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Unique Culture & Pristine Beaches: Mexico’s Underrated Beach Paradise

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Mexico has long been famous for its luxurious Cancun hotels, the unspoiled nature around Los Cabos, and the laid-back beach zone of Puerto Vallarta, which all draw in millions of visitors, particularly Americans, who flock into their southern neighbor's shores for sunny vacays year-round.

Unique Culture & Pristine Beaches Mexico's Underrated Beach Paradise.jpg

As popular as Mexico may be, however, large swathes of the national territory remain largely undiscovered, as the above three hotspots concentrate a majority of foreign arrivals, even though they're not exactly the country's most authentic destinations.

If you're sold on a Mexico getaway this summer, but you're keen on avoiding the cliches, then this lesser-known beach paradise steeped in Old World charm is a great alternative:

One Of The Last Hidden Gems Of Mexico

Oaxaca Beach

Oaxaca is a state in the south of Mexico washed by the Pacific, famous for its colonial cities that look (almost) as if they could belong in Iberian Europe, were it not for the unmistakable smell of street-style tamales, and gorgeous coastline yet to be spoiled by overdevelopment.

The leading tourist destination in the state, Puerto Escondido, is a small beach town catering to low to middle-income Mexican families and backpacking travelers, hosting a number of boutique hotels, affordable guesthouses and youth hostels.

woman watching a beautiful sunset in puerto escondido mexico

It is best known for its long, sun-kissed sandy beaches, with a palm-lined Principal Beach attracting an international clientele with its casual thatch-roofed bars, Zicatela serving as one of Mexico's surfing centers, and Carrizalillo, nestled between steep cliffs, being the more recluse out of the three.

Oaxaca Is Cheaper Than The Mexican Caribbean

As the name indicates, this gem is yet to be invaded by the masses—don't get us wrong, it's still very popular, but it's nowhere near Tulum's level of crazy—and as it accommodates mostly Mexicans, prices are not completely dollarized (just yet).

turquoise water on the beach in Zicatela Puerto Escondido Oaxaca Mexico

Oceanfront suites at the luxurious, adults-only Bora Boutique cost $143 to book this June, while an overnight at the beautiful Hotel Flor de Maria, within walking distance of the beaches, and a 13-minute drive from the international airport, will set you back by $74 per night.

Have you checked Cancun or Cabo hotel rates lately?

Puerto Escondido is the main beach zone in Oaxaca, and it's one of the safest and most tourist-friendly destinations for Americans in the state, but if you're looking for something a little more offbeat, Playa Zipolite and its handful of thatched-roof stays can be an option.

Aerial View Of Puerto Escondido In Oaxaca, Mexico, Latin America

There are many restaurants and bars in the area, and it's also the gateway to both Mazunte Beach, one of the most beautiful in Mexico, home to the Mexican Turtle Center, and the Huatulco National Park, fringed by colorful coral reefs.

Huatulco itself extends into a coastal region where upscale developments and Caribbean-like, powdered-white sands can be found: it comprises 9 scenic bays, including Santa Cruz Bay, a popular port of call for cruises, and resort and golf course-dominated Tangolunda Bay.

Oaxaca beaches are heavenly, but they're far from being the state's sole big triumph:

It Has A Rich Colonial Heritage

Templo de Santo Domingo church and cathedral in Oaxaca city Oaxaca Mexico

Its centuries-old heritage is unmatched, rivaling Yucatan, Guanajuato, the federal capital, and other historically-charged states in Mexico: its capital, Oaxaca City, is a prime example of the region's architectural wealth and cultural relevance.

A well-preserved 16th-century colonial city resting at the foot of Sierra Madre, and traversed by the meandering Atoyac River, it is characterized by a beautiful Historic Center, virtually unchanged since the demise of the Spanish Empire, and combination of Hispanic and native elements.

Main Shopping Street In Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico, Latin America

Pro tip: If you are looking for a brand-new place to unwind and grab a drink with a really cool vibe, The Campante Bar just opened in Hotel Azul on its very own rooftop terrace. They have a meticulously curated selection of spirits, including Mexican rum, whisky, gin, vodka and a range of agave spirits like Pox, Comiteco, Tuxca and Sotol offering a unique glimpse into Mexico's fascinating spirit culture.

The most striking monument in town is the cathedral, towering proudly over the sea of low houses and winding cobbled streets since 1522, though a short drive from the main plaza, on the outskirts of town, the pre-Columbian Monte Albán and its pyramids are proof Spaniards were not the first settlers.

One of the first cities of Mesoamerica, it was once the heart of the Zapotec civilization that flourished in Mexico alongside the Aztecs and Mayans, and its near-perfect state of preservation has awarded it a much-deserved UNESCO World Heritage badge (alongside Oaxaca's charming colonial center).

Mitla Ruins Near Oaxaca, Mexico, Latin America.jpg

A one-hour drive from Oaxaca, Mitla is yet another UNESCO-listed ancient city, famous for the mosaics that still cover some of the temple facades, and impressive decorative work across many of the structures and tombs.

With its traditional markets, rugs and textile shops, red-dome church and friendly, hospitable locals, the idyllic San Pablo Villa de Mitla, the tiny village located near the archaeological zone, is definitely worth a visit if you're coming to see the ruins.

Oaxaca Is Becoming More Popular With Tourists

Tourist Posing For A Picture In Oaxaca City, A Colonial City In Mexico, Latin America

Whether it's nature and beaches or postcard towns and ancient sites that make your heart beat faster, Oaxaca has plenty to offer, and we can't say we're surprised that, this year, the state is expecting to break its own tourism record set in 2023, when it hosted 5.6 million visitors.

As the regional Secretary of Tourism Saymi Pineda has stated, the new direct highway linking Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido, opened in February, will significantly boost connectivity between both destinations, two of the state's most popular, reducing bus journeys from 6 hours to just over 2.

How Safe Is Oaxaca For American Tourists?

Tourist Police In Acapulco, Mexico, Latin America

When it comes to safety, Oaxaca is joined by the likes of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Tulum), Baja California Sur (Los Cabos) and Mexico City in Washington's Level 2 Travel Advisory: in non-technical terms, it is as safe as those other tourism hubs.

In sum, you must exercise ‘increased caution‘ due to crime, the regular safety advice that applies to most of Mexico; stick to the highly-surveilled tourist areas, don't drive on unknown backroads, especially after dark, keep valuables in a hotel safe, and beware of pickpockets.

Scenic old city streets and colorful colonial buildings in historic city center of oaxaca mexico

According to the U.S. advice, the cities of Juchitan de Zaragoza, Salina Cruz and San Blas Atempa are best avoided, similarly to the Federal Highway 185D to the west, Federal Highway 190 to the north, and the state border with Chiapas.

There are no warnings in place for Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Oaxaca City, Monte Albán, or any of the destinations listed above.

How To Get To Oaxaca From The States

Southwest Airlines plane in Austin, Texas

There are three airports in the state of Oaxaca:

  • Puerto Escondido Airport (PXM)
  • Oaxaca City International Airport (OAX)
  • Huatulco International Airport (HUX)

Puerto Escondido currently only hosts domestic flights, while OAX and HUX are responsible for most inbound international tourism to the state: if you're visiting the capital, you can fly in from Dallas/Fort Worth or Houston-Intercontinental with American Airlines and United Express, respectively.

Flights to Oaxaca City start from $291 one-way this season.

Traveler Holding USA Passport At Airport

Huatulco is linked to a number of other U.S. and Canadian cities, though mostly in the peak travel season during winter:

Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas (American Eagle) and Chicago-O'Hare (Volaris) in the U.S., and Toronto-Pearson (Air Canada), Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto-Pearson again, Vancouver and Winnipeg (WestJet) in Canada.

Many of these routes may no longer be active during summer, so you may be required to have a layover in a major hub like Mexico City, Guadalajara or Cancun.

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