After a month of Mexico’s finest city life, overnight buses, and countless churches, it was time for a relaxing beach getaway. We headed from Oaxaca city to the Pacific Coast to spend a long weekend in the beach towns of Mazunte and Zipolite.
After the first couple of days spent in the sleepy beach town of Mazunte (see our post here) we moved on to Zipolite, a beach town with a rep as a hippie and backpacker mecca. We were dropped off at the edge of the village by a camioneta, or covered pick-up truck, which is the main mode of transport on this part of the coast). During the ten-minute walk to our hostel we spotted mainly abandoned or near-abandoned houses and hotels littered with For Rent and For Sale signs, and where were these hippies and backpackers we had been warned about?
We found out that the hostel we booked online, Lyoban, sits on the half of the mile-long beach which is now nearly deserted. The hostel itself is a shadow of what it once was, a fact which was clearly visible as the paint chips fell from the once-proud sign which read ‘Lyoban Hotel 1988 – 2008’. Being 2010, this sign initially seemed a tombstone of sorts. However, though Lyoban is past its prime, it is a pleasant family-run hostel with large rooms and an upper floor with several hammocks as a cheap option for backpackers. Lyoban sits just ten paces from the water, right on the beach, and the powerful waves of the Pacific were exciting to hear as we fell asleep.
Zipolite: free love and counterculture
With a population of 931, Zipolite is only slightly larger than Mazunte, and has seen better days. During the 1960s and 1970s a hippie counterculture began to congregate on this isolated beach and, thanks in part to the limited law enforcement, Zipolite steadily gained a reputation in Mexico as a free love paradise.
Today Zipolite’s ‘center’ is located along one half of the mile-long beach, lined with a variety of newly-built hotels and quality restaurants filled with very, very relaxed tourists doing much the same thing as in nearby Mazunte (or any good beach for that matter): reading, drinking and sunbathing.
Beach of the Dead
The Pacific here is gorgeous in a way that begs you to stare out at it for hours. However, Zipolite is a ‘look-but-don’t-touch’ beach. The waves and current make swimming and surfing here impossible, like many beaches along the Mexican Pacific. Zipolite in particular is known as the ‘Beach of the Dead’ due to the number of drownings that occur here each year.Watch out for the waves and pay attention to the flags which indicate whether wading is accepted or not on a given day. Your best bet is to stay in the comfortable shelter of the beachside bar, beer and book in hand.
Au Natural and Swinging 60s
A residual aspect of its free-loving past, Zipolite is the only beach in Mexico where nude bathing is tolerated, although the locals frown upon the behaviour. The nudity is meant to be kept at this end of the beach, and it is centered down near the Ibiza-esque hotel and lounge bar appropriately named Nude, though very tan beach bums (literally) can be seen along the entire beach.
Nestled in the side of the mountain past Nude is Shambala, a new-age hotel/restaurant where the psychedelic 60s came to live on for eternity. There are cabanas for up to four people ($25 per cabana per night), dorms which start at $7 USD per night, which hammocks rent for $1 USD per night. Shambhala also has two restaurants, one downstairs nearer to the beach, and one upstairs which is 100% vegetarian. They serve delicious veggie breakfasts and good licuados. Those with a laptop can plug in at their seriously cool purpose-built outdoor laptop ‘bar’, which looks high out over the bay into the ocean and is built with two outlets next to every seat for maximum surfing (free wi-fi).
Zipolite is also known for its new-age community, and there are countless places to practice yoga, to pray, and to take part in a temescal experience. Shambala itself has a mediation area that is worth a visit, overlooking the cliffs and the ocean. Climb the stairs on the side of Shambala’s restaurant and follow the signs, set at a five-minute walk up a hill in the forest.
Travel Tip: Before you head to Mazunte or Zipolite, make sure to get all the cash you’ll need in Pochutla, as there are no banks or ATMs in Zipolite, Mazunte, San Augustinillo or La Ventanilla. The nearest ATM is in Puerto Angel and the nearest bank is in Pochutla.
How to get to Zipolite and Mazunte
This area of Pacific coast is reached by camioneta from Pochutla, a town which is of no real interest to travelers and serves mainly as a transport hub for buses from all around the country. Coming from Oaxaca, we could have taken an OCC bus but instead chose to take a long-distance ‘colectivo’, a mini-bus or shuttle that takes three hours less than the buses and costs half the price. Here’s the catch – The shuttle’s shorter route winds through the mountainous terrain of the Oaxacan countryside for six straight hours. This fact, coupled with the…let’s call it ‘adventurous spirit’ of most Mexican drivers, means that these six, vomit inducing hours are beautiful but very tiring. The lumbering first class OCC buses take a much longer (nine hours), but straighter route to Pochutla for twice the price.
However you choose to arrive in Pochutla, getting to the beaches can be done by taxi or camioneta. A taxi will cost around $100 pesos ($9 US), while a camioneta – a ride in the covered back of a pick-up truck with 10-20 others, no seat guaranteed – will run $10 pesos (US$ 0.90). We say take the camioneta – leave the bus station on the main road in Pochutla and wait for the pick-up trucks to go by. Someone will be yelling out Zipolite or Mazunte, and if you’re not sure, just ask. It’s roughly a 30 minute ride to either beach.