Between the mountains and sea on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, the surf towns of Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite offer a laid-back alternative to Mexico’s frenetic cities and all-inclusive resorts. Here’s how to enjoy them best.

The most you can hope for from a holiday is that you forget the names of the days. On Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, between the mountains and sea, lies an unspoilt jumble of surf towns where bare-footed locals move to a slower tempo. Here the jungle grazes the sea, iguanas laze in the shade of agave plants and palms kiss the tips of crashing waves.

Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite are small towns that lie in quick succession to each other, easily traversed by a short taxi ride. Property developers are yet to descend upon this lesser-known pocket of Mexico. Instead of high rises and all-inclusive resorts, dirt tracks join the dots between boutique hotels hidden in a muddle of trees.

The lure of these towns comes from their refusal to comply with modern living. Every morning, I wake to circular daubs of sunlight flickering on my mosquito net. I put on my swimming costume and spend the morning between sunbeds. The sun cream and salt cause the pages of my book to curl. I order a cocktail before noon and feel the condensation drip and mix with beads of my sweat. When it gets too hot, I make my way towards the tumbling surf, ducking under the white foam and feeling small fragments of shell shatter beneath my feet. The beauty of this place is that there isn’t much to do.

Zipolite is famous for its nudist beach and hippie attitude. As I sit eating pancakes at El Alquimista, half-hidden by shade, the naked bodies of strollers startle me. Soon I barely bat an eyelid at the folds of flesh. I walk alongside the water, where the sand is wet and doesn’t burn my feet. At the east end of Playa Zipolite, you can hike to a more hidden cove, Playa del Amor. I stop midway at a bar which overlooks the turquoise, swirling waters and rocky outcrops.

Both Zipolite and Mazunte have vibrant central neighbourhoods. Colonia Roca Blanca, a collection of paved streets at Zipolite’s more refined west end, is lined with open-air restaurants. The bungalows are brightly coloured with tin roofs and decorated with perforated paper. Plastic seating spills onto the pavement and customers devour fish tacos, salsa dripping down their hands and onto their flip flops. However, Rinconcito in Mazunte is the liveliest location in the vicinity. Down this dusty road, between sleeping dogs and shy lizards, you can find palapa-covered cabanas serving margaritas or shots of mezcal. Outside, locals droop on wooden bar stools with Stetson hats shading their snooze. As I move closer towards the beach, I discover more sophisticated vegetarian-friendly cafés and bustling bars housing tousle-haired surfers.

The swell of the Pacific is rough and the sand is sharp. I head away from Playa Rinconcito and up the hillside to Hotel El Copal, a laid-back idyll with an infinity pool that looks out over the sea. I lie back on a sofa and fall asleep to the gentle whirring of a fan. They serve me cocktails with salt around the rim and fresh prawns with a peanut-and-herb sauce. From here, the beach below looks like it’s cloaked in mist. The spray of the ocean is so ferocious that it dances atop the shore.

Although Playa Mermejita is just a walk away from the main street of Mazunte, it’s relatively deserted. There are no vendors, but instead, eccentric-types practising yoga or circus tricks against a darkening sky. Upon the headland at Punta Cometa people have gathered to watch an orange sunset. Instead of joining, I walk back to the central beach to watch the release of hundreds of turtle hatchlings, the waves swooping in and dragging them out mercilessly.

TO DO

Yoga

If you’re looking for extreme activities and constant stimulation, then this corner of Oaxaca is not for you. These sleepy surf towns are the perfect place to rest and recuperate. Stretch out any stress with yoga. Join barefooted bohemians on the beach with only the sand and sea as your studio or find a class and practice your downward dog in the shade. Pura Yoga at El Alquimista holds sessions every morning. Inside, the palapa roof and tiled windows cast delicate shadows on limbering bodies.

  • +52 1 958 587 8961
  • Go to Website
  • Camino a Shambala S/N
    Colonia Roca Blanca
    Playa Zipolite

Surf

The swell surrounding these towns can be strong and it’s important to stay safe when swimming. However, these waves are perfect for surfers and Mazunte’s dusty roads are dotted with camper vans and curly-haired Americans looking for their fix. San Agustinillo’s long stretch of beach is perfect for beginners and boards or lessons can be delivered by local companies such as Tropical Surf. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground and get some inspiration from others, local children can be seen playfully skimming on bodyboards at Playa Rinconcito towards sundown.

Punta Cometa

Although there are plenty of perfect sunset spots in Mazunte, Punta Cometa is a local favourite. This headland, jutting out into the Pacific, is the southernmost point of Oaxaca and offers unparalleled views of the rugged coastline. Join others on their 20-minute evening pilgrimage and experience the sun dip beneath a deep purple ocean. If you look for long enough, you may even spot a school of leaping dolphins.

  • Camino a Playa Mermejita
    Mazunte

Playa Mermejita

Sheltered behind Punta Cometa, Playa Mermejita manages to retain its secrecy. It has just one beach bar, so if you’re visiting for the day make sure to pack sufficient supplies. This beach offers a glimpse of the wilderness – experience impenetrable jungle and golden sands. Walk alongside foaming waves and spot performers fresh from the circus school nearby, as they spin tricks in front of a glowing sun.

  • Mazunte

Turtle Conservation

Before the ban in 1990, Mazunte was at the forefront of turtle hunting. However, these hunters have now started helping the local population instead. We would suggest skipping the rather dated Sea Turtle Center, which is used to house the animals briefly for research, and instead participate in a hatchling release on the beach.

  • Playa Rinconcito
    Mazunte

TO EAT

La Pizzeria

Surprisingly, some of Oaxaca’s best pizza can be found along this coastline – predominantly due to the fact that Italian expats have fallen in love with the laid-back lifestyle and decided not to leave. Beloved by tourists and locals alike, La Pizzeria is said to produce the best pie in the area. The owner and his young sons manage the place, serving crispy-thin margheritas to customers dining al-fresco. The restaurant opens at 6.30 pm(ish).

  • Rinconcito
    70944 Mazunte

Lodeli Bar & Restaurante

Perfect for the digital nomad, this hot spot serves up espresso, Wi-Fi and the occasional gig – things that are hard to come by in this endearingly primitive pocket of the world. Lodeli is surprisingly chic in comparison to its more rustic neighbours and moves away from typical Mexican fare. Here you can order burgers, pancakes and sweet patisseries.

  • +52 777 193 2964
  • Go to Website
  • Entrada Calle Rinconcito
    70944 Mazunte
    Santa María Tonameca

La Providencia

This friendly restaurant is Zipolite’s take on fine-dining. Eat amongst nature in a dining room with no walls. Coastal customer service can be laid-back so admire the creative decor while you wait for the waiter. The courses are artfully presented and focus on local ingredients. Take this opportunity to try the fresh catch of the day.

  • +52 958 100 9234
  • Go to Website
  • Calle Shambala Colonia
    Avenida Roca Blanca
    70902 Zipolite

Orale Café

Nestled in the heart of the jungle, this cafe is worth the brief excursion away from the beach. Wooden tables are set up beneath the palm trees and a chef cooks up breakfasts in the nearby cabana. Orale Café takes the chilled-back lifestyle to another level. Wind down and refresh with a green juice and a fruit plate in sheltered pools of shade.

  • +52 958 117 7129
  • Calle Shambala
    Avenida Roca Blanca
    70902 Zipolite

Posada La Termita

Eat pizza with your toes in the sand at this renowned Italian restaurant. It’s situated on the beach, so you can opt to eat close to the water or underneath the palapa roof. The dough is prepared before your eyes and baked in a wood-fired oven. Ingredients are fresh and the atmosphere is unbeatable. The neapolitan is best washed down with a glass of Italian wine.

La Ola

Come early to this beachfront restaurant to nab one of the best seats in the house. Playa San Agustinillo is long with sweeping orange sands and perfect for a day spent doing nothing. Get tanning on one of the limited blue-and-white-striped sunbeds for less than $15 dollars. While there, try La Ola’s cocktails and if you get peckish, settle your cravings with fish tacos.

  • +52 55 3103 6257
  • Carretera Mazunte
    San Agustinillo

La Mora Posada Café

A firm favourite for breakfast among locals and travellers, La Mora Café has a distinctly bohemian feel. The interior and furnishings are brightly painted in red, purple and yellow and cubist-style paintings hang on the walls. For those that like to avoid sand in their shoes, there’s a shaded terrace with a view out to sea. We recommend the freshly baked cookies. After you’ve devoured your sweet treats head opposite to the chic store Arte Sano.

TO STAY

El Copal

Disconnect from daily life at El Copal, an eco-hotel balancing on the cliffs above Playa Mermejita. Go back to basics in a tipi or cabin, where you can shower outside and sunbathe in a hammock on a private balcony. Don’t miss the hotel’s infinity pool, which benefits from beautiful ocean vistas and is best enjoyed at sunset with a beer. The restaurant serves some of the finest cuisines in the area. Devour freshly caught prawns beneath a stylish palapa canopy.

  • +52 55 5616 1144
  • Go to Website
  • Calle del Panteón
    Camino Mermejita
    70946 Mazunte

El Alquimista

Sleep right on the beach at El Alquimista, which offers air-conditioned, elegantly designed cabins with unbeatable ocean views. Perfect for those looking to unwind, this hotel houses a yoga studio and spa. Enjoy a healing massage before heading to the pool. Surrounded by jungle, this spot offers an insight into Mexican wildlife; share the space with birds, butterflies and lizards. If you’re tired of fish tacos, the restaurant offers quality American-style alternatives such as pancakes and burgers.

  • +52 1 958 587 8961
  • Go to Website
  • Camino a Shambala S/N
    Colonia Roca Blanca
    Playa Zipolite

ZOA Hotel

Treat yourself to a stay in the area’s most glamorous accommodation. ZOA hotel is sequestered atop a jungle-covered cliff, slightly removed from the bustling town. Hidden in plain sight, this secret retreat is exclusive to guests only. The complex contains a variety of levels, from a private beach to an infinity pool and outdoor cinema. The suites are set in luxurious tree houses with panoramic views and spacious balconies.

  • +52 55 5290 2288
  • Go to Website
  • Cerrada Del Museo De La Tortuga
    70946 Mazunte

TO DRINK

Vista Del Amor

In this corner of Oaxaca, it’s acceptable to start drinking before noon and most beachfront establishments serve ice-cold Coronas and salt-rimmed margaritas. However, if you’re looking for a no-frills drink with a tropical vista then Vista Del Amor is the spot for you. Balanced on the headland between Playa Zipolite and Playa del Amor, this LGBTQ-friendly bar delivers refreshing lager with a view out over the crashing waves.

  • +52 958 116 7737
  • Paso a Playa del Amor
    Playa Zipolite

Tribu Taco Bar

Minimalist design is hard to come by in an area that favours surfboards and shacks. However, the Tribu features elegant furnishings with a Scandinavian touch – think: white-tiled floors, a light wooden bar and hanging lamps. Visit for the tacos and stay for the mezcal-inspired cocktails. Happy hour is from 3-6pm.

TO SHOP

Arte Sano

These sleepy towns are aimed at surfers rather than shoppers and are deliberately anti-consumerist living. However, for those that like to spend, Arte Sano in San Agustinillo is the perfect place to let go of your pennies. The owner works with Mexican artisans and collects beautiful hand-crafted products such as purses, bags and clothing. If you’re looking for a souvenir that goes beyond a fridge magnet, this is the place to find it.

Las Tortuguitas

Want to savour your days spent sunbathing and sipping on margaritas? Take the taste of Mexico home with you in the form of mezcal. This favoured tipple can be brought at Las Tortuguitas, a vibrant café with colourful murals that doubles up as a store. Buy bottles of its house brand and share it among friends – if you don’t shot it all first, that is.

  • Rinconcito
    Mazunte

Tienda de Artesanías Piña Palmera

Piña Palmera is a rehabilitation and integration centre for disabled people from rural communities. Support a good cause when you shop from the charity’s store. Here you can find hand-painted wooden toys, paper products and soaps made from organic ingredients such as coconut and cinnamon. Struggling with relentless insect bite? Pick up its natural mosquito repellant.

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