Drive from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido
(and to Puerto Angel, Mazunte, Zipolite, Pochutla, etc.)
richness en route, unmatched
to the state of Oaxaca frequently inquire about the drive
from the City of Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and other coastal
destinations, expressing concerns about the length of the
trip, quality of the highways, and the overall advisability
of driving versus flying or bussing. This essay speaks to
the doubts tourists might have regarding the journey using
their own or a rental vehicle.
Weve driven the three main routes on a number of occasions
over the past several years, at different times of the year.
Ive written elsewhere about highway 190 to Huatulco.
That road, the easiest to navigate, takes you at least a couple
of hours out of your way, south, and is therefore not the
most advisable unless of course you plan to visit Salina Cruz
or Huatulco anyway. By contrast, highway 175 through Pochutla,
and then north on highway 200 to Oaxaca, takes about 6 hours
(I tend to drive fast, and stop about 3 times during a trip)
and is the most interesting and a relatively easy drive. Highway
131 is the most direct and quickest route, albeit with its
I will provide details of the 175 route driving to Puerto,
and 131 by way of return route, in terms of what to expect
regarding landscapes, towns and villages, and highway characteristics.
A schedule of times and distances between particular towns
appears as an appendix, providing a quick-and-easy summary
of road conditions for each segment of the journey. However,
for this trip we stopped more than usual along 131, so keep
in mind that without any lengthy stops it should take about
an hour less.
Sixteen years of traveling these routes have been incident
free, attributable in part to following four simple rules:
1) Drive only during daytime. While the roads are paved
and generally good, and in fact many of the bridges are freshly
painted white, lighting is an issue. More importantly, theres
much more of a risk when driving at night of encountering
inebriated drivers and pedestrians, and animals.
2) Start out with a full tank of gas. While there are
gas stations en route, and signs advertising mechanics and
gasoline along the roadways, by not having to make a stop
to fill up, you have an opportunity to make other stops along
the way, more productive than stopping to simply top up. The
trip to the coast takes well less than a tank of gas.
3) While stating the obvious, make sure youve had
the mechanical fitness, and oil and water levels of the car
checked before leaving. Brakes, tires and steering are
the most important for negotiating the portions of highway
with mountain switchbacks.
4) Regardless of time of year, take a jacket, sweater or
sweatshirt since youll be climbing to about 9,000
feet on route 175. If you tend to be susceptible to motion
sickness, take along anti-nausea medication.
Oaxaca to Ocotlan: Takes about 40 minutes, initially
with urban sprawl out of the city, and then gently rolling
hills with a few strong curves, vegetation predominantly agave
and corn under cultivation. Passes by the villages producing
black pottery (San Bartolo Coyotepec), alebrijes (San Martin
Tilcajete), and cotton textiles (Santo Tomas Jalieza). In
Ocotlan, noted for its Friday market, youll find clay
painted figures of the Aguilar sisters, the workshop of knife
maker Angel Aguilar, and tributes to artist Rodolfo Morales
home and foundation, mural at the municipal offices, and museum
featuring his and earlier works.
Ocotlan to Ejutla: Takes about 25 minutes, with long
easy straight-aways and occasional curves and gentle hills.
Once again agave and some corn, with a number of outcrops
of carriso (river reed used for making ceilings, roofs and
fences). Known for its Thursday market, with sale of animal
skins. You can easily avoid going into Ejutla by taking the
Ejutla to Mihuatlan: Takes about 35 minutes, with more
pronounced curves and hills, and easy-to-navigate peaks and
valleys through similar vegetation and some mixed brush. Good
idea to take your Dramamine or Gravol about 15 minutes into
this portion of the trip. While there is no specific bypass,
its not necessary to enter the main downtown section
of town. Just keep going straight and the highway takes you
out of the city.
Mihuatlan to San Jose del Pacífico: Takes about
50 minutes. Leaving Mihuatlan youll see the impressive
mountain range in front of you, which you quickly begin to
climb. Youll note the temperature change quite readily,
as you witness the dramatic change in vegetation. In addition
to deciduous trees including scrub oak, youll see an
abundance of conifers, mainly pine. The agave changes from
espadín under cultivation, to very different and impressive
wild varieties along the side of the road, growing from rock
outcrops, some reaching an immense size, with stock (chiote)
shooting up from its core dwarfing many of the surrounding
trees. This segment of the trip, and the next with descent
to Pochutla, are characterized predominantly by significant
mountain switchbacks. Youll see roadside eateries, booths
with alebrijes for sale, and small cottage-industry lumber
and firewood producers. San Jose del Pacífico is noted
for the sale of locally harvested hallucinogenic mushrooms,
in particular during the rainy season, and therefore youll
come across roadside workshops selling hand-made wooden mushrooms
as well as other hand-crafted products. You can rent a cabin
if you wish to break up the trip and spend the night. Clean
accommodations, with private bath, start at about 300 pesos.
Theres well-marked signage alongside the highway. Some
are more modern and advertise satellite TV and other facilities.
There are a few restaurants, grocery stores, bakery, etc.
Its a relaxing way to spend a few hours, perhaps hiking
up the dirt roads where most residents tend to live.
San Jose del Pacífico to Pochutla: Youll
continue to climb for about another 10 minutes until you reach
El Manzanal, then begin the descent. This portion of the trip
takes about two hours and 25 minutes. The ride down is initially
quite gradual, and then more pronounced once you reach San
Miguel Suchixtepec, a picturesque village with large impressive
church, and homes strung out along a few hilly mountain roads.
Youll begin to detect another significant temperature
change, depending on the facing of the portion of mountain
you are descending relative to the sun. At different portions
of the stretch youll pass by a couple of waterfalls
and three or four smaller rivulets spilling across the highway,
goats and donkeys, home construction of wood, pine cones on
the roadway, brilliant orange flowered bromeliads, wild orchids,
large expanses of boston-like ferns, and perhaps one or two
patches of fog. For several kilometers youll encounter
a sweet smell similar to that of maple syrup. Because of the
steep descent, you may even detect the smell of burning rubber,
but dont worry, its likely a truck up ahead having
brake problems. At about four hours into the trip youll
begin to hear tropical insect and bird sounds and calls, and
see bananas and sugar cane under cultivation and for sale,
with coffee and honey also offered at roadside stands. On
the approach to Pochutla the roadway will then gradually straighten
out, with curves much easier to navigate. Tropical grasses
predominate the roadside landscapes. An indication that youre
getting closer with be blown sand encroaching part of the
roadway, and finally a sign stating Iguana Hunting Prohibited.
A short while later youll see the sign pointing to the
right for the Puerto Escondido bypass.
Pochutla to Puerto Escondido: Takes about an hour.
Highway 175 ends at a Y, so veer to the right
and youre on highway 200, following along the Pacific.
However, you wont be able to see the ocean for about
40 minutes. Youll pass by the exit to Puerto Ángel,
Mazunte and Zipolite. The entire final leg of the trip is
basically straight and flat. For the last half hour or so
youll see mango, papaya and coconut under cultivation.
Aside from the fact that this route should be quicker than
175, and is about 50 km shorter, there are other differences
to note, in addition to similarities:
1) While 175 is predominantly a single ascent, and then descent,
131 consists of several hills and valleys which must be negotiated,
on a couple of occasions arriving in a town at the bottom
of a valley, and then again beginning to climb. This may contribute
to the roller-coaster effect on your stomach.
2) The road quality is inferior on 131, in particular for
about an hour in the approach to San Gabriel Mixtepec and
thereafter, with potholes, poor attempts to repave, etc. However,
until around the end of 2006 it was far worse. Now there are
long stretches of fresh, new tar, and improvements continue.
3) Immediately upon leaving Puerto you begin an ascent, so
there is no gradual departure from the tropical climate.
4) Much of the vegetation found on 175 is the same along 131,
although it is less defined, in part because you do not climb
to same altitude as on 175, and there are really no significant
micro-climates which manifest in extremes of vegetation and
particular commercial enterprise. Waterfalls are abundant,
and landscapes are impressive, perhaps less so than on the
other highway. There is much more livestock along the sides
of the roadway than on route 175, predominantly donkeys and
mules, so be a bit more vigilant.
Puerto Escondido to San Gabriel Mixtepec: Takes about
an hour, with switchbacks and the climb commencing almost
immediately. Take your meds as you leave the coast. As suggested
earlier, there are peaks and valleys along this portion of
the route. The patchwork of road repairs becomes apparent
rather readily. Roadside coconut stands predominate initially.
Youll then begin to welcome the maple essence, in fact
off and on for three or four hours as your journey continues.
The village is quaint, with grocery stores, a major pharmacy
and several restaurants.
San Gabriel Mixtepec to Cerro del Vidrio: This portion
of the trip, just over an hour, is a net incline, not without
several ascents and descents of mountain passes. At km 55
youll pass the exit to a well-known coffee plantation,
Finca Las Nieves. Just before arriving at Cerro del Vidrio
youll start a gradual descent, arriving in the town
after about 10 minutes. This is where traffic turns off to
go to Juquila (about a 45 minute detour), famous for the appearance
of the Virgin of Juquila. Cerro del Vidrio developed much
more rapidly once Oaxacans began making pilgrimages to Juquila.
In fact along the entire 131 route youll see vehicles
with gladioli tacked onto the front on either side of the
license plate, along with a framed image of the virgin. Right
at the turn-off youll encounter several vendors of fruit
and memelitas filled with beans.
Cerro del Vidrio to San Pedro Juchatengo: Takes about
40 minutes, and terminates at the bottom of the largest valley
youll encounter. Switchbacks. Upon arrival youll
begin to see corn under cultivation, as well as some agave.
The town boasts swimming in El Rio de Las Flores, as well
as an ecological preserve.
San Pedro Juchatengo to Sola de Vega: Youll continue
negotiating strong switchbacks, initially following along
the banks of the river, then deviating, and finally climbing
until the pinnacle, El Mirador, where a small
restaurant, rest stop and mezcal outlet are situate. You will
have already begun to notice three different types of agave
under cultivation, for mezcal production. Youll then
descend to Sola de Vega, arriving after about an hour and
twenty minutes, now encountering some corn, and even banana
trees. Sola de Vega is noted for its mezcal, and historically
for its occupation by the French during colonial times.
Sola de Vega to Oaxaca: This final leg of the trip
takes just under two hours, initially marked by climbing,
albeit much easier to navigate, and then again peaks and valleys,
much softer than during the first couple of hours of the return
route. At km 181 youll see the cutoff to San Sebastián
de Las Grutas, 13 km off to the left, where there are a series
of caves you can hike. By km 190 the road will have straightened
out, and for the balance of the trip, another 60 kilometers,
there will be rolling straight-aways, the agave fields diminishing
in number as corn becomes the predominate crop, with outcrops
of carriso, some cactus under cultivation, and roadside stands
selling sugar cane. By now the temperature will have risen
and stabilized at typical Oaxaca valley climate. Your approach
to the city will be marked by the same urban sprawl as when
I highly recommend driving these routes. Consider taking an
extra day so you can stop at some of the sites and villages,
perhaps at a couple of mezcal operations, or just to get out
of the car and take a stroll. Spending one overnight will
help you to get a feel for rural Oaxaca, and add immeasurably
to the totality of your vacation. San Jose del Pacífico
gets my vote since its seemingly a bit more geared to
ecotourism than the other towns and villages en route, although
there are other quaint, interesting stopovers, where tourists
dont normally stop for the night, which might lead to
even a more interesting sojourn.
Oaxaca to Octotlán, 40 min and 33 km; Ocotlán
to Ejutla, 25 min and 25 km;
Ejutla to Mihuatlán, 38 min and 40 km; Mihuatlán
to San Jose del Pacífico, 50 min and 36 km; San Jose
del Pacífico to Pochutla, 145 min and 100 km; Pochutla
to Puerto Escondido, 55 min and 69 km.
Puerto Escondido to San Gabriel Mixtepec, 60 min and 42 km;
San Gabriel Mixtepec to Cerro del Vidrio, 70 min and 38 km;
Cerro del Vidrio to San Pedro Juchatengo, 40 min and 24 km;
San Pedro Juchatengo to Sola de Vega, 80 min and 50 km; Sola
de Vega to Oaxaca, 120 min and 93 km.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
) is a founding member of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association,
its members providing an attractive alternative to lodging
in a Oaxaca hotel. Our member Oaxaca bed and breakfasts are
committed to providing value-added service in a quaint, personal
touch environment, a contrast to traditional Oaxaca hotels.
Casa Machaya co-owner Alvin, the Oaxaca destinations expert
for a major international travel website, provides Oaxaca
tours to his house guests as well as those staying in other
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