Back in September, both Josh and I were feeling burnt out. We had had an awesome year planning our wedding, getting married and then spending some good time in Australia for our honeymoon. I had traveled to New York City, France and Tampico, Mexico. He had gone to Kentucky for whisk(e)y camp and traveled across the country for his then-job. We were tired and we weren’t seeing a lot of one another so a vacation was in order. The earliest that we could get out of Toronto was November.
As usual, we quickly settled on heading to Mexico. We wanted a holiday that was easy and relaxing but also one that would offer lots of things to do. No matter how hard we try to just sit down and do nothing, it’s pretty hard for us to do. We want to move. We want to see new places. (And take photos and have good food and drink along the way!) In 2009 I had traveled with my Mom to Puerto Escondido and I had loved it. In fact, to this day, it is one of my most favourite places in Mexico. PE is a safe town with great beaches plus it is in the state of Oaxaca where all that good mezcal comes from. We quickly settled on going back and booked an all-inclusive package through Sunwing.
Wait, I know, an all-inclusive vacation. Before you start hating on this, take a deep breath and repeat with me: not every all-inclusive is bad. A lot of people love them because they are so convenient and luxurious and so far removed from their real lives. A lot of people dislike them because of the opposite of that last sentence. Overall, I am not a huge fan. Those monster resorts seem, well, fake. You pay very little money to travel to them and what you experience is inauthentic to the country that you are visiting. I don’t believe that you can say that you went to Jamaica if all you did was fly in, take a bus and then sit around the resort for a week. It’s all kind of gross. However having said that, not all all-inclusive resorts are like this. They are not all shiny and fancy and generic, some of them are pretty great. Posada Real in Puerto Escondido is one of them.
The easiest and most direct way to travel to Puerto Escondido is to fly to Huatulco and to get a ride/drive from there. Huatulco is a beautiful place to visit should you choose a resort there. They have a bunch and they are all what you would expect for the typical beautiful fancy resort. Huatulco is like a smaller (and newer!) version of places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The cheapest and most convenient way to fly to this part of Mexico from Canada is via a company like Sunwing that sells vacation packages (and you can also buy only flights should you want to do your own thang in terms of food and sleeping). Their planes are what you would expect – a wee cramped – but every flight gets you a glass of sparkling so there is that. Our flight down to Huatulco was like none other that I have experienced. There were about three groups heading down there for weddings and the fun started hard on that flight. It was basically a party in the aisle the entire time we were in the air and there seemed to be a line up twenty people deep at all times for the bathroom . Par-tay! We were the nerds who politely sipped on that 1 ounce of sparkling while we put on headphones and stuck our noses into books. (Nerds.) As we were landing, I said to Josh, “I bet all of these people are staying here in Huatulco and we will be the only ones heading to Puerto Escondido.” And I was right.
We were picked up by Carlo who would be our guy for the week. We stopped at an OXXO to grab a drink and snack and then were on our way. We obviously chose Mexican Coke. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to get to PE from Huatulco and it’s a pretty drive. At one point we pulled over on the side of the highway to see a bunch of iguanas in some trees. Apparently there is an Iguana Sanctuary there that you can visit.
We were dropped off at our hotel and it was exactly as I remembered it from 2009. Posada Real Puerto Escondido is not a big, fancy resort that you may expect. And this is exactly why we chose it. The rooms are a little dated and could probably use some love but they were clean and how much time do you really spend in your hotel room when you are staying in such a beautiful part of the world? Posada Real is also not a popular spot with gringos/tourists from Canada and the US. We were basically the only people from outside of Mexico staying there. We got practise our Spanish and we had a great time. Breakfast and dinner are served in the main restaurant and lunch is served down at Coco’s which is the pool/beach side restaurant and bar. The food here was great because it was actual Mexican food. Every morning I ate chilaquiles (my most favourite breakfast) and quesadillas which were made fresh by the most lovely woman. By the end of the week, she had taken to teasing me in a way that any friend would. Dinners would include tacos, tlayudas and stuffed poblanos. The vino tinto (red) was better than the white and it was served chilled. The cocktails were good but full of sugar so one was enough. The beer was cold and the mezcal was great. But most of all the people that work at Posada Real are simply good people.
Posada Real is located on what I would call “the far end” of town. When you drive there from Huatulco, you basically drive through the centre of town to get to it. It’s located on a cliff which means you have a wonderful view of the ocean and beach. On the nights when we were at the resort, we would grab a drink and watch the sunset from here. Talk about dreamy. To get to Coco’s and the beach which is Playa Bacocho, you have to walk down a number of stairs. We will call it a workout which is not a bad thing.
What is it that makes Puerto Escondido so great? Let me tell you all of the ways….
El Centro & The Market
Puerto Escondido is a very walkable city. We spent a lot of our time wandering the streets around our hotel which were predominantly residential. You can walk to el Centro in about thirty minutes. There are tons of shops and restaurants here. There are also lots of banks with ATMs (when in Mexico, I try to go to HSBC but really any ATM usually works with Canadian debit cards). There is a large grocery store called Súper Chedraui at Hwy 200 and Calle Primera Ote. There they have basically everything that you would need including motorcycles, tequila and all food imaginable.
One of the greatest things in PE is the Market – Mercado Benito Juarez – which is located at Calle Octavaa Nte. and Calle Tercera Pte. Like Súper Chedraui, the market has everything but in a more authentic Mexican way. There are stalls that sell everything from paper banners to clothing to pottery and then there is the food section of the market. There you can buy all of your produce and your meats and cheese. There is also a restaurant section where you can sit and have a bite or in our case, drink some awesome juice. Both times we went there on this trip, we chose the Vampiro which has beets in it. You get a monster-size glass of it for about 25 pesos. So good. Las Playas
PE has a few different beaches and they are all unique. You can choose which to go to depending on what you feel like actually doing. Playa Bacocho is the beach located closest to Posada Real. There is only that hotel and one other located on the beach so it is very quiet – you would only see a few people on it at any given time. It runs about two kilometres, we know this because each morning we would go for a run there. Well, Josh would run to the end and I would run much slower and then turn around when he would come back and meet me. Playa Carrizalillo is maybe my favourite beach in PE. To get to it, you have to walk down basically a dirt road and then walk down down about one hundred steps (I’m guessing the number here, but it’s a lot). When you get to the bottom, it’s a little bit of paradise. It’s a small beach but there are a bunch of restaurant so you can claim a table or a couple of lounge chairs and spend the day drinking cold beers and eating great food. This is why I love Mexico.
Playa Zicatela is the big beach in PE and is where all of the surfing happens. It’s a wide and long beach and the waves are great since the water is that much more open. When we were there in November there was supposed to be a surf competition taking place but apparently the waves were not big enough. (They sure looked mighty to me!) We spent and afternoon here lounging and eating guacamole. Because la playa Zicatela is a bigger and busier beach we would take turns going in for a swim so that one could stay to watch our stuff.
Oaxacan food is fantastic. Oaxacan cheese is what dreams are made of. We ate a lot of great food while in PE. Josh had just read a book called Tacopedia and learned all about Tlayudas so one night we trekked into town to get some. Tlayudas are a traditional Oaxacan dish so you won’t find them in other places in Mexico. They are basically a crispy tortilla and on top is a layer of fat/lard, refried beans, lettuce, meat and Oaxacan cheese. They are then served either flat like a pizza or folded like a big quesadilla. We chose a place to eat on the street in el Centro which is often the best way to experience food. In my not-so-awesome Spanish, I was able to order one sin carne but I didn’t know the word for lard so missed that part of it. I ate it anyways and it was pretty good, minus the obvious. Josh loved his and I am sure that if it was possible, he would eat tlayudas daily.About a twenty minute walk from our hotel was the Rinconada which is on Benito Juarez. We came here pretty much everyday. The Rinconada is a strip of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. A couple of mornings we came here for good coffee. El Cafecito was a hot spot for this and we bought some coffee beans here to bring home. (El Cafecito also has a location in Zicatela.) There is also a great tapas bar there and also a Mini Super which is a good convenience store with a selection of groceries. One night we grabbed a couple of beers from there for the walk home. I love Mexico. I also previously blogged about our salsa making class with The Mexykan. This was a great way to eat some awesome food and also to learn how to make it at home.
I know that it isn’t always turtle season in PE but in the two times that I have been there (mid-November and mid-January), they were there. I think that turtles are one of the coolest critters on this planet and the experience of releasing baby sea turtles is a magical one. On our first morning in PE, we got up for a run on the beach. Josh’s long legs took him ahead of me. I had my headphones in and was loving being on the sand when I saw a small dark thing in front of me. There are hardly any shells or rocks on Playa Bacocho so I knew that this was something. My heart pitter-pattered as I approached and sure enough, it was a wee baby sea turtle. Gah! I helped the little guy into the ocean, began running again and then I saw another and another. It was awesome. I waited for Josh to come back to show him. Man, I was pumped! When my Mom and I had visited PE previously, we had done a tour that took us to another beach where we helped release hundreds of sea turtles and I was hoping that Josh and I could do a similar tour on this trip. But instead, we saw them here, on our own beach within the first twelve hours of being in PE. The next day I was lounging on the beach by our hotel when a man came up to me talking in Spanish. In Mexico when you are on a public beach, there is a constant flow of people approaching you to sell you things but this man didn’t have anything in his hand. It took me a moment to realise what he was saying. He was a volunteer who worked with preserving the sea turtles and at sunset that night, they would be releasing some down the beach. Naturally we went, with my camera in tow.
Oaxaca is a pretty lush state in Mexico and there is a lot to see outside of Puerto Escondido. I really wanted to do some sort of tour to get us outside of the city and see some nature. We chose to do a tour of las Lagunas de Chacahua National Park which we booked at our hotel through our man, Carlo. We were picked up from our hotel at about 9am and stopped at another hotel to get more tourists. There were eight of us in total for the tour. It took about an hour to drive to las lagunas. From there, we got in a boat and we were off. Our guide had limited English but the boat driver spoke more. As well, I would say that all of the other Mexican tourists on our tour spoke English but they were on holidays so didn’t really assist us with that. Regardless, we learned somethings and saw some pretty cool stuff. We went through the mangroves and saw an incredible amount of birds. Herons and egrets of all kinds.
We then pulled in to visit a Crocodile sanctuary. They are native to the area but their populations have dwindled because of hunting. There we saw crocodiles of all sizes and ages. I loved that seven months prior, we were on a croc tour on the opposite side of the world in the Daintree of Australia. Life is pretty cool, guys! We then got back in the boat and travelled further to where the fresh water meets salt water. We had lunch here on the beach and it was one of my most favourite parts of the entire trip. We were the only people there. The women working brought out fish that were caught that day and we chose which we wanted to eat and how we wanted it prepared. They brought out cold drinks and we just sat. There were kids playing the water, men heading out to go fishing, a random dog or two. Four kids came over selling plates of fried plantain. The cost was ten pesos. I gave a twenty peso bill to one girl who appeared to be the leader of the pack. She also spoke some English and seemed happy to practise it. When I pulled out the twenty, she said sadly “I don’t have change.” I told her that was fine, that it was la propina, a tip. They smiled and took it and were gone. I then got up to take some photos and was standing in the water doing so when I saw the kid gang walking towards me. “We need ten more pesos,” the leader demanded with a smile. Her reasoning being that there were four of them so they needed to split the tip evenly. She then asked if I was going to take their photo and I asked if that would be okay. She said “After the money.” I replied, “You’re a hustler.” “Yes,” she said with that awesome grin.
We met some great people while in PE. Besides spending the day making salsa with Tony the Mexykan (and Steven!), everyone we encountered on this trip was so lovely. On the Rinconada, we discovered a shop that had just opened the week before that sells beautiful artwork and jewellery. The owner Berenice was the most wonderful woman. She is originally from Northern Mexico but splits her time between PE and Paris, France. Her shop is called Lunaticart and I loved everything that she had there. She has a workshop in the back of the shop where you could see people making the jewellery, all artists that she has taught. Her husband is also an artist who works with porcelain. I bought a bracelet there that combined both of their skills and it is stunning. His shop in Paris is called Goutte de Terre.
There is also a shop on the Riconada strip that sells beautiful handmade Mexican goods. We bought a STUNNING table runner there as well as a few other things. We also met the owner of the shop who happens to be Canadian. He also runs the Mexico News Daily website which is a great site where you can read news in English that has been directly translated from Mexican newspapers.
On top of that:
• Puerto Escondido is a very walkable city so there is no need to rent a car. Taxis are cheap. Any that we took cost no more than thirty-five pesos.
• It’s safe. We felt as comfortable everywhere that we were in PE as we feel anywhere that we go in our home city of Toronto.
• There two areas of the city that are fun to explore for night life: the El Adoquin and along Zicatela.