The first thing you need to be clear about - are you going to Puerto Escondido for surfing or for a chill beach time.
Well, the place offers both, so I will dive into all the different beaches around Puerto Escondido and why some are more special than others.
This will also highly influence where you decide to stay because of several reasons that I will cover in the article.
So let's cover them one by one! They are mentioned in no specific order.
Zicatela (& Punta Zicatela)
Principal (also called Bahia Puerto Escondido)
Manzanillo (& Puerto Angelito)
Also, after we have covered all the beaches, I want to warn you about one thing in the airport and how to avoid it. And a few important things you need to know about Puerto Escondido!
I have to start with Zicatela beach as it is the most famous beach in Puerto Escondido. Known for its powerful "Mexican Pipeline," this beach is definitely a surfer paradise but only for the experienced ones!
The peak season for the biggest, most powerful waves is during the summer months, typically from May to August. This is when the town hosts numerous international surf competitions. These waves can be extremely challenging, often exceeding 7 meters (20 feet), so they are generally recommended only for experienced surfers.
For intermediate surfers, the months just before and after the peak summer season (April, September, and October) can offer slightly smaller, yet still challenging waves.
If you are looking for a chill time on the beach then this coastline is definitely an option as it is very wide and not crowded but there is a small chance you will be able to go for a swim. With waves being so big and strong it is almost impossible to go even for a quick dip. There are many beach bars to choose from offering sunbeds with umbrellas, food, and drinks.
If you feel like the Zicatela beach waves are too big and strong but the beginner beach is too basic, then the ideal alternative for you will be the Punta Zicatela. It is a part of the Zicatela beach, on its North East end. There, waves are usually smaller but big enough to challenge you. I didn't go there myself so I can't comment too much, but a lot of people said that it is that perfect spot between Zicatela and the beginner beaches.
A solution for swimming would be to go to Principal Beach (also called Bahia Puerto Escondido) which is at the other end of Zicatela Beach, closer to town. Practically it is the same beach but I understand why it is separated because it kind of curves at the end, and the waves are not that strong there.
This beach is an option if you want to go for a dip but I don't think the atmosphere is the best. It is a very local beach. All the locals go there with tables and food and it is a proper family event. I felt like I was stared down and the vibe was: 'What are you Gringo doing here?' Also because of the amount of food, there are a lot of stray dogs and the cove is full of fishing boats because that obviously is the only window where the boats can get in and out.
This beach is great for several reasons:
One of the most beautiful beaches in the area
Some of the best and cheapest seafood
Great atmosphere, the perfect people-watching spot
If there is one nearby beach where to snorkel, then it is this one
The only negative is that it can get very crowded. Also, the way the tide changes, at some points the whole beach can get covered by water, so there really isn't a spot where to put down your towel and chill. The best shout is to rent one of the sunbeds. All the beds are offered in exchange for consumption. So you need to eat and drink for a certain amount, which on that beach is normally MXN 500 (~$28 USD) for 2 beds, so between 2 people.
You can't surf on this beach so this beach is purely for relaxing and eating some excellent seafood! And some cheeky margaritas!
Just want to mention, that if snorkeling is something you want to do then there is one highly recommended place 1h drive away from Puerto Escondido - Huatulco Bay!
Puerto Angelito is a beach next to Manzanilla. You literally can walk from one beach to the other. They are divided only by a few rocks. The Puerto Angelito beach is very similar but a lot of boats go there in out daily so it is not as great as Manzanilla.
This is the beach I spent most of my time because this is officially the best surf beginners' beach around the area.
The best season for surfing at Carrizalillo is during the dry season, typically from November to April, when the offshore winds create better wave conditions. During this period, the waves tend to be consistent, ranging from 0.5 to 2 meters (2 to 6 feet), ideal for surfers improving their skills.
That said, there are a few downsides (purely my personal experience). Because it is such a popular beach a lot of tourists come here to learn, and the beach can get very crowded. There can be up to 50 people in the water waiting for the wave and there really is not a place for everyone, so you either miss a wave because you let other people go or when you do catch one there is a big chance someone will bump into you. Because we are all learners there, not everyone can manoeuvre between each other.
So I feel like rather than improving my surfing, I more learned how to avoid other people. Maybe it is because I am used to surfing in other places where waves are maybe not so good but they are very long and everyone has space to learn, fall and catch a wave.
Another thing is that although you do get consistent waves every day, the situation is not always ideal. There were a few days during my 3 week stay where there were no waves for 10 minutes and then 1 big one comes wiping everyone out. I did not enjoy those days. I must say I did travel there during May and May is when the season changes and the weather/waves are more unpredictable and can be a bit more challenging than during November - April. So I think if you come for an extended period of time, it is fine, because you can go surfing on the good days but if you come only for a few days then you are not guaranteed to always have great waves. That said, if you go with an instructor you should be fine most days. So, this also depends on your budget.
Getting a surfboard is very easy. There is a rental just by the entrance of the beach. The guy told us MXN 250 (~$14 USD) for an hour per board, but because it was two of us he gave us a board each for MXN 200 (~$11 USD). So make sure to huddle if you are more of you.
On this beach, you will also find sunbeds and a few cafes. Again not too much space on the beach due to the big waves.
This beach is very special because of the Vive Mar organization that saves the turtle population around the area! They collect and save turtle eggs from different beaches in the area and bring them to this one location on the Bacocho beach where they ensure the eggs hatch and make it safely to the ocean. Where do you come in? You can pay a donation of MXN 150 (~$8 USD) and help release turtles in the ocean! The most adorable experience I have had so far in Mexico. This release of turtles happens every day at 5PM. Once you arrive at the beach you will see the organization's hut, so you can't miss it!
Overall, this is also just a great beach to relax at. Quite big so not too crowded and also fewer people because there are no sunbeds or beach bars. The only thing is that it is a bit out of the way and unless you stay at that end of the town, you will need to get transportation there.
Alright, I know this is not a beach but I have to mention it! Manialtepec Lagoon is remarkable because of the Bioluminescence - lights from algae you can find in the lake during the night. But that is not why I am mentioning this lagoon, as I didn't find the tour that amazing. But that is another story... I want to highlight this lagoon because you can rent kayaks or paddle boards there and go for an amazing trip without a guide. Just at your own pace enjoying the peaceful lagoon and atmosphere. It was truly such an amazing day. We found a place where we got the kayak for 2 people for MXN 300 (~$17 USD) for the whole day.
It is literally the first stop on the right once you see the lagoon (driving from Puerto Escondido town):
You can simply put on the maps 'Aguaje del Zapote' for navigation. You will drive the main road for about 20 minutes from Puerto Escondido town, then you will see the lagoon on your left and literally after 1 minute, there will be the first houses on the right side. You will see big signs of 'Bioluminescence' because from there you can also get a tour for that. The tour we got from MXN 250 to 200 because we rented the kayaks there earlier in the day.
A few important things you need to know when traveling to Puerto Escondido
1. Do not get a taxi at the airport! There is only one company offering taxis and 'colectivos' (group transfers) so the price is way higher than the normal taxi rates. There is a solution! Get out of the airport, turn right, and walk down the street for 3 minutes. At the end of the street, there will be a line of taxis waiting for you for a much better price. If I remember correctly the price for a taxi at the airport was MXN 300 and we got the taxi outside for MXN 150. Also, it was a principal for us, because we lived only 6 minutes drive away from the airport.
2. Uber doesn't work in Puerto Escondido. Which is why I think taxis overcharge so much. So yes, in general getting a taxi in Puerto Escondido is expensive so do not rely on that.
3. The best and cheapest way how to get around the town and beaches is by renting a motorbike. There are several places where to rent them. I also saw many people riding quads, so I guess that is a popular option too.
4. Puerto Escondido is not a cheap destination. Average dinner for two costs MXN 600 (~$33). Also, accommodations, board rentals, tours - everything has been more expensive than in other surf spots down in the South I have been to.
5. It is so hot, you sweat just by standing. Humidity is crazy and the sun is so strong. The hottest months, however, are typically April and May, just before the onset of the rainy season. During this period, temperatures can reach up to around 35°C (95°F) or more during the day.
6. Overall the town has everything you need - a bank, 2 supermarkets, and laundry. So it is big enough for you to stay there for a while. Definitely a digital nomad hotspot.
7. I usually tend to stay in the center so I am in a very convenient location but I think this is probably one of the few places where I do not recommend staying in the town centre. Pick a beach you will spend most of your time at and book near there. Because what seems like a 15-minute walk from the town, will turn into a horrible what feels like an hour walk in the desert.
8. I stayed by the Carrizalillo beach and really loved it because I could go easily check the waves and decide if I want to surf that day. I was also close to the Manzanilla beach which is one of my favorites and the main street there is actually full of restaurants and cafes so I had no need to go to the town. The only time I walked to the town was for the ATM.
If there is one thing you take away from this article, then it is to pick the beach you prefer - surf or chill and book a place nearby. Because although on the map all seems walkable, it is not. It is way too hot and way too far to walk everywhere.