Puerto Escondido, Mexico
A sleepy port tucked away on Mexico’s southwest coast, Puerto Escondido lacks the international fame of other Mexican beach destinations like Tulum and Cancun – and that’s all part of its charm.
Already this seems like a bad idea. My friend and I have driven to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in the darkness of night, and then boarded a rickety old speedboat with a man we don’t know. He’s taking us out into the middle of a lagoon in pitch-black surroundings, and all we can see is the stream of his flashlight against the water.
We can no longer make out the shape of land in the distance when he kills the engine and we glide to a gentle sway. A flash of light beneath the water’s surface, almost like a lightning bolt, catches my eye, followed quickly by another. Our captain turns to us with a satisfied look his face. “You see?”
I lean over the side of the boat for a closer look, and see countless fish glowing like X-rays under the water. “Are you going in?” he asks us casually, fastening a small ladder to the side of the boat. Our thoughts turn to the menagerie of aquatic monsters that could be lurking in the dark water beneath us, but he shrugs with a smile. “Totally safe,” he assures us. I guess we’ve made it this far unscathed, so why not tempt fate a little more? I leap off the side of the boat and the splash echoes across the dark lagoon.
As I resurface, my friend yells at me to look at my limbs in the water – and sure enough, they’re glowing. The lagoon is renowned for the phosphorescent plankton that comes in from the sea during certain times of the year, lighting up the creatures that dwell within its waters. We swim around for a few minutes, marvelling at our own luminescence, before clambering back in the boat, grateful we haven’t encountered a phosphorescent alligator.
The next morning while we dig into a breakfast of cactus tacos sprinkled with Oaxacan cheese, the previous evening’s experience seems almost surreal. Our plans for the day are far more conventional, and we head to one of the local beaches, Playa Carrizalillo. The beach itself sits in a sheltered cove at the bottom of a cliff, and we stop at the top of the long, winding stone steps to take in the view. When we reach the bottom, we are greeted by a group of Mexican surfers offering us lessons, but our priorities today are a little more geared to lounging.
The tinny salsa beats float on the breeze from one of the thatched-roof palapas further back on the beach. Unlike other beaches we’ve already been to in Puerto Escondido, this one is milling with locals more so than tourists, and Mexican families and couples fill the motley rows of sunbeds that sit under a rainbow of umbrellas. We stake claim on two lounges of our own and settle in for the day, fresh chilled coconuts in hand.
No one really seems to be in a hurry to do anything here. A dog trots in front of us and takes up a position on the sand, gazing peacefully out to sea. His gaze doesn’t waver, even when a beach ball bounces past. I can identify with his priorities – the view is a beautiful one, framed by slim palm trees that bend elegantly towards the turquoise waters.
Out past a jagged outcrop of rocks, surfers wait patiently for breaks, some chatting among themselves, others seemingly meditating in the cove’s natural beauty. Soon the sun’s touch turns from a gentle caress to a sharp nudge, and I relinquish my coconut and plunge into the waves – a steep drop only a few steps from the beach makes for a pleasant swimming depth. The water is perfectly temperate, like a glass of lemonade moments after the last ice cube has melted.
I stroke languidly out to the centre of the cove, and the chatter emanating from the shoreline disappears. With barely any waves to contend with, I feel like I just could float out here forever. But there’s just one problem: It’s lunchtime. Soon, thoughts of fresh ceviche, fish tacos and guacamole served to me right at my sunbed are irresistible, and I begin my swim back to shore.