Pronounced (wah-hah-kah), Oaxaca is a fairly remote state of southern Mexico that just so happens to have some of the best waves on the planet.
Most people will know Oaxaca’s surf scene purely for Puerto Escondido, Which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the premier big wave beach break of the world.
Nicknamed the Mexican Pipeline for its heaving barrels that break just off the sands of Playa Zicatela, Hawaiian-style, Puerto Escondido is a powerful wave for the brave.
Luckily for you and us, there are plenty of other waves in Oaxaca that are a lot more user-friendly than Puerto. In this guide, we are going to champion Oaxaca in all its wave-spoilt glory by filling you in on everything there is to know about the joint.
From where it is to how to get there, the best time of year to go, and the most important part – the surf spots. We’ll also showcase some of the established surf camps and surf schools of the area, so you won’t be disappointed on arrival.
If you can manage to work it into your surfing, we’ve also included a few of the best things to do outside of the water in Oaxaca, if that’s even an option for you. So sit back, relax, and come explore the wild, wave-rich world of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Where Is Oaxaca
Oaxaca is the second most southern state of Mexico, with a pristine coastline that stretches some 370 miles from east to west. Because of the natural lay of its coastline, Oaxaca is uniquely positioned to catch every last bit of swell that the south pacific dishes up.
Oaxaca City is an inland city that’s about a six-hour drive from Mexico City to the Northwest. Oaxaca is a very interesting and vibrant city that is well worth spending a few nights in, to eat and drink your way around and learn about the indigenous cultures of this part of Mexico.
Getting To/ Around Oaxaca
Depending on where you’re coming in from, you may have to fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), before getting a direct flight to Oaxaca, taking just over four hours.
Oaxaca International Airport (OAX) also flies direct to Southern cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Diego, as well as many domestic flights within Mexico.
Getting around Oaxaca state by your own means can be considered a little sketchy. But if that’s your plan, remember to always drive in the daylight hours, and be sure to get to where you’re going promptly.
Once you’re down on the coast, the risk of coming into trouble lessens significantly, but it always pays to be careful. Generally, most surfers will fly into OAX and get a bus to Peurto Escondido or Salina Cruz, then get a local bus along the coast to other destinations.
The buses are a safe space, but remember to always keep one eye on your bag at all times, because thieves frequent these buses, and they consider tourists easy-pickings.
When To Surf In Oaxaca
Make no mistake, between the months of April and October, this stretch of coast is far from an ideal playground for learning to surf. It’s lined with perfect, barreling point breaks and heavy beach breaks that suit intermediate to advanced surfers best.
You might be thinking, yeh but that’s summer, surely the waves are smaller in summer? Not the case in Oaxaca, the whole state faces south, so it picks up the southern hemisphere winter swells traveling north.
The winter months (November – March) are when it’s more suitable for learners in Oaxaca, with the tail-end of NW swells gently wrapping into and lapping the Oaxacan shorelines.
Summer (April – October)
Summer is go-time in Oaxaca. Come April, it’s almost as if a switch is flicked and the south pacific’s swell tap is turned on. The waves that Oaxaca is famous for will kick into gear, and, like a call to arms, surfers from around the world will come flocking to the area.
It’s easy to see why American surfers love to come here every summer. Because, while California and the eastern states are experiencing their summer wave droughts, Mexico is firing on all cylinders.
Waves in the 3 – 6ft range are common most days, with the occasional XXL swell rolling into town and showing you why Peurto Escondido is so world-famous.
Summer in Oaxaca is hot, like hot-hot, expect daily air temperatures to reach 84°F, even getting a little higher than that on the hottest days. Don’t think you’re getting any sympathy or reprieve from the sea down here either, with average ocean temps sitting between 79°F and 86°F all summer long.
This means that sunscreen and water are your two best friends in an Oaxacan summer, as well as some icy cold post-surf Cervezas of course.
Winter (November – March)
Seeing as Oaxaca has a sub-tropical climate, winter in Oaxaca is still considered hot by most people’s standards. Most days the air temp will be above 77°F in the winter.
However, thankfully, the humidity will be a whole lot kinder. Winter is also the driest period of the year in Oaxaca, so expect plenty of sunshine if you’re fleeing the states for a winter escape. As far as the waves are concerned, Oaxaca turns into a beginner surfer’s paradise.
November will often feature the final puffs of south swell before most experienced surfers start looking elsewhere for waves. Because of Oaxaca’s location, it really does take a big north swell to wrap around the Mexican coastline enough to get the points lighting up in the winter, but it does happen.
For the most part, beginner and intermediate surfers will be treated to gentle 1 – 3ft waves, sunny days, and uncrowded beach breaks in these months.
If you’re looking for pumping waves in this neck of the world in winter, the dry and dusty Mexican state of Baja California will be where you’ll want to look.
Where To Surf In Oaxaca
Surfers who come to Oaxaca are spoilt for choice in terms of waves. Because of its geography, Oaxaca is primarily known for its righthand point breaks, for which, in the summer, perfection is a daily occurrence.
But, if you’re goofy on a quest for lefts or your level of surfing doesn’t warrant barreling pointbreaks just yet, there are some fun beachies and left points to be had too. If you weren’t already jumping at the bit to book your Oaxacan strike mission, you soon will be.
Peurto Escondido (Playa Zicatela)
As we’ve previously mentioned, Peurto Escondido is kind of a big deal in the surf world. Known for its bone-crunching barrels that are, even for the best surfers in the world, a huge undertaking.
In-between the mega swells that come marching into town on a crash course with the Zicatela, you can actually get fun “user-friendly” waves in Peurto, even in the summer.
There are windows where the waves can be 3 – 6ft, and tubing all day long. But, don’t be fooled by the photos, Playa Zicatela is known for its close-outs and heavy beatdowns. So some experience in these two areas, even on smaller days, is advisable.
Literally just down the beach from Zicatela is one of those goofy-footer havens we were talking about. La Punta is an epic lefthand point break that churns down a rocky point (quite closely we might add) and ends up closing out on the beach.
La Punta has many faces, it can be super playful and perfect for longboarders and beginners when it’s 1-3ft, or it can be fast with rippable walls when it gets up over 4ft.
The problem with La Punta is the take-off zone is quite compact, so the locals will get their fill, and the tourists will pick up the rest. If you aren’t experienced with crowds,
it could be a good idea to sit on the inside and try to pick off the waves that break wide, which the surfers out the back won’t be in position to catch.
Punta Conejo is one of the feathers in the cap of Oaxaca, and urfing here is what a trip to Oaxaca is all about. The waves break off a picturesque headland that produces long, groomed, righthand walls with barrel section, after barrel section, after barrel section.
Depending on the swell size, it can be a great spot for intermediate surfers to catch some of the longest waves of their life, or a fast and section-ey wave for experienced surfers at 4-6ft+.
Nearby is the port town of Salina Cruz, which has a few well-established surf camps, and resorts that have been designed with surfers in mind.
There are also a few lesser-known, but equally as good, right points in this area, making the trip further east to Punta Conejo, more than worth your time.
When you first drive down into the ocean-side town of Manzunte, it feels very much like you’re entering a hidden paradise. You’ll meet all kinds of people in Manzunte, hippies, yogis, surfers, families, and anyone else who’s looking to escape.
Because Manzunte isn’t as surf-focused as some of the other towns around Oaxaca, it can be a very cool place to visit if you’re looking for a casual surfing holiday.
The beach breaks can be rather short and dumpy on high. But find the right bank on the dropping tide and you’ll hopefully luck into a bunch of fun waves.
The best thing about Manzunte, surf-wise, is there’s a much chiller vibe in the water compared to the highly competitive point breaks of the area.
Just down the road from the tucked-away paradise of Manzunte, is another beginner and intermediate-surfer-friendly town. You have a better chance of scoring good beach break waves in Zipolite when compared to Manzunte as it has more reliable sandbanks.
Beginners will be treated to fairly mellow high tide rides at playa Zipolite, while more experienced surfers enjoy the punchy peaks that present themselves on either side of high. Again, freedom is celebrated in Zipolite, which is evidenced by the beach being the only official nudist beach of Oaxaca.
Zipolite attracts an eclectic bunch of people from all walks of life, which makes it an exciting place to visit, with or without a surfboard.
However, if it’s pumping waves you’re after, there are a few epic pointbreaks a little way east that you can strike mission to for the day and cruise back into Zipolite for some chill vibes at night.
Barra De La Cruz
Surrounded by dense jungle that gives you a sense of the lost world, driving down off the mountains behind Barra de la Cruz is an experience that will stay with you for a very long time.
The town itself is a low-key place that feels very authentic, and you feel a great sense of pride from the local people toward their Chontal ancestral past. Coming to Barra gives surfers the chance to slow it right down, appreciate the little things in life, and surf.
The surf at Barra is world-class by any surfer’s standards. A couple of pro tour events have been held here over the years at Barra, including the 2006 Rip Curl Search event.
Which is regarded as the greatest surf contest of all time, purely because the waves were that good. The point works best on a true south swell and can hold double to triple overhead waves and still break perfectly.
On SW swells the wave is more mellow, as the swell has to wrap around the rocky headland, which can suit intermediate and even beginner surfers when it’s under 3ft. Do yourself a service, and put Barra de la Cruz on the top of your must-visit list, we certainly have!
Where To Stay In Oaxaca
In a wild and remote place like Oaxaca, sometimes leaving your wave-hunting up to the professionals is the smartest idea. Unless you’re looking to cruise in a surf town where the order of each day is to surf whatever’s out front, then booking into a surf camp is hard to beat.
Not only will they make it their mission to put you onto the best waves of every day, even if that means driving up and down the coast scouting for uncrowded waves that cater to your group’s level, but they can be a whole lot of fun too.
We’ve listed a few of our favorite surf camps that have tailored surf packages for all levels, as well as a few hostels and hotels that are close by to the surf, and don’t cost an arm or a leg to check in to.
Best Surf Schools In Oaxaca
If you’re not interested in the surf camp vibe and would rather take things at your own pace while on holiday, booking some surf lessons at a recognized surf school is never silly.
Whether you’re a total novice, a dedicated beginner, a competent intermediate surfer, or a certified shredder, the surf schools below can tailor their program to suit your intentions.
The ethos in Oaxaca is “take it slow, and take it in” which is why these companies don’t mind if you keep it open on the commitment front.
Book in for a single lesson, a 3-day package, or a full 10-day program where progression is strived for, and achieved. Whatever your intentions are, the highly experienced instructors are there to make sure that you enjoy your time in their beautiful home.
Below we’ve listed a selection of the most recognized surf schools around Oaxaca, which keep your experience at the forefront of what they do.
Other Things To Do
When you’re not surfing in Oaxaca, chances are, you’re hanging loose and taking it pretty easy. But if you did want to get out of the surf town bubble and explore the state’s natural beauty, unique wildlife, and culturally significant sights, you can do that too.
Santiago Apoala is a village and municipality that can be found in the northern mountains of Oaxaca state. If you’ve had enough of laying on white sandy beaches, staring at sunsets, and you’re looking for something completely different, take a trip up to Santiago Apoala, you won’t regret it.
It’s about a nine-hour bus journey from Peurto Escondido, which is long, we know, but if you’re flying in and out of OAX, then it’s only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from there.
Set within the rugged mountain peaks of the area, Santiago Apoala offers intrepid travelers some unbelievable hiking opportunities. Raging waterfalls, gentle cascades, and pristine swimming holes are present along many of the trails.
The village itself is slowly becoming an eco-tourism hot spot of Mexico, with new low-key, eco-friendly accommodations appearing every season.
Although it seems like a no-brainer to most people, visiting Oaxaca city is a must-do while you’re down here. From visiting the Templo de Santo Domingo and the Ruins of Milta, to exploring the cities amazing markets and street art scene, there is a lot to do in Oaxaca.
Mezcal tastings, food tours, Day of the Dead festivities, Botanical gardens, Oaxaca is a city with a rich past, a vibrant now, and a hopeful future.
You could spend a whole week here and still not be satisfied, but we know your surfing time is precious, so a couple of days on either side of your trip will suffice.
Oaxaca Coast Crocodile And Turtle Ecotour
Oaxaca is famous for two animals, one that’s super cute, and one that can eat you, and this eco-tour will get you up close (but not too close), to both of them.
The tour departs from Peurto Escondido daily, and, after an hour’s drive, you’ll be getting on a boat destined for the Laguna Ventanilla ecological park.
This is where you’ll come face to face with crocodiles, terrestrial turtles, and even an iguana or two if you’re lucky. The tour also takes you to Mazunte where you’ll be shown around an organic makeup factory run by local women.
You’ll also be taken through the turtle sanctuary of Mazunte, before being whizzed off to the idyllic beach of Zipolite where swimsuits are optional.
After a relaxing dip, the group will be treated to a fresh-as-it-gets seafood lunch, and you’ll then be transported back to Puerto Escondido, hopefully with some newfound friends to carry on the evening with.
If you’re thinking about a surf trip to Oaxaca, then you’re already heading in the right direction, and you should keep following your instincts.
Oaxaca is a surfer’s paradise, with a range of waves that will make even the most seasoned of surfers weep with delight. Even away from Puerto Escondido, you can find a stack of world-class waves.
Whether you’re looking to score the waves of your life in the peak surf season or take it easy on the mellow winter swells, Oaxaca will deliver.
As is evidenced by this guide, Oaxaca is one of those special parts of the world that has managed to retain its authenticity, while also welcoming tourists with open arms.
We hope you follow those instincts and book a trip to Oaxaca soon because swell waits for no one, and the Cervezas are getting warm!