Oaxaca's beaches run the gamut, from hidden coves with gentle waters to crashing surf on long stretches of golden sand © ferrantraite / Getty Images
The Oaxaca Coast is a wild beauty, a paradise of near-empty beaches strung along a dramatic 523km (325-mile) shoreline. Off the beaten track for many travelers, it’s long been a hideout for surfers and hippies – a fact reflected in its chilled out towns and boho enclaves.
The beaches run the gamut, from hidden coves with gentle turquoise waters to crashing surf on long stretches of golden sand. Whatever type of beach you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it on the Oaxaca Coast. Here’s a short list of our faves.
Playa Zicatela is home to the legendary Mexican Pipeline, one of world’s top breaks © Andres Valencia / Getty Images
Best beach for surfing
For serious surfers (or surfing fans), it doesn’t get better than Playa Zicatela. Located in the town of Puerto Escondido, this wide, undulating stretch of golden sand is home to the legendary Mexican Pipeline – one of world’s top breaks, with swells reaching up to 30 feet before transforming into perfect, glassy barrels.
April to October bring the biggest, baddest surf, and a flurry of international surf competitions. Nonsurfers and newbies beware: the undertow here is dangerous for the boardless and beginners. On weekends, come here for the beachfront bars that come alive with techno-fueled parties.
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Oaxaca's lovely Playa Carrizalillo sits at the bottom of a steep 157-step stone staircase © Piero Zanetti / Getty Images
Best beach for swimming and surf lessons
At the bottom of a steep 157-step stone staircase sits lovely Playa Carrizalillo, a sheltered cove with soft sand, turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs all around. The gentle waves make it popular for swimming, and Carrizalillo is the place for beginner surfers. (Affordable lessons and board rentals are available onsite.)
Make a day of it by renting a beach lounger, or just lay out your beach blanket for free. When hunger calls, a line of simple thatch-roofed eateries await with Mexican antojitos (finger foods), seafood platters and cold drinks.
Visitors can help with baby turtle releases at Santuario Playa Escobilla © doleesi / Shutterstock
Santuario Playa Escobilla
Best beach for turtles
A 14.5km (9-mile) ribbon of golden sand between Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, Santuario Playa Escobilla is home to one of the world’s major nesting grounds for olive ridley turtles.
Each year, more than a million olive ridleys emerge from the ocean like giant stones with flippers, pulling themselves across the sand to nest and lay their eggs. Their numbers peak between July and January, with thousands arriving each hour on days nearest the full moon – a spectacular phenomenon known as an arribada.
To protect the turtles, there’s no general access to the beach; however, tours are offered by the locally run Centro Ecoturistico Escobilla. If you miss the arribada, visitors can help with baby turtle releases instead, a remarkable experience all its own.
Best beach for families
A short drive from Huatulco’s mellow resorts, Bahía Maguey is a beautiful bay between forested headlands, its golden sand lapped by calm, clear waters. Popular with Mexican families, the waters are often bustling with activity, from swimming and snorkeling to banana-boat rides and dolphin- and whale-watching tours. (Ropes and buoys keep boat traffic at a distance.)
Palapas serving fresh fish and seafood dishes plus public restrooms and showers help make this a no-fuss beach day with the kids. A taxi stand is the cherry on top – a line of cabs waiting to whisk the fam back to the hotel before anyone has a meltdown.
Playa El Violín
Best secret beach
On the eastern edge of Parque Nacional Huatulco, and well off the beaten path, lies the narrow cove of Playa El Violín. A short unmarked trail just west of the Bahías de Huatulco lighthouse leads down a leafy hillside to the beach.
There’s no development, no one selling shiny jewelry, no tourists getting braids. It’s just you and a wild beach: thick sand, calm waters, dramatic rock formations and a healthy reef with school-upon-school of colorful fish. It’s a picture-perfect escape from the crowds and just 5.6km (3.5 miles) from the town of La Crucecita. Bring provisions and snorkel gear!
Best beach for adventure
As the lancha (small boat) from Zapotalito winds through coastal lagoons and twisting-turning mangroves, the leafy wilderness suddenly opens, and the tiny village of Chacahua with its long curving beach appears. Located in the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua, this is about as remote as it gets.
The tawny beach here is virtually untouched – a handful of mom-and-pop eateries and rustic cabañas line its western end, while the rest is made for swimming, surfing, beachcombing and chilling out. You can explore the waterways by kayak to see the countless migratory birds that winter here, or visit the crocodile nursery up the sand road. It’s also the place to see nesting leatherback sea turtles from October to March.
On moonless nights, take a boat tour of the bioluminescent lagoons, the water – and anything moving in it – seemingly lit up with fairy dust.
Best town beach
Playa Rinconcito is a sweet little beach, backed by hippy-chic Mazunte, a picturesque village at the foot of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains, known for its yoga retreats and vegan eats.
The beach itself is the best swimming spot around, its golden sand tucked into Punta Cometa, a dramatic headland that provides shade in the afternoon and makes for a great sunset hike. Come here for a chillax day at the beach, snacking on tacos dorados peddled by señoras balancing baskets on their heads, and sipping mezcal sold from beachfront huts.
For a break from the sand, join a dolphin- or whale-watching excursion, or stop by the turtle research center to tour its indoor-outdoor aquarium.
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