Playa Principal, where small boats are available for fishing and tour services, and Playa Marineros, adjacent to the town center on a deep bay, are the best swimming beaches. Beach chairs and sun shades rent for about 55 pesos, which may be waived if you order food or drinks from the restaurants that offer them. Playa Zicatela, which has lifeguards and is known as the "Mexican Pipeline," adjoins Playa Marineros and extends southeast for several kilometers. The surfing part of Zicatela, with large curling waves, is about 4km (2 1/2 miles) from the town center. Due to the size and strength of the waves (particularly in summer), it's not a swimming beach, and only experienced surfers should attempt to ride Zicatela's powerful waves. Stadium-style lighting has been installed in both of these areas, in an attempt to crack down on nighttime beach muggings. It has diminished the appeal of the Playa Principal restaurants -- patrons now look into the bright lights rather than at the sea. Lifeguard service has recently been added to Playa Zicatela, although the lifeguards are known to go on strike. The best beach for learning how to surf is called La Punta.
Barter with one of the fishermen on the main beach for a ride to Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito, two beaches separated by a rocky outcropping. Here, and at other small coves just west of town, swimming is safe and the overall pace is calmer than in town. You'll also find palapas, hammock rentals, and snorkeling equipment. The clear blue water is perfect for snorkeling. Local entrepreneurs cook fresh fish, tamales, and other Mexican dishes right at the beach. Puerto Angelito is also accessible by a road that's a short distance from town, so it tends to be busier. You can also take a cab to the cliff above Playa Carrizalillo and descend a hundred stone stairs to a calm and secluded swimming beach. Playa Bacocho is on a shallow cove (dangerous for swimming) farther northwest and is best reached by taxi or boat than on foot. It's also the location of the Villa Sol Beach Club. A charge of 50 pesos gives you access to pools, food and beverage service, and facilities.
Nesting Ridley Turtles -- The beaches around Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel are nesting grounds for the endangered Ridley turtle. In summer, lucky tourists may see the turtles laying eggs or observe the hatchlings trekking to the sea.
Escobilla Beach, near Puerto Escondido, seems to be the favored nesting grounds of the Ridley turtle. In 1991, the Mexican government established the Centro Mexicano la Tortuga, known locally as the Turtle Museum. On view are examples of all species of marine turtles living in Mexico, plus six species of freshwater turtles and two species of land turtles. The center (tel. 958/584-3376; www.centromexicanodelatortuga.org) lies on Mazunte Beach, near the town of the same name about an hour and a half from Puerto Escondido. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 6:30pm, and Sunday 10am to 4:30pm; suggested donation is 25 pesos. If you come between July and September, ask to join an overnight expedition to Escobilla Beach to see mother turtles scuttle to the beach to lay their eggs. The museum is near a unique shop that sells excellent naturally produced soaps, shampoos, bath oils, and other personal-care products. All are packaged by the community as part of a project to replace lost income from turtle poaching. Buses go to Mazunte from Puerto Angel about every half-hour, and a taxi ride is 60 pesos. You can fit this in with a trip to Zipolite Beach. Buses from Puerto Escondido don't stop in Mazunte; you can cover the 65km (40 miles) in a taxi or rental car.
The tourism cooperative at Ventanilla provides another chance to get up close to the turtles. The villagers here have created their own ecological reserve that encompasses a nearby lagoon, inhabited by crocodiles and dozens of species of birds, and a beach where sea turtles lay their eggs. There's also a great organic restaurant called Maiz Azul. A boat ride to see the crocs costs 50 pesos. Turtles lay their eggs here year-round, although summer is the prime season, so there's always a possibility that a nest is about to hatch. Helping the locals release the eggs is free. Ventanilla is a 30-peso taxi ride from Mazunte or the nearby beaches, but if you're planning to stay past sunset, ask your driver to wait; it's a long walk in the dark to the main highway.
Zicatela Beach, 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) southeast of Puerto Escondido's town center, is a world-class surf spot. A surfing competition in August and Fiesta Puerto Escondido, held for at least 3 days each November, celebrate Puerto Escondido's renowned waves. There is also a surfing exhibition and competition in February, for Carnaval. Gina at the tourist kiosk can supply details. Beginning surfers often start at Playa Marineros before graduating to Zicatela's awesome waves; if you're not a surfer but want to be and you're at Carizalillo, look for Escuela de Surf Oasis. Intermediate surfers do go out at La Punta, at the southernmost end of Playa Zicatela, but waves and strong currents make Zicatela dangerous for swimming.