Lagunas de Chacahua, Oaxaca (Ultimate 2021 Travel Guide)

Lagunas de Chacahua, Oaxaca (Ultimate 2021 Travel Guide)

I’m going to let you into a little secret, ok? Lagunas de Chacahua, Oaxaca. That’s it, that’s the secret. Because this is one of the last few places in Mexico unspoiled by tourism. A place that perfectly balances rustic charm and natural beauty with a level of tourism that supports the island and its inhabitants.

Chacahua – with its national park status – is remote, off the beaten path and there’s not a hotel in sight. In the national park, there are miles of beaches, perfect surfing waves lagoons, mangroves and a whole host of wildlife. And, in the heart of it all is a small town of just over 400 people who live and work in the beachfront cabanas and restaurants.

So, if you’re looking for a place that’s unspoiled, raw and real, then Chacahua is the place for you.

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Where is Chacahua, Oaxaca?

Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua (Chacahua Lagoons National Park in English) is on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, about 60 km west of Puerto Escondido. The town itself is located on the southern tip of the national park.

If you do just type in ‘Chacahua, Oaxaca’ to Google Maps though, it will show you a small village east of Puerto Escondido, near Mazunte. This is not the place that you’ll be looking for! It has no beaches, no rustic charm and, well, nothing to do. Make sure to search for Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua.

What makes Chacahua so special?

A rustic charm, unspoiled beaches, great surf and an off-the-beaten-track feel. It feels like you’re on a newly discovered desert island in paradise! Don’t expect any of life’s luxuries (except for natural beauty) and be prepared to get back to basics.

The island is far from the most popular beach destination in Oaxaca – or even Mexico. But, most backpackers who spend more than a couple of days in Puerto Escondido have heard of it. However, few make the journey west via collectivo, boat and a second collectivo to reach its sandy shores. Perhaps it’s the perceived difficultly of the journey or perhaps it’s the lack of infrastructure (there’s hardly any phone signal or WiFi on the island). But, either way, it makes Chacahua a unique place to experience. And, I certainly hope that doesn’t change anytime soon.

Luckily, the town is in a national park. And, Mexico’s laws tightly control any new buildings and possible environmental impact, including light pollution, in these national parks. So, hopefully, the rustic charm will be preserved for many more years and travellers to come.

The port at El Zapotalito if you want to get a shared, collectivo boat service to the island of Chacahua

How to get to Chacahua

Pretty much the only way to get to the island is from Puerto Escondido. That is unless you’re staying in some of the rural villages in southwest Oaxaca? Didn’t think so.

Puerto Escondido is easily reached from both Oaxaca City and San Cristobal de las Casas by an overnight bus. While, the towns of San Jose del Pacifico, Mazunte and Zipolite are just a short bus ride away. For those from further afield needing to reach Puerto Escondido, there is an airport just a 10-minute town from the centre of the town. Flights arrive all throughout the day from Mexico City, where you can connect to 100s of destinations across Mexico and the world.

From Puerto Escondido to Chacahua

  • Take a collectivo from Terminal TUR (next to the ADO/OCC bus station) for 55 pesos per person. Ask for El Zapotalito, you’ll be dropped off on the side of the road at the junction for here
  • Cross over the road and wait at the small shelter for a taxi (if there’s not one already there). These are specific taxis that ferry people from the collectivo drop-off and into El Zapotalito all day. The taxi costs 20 pesos per person, regardless of how many people get in.
  • In El Zapotalito, you have two options.
    • One option is to get a quick (10 minutes or so), 50 peso per person boat to the island followed by a 50 peso per person collectivo (it’s really a truck) along a dust road into the town. The collectivo picks you up straight from the jetty where the boat drops you off and takes about 25 minutes to reach the town. But, you might have to help them load up with the supplies that are being delivered to the town!
    • While, the second option is to get a longer (45 to 60 minutes), direct boat all the way to the town. However, you’ll need to negotiate the price with whoever has a boat and is going (you’ll probably have to ask around). Fares range between 200 to 600 pesos per person depending on group size, negotiation skills and your level of Spanish!

From wherever you get dropped off in the town of Chacahua, Oaxaca, you’ll have to walk to your accommodation as there’s no taxis or other forms of transport.

Personally, I would choose to get the long boat at least once (either outward or return journey) and then the short boat + collectivo the other time. With the long boat, it’s almost like a tour combined with transport as you’ll get to see most of the lagoon as well as the El Corral mangroves.

The view of the Pacific Ocean from the door of my on-the-beach cabana

Where to stay

With no hotels and no hostels in Lagunas de Chacahua, you might be wondering where there is to stay… In short, there are two options. Firstly, you can either camp in a tent or stay in a hammock at one of the many all-in-one restaurant-bar-accommodation-equipment hire places along the beach. Or, you can stay in a cabana – there’s plenty along the beach, near the lagoon and in the town.

Camping/hammocks

This is the most budget accommodation option but is also the most basic. Many of the restaurants along the beach will have hammocks you can stay in. These are usually only a few pesos or free in exchange for buying lunch or dinner from them each day.

Alternatively, there are some places with camping areas – tents ready set up and the like – that charge less than 100 pesos per night.

For both of these options, there’s no way to book in advance. Rather, it’s a case of turning up and asking in each place if they have availability. Don’t expect much in the way of facilities, there’s likely to be a cold shower, maybe a plug socket or two, and possibly – but not likely – WiFi.

Cabanas

Cabanas are the main form of accommodation in Chacahua, Oaxaca. And, there’s plenty along the beachfront and slightly set back from it too. Some of these appear on Google maps, some do not. Again, most people do just turn up and ask around for a room. Prices start at around 300 pesos per night for the most basic option but can be much higher with more facilities and a larger room

However… two properties are bookable in advance on booking.com: Cabanas La Isla Chacahua and Casa Magica Colibri. For someone like me – an introvert who doesn’t like having to talk to strangers and whose Spanish leaves a lot to be desired – this was ideal!

I chose to book one night at Cabanas La Isla online so I knew I’d have accommodation sorted for when I arrived (and so I didn’t have to lug my bags door to door along the beach). Though, I did then extend 4 more nights directly with the property! Each room has a private bathroom, fan and the internet was the best I found on the island. Not enough to load videos, but good enough to read the news, social media and write blog posts.

BOOK HERE: Cabanas La Isla (beach- and lagoon-front cabanas with the best internet on the island)!

BOOK HERE: Casa Magica Colibri (inland cabanas with free breakfast and a kitchen)!

Looking along the water's edge of the beach in Chacahua towards El Faro. The frothy wave breaking on shore is at the foreground of the image

Best things to do

Surf the waves

Like many of the towns on the Oaxacan coast, the waves along the shores of the national park are perfect for surfing. And, perhaps more suited to beginners than the fierce waves along Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido.

In addition to also being accommodations and restaurants, most of the beachfront properties have surfboards to hire. Some even have kayaks. Alternatively, you can bring a shortboard from Puerto Escondido as the collectivos and taxis have roof racks or fit it in the aisle.

You can either surf by yourself/with friends or ask around the island for someone willing to give you a lesson. Again, the price depends on your negotiation skills. Alternatively, check out Chacahua Surf Camp.

Relax on the beach

You can’t visit the pristine beaches of Chacahua National Park without sitting for a while and enjoying them. But careful not to dip your toes too close to the water’s edge, or you might be taken out by a strong wave!

Swim in the Chacahua lagoon

While the waves on the beaches are too rough for swimming, there is one place on the island that is perfect for it! The estuary of the lagoon – just a stone’s throw from the main beach – has hardly any waves and a nice small beach. What makes this place so perfect though, is the gentle current flowing from the sea into the lagoon. You can jump off the beach sandbank at one end, float slowly downstream for 20 or 30 metres and then walk back up onto the beach!

Zoe stood in the foreground looking sideways. Behind her is the lagoon estuary and then a tree-covered hill with a lighthouse on top.

Climb to the lighthouse

Across the mouth of the lagoon, sits a small lighthouse (El Faro in Spanish) on top of the hill. While the lighthouse itself might not be much to look at, the views from the top are incredible! Take a boat to the other side, where one of the locals will likely point you in the direction of the walk start point as soon as they see you’re a tourist.

It’s a short but steep and sweaty almost straight uphill walk to the lighthouse. You can climb up inside the lighthouse – you did use to be able to climb out through the hatch too, but when I visited this had been padlocked shut. The views make the walk totally worthwhile! This was honestly one of the highlights of Chacahua for me!

Bring a camera and wear sturdy footwear as you’ll be climbing on rocks, tree roots and dirt paths. As an additional side note, the lighthouse is also one of the best places on the island for phone signal!

Bioluminescence

Best enjoyed during a new moon (Google is your friend for finding out when that’ll be), the bioluminescence in the National Park’s lagoons is simply spectacular. But, don’t worry if you’re not visiting during a new moon, you’ll just need to head out on the water before moonrise or after moonset each night. I also had no idea that was a thing until I visited Holbox where bioluminescence tours are very popular.

As there are no tour agencies on the island, this will again be a case of finding someone willing to take you out on their boat. Perhaps best to ask during the day for that night. Expect to pay around 100 pesos per person.

Boat tour of the lagoon and mangroves

If you didn’t catch the long boat on the way to the island or if nature activities are more your thing, find someone with a boat to give you a tour of the lagoon. Don’t expect the locals to speak English though, so this may be a more visual tour if your language skills aren’t quite there! Negotiate a price and trip length before heading out on a boat to avoid any surprises later.

Palm trees and beachfront restaurants line the beach in rustic Chacahua

Where to eat and drink

Most of the places serving food are along the water’s edge – either the main Chacahua beach or the mouth of the lagoon. Just don’t expect huge variety.

The options are mostly typical Mexican dishes or fish. But, you’ll also find chicken wings, spaghetti and chips (french fries) in some of the restaurants. There are only a few vegetarian options though.

The prices aren’t too dissimilar to other places along the Oaxaca coast despite the remote location. But, the island is reliant on food deliveries once or twice a week. This does mean that once somewhere is out of something, it can be a few days before it’s on the menu again.

Additionally, pretty much all the restaurants double up as bars serving beers and/or cocktails. Plus, there’s also a small shop in the town’s square that sells snacks, drinks (soft and alcoholic), food, cigarettes and other essentials at reasonable prices.

A bird's eye view of the town of Chacahua with it's many cabanas and thatched roofs from the top of the lighthouse

What to pack (if you’re not bringing your entire backpack)

  • Cash, and lots of it. There’s no ATM on the island so you need to bring what you think you’ll need for the duration of your stay (plus a little extra as a buffer). Always bring more than you think you need! Because there’s no phone signal and the WiFi is patchy at best, very few places accept card payments. And, those that do add on large charges. Save money by bringing plenty of money!
  • Plenty of suncream. Self-explanatory, but the Sun just seems so much stronger in Chacahua. The big Chedraui in Puerto Escondido has the best-priced suncream I’d seen in Mexico. Do try and buy reef-safe sun cream if you can to help the oceans and preserve the lagoons. The baby turtle I released into the ocean in Puerto Escondido will thank you!
  • Bug repellent and a bite remedy. All the bugs and insects seem to come out just before sunset. And, as you’re in a National Park with lagoons and mangroves, there is absolutely no shortage of wildlife to bite you! While we all hope repellent will do the trick, I’d also recommend coming prepared with bite cream or – my favourite travel accessory – a bite pen.
  • Swimming gear. I can’t imagine you were planning on heading to a beachfront town without this one, to be honest! But, if I may share a recommendation. I bought a long-sleeve, SPF-protecting, swimming top in Puerto Escondido. And, it was a godsend for not having to put suncream on my upper body several times a day! Plus, once it was wet it kept me cool for ages but still dried quickly when hung up.
  • Offline activities to keep yourself amused. Books, eReaders, audiobooks, pre-downloaded Netflix, Sims, solitaire, whatever you fancy really!

As a final recommendation, leave your big backpack or suitcase in Puerto Escondido. Just bring enough clothes, toiletries, etc for the length of your stay. You won’t regret it as it’ll be so much easier to move from transport to transport, as well as when you’re packing up at the end. Most hostels or hotels will store bags for a few days, so just ask.

Looking inland over the lagoon estuary and lagoon, with the Oaxaca mountains in the background

Useful Spanish phrases for your time in paradise

  • Are you going to El Zapotalito? ¿Vas a El Zapotalito?
  • Do you have a room for tonight? ¿Tienes una habitacion para esta noche?
  • How much for a surfboard for one day? ¿Cuanto por una table de surf por un dia?
  • Can we go to the other side, please? ¿Podemos ir al otra lado, por favor?

Do you have any questions or want any more information? If so, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Information is correct as of October 2021 but is subject to change in future.


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