After two months of intense traveling, largely due to our migration from Asia to the Americas, we strongly crave some down time at the beach. We leave the churches, colonial buildings, chocolate and festivities of Oaxaca de Juárez behind and make our way to Zipolite and Mazunte, small hippie havens on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Stopover: San José del Pacifico
To break up the 6-hour journey to the coast we stop halfway in the misty mountains of San José del Pacifico. Apparently famous for mushrooms of the hallucinogenic variety and dazzling sunsets (preferably in that order too). Interesting enough, but on arrival a raging storm almost sweeps us away.
Not exactly the right circumstances for a natural psychedelic adventure…
Or an amazing sunset.
After two cold nights in the mountains we finally make it to the coast. Our shuttle bus drops us off in Pochutla which is, besides a couple of banks and being the transportation hub for this region, of no special interest to travelers. We get some cash and quickly hop on a camioneta (a shared taxi or, in this case, a pickup truck with benches in the back) to Zipolite, the first beach town of choice.
Hippie Haven #1: Zipolite
Zipolite’s origin lies back in the sixties when the hippie crowd discovered this until then isolated beach. Thanks to limited law enforcement, Zipolite soon gained a reputation as a free spirit paradise where the scent of grassy substances is never too far away.
As a result of its free-loving past, Zipolite is today best known for one of Mexico’s few nude beaches. Or, for film aficionados, as the place where some beach scenes of the Mexican blockbuster “Y Tu Mama También” were filmed.
Because of the crashing waves it’s also a popular surfing spot. But be warned. It’s said that in the Zapotec language Zipolite also means “Beach of the Dead” because of the riptides and strong currents. According to “Eagle”, one of the voluntary lifeguards, every day people have to be rescued. Despite their effort, still many drown here each year.
With the red flags out we wisely choose to stay on the beach.
Like elsewhere in tropical surroundings, it’s hot and humid on the Mexican Pacific coast. So it’s best we follow our well-tried strategy: take one of the first acceptable rooms available, ditch our backpacks, find our bearings and look for better accommodation.
Zipolite’s tourist center is build around Colonia Roca Blanca, the neatly paved main street that runs parallel to the western half of the mile-long beach. Here as well as on the beach you find a couple of newly built hotels and restaurants. Such as the appropriately named boutique-hotel Nude. Further east you will find some cheap cabañas and camping spots right on the beach.
While choosing to stay here would have given us the opportunity to fully immerse in Zipolite’s backpacker scene, we opt for one of the tastefully decorated rooms with open-air shower and gorgeous view at La Loma Linda. A well-run place on a hill east of the tourist center owned by the lovely German couple Katja and Dieter.
While Zipolite has the reputation of being a bit of a party place, during our visit (early November) it was remarkably quiet. The season obviously still has to start. Most of the action begins late in the afternoon when folks gather on the beach for the end-of-day ritual of watching the spectacular sunset.
At night Colonia Roca Blanca comes alive, with artists and jewelry makers selling their wares while musicians and jugglers perform for tips in the street. We usually just sat down in the sand with a beer or cocktail near A Nice Place on the Beach, our favourite hangout.
Although today Zipolite attracts a lot of middle-class Mexicans, it remains a haven for free-wheeling liberals from all over the world. Such as the eccentric 70-year old bare-chested Jimmy who loves wearing paint-on masks. After a life full of drinking problems, drugs, gambling and little crimes he found peace some five years ago and now lives a free life.
Zipolite seems like the perfect place for Jimmy. Together with the surf dudes, nudists and new-age seekers he adds to the eclectic mix of people all sharing the beach in harmony. It has an undoubtedly laidback vibe and it’s easy to understand why people tend to stay longer than initially planned.
Hippie Haven #2: Mazunte
We arrive in Mazunte on the third and last day of the annual jazz festival. I have to admit: jazz is not my thing. It’s the type of music that makes me nervous. But I know modern jazz festivals usually offer crossover styles like blues, soul or funk too. So I got my hopes up. Unfortunately this festival appears to be mostly about the classic jazz. Or maybe we just happened to be at the wrong performances.
Nevertheless we love Mazunte. From the main street, Avenida Paseo del Mazunte, a couple of lush side-streets lead to the beach. With Calle Rinconcito being the most important one. Along this street you find some attractive guesthouses, funky restaurants and shops.
At the end of Calle Rinconcito you find the part of the beach called El Rinconcito which is good (and safe) for swimming. We mostly enjoyed Rinconcito in the late afternoon, when the heat dies down and the locals make their appearance.
About halfway on Calle Rinconcito there’s a road heading west to Playa Mermejita. Unfortunately we’ve never made it to that side but from what I’ve heard it must be a beautiful, wild beach (but currents make it too dangerous for swimming).
Until 1990 Mazunte was the center of sea turtle hunting but all that has changed since the federal government completely banned the turtle trade in the country and founded the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga (Mexican National Turtle Center). Today the town survives on tourism and turtle conservation.
While Mazunte has the same sleepy, easygoing vibe as Zipolite it differs from its nearby sister in that it focuses on a more healthy lifestyle. There are lots of yoga classes, meditation retreats and spiritual healings on offer.
In addition there appears to be a more alternative crowd consisting of young dreadlocked families and expats. Mostly from other parts of Latin America. All attracted by the peaceful life in this serene bay.
We rent a simple cabaña at La Escondida run by the friendly Argentine Javier who established himself in Mazunte six years ago and decided to rent the whole site. Passionate about gardening he slowly turned the place into his little paradise and is now able to live a simple life from renting out the cabañas and rooms.
Another expat we meet is our compatriot Rens. Unsatisfied with the hectic lifestyle in our home country, he once set out on a journey that led him to Mexico. There he met his Mexican wife, bought a piece of land, got a couple of cows and learned how to make cheese. Nowadays he does his daily rounds in Mazunte selling yoghurt and Dutch cheeses. Locally known as Queso de Rens. A true delicacy compared to its gummy and tasteless Mexican counterparts.
I can totally apprehend Javier and Rens. Mazunte is the perfect place to free yourself from western societal pressure and find a new meaning in life. Or else, like we did, just swing your hammock for a couple of days…
Comparing hippie havens Mazunte and Zipolite I would say that the latter has the rougher characteristics associated with the hippie culture, such as marijuana, parties (although quiet when we visited) and nudism, while Mazunte is more of a spiritual haven. If Zipolite is sex, drugs and rock-n-roll then Mazunte is peace, love and harmony.
Choose whichever suits you best… 🙂
Getting there & away
From Oaxaca de Juárez minivans depart daily and often for Pochutla (6 hrs, 225 MXN/13,50 EUR) along highway 175 through the Sierra Madre del Sur. It’s a very winding road so if you’re sensitive to car sickness make sure you take some precautions. Or, if two-lane mountain roads freak you out anyway, there are also bigger OCC buses going through Puerto Escondido. But that will take at least 10 hours.
Once in Pochutla you can take a camioneta (shared pickup truck) to either Zipolite or Mazunte (30 min, 10 MXN/0,60 EUR). A private taxi will set you back 100 to 120 MXN. To cover the 4 km in between Zipolite and Mazunte you can take another camioneta (also 10 MXN) or a private taxi for about 60 MXN.
To get away you will have to return to Pochutla first. From Pochutla’s bus terminal there are comfortable overnight buses to San Cristobal de las Casas (12 hrs, 556 MXN/33 EUR) that leave around 9 pm and 11 pm.
From Pochutla there are many buses (1st and 2nd class) throughout the day to either Huatulco (30 min) or Puerto Escondido (1 hr).
Unlike I had read beforehand there is nowadays an ATM in both Zipolite and Mazunte (but no longer in Puerto Angel since the machine got stolen). Not sure if the ATM in Mazunte was there specially for the jazz festival though. It’s still sensible to bring a pile of cash from Pochutla since there’s only one machine in each town and they’re often out-of-order.
Both Zipolite and Mazunte have plenty of accommodation ranging from boutique hotels to cheap cabañas and camping spots right on the beach. Generally prices vary between 150/200 MXN for a simple room with shared bathroom to 300 MXN with private bathroom up to 500/650 MXN for a nice room with open-air bathroom and a balcony looking out over the ocean.
In Zipolite we stayed at beautiful La Loma Linda where the prices range from 300 to 500 MXN (off-season). In Mazunte we stayed at La Escondida in one of the cabañas. With private bathroom and patio with hammocks for 300 MXN. La Escondida also has two rooms with shared bathroom for 200 MXN (without outside seating or hammocks).
Expect these prices to double in peak season (Christmas, New Year and Semana Santa).
Dining & Nightlife
Zipolite is home to a variety of good restaurants. You will find most options on Colonia Roca Blanca and on the beach. I can recommend the beachfront options Sal y Pimienta or Posada Mexico to name a few. For a cheap and tasty snack try the hamburger stand or the taco place on Colonia Roca Blanca.
In Mazunte you definitely have to try the delicious fish tacos at Fish Taco El Rey. In the morning La Baguette is the place to be for a decent (strong) coffee and one of their freshly baked chocolate cakes. Both places are at Calle Rinconcito. We also sat down often at Comedor los Traviesos on the main street which offers excellent food for reasonable prices.
As far as nightlife concerns, expect nothing outrageous. Open-air bar Casa del Leon in Mazunte with its Reggaeton blasting sound machine comes closest. It is a popular place among tourists and locals for a late night beer. For the rest there’s often live music at one of the bars or restaurants. In Mazunte there’s also a rotating “cinema” showing movies in different restaurants several days of the week. Usually starting at around 7.