Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen
Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, is famous for surfing. But what if you don’t surf? Playa Zicatela is definitely not a swimming beach for the casual beach-goer.
So here are five ocean-related activities you can do on the cheap or for free in the Puerto Escondido area away from the surfing scene.
Puerto Escondido for non-surfers on a budget
1. Playas Manzanillo & Angelito
One small beach I like is Manzanillo because it’s good for swimming and snorkeling, even though there is no coral. Twice my husband Tedly saw giant torturgas in the water at Playa Mazanillo and I like to do laps swims in this part of the water because the current is manageable.
The last time we went, I swam with a million jellyfish. They weren’t the kind that sting, but still, they were kind of creepy and it was an odd feeling to have them zoom by my face underwater and hit my thighs, arms and even my belly. An odd feeling, sure, but it also made me feel very much alive. God’s art. A fisherman told Tedly the bad jellyfish come around here in the rainy season in the summer – but the creatures I got up close and personal with were harmless. There is no coral, but lots of rocks underwater so there is sea life to watch if you want to snorkel.
There are many restaurants here. The guacamole at La Palapa Carrosco was excellent. They also serve giant coconuts and will cut the meat out for you after you drink the coconut water.
On the other side of the same bay is where the locals splash around at the shore because there are no rocks on this sandy bottom. That is called Playa Angelito. Beyond the shoreline, the fishing boats are tied up, along with tour boats and inflatable banana boats for tourists. This area is good for swimming too, if you want to do bay laps, just watch out for anchor lines and for boats coming and going.
You get to this area by walking down a steep staircase (There are at least two, one on the Manzanillo side, and one in the middle, with a walkway at the bottom that connects Angelito and Manzanillo). The center staircase starts at a parking lot that also serves as a drop off point for tour buses and taxis. The Manzanillo staircase starts on a side street near the awesome AirBnB apartment we are renting during our time here. There is a small parking area, but it’s more like a dead end street. Take Calle Cuarta Sur all the way to the west end and descend.
2. Playa Carrizalillo
Manzanillo looks an awful lot like Playa Carrizalillo, only the latter has waves with people learning to surf from beginner to intermediate. The waves are nothing like the crashers at Zicatela so people can also take dips to cool off from the hot sun.
There also are many restaurants on this beach, and a lot of young sunbathers. We heard a lot of English here (also at Manzanillo). It’s a decent of about 150 steps to get to the beach.
I haven’t done exercise swims here, although I’ve read reviews that say this beach is good for that. From what I’ve seen, there were too many surfers and boogie boarders. I don’t want to get clocked in the head by a surfing student. The bay is smaller than Manzanilla and Angelito. (*Update: I went a third time with a friend and there were far fewer boards in the water. It was late afternoon, so there was a middle area clear of surfers for lap swimming.)
If I do attempt surfing, this is the place I’d do it. Three hours of instruction and the board and rash guard and leash for something like $20 USD. The waves are pretty tame on one side, with the larger waves on the other side for more advanced students. Since I need prescription glasses, surfing may not be for me. (I swim with a prescription mask.)
3. Playas Principal & Marinero
Another place for people who don’t surf is Playa Principal, to the north of Zicatela. Principal has the fishing boats and some boogie boarders. In the pre-dawn hour, and the hour after dawn, fishermen come back to shore with tons of fish to sell to anyone who wants to buy fresh. The rest is loaded onto trucks for restaurants and shops in town. It’s fun to see shoppers racing from one boat to the next so early in the morning as they scan the selection for the best fish at the best price.
I’m actually a bit confused about where Playa Marinero is. Locals seem to use Princiapl and Marinero to describe the same beach. On the south side of the beach, away from the boats and closer to the large, landmark rocks, there are several restaurants tucked back under the palm trees. (*Update: Playa Marinero is the area away from the boats. It’s the southeast side of this beach, past the lagoon and the boats. It’s a relatively small area.)
Those rocks are what separate the ‘town’ beaches with the world-famous Playa Zicatela.
There is a nice vista point dedicated in the last year or so near the rocks. It’s an easy walk up, and the view is great. You can see all of Zicatela down to the point and up past Principal to the lighthouse.
Sidenote, a beach I haven’t been to yet is Playa Bacocho. Other reviews say it’s not safe for swimming, but good for beach bumming. I’ll get there eventually.
4. Ocean walkway around lighthouse
There is a walkway at the bottom of a cliff where the ocean slams the rocks that goes from our neighborhood past the lighthouse and into the most northern point of Playa Principal. The views are fantastic. Go. You’ll love it. There isn’t much shade and despite the ocean breeze, it’s hot.
Walk to the end of Calle Tercera Pte., which dead ends with a marker that says ‘Mirador Suneo Impossible’ – pass that marker and go down the stairs on your right to the ocean walkway. This is free.
5. Swim with bioluminescence
We took a bioluminescent tour at Manialtepec Lagoon, and it was magical. It’s about a half hour north of Puerto Escondido. It’s one of the few places in the world where bioluminescent water lights up around your body while swimming. It’s fantastic! I loved it, and will go again. Conditions have to be right, including no moon, so you can see the water better. Flecks of light dancing on and around my body in the pitch black water was astounding. Plus, it’s under a starry sky with no city lights. Stars above my head, and stars below in the water. A heavenly sight. I don’t have any pictures because my iPhone and GoPro wouldn’t capture the magic.
We arranged our tour through the tourist stand on Alfonso Perez Gasga (a street with restaurants and tourist shops that runs parallel with Playa Principal). It cost 300 pesos each, or about $15 USD. We thought about taking the public bus and hoping off and hiking to the spot, because we try to do activities without spending money on arranged tours. This is not one of those spots where being on your own is possible and cost effective, however. Public transportation stops around dark, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, so you’re lucky if a cab goes by. Also, it’s a boat ride into the mangroves of the lagoon to get there. You can’t just walk.
Here’s a link with more information on the lagoon Trip Advisor.
Side note, I came across an article about a place two hours from Puerto (as the locals call Puerto Escondido) that also has bioluminescence. This would have to be an overnight trip for us since we don’t have a car, so it’s not likely we will go. However, I am still giving it serious thought since we are here for another five weeks. I would even consider staying more than one night because the place sounds like a dream. That article I read is here.
Other stuff to do
There also are other activities for non-surfers. Rent a motorcycle or scooter to explore other bays in the area, or hire a boat and go watch dolphins and giant turtles. Go fishing. Away from the ocean, the city’s main market is always fun on the weekend. There are endless restaurants and bars to try, and countless souvenir shops to browse if you are into that kind of thing.
There’s much more to Puerto than surfing – but everything has that laid-back surfer vibe. It’s a really cool place, and I’m lucky to be here for nearly two months.
Thanks for reading, “Puerto Escondido for non-surfers on a budget.”
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