Tulum Is Over! This Dreamy, Affordable Mexican Beach Escape Is Even Better

Tulum attracts thousands of visitors each year but let’s be real–it’s slowly getting more touristy, more sketchy, and simply over-rated. While Tulum has amazing white beaches, tropical jungles, world-class DJs, and many wellness options, it also has become so crowded that prices have sky-rocketed, and robbery in plain daylight has become the norm.

If you want to keep your chill and experience parties in a more relaxed ambiance, there is a hidden spot on the coast of Mexico that has become very popular in the past year, especially among digital nomads, wellness geeks, and party animals alike.

 

In the state of Oaxaca, you find a sleepy little beach town that has just been awakened. Formerly known mostly to die-hard surfers, who come for the 10-meter waves, hardly anyone has heard about this vacation spot before. Furthermore, Oaxaca is the home of the best mezcal in the country, colorful wooden folk art called alebrijes, and many local traditions, such as the cocina de autor (signature cuisine).

Ironically, the pandemic has brought to life this town on the Pacific Coast with new restaurants, cafés, boho shops, and yes, parties! Afterhours akin to Berlin, international DJs at night, surf competitions during the day, dance classes, workout sessions, yoga, and massages are all a part of the Puerto Escondido experience. While the feel is still very local and authentically Mexican, this little town is slowly becoming more international. Step into Selina, the hostel brand for young travelers with worldwide locations, and you’ll quickly realize there’s no space left in the co-working area.

Why Puerto Escondido?

It was virtually unknown before the pandemic and certainly not a digital nomad hotspot, especially since the Wi-Fi fails–a lot! The internet is so slow that Selina and another co-working café called La Fé are the only places where you can catch a decent signal.

But who cares when rent is half of what you pay in Quintana Roo, and Puerto Escondido is more chill than Tulum. The younger crowd of remote workers and surfers especially have fallen in love with Puerto Escondido for many reasons. For one, it has splendid parties with local and international DJs, since the Tuluminati DJ’s head to Puerto Escondido after Tulum. The big difference? The parties are for free or only 300 pesos ($15 US dollars), while Tulum tends to charge upwards of $100-300.

It’s also a standout surf destination, with three beaches, one known for major waves (La Punta), one for partying and sunsets (Zicatela Beach), and one for sunbathing (Carizalillo Beach).

Transportation is easy, thanks to Puerto Escondidio’s collectivo bus (a shared, public taxi) that takes you to all three beaches, plus downtown for shopping. The town’s small size makes it easy to meet (and re-meet) new friends too, unlike Tulum, where everything is spread apart and you need a bicycle or motorbike to get around.

Travelers can take in a number of excursions, from horseback riding to natural hot springs, bioluminescent waters in the lagoon at night, whale and dolphin watching, mezcal tasting tours, and more.

The best part? Puerto Escondido has retained its authentic Mexican flavor, with locally-owned restaurants, bars, and cafes, while Tulum has been descended upon by American influence.

Has Tulum Lost Its Charm?

Tulum’s popularity has not only affected housing prices (a 1-bedroom rental is around $700-1000 US dollars, while in Oaxaca you get a 3-bedroom house for that price) but also the water quality has suffered. The lagoon of Sian Kaan just next to Tulum has lost its crystal clarity and is getting increasingly polluted with plastic trash.

Many locals are being priced out of the center of Tulum. Due to the expensiveness of living, the extraordinary prices for food, and the downtown tourism, the original inhabitants of Tulum (many of whom are indigenous Maya) are being pushed into surrounding villages.

Parties in Tulum are fun but not always safe. Shootings between the cartel clans can happen at 5 pm in the middle of the main road, in the entrance of open-air clubs, or in cafés. In fact, many event organizers started moving their festivals back to Playa del Carmen for the coming year of 2022.

Tulum is especially loved because of the boho vibe, the music events, and the international entrepreneurs that stay here. However, Tulum is not necessarily a relaxed place. The main road is filled with tourist shops, where vendors try to sell you the same items as their neighbors. The beach is flanked with tour operators offering tours to cenotes (stunning underwater caves) and turtle-watching. Most of the restaurants are overpriced. The bill often comes with a 15% tip already included, even if you hardly saw the waiter. Prices are high, portions are small: That’s Tulum.

Puerto Escondido Is Just Hitting Its Stride

Many of the long-term residents of Tulum are looking for new places in Mexico and abroad to find the original village charm and peace again. And Puerto Escondido offers just that. The town is buzzing with opportunity, ideas, and potential. Sunsets are stunning, the cocktails are good and the music is the best you can find between in any “party city.”

While Puerto Escondido has become busy this year, it still has traditional neighborhoods, where you can get the amazing Mexican food for local prices, secret beaches with almost no other person in sight, and hotels amidst tropical palm trees that don’t break the bank.

Plus, Puerto Escondido is only an hour’s drive away from Mazunte, a laid-back hippie hub with spiritual retreat centers, as well as Zipolite, a hipster gay beach with more classy hotels. Driving further inland to San José del Pacifico, you can even buy magic mushrooms over the counter and relax in woodlands that call for a mountain vacation.

The Oaxacan coast begs for recognition, for its incredible beaches, quintessential Mexican flair, and it’s down-to-earth millennial friendliness. But hurry, it might not be long before the secrets out.

See more at Fodor's Travel