Vanlife diaries #55: Puerto Escondido, Mazunte & Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca Mexico
After several months of exploring the forests, mountains, and magical inland towns of Mexico, we’re finally back on the Pacific Coast and living our best beach life here in Oaxaca. It doesn’t get much better than sandy feet, salty hair, a deep tan— and our van!
We spent this week hopping between secluded coves and sparkling beaches in search of those hidden-gem camping spots where we can open our doors right onto the sand and lose ourselves in the rhythm of the waves. And we’re pretty pleased with what we found!
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Driving from the high-elevation mountain town of San José del Pacifico, we nearly collapsed upon arrival into Puerto Escondido, shocked by a 15C+ increase in temperature and the cloying humidity. It was by far the hottest weather we’ve had on the entire trip, and with a general distaste for sweating, Dan was not pleased.
There were, thankfully, several notable things to love about Puerto Escondido. The town itself is fairly large (about 45,000) and immensely popular with backpackers, which translates to: excellent food from a variety of cuisines. We had some of the best tacos of our life here, dug into falafel wraps, and ate seafood on the daily!
We also found an absolutely wonderful campsite right on the beach— among the best we’ve had in mainland Mexico and reminiscent of Baja’s perfect waterfront boondocking.
Aside from some very friendly locals (who brought us over cold beers and made a point of learning our names), we enjoyed the beach to ourselves on the first day, which primarily consisted of sweating both outside and inside the van.
When we returned with our food haul from town on the second day, we made the error of getting a bit too close to the sand and were immediately sucked in by both of our front tires. The only thing worse than 35C heat is having to dig through hot sand in 35C heat— but within minutes, a pair of local women who’d been working in the nearby fields came wading across a croc-infested lagoon in sandals to rescue us. The older woman pushed Dan aside, removed all the coconuts we’d been trying to shove under the tires, and began digging with incredible vigour.
A few minutes after that, a family arrived in a pick-up, and between the 6 people pushing on our front end, the truck hauling us from the rear, and all those coconuts, we managed to come unstuck amidst whooping and hollering from all of the locals involved.
The final and rather significant highlight of our several days in Puerto Escondido was meeting the only other van couple we’ve ever seen in 3 months in mainland Mexico. Amazingly, Brooks and Jocelyn were also travelling in a Promaster van, also from Seattle, and also bound for Patagonia— although individual circumstances would end up preventing both couples from ever making it past southern Mexico.
We revelled in outside company, especially from such wonderful, like-minded couple, and easily passed days at our beachfront campsite in Puerto before moving east together to Playa Boquilla later in the week.
Puerto Ángel, Oaxaca
Freshly stocked with a fridge full of to-go fish tacos, we convoyed with our friends nearly 2 hours down the coast towards Puerto Ángel in search of another beachfront camp, hopefully this time with fewer mosquitos and better swimming conditions.
Although we had to white-knuckle our way down the access road, we did indeed find exactly what we were looking for at Playa Boquilla— a secluded cove of calm water, soft sand, and palm-shaded parking.
At the far end of the beach, a beautiful little hotel and restaurant served drinks and seafood under plentiful umbrellas, the perfect refuge from the still-soaring temps, and we whiled away an entire day just parading between the beach and the lounge chairs, playing cards in the sand, and making quick work of cold drinks.
One night, we even saw a baby sea turtle stumbling back up onto the shore in confusion and had a national geographic moment releasing him back into the ocean. All in all, it was magical.
Backtracking slightly to Mazunte, we spent just one day in Oaxaca’s coastal Pueblo Mágico and the two towns (Zipolite and San Augustinillo) that hug the east side.
My fellow Mexico-obsessed travellers may recognise the phrase Pueblo Mágico, an esteemed designation given by the government to towns or sites across the country that contribute significant cultural or historic value.
There are currently 132 of these “magic towns”, and we’ve visited a dozen since arriving in Mexico, we’ve come to recognise the phrase as a pretty solid indication that we’re in for something special.
All three towns have a similar surf bum, beach hippie vibes and are absolutely charming— think trendy cafes, barefoot boutiques, and beach clubs with a few sparse rows of reclining chairs— but the intense heat soon drove us onwards quicker than we cared for.
Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca
Farther down the coast, Huatulco National Park finally provided relief from the scorching 35C days we’d been forced to endure in Puerto Escondido and Mazunte. Not only that, but it proved the most spectacular beach and far and away the best snorkelling we’ve had since Baja!
Thousands of hectares of mangroves, jungle, wetlands, beaches, and natural reef are protected as part of the Parque Nacional Huatulco, the first area to receive such a designation in Oaxaca and a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies, and marine life.
Across its 9 bays, the park preserves a vibrant coral reef system that hosts nearly 200 species of fish, hundreds of invertebrates, olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles, and 12 mammal species, including spotted dolphins and humpback whales. And with many of these reefs approaching within metres of the sandy beach, it is unfathomably easy to explore the underwater world, a kaleidoscope of marine life visible without the need for a tour, transportation, or anything other than a mask + snorkel. Welcome to Huatulco!
We spent our first night camped on Playa Riscalillo inside the park, which boasts excellent snorkelling right off the beach, mere moments from our van door.
The water was impossibly clear and perfect for snorkelling, an entire metropolis of tropical fish waiting just beneath the surface.
For the remainder of our 5 days in Huatulco, we moved camp to Bahía San Agustín on the edge of the national park and enjoyed one of the best campsites we’ve ever had at Don Taco, an overlander camp owned by an older European couple.
We hardly ever stay at RV Parks or private campgrounds (preferring to be secluded and out in nature), but Don Taco only had room for about 4 vans/RVs (and was only at half-capacity during our stay), so it felt as secluded as we needed it to.
And the beach right out front of our van was absolutely pristine, quieter than our previous night in the park and still an easy stroll to some of the best snorkelling sites! At 250p/night ($12USD) for hot showers, wifi, and prime beach access, it was too good a deal to pass up!
We went out for a snorkel at least 2 or 3 times each day in the pleasantly warm waters of Huatulco National Park, delighted by the stingrays, spotted rays, eagle rays, sea turtles, and millions of tropical fish that inhabit the colourful reef.
Don Taco also organised a private boat tour for us into the national park, spotting humpback whales and sea turtles along the way before dropping us with our snorkel gear at Bahía India and Playa Jicaral to experience other parts of the reef.
The definitive highlight for me was spotting an octopus swimming along the ocean floor, and although he ducked into a rocky crevice before I could get a photo of him, I was beyond excited— octopus are a rare find snorkelling and I’ve been hoping to see one for, well, forever!
Where we stayed this week
We had such a fabulous time in Huatulco National Park that we stayed 5 nights on various beaches, well into next week, but in an effort to keep all the photos together, I’ve just grouped all Huatulco into this post.
- Camping on the beach at Playa Palmarito just west of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca (free; 20-22 Mar)
- Camping at Playa Boquilla near Puerto Ángel, Oaxaca (free; 23-24 Mar)
- Parking out front of Restaurante Riscalillo in Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca (free with dinner; 25 Mar)
- Camping Don Taco at Bahia de San Agustín just outside Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca (1000p for 4 nights; 26-29 Mar)