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Dr. Charles Silverstein, our Travel Editor, is a licensed psychologist in New York City. He is best known for having presented the case for the deletion of homosexuality as a mental disorder before the American Psychiatric Association. He is also the founding director of two gay counseling centers, and the founding editor of the Journal of Homosexuality.

He's author or co-author of six books about gay life, including the three editions of the popular Joy of Gay Sex, contributed chapters and articles in professional books and journals. He is considered an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of relationships between men and problems of sexual disorders. Further information about him and his practice may be found on his website:




Puerto Escondido
A Perfect Laid Back Beach Vacation

Everyone has their idea of the perfect beach vacation. I have one friend who only wants to sit by a pool or the ocean and have servants bring him drinks and meals while he reads a book. Another goes only to deserted beaches where the presence of another human being is news (if not concern). On one occasion he informed me that one day he saw a sand crab that day and nothing more.

Locals at Playa Principal
I generally hate the beach. The idea of lying out in a broiling sun hastening the appearance of skin cancer is anathema to me. While I like swimming in the ocean and watching fishermen bring in their daily catch, I quickly dive for the nearest palm tree and stay there. And most beach resorts (such as Cancun ) seem plastic, by which I mean artificial.

 But there’s one town beach that I adore. It’s Puerto Escondido (which means “ Hidden Port ”) on the western coast of Mexico , between Acapulco to the north (six hours away) and the newer Huatulco to the south (over two hours by taxi). While it’s not new, very few Americans know about it or go there, which is an advantage from my point of view. The town and its beaches (not beach) have been around for quite awhile because it’s the premier surfing beach in all of Mexico and it’s filled with beautiful, friendly surfers from all over the world. They’ve been going there for decades and sleeping in cheap, electricity-less cabanas for months at a time. These who couldn’t afford the cost of the cabanas (about $4/day) slept in hammock parks on the beach in the open air and vulnerable to mosquitoes the size of your fist.

Much has changed since then. Puerto Escondido has been discovered. In order to bring in more tourist dollars the government made some changes. They paved the streets – actually they only paved the main street, and enlarged the airport so that jet planes can land there – small jet planes you understand. But the town fathers also did something wonderful; they decreed that no hotel could be built higher than three stories. That kept all the big chain hotels out and it’s gone a long way toward preserving the good characteristics of the place. And the Mexican government built Huatulco to the south precisely to bring the big bucks to the new flashy hotels meant for American tourists and pricey restaurants. Ignoring Puerto is the best thing they ever did. Well, except for a couple of problems to be mentioned later.

Fisherman at Playa Principal
Virtually everyone who’s been there returns. Of course surfers come for months at a time. But there’s also a good mix of local Mexicans enjoying their own resources, and tourists from Canada , the United States and more recently from Europe . But they come as individuals, not as part of tour groups. The place is laid back, very laid back, extremely friendly and marvelously inexpensive. And it’s not just for the young. Many middle-aged and senior citizens go there year after year because it’s so relaxing, and they too remain for a month or more.

The center of town (where you’ll find the paved street) has a beautiful cove for swimming. The beach is called Playa Principal or just the Town Beach . There you’ll find tourists swimming with pelicans, and fishing boats pulling in to remove their daily catch of fish. You’ll see the fish that restaurants will be serving at dinner. They’re also for hire if you want to go fishing yourself. There are a few old hotels, barely second class by American standards, that sit directly on the beach. They cost you about $30-40 a night (tops) for a double room. But forget air conditioning. Be satisfied if the overhead fan works. On the street are shops selling cheaply made beach junk like towels and sandals. They are of very low quality, but then again, do you care if your beach towel lasts more than a week? (If you do, don’t go to Puerto Escondido or any other town in Mexico that sells beach towels.) There are also restaurants and bars galore. Virtually everyone gets to this street every day. The bars are loaded during “happy hour” and every bartender has his “shtick” for bringing in more tourists.

On the beach are water taxis that will take you to the nearby cove of Playa Angelita only about ½ mile away to the north. You can also go by taxi, but that isn’t much fun, or you can walk around the point. Playa Angelita  and Playa Manzanillo across from it are simply picture postcard beautiful and spending a day at either is one of the most relaxing things you can do. (You can swim or walk from one to the other.) The first time I was there with my lover, we paid $1/day for hammocks. Unfortunately the hammocks have been replaced by beach chairs  and umbrellas (or just sit under the palm trees) some of which are free if you agree to buy your drinks and lunch from the person who owns the chairs. (That’s capitalism in action!) Otherwise there is a restaurant and a bunch of women who cook the catch brought in that morning by their husbands. They are as friendly as can be even if you don’t speak the same language.

Playa Angelita
Traveling ¼ mile further north you come to two other beaches, mainly serving some of the “better” hotels in town (read more expensive). The beaches are more private (although still public as are all Mexican beaches) and from my point of view, not as interesting. The hotels such as the Villa Sol and the Posada Real there also have large pools, something you won’t find much in the proletariat part of town. Hotels here will cost up to $100/day in season.

 Just yards to the south of the town beach is Playa Marinero where local entrepreneurs will gladly place your beach chair where you want it and supply you with whatever beverage and lunch you require. But don’t ask for a menu; he’ll tell you what he’s serving that day.  It’s sunnier here than at the town beach, and without palm trees for shade (an advantage or disadvantage depending upon your point of view). There are some cabanas on this beach, Villa Marinero,  and lots more further down on Zicatela.

Surfing at Playa Zicatela
Just south of Playa Marinero begins Playa Zicatela, famous all over the world for its perfect waves for surfing. No swimming is allowed at this beach because of the rip tide and the force of the waves. It’s only for surfers or the stupid. Be warned, swimmers have drowned. Virtually the whole of the newer hotels and restaurants start here. At the beginning of the beach is the well-known Santa Fe Hotel, a pricey joint (by Puerto Escondido standards) midway between the town and the center of Zicatela. Just above the Santa Fe is the Hotel el Tabachin, off the beach with quiet large rooms and suites available, an American breakfast included. The view from there is outstanding. As one travels along the pavement from there you will find old cabanas, old and new hotels and a string of new restaurants and bars. It’s become the new center of evening activity. The surfers obviously hang out in this area after dark.

It’s possible to spend no more than $100/day for two people, including room, board and drinks at night. You could spend more, but not that much more. You’ll usually spend less. Poor (but beautiful) surfers can do it for $30/day.

Mexican Surfers
So now the other shoe. What’s the disadvantage? There are two problems. There has been a lot of crime in the past decade, mostly a matter of locals robbing tourists. But hotel owners rightly recognized how badly these crimes would impact the economy and large lights have been installed along the beaches, and the police have been more vigilant than in the past about crime. There are many more tourist police.

The second problem is more difficult to handle. It’s hard to get to Puerto Escondido, and sometimes even harder to get back. That’s because the Mexican government has made Mexico City the hub for all traffic to other cities. If you’re going by plane, there is only one plane a day from two places; Mexico City and Oaxaca (which sometimes has two). It is almost impossible to travel from New York City (I haven’t checked other cities) to Puerto Escondido in one day. You have to stay over in Mexico City in both directions. That means that it takes almost four days to travel there and back. It’s also very expensive. Trying to make a reservation for late February, I found that a round trip ticket from JFK to Puerto Escondido would cost a minimum of $750, plus the cost of two nights in Mexico City and two extra round trip taxis to and from the airport. That’s very inconvenient. One can avoid Mexico City by taking Continental to Houston and flying to Hualtulco from there. But you have to take a taxi from there (over two hours) to Puerto Escondido which will cost you about $70 one-way.

 Returning by plane can be even more of a nightmare. The plane (only one a day to Mexico City ) sometimes doesn’t show up! The last time I was there, the airline faxed all the hotels in the late morning to tell them whether or not the plane would arrive that day, and if so, what time. As one hotelier said to me, “The airline sometimes ‘adjusts’ the schedule but forget to inform us.” The frivolousness of the plane schedule makes getting back home from Mexico City the same day impossible. Mexico City also has the worst service of any airport I’ve been in anywhere in the world. I met an elderly couple at my hotel who were furious because they went to the airport in time for the plane only to learn that it arrived two hours early and left without the passengers! Sometimes you will be asked to leave from Huatulco a taxi ride of two or more hours south in order to get the plane and they may or may not provide transportation. One can see why surfers who stay for the season wouldn’t care about such problems.

Since I’ve mentioned Oaxaca , I suggest that you go there along with Puerto Escondido. They’re in the same state, Oaxaca . The city is very beautiful, and Indian rather than Spanish. Nearby are a series of astounding Mayan ruins and lots of interesting craft items for sale. That would give you the following itinerary: To Mexico City, then Oaxaca , then Puerto Escondido, then back to Mexico City and home, all by plane. That would probably add another $100 or so per person. Combining both would be a fabulous trip. The easiest way is to go by air, but if you’d like to see the mountains between the two cities, an air conditioned van will take you between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido in 5 1/2/ hours for about $13.

One can also take a bus from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido. It’s very cheap but not for the faint hearted. It takes 11 hours by the schedule. There’s also a good first class bus from Acapulco (7 hours), but banditos sometime hold it up. (Why hold up a bus with poor people?) 

Americans at Playa Angelita
What about gay life? Forget it. It’s not that there aren’t gay people in Puerto Escondido, but the only ones you’re likely to meet are other Americans and Canadians. We have no trouble spotting one another. There are no gay places or cruising grounds. Gay life in Mexico is still underground except in its largest cities. If you want sex, bring your boyfriend.

Many hotels have their own websites, too many to list here. Do a search and you’ll find lots of material on the town. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to be surrounded with elegance, want to be part of the fashion parade of new expensive bathing suits – someone who wants class – go somewhere else. You’ll hate Puerto. But if you like a laid back funky atmosphere where people wear their bathing suits all day, and the bathing suits were bought sometime during the last decade, and where you’ll mix with local Mexicans – then Puerto Escondido is the place for you – if you can get there and return.

Want to ask a question about Gay travel or submit your own travel stories? Email your questions or submissions to Dr.Silverstein at: psychs@mindspring.com.

photos by Dr. Charles Silverstein


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