The State of Oaxaca never ceases to surprise me. Its wild and pristine coastline might be one of the most underrated in all of Mexico. Though the growing popularity of places like Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, and Mazunte are bringing a lot of attention to Oaxaca’s beaches, there are still some hidden gems to discover. My favorite destination in this region is the off-the-beaten-path island of Chacahua. This island is full of magic. Chacahua is where the ocean meets the jungles, where bioluminescent plankton inhabit the lagoons, and the mountains of Oaxaca tower over the quiet village.
It might be one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. If you do visit, I implore you to help maintain that secret. If Chacahua ever goes the way of other paradise islands, it will break my damn heart. I’m entrusting you guys with this secret, since I know my audience and I know us budget backpackers aren’t exactly the type to have thousands of dollars lying around to invest into beachfront property. But if I did, I would buy the whole damn island so no one else can spoil its untouched paradise sands.
How To Get To Chacahua
The best way to get to Chacahua is from Puerto Escondido. For my fellow long-term backpackers, Puerto Escondido will be an essential stop on your Mexico backpacking trip anyway. For travelers looking to bypass Puerto Escondido and go straight to Chacahua, you’ll likely have to stop by Puerto anyway. Flights to Puerto Escondido can be as low as $25 from Mexico City without luggage.
Basically, first, you’ll need to get to Puerto Escondido. Once you touchdown in P.E., this is how to get to Chacahua.
From Puerto Escondido
Take a colectivo towards Rio Grande and get off at the intersection with El Zapotalito (55 Pesos)
Take a taxi to El Zapotalito (20 Pesos per Person)
Take a direct boat to Chacahua, 45 minutes and 200ish Pesos (depends on your bargaining skills)
Take the quick boat to Chacahua Island (5 minutes, 50 pesos)
Step 4 (if you took Step 3b):
Take the bumpy colectivo ride from the dock to Chacahua town (45 minutes, 50 pesos)
Personally, if you are willing to spend an extra $5 each way, I’d recommend just taking the direct boat to and from El Zapotalito. It is much more scenic and much more enjoyable. We took the camioneta from Chacahua to El Zapotalito, and it was way longer than I ever imagined. We were on a bumpy dirt road for nearly an hour in the blistering midday heat. The views were the same throughout, just the dirt road behind you and not much else.
Is Chacahua Worth Visiting?
Absolutely. It feels like a place out of time, where everything is simple and laid-back. When I got off the boat from El Zapotalito, I felt like I was in a different country altogether. Or maybe not even just a different country, but a different time period. It felt like exploring a little town from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag or Pirates of the Caribbean. I met a Mexican lady who had been visiting Chacahua every year for 28 years without ever tiring of it. I don’t think I’d ever go to the same place every year, but for Chacahua, I could understand. If I didn’t have a flight to catch, I would have stayed in Chacahua much longer than five days.
Things To Do in Chacahua
My ideal day in Chacahua is spent doing nothing. Waking up for sunrise, going for a long walk before it gets unbearably hot, and then having breakfast while reading a book were my ideal mornings. During the peak hours of the day, going for a swim was essential, whether it was in the vast ocean or the sparkling turquoise waters of the laguna. As sunset approached, I’d either rent a surf board or work my way over to one of the many stunning sunset spots in Chacahua.
If I didn’t go surfing, I’d catch a 10 peso boat to the other island where the lighthouse is. I’d make the quick hike up to the lighthouse for some of the most stunning panoramic views you’ll find in Mexico. If I wasn’t feeling up to that, I’d head down to the other beach where you get an unobstructed view of sunset, and even fewer people than on the main beach. At night, there’s not much to do besides have dinner and turn in pretty early. At least once, you should do that bioluminescent plankton tour. For 100 pesos ($5), it was one of the most unforgettable experiences you can have.
Surf in Chacahua
Chacahua is one of the best places to learn how to surf. The waves are frequent, although nowhere near as overwhelming as the ones at Zicatela. Make sure to check the surf forecast for Chacahua to get an idea of what the waves are like when you visit. If you didn’t bring your own board, you can rent a surfboard for 250 pesos for a 24-hour period from Chacahua Surf Camp. This was the best deal I found on the entire island. You can find Chacahua Surf Camp past the restaurant strip on the beach, just past Terra Tipi and before Lia del Mar.
Hike Up to the Lighthouse (El Faro) for Sunset
This is one of my favorite sunset spots in all of Mexico. I mean, where else can you get an unobstructed view of the vast ocean, blue lagoons, dense jungles, and pastel mountain ranges. I could have stayed up here all day, just watching the boats go to and fro, seeing the surfers catch their waves, and the birds fly errantly.
To get here, you can catch a boat from the dock for 10 pesos to the other island. Walk behind the beachside restaurants and turn right. After a few meters, you’ll see a sign that marks Playa El Faro. Hike up the hill, and take a right towards the lighthouse when you come to an intersection. Climb the stairs up the lighthouse and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Go To Playa El Faro
If you take the left when hiking up to the lighthouse, you end up on a long, long strip of beach that is even more untouched than the one by Chacahua village. There’s a cool rock formation here that is also popular to visit. It’s a short but stunning climb for sunset.
Tours in Chacahua
While you won’t find any established tour agencies on the island, this is Mexico after all. Your hotel isn’t just a hotel. It’s a restaurant and a bar, too. They also rent surfboards out, and surely someone on the property can give you lessons for 500 pesos. Likewise, every establishment on this island will know a guy who can be your makeshift tour guide. There’s no shortage of boats in Chacahua, so just ask around and you’ll find a way to hop on one of these tours.
I paid 100 pesos ($5) for a guy to take us out on his boat in the evening. The ride lasted a little over an hour, and was absolutely unforgettable. Seeing the bioluminescent plankton was way cooler than I ever expected. It’s always been one of those things that I wasn’t sure would be worth it, but it so, so was. For 100 pesos, I would do it every single day.
Laguna de Chacahua Tour
You can get a guy to take you out on their boat to see the various parts and islands of the Laguna de Chacahua. This is a National Park after all, so there is plenty to see. Whether you want to see wildlife, cool nature, or just have a fun day out on the boat, this could be a good activity to fill up an otherwise lazy day in Chacahua.
Whales, Dolphins, Manta Rays, Sea Turtles
During whale migration season, almost everywhere on Mexico’s Pacific Coast will be home to humpbacks. Chacahua is no different, and sometimes you can see them right from shore. However, if you want to get up close and personal, you can hire a guy to take you out on their boat. Along with humpback whales, you can see dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, and more.
Where To Stay in Chacahua
Thankfully, Chacahua doesn’t have any fancy resorts lining the beaches yet. Chacahua is a national park, and hopefully, that means that the miles and miles of pristine coastline will stay that way.
If you are the type to want something booked in advance, there are a few properties in Chacahua that you can find on Airbnb. Otherwise, you might just want to roll up to the island and find a place to stay.
Camping usually costs about 50 pesos per person, although some places will bypass that fee if you eat at their restaurant. I camped at Terra Tipi, mostly because they had some food that catered to vegetarians. Don’t expect too much in the way of vegan food, although you can have them make adjustments.
As far as I know, there aren’t any hostels in Chacahua, at least not in the traditional sense. Most places will rent out entire rooms rather than just beds.
You can find some for around 200 pesos, but usually, they’ll be around 300-400 pesos for a private cabana. Don’t expect much in the form of amenities. A fan, electricity, and a mosquito net will likely be the most you can expect. I also stayed at a random nameless cabin near Chacahua Surf Camp, which cost 300 pesos a night but had a magical view of the sunrise.
Nightlife in Chacahua
Surprisingly, there are bars in Chacahua. They are very local, though, so don’t expect your usual reggae ton or electronic music. In Chacahua, Banda is the name of the game. Some bars, you’ll need to take a boat to get to. Others are on the main island. Don’t expect anything too late, but like everywhere else in Mexico, Mexicans are always down to have a good time.
Other Things to Know About Chacahua
Chacahua is one of the most barebones travel destinations I’ve ever been to. It is a tiny, tiny village with hardly anything on the island. Don’t expect to find anything more than the bare minimum to survive.
It gets hot here, and on the beach, there is very little shade to be found. This isn’t like those other beach destinations where as soon as the sun comes up, people stick parasols into the ground for all the beach-goers. It gets so hot that being barefoot on the beach is a death sentence during midday.
What To Bring To Chacahua
The beauty of Chacahua is that it is relatively difficult to get to. While the journey itself isn’t too long for a traveler, it is quite a hassle bringing supplies to and from the island. Because of that, you’ll want to bring everything you think you’ll need to Chacahua, since odds are, it might be hard to find on the island.
A Lot of Cash
There are no ATMs on the island. As far as I know, there’s no way to withdraw cash either, although I’ve heard rumors that you can pay at the supermarket with your card and take money out. I didn’t try it myself, but apparently they charge a pretty big fee for doing so. Hey, if you’re out of money, you’re out of luck.
A Lot of Sunscreen
Chacahua gets blistering hot during the day. I’m not usually one to wear sunscreen, but I wore a lot of it in Chacahua. It is absolutely essential, especially if you plan on laying out in the sun, going surfing, or going on boat trips.
A Lot of Bug Spray
The mosquitoes in Chacahua are a different breed. I don’t usually get bothered by mosquitoes, but the ones in Chacahua just hit different. They hurt when they sting, and they are relentless. At sunset, they were absolutely unbearable. During the day, you don’t really notice them, and even at night, I was okay with sleeping outside the mosquito net and with the door open. However, that hour or two right after sunset, they were out in full force. Not since the Amazon Rainforest had I despised mosquitoes as much as I did then.
Stuff to pass the time (Books, cards, downloaded Netflix episodes)
The days in Chacahua are long. I’m not the type to get bored, so thankfully, they never felt as long as they truly were. If you’re the type to always want to be doing something, make sure to bring something to pass the time. A few days in Chacahua will have you breezing through books and Netflix episodes, so make sure you’re well stocked on things to do.