escondido, drive to the town of El Zapotalito one hour north. As you approach the lagoon shore, tour operators swarm the car jostling for your business. Barter with the locals to organize a ride and safe parking. We paid $10 per person with 3 other people however ultimately this will be dependent on your party size and level of negotiation.
The forty-five-minute trip is incredible as a skillful pilot deftly maneuvers a skinny dinghy through the narrow openings amongst the dense mangrove forest periodically emerging into the open lagoon before plunging into another maze of mangroves. The fact that they have memorized the path through the tangle of the forest is incredible. The speed with which they can navigate the mangroves is as impressive as it is terrifying. The forest itself is very special. Sunlight filters through the thick foliage, hidden birds call, and the distinct feeling that the numerous crocodiles that live here are watching you is real.
It is also possible to drive to the western side of the village. Although it takes another two or three hours of driving down a dirt track in poor condition to circumnavigate the lagoon and come in for the western side.
It, as a remote location, means the village is rarely busy outside of peak Mexican holiday dates.
What to Do in Chacahua
While you are here time moves a little more slowly meaning there’s plenty of time to take in everything there is to do in this national park.
Surf. When the point break is firing virtually endless waves peels off the sea wall where the laguna meets the ocean.
Marvel at the abundant nature the park has to offer. Far from the fishing villages and populated towns, marine life is plentiful here. Schools of fish and dolphins can be spotted close to shore in the clear water. Further out if you’re lucky whales can be seen migrating.
Fish. Grab a rod or hand reel and wet a line off the seawall.
Lay in a Hammock. Watch the world go by ever so slowly in Chacauha from the vantage of a comfortable hammock.
Spot the Bioluminescent plankton. The nature frenzy continues after dark, as the unspoiled natural state here provides a perfect environment for bioluminescent plankton.
Hunt for crocodiles. If you got here by boat through the mangrove forest you have probably already got the sense that although you can’t see the crocodiles, they’ve probably seen you. Turn the tables and see if you can spot the crocs of Chacahua.
Enjoy fresh seafood on the beach. Seafood caught by the locals daily is served up for lunch and dinner. It doesn’t get fresher than this and is a steal at less than $10 a plate.
We only spent one weekend here, but it was one of our favorite destinations and I look forward to returning soon. I think we could have easily spent a few weeks escaping it all here.
Playa San Diego: The Best Beach in Oaxaca to Get Off Grid
This beach is remote, isolated, jaw-droppingly beautiful, and easily one of the best beaches in Oaxaca (if not THE BEST).
About halfway between the southern towns of Puerto Angel and Salina Cruz, an old rusty sign, half-hidden in foliage, signals the entrance to a rough dirt track. For about half an hour, the narrow dirt road snakes through the hilly hinterland that separates the highway from the coast, before delivering you to a forest of palm trees that herald the Playa San Diego. A small community of farmers lives in the hinterland, which means you may find yourself slowed by a farmer driving ox and cart or leading skittish horses.
You can camp high on the headland of Playa San Diego for an incredible cascading view of the next five beaches stretching away into the distance. Behind the beach, a large lagoon covered in mangroves stretches back to the hilly hinterland which in turn stretches back to the small coastal range of the Sierra Madre del Sur.
You will likely have it all to yourselves in the mornings and evenings, save for a handful of locals coming to maintain palapas during the day swimming and fishing in the evenings, or local families visiting on the weekends.
There is naught to do here but while away the days, writing, fishing, swimming, surfing, cooking, and walking the deserted beach. Making a fire in the evening and falling asleep with the breaking waves below.
It is one of our favorite spots in Mexico, and we are sure you’ll love it too.
How did we do? Are these the best beaches in Oaxaca? Did we miss some? Let us know below!