8 Can't-miss Destinations on a Road Trip Along Oaxaca's Wild Coast

When it comes to exploring the wild coast of southern Mexico, put these Oaxacan beaches, fishing villages, and nature reserves on your itinerary.

With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, Oaxaca is one of Mexico's most underrated beach destinations. While the capital city embedded in the mountains deserves its fame for its culture, history, and impeccable cuisine, the Oaxacan coast offers travelers dramatic landscapes and adorable beach towns ripe for a road trip.

From the rising city of Puerto Escondido and a string of fishing villages known as the Riviera Oaxaqueña, there are many adventures to be had, not to mention fantastic restaurants and luxurious hotels worth exploring. With sunset hikes, glowing lagoons, and roaring waves, a road trip in Oaxaca is the best way to explore Mexico's wild Pacific coast.

Whether you choose to fly into Puerto Escondido or Huatulco, here are the best destinations to visit on your road trip along the turquoise waters that hug Oaxaca's beautiful coastline.

Puerto Escondido

Surfers in the water at Puerto Escondido
Courtesy of Jamie Ditaranto

Boasting its own airport, Puerto Escondido is one of the coast's major cities and a popular vacation spot for Mexicans from all over the country. With huge waves attracting surfers on Playa Zicatela, romantic lookouts from Playa Carrizalillo, and a lively bar and hostel scene in La Punta, there's something for everyone.

Opportunities to sample Oaxaca's famous cuisine abound as the city center offers both well-loved local establishments like Las Margaritas and vegetarian alternatives like Cocofam. Hotels and hostels are plentiful, too, making Puerto Escondido the perfect starting point where you can get your bearings while lounging in a beach club.

Laguna Manialtepec

Manialtepec Lagoon in Oaxaca
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Only 14 kilometers up the road from Puerto Escondido, Laguna Manialtepec is close enough for a short day trip. An ecosystem defined by its mishmash of jungles and mangroves, it's an amazing environment to spot birds and other wildlife while enjoying a meal at one of the restaurants on the docks. However, it's during the nighttime when the true show begins.

The lagoon is home to a special kind of bioluminescent algae that glows at night. Since the effect is only activated by moving water, there are boat trips you can take to get an up-close experience. The best time to go is during a new moon when there is not too much interfering light. Beware that due to a high population of crocodiles, lagoon tours must be led by a licensed guide at all times.

Lagunas de Chacahua

Surfers at Lagunas da Chacahua
Courtesy of Jamie Ditaranto

Even further west from Puerto Escondido and Laguna Manialtepec, Lagunas de Chacahua is a national park with a remote beach town that can only be reached by ferrying across the lagoon from El Zapotalito. A place where you can leave everything behind, Chacahua is a backpackers' hideaway. Here, the beaches are wide and empty and the accommodations are rustic.

Many of the cabañas rent out camping tents, or you can bring your own; rooms are basic with shared bathrooms. The one exception is Casa Tata, a luxurious glamping hotel where each guest has an individual hut on the wild, empty beach a short walk away from the town's main cluster of bars and restaurants.

Mazunte

The town of Mazunte
Courtesy of Jamie Ditaranto

Traveling eastward, going down the coast from Puerto Escondido, Mazunte is the first town in a strip of coastal villages that make up the Riviera Oaxaqueña. A tiny Pueblo Mágico (or Magic Town), this small beach destination is popular for spirituality and yoga retreats. Plus, there's no shortage of shopping boutiques and vegetarian and international-inspired cuisine.

Mazunte's best feature is Punta Cometa, a hike that's easy to access from the city center and popular for watching the sunset. This bohemian town has two main beaches — Playa Mazunte and Playa Mermejita — but some of the best views can be found from hotels up in the hills, such as Cocolia Hotel, a modern oasis that offers nine bungalows peeking out over the jungle canopy.

San Agustinillo

The beach at San Augustinillo
Courtesy of Jamie Ditaranto

The village next door to Mazunte, San Agustinillo has a much longer stretch of sand with more beachside restaurants and hotels offering dramatic views along with Calle Principal. The ocean, while still characteristically strong, is usually much calmer than neighboring beaches and tame enough for swimming, kayaking, and surfing. With golden sand and many distant rock formations to spice up the view, this is one of the most picturesque beaches you'll find on your trip. It also means you can expect things to be on the pricier side.

The town center has a more refined feel with cobblestone streets and many Italian-inspired restaurants and hotels, like Posada La Termita, which is famous for its artisan brick-oven pizza. It's a great place to launch off for a boat tour during which you'll see plenty of sea turtles — as well as dolphins and whales in the right season — thanks to the nearby Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga in Mazunte.

Playa Zipolite

Playa Zipolite, near Puerto Angel, State of Oaxaca
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Home to Mexico's only official nude beach, Zipolite is one of the most gay-friendly destinations rising in popularity among LGBTQ+ travelers right now. While the beaches are open and free, the current is notoriously treacherous and most travelers should avoid wading too deeply into the aggressive waves. Instead, they are best observed from the many upscale hotels like El Alquimista, which is worth visiting for the food alone. Located on a semi-private cove, the restaurant serves up a menu of fresh seafood, pasta, and wood-fired pizza. For a mid-range hotel, Casa Nudista and Casa Demetria are proudly LGBTQ-friendly and often attract musical entertainment from Mexico City.

Puerto Ángel

Boats in the water at Puerto Angel
Courtesy of Jamie Ditaranto

The next town after Zipolite, Puerto Ángel is a well-preserved example of a typical Oaxacan fishing village that has an air of history to it as a once-bustling port town during the 19th century. Although it has fewer hotels and tourist infrastructure than other beach towns, its large horseshoe-shaped harbor is worth a stop for lunch and drinks on the beach.

Twenty minutes further up the road, you can take a detour to Playa La Boquilla and spend the night at Bahia de La Luna, a lovely 12-cabaña eco hotel with accommodations on three different levels. The property is situated on a secluded cove free from crowds, plus it offers complimentary kayaks and paddleboards. If you're not ready to continue your journey down the coast just yet, consider venturing to the other gorgeous beaches in the area, like La Tijera and La Mina.

Huatulco

Huatulco in Oaxaca Province
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Poised to be one of Mexico's next big resort towns, Huatulco makes another fine start or end for your coastal road trip, thanks to its international airport. Here, you'll find large all-inclusive and adults-only resorts. Take the Secrets Huatulco, for example, which stuns guests with a world-class spa featuring an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Even though you're free to stay at the resort all day, Huatulco offers plenty more adventures in nearby attractions with its ecological reserve. You can also visit the ruins of Copalita, where you can see the remnants of buildings influenced by the many different indigenous groups that settled in this area through the millennia.

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