Home Area Attractions Ecotourism: How To Really Get to Know the Nature of the Oaxaca Coast

Ecotourism: How To Really Get to Know the Nature of the Oaxaca Coast

by Brent May

We love Huatulco for its sustainability initiatives, its low-density planning, the incredible view we get to enjoy every day and the genuineness of our local community. We feel incredibly lucky to live in a place that showcases the biodiversity of Mexico. Discovering the wild side of the coast of Oaxaca is no less than a jaw-dropping experience.

Mexico’s tapestry of scenery is made up of deserts, rainforests, high mountains, marsh lands, and volcanoes to name just a few. Our coast of Oaxaca is characterized by a dry, tropical forest and influenced by its backdrop of mountains. The Sierra Madre del Sur mountains are a prolongation of the diverse mountain ranges that line up along the Pacific coast. Get out to sea to really get a panoramic view of the immensity of the mountains.

This space where the mountains come to meet the ocean is a rich melting pot of ecosystems. Lagoons, sand bars, river estuaries, and the dry forest are home to many incredible forms of wildlife. Trees lose their leaves in winter to conserve moisture and blossom and become green again with rains in May or June. Winter welcomes migratory birds from up north and summer is the green season with luscious vegetation.


Our coast offers many eco-tourism opportunities. We want to share a few of our favorites with you. If you haven’t experienced any of these yet, be sure to put them on your list. You won’t be disappointed.

Huatulco National Park

The National Park neighboring Huatulco was designated in the original planning of the town. The park counts many forms of wildlife including endemic and migratory birds, caoatis, badgers, raccoons, iguanas, boa constrictors, deer, ocelots and bob cats. Hike and bike on the park’s trails, watch for birds, admire the unique plants and trees. Several certified wilderness guides offer tours to the Park.

Copalita River

The Copalita River in Huatulco descends from the mountains leaving giant boulders along its path to flow into the ocean. During the last decade, a reforestation project along the banks of the Copalita has been underway to protect riverbanks and wildlife and to offer unique landscapes. Rafters know the river well. From May to October, the river level rises, making it a great place for river rafting. A trip on the river takes you through several rapids: from fast, but little obstructed water with small waves to intense turbulent water and a risk of obstacles and waves. While you are on a raft you can observe the natural habitats of animals and birds and the stunning rock formations and waterfalls around. But if you prefer taking your time to admire the landscape, you can go hiking along the river with a guide, or you can discover the eco-archeological Copalita Park at the mouth of the river. Several tour operators offer trips to the river.

Cascadas Magicas

Outside of Huatulco, you’ll find the turn off to Cascadas Magicas. The dirt road leaving the highway leads you to the waterfalls after about an hour and a half of site seeing through small villages and woods. The waterfalls are well worth the trip and are another example of the incredible natural beauty around Huatulco. Be sure to take your suit, you will want to jump in and explore. Walk along the river here or swing from a vine. You can also stay all night in the spacious cabins at La Palapa. Contact them ahead of your visit and they can prepare meals. Tour operators run tours out of Huatulco, some include a visit to a coffee plantation.

Hagia Sofia

More than 130 hecta acres of paradise, Hagia Sofia is in the Sierra Madre mountains in the back country of Huatulco. It is a sustainable eco park with agricultural, ecological and tourism areas. On the agricultural side, there are organic plantings of fruits, vegetables and timber. The ecological areas have many colorful species of trees and flowers. This area is home to a wide array of wildlife, such as birds and butterflies, who live serenely in this botanical garden and tropical forest. Tourism activities include river beaches close to the Magdalena River, zip-lines passing over the river and a waterfall where you can swim. You can also taste seasonal fruits like the Rambutan, a fruit that looks like a lychee. If you are going on a tour, don’t forget your walking shoes, dry clothes, a swimsuit, sunscreen and cash. A variety of day tours are offered including a 7-hour tour with lunch included. You can buy a ticket directly in the office or online.

Pluma Hidalgo and the Mountainous Back Country

If you’re craving a mountain adventure, head up to Pluma Hidalgo. It stays green year-round. The mountain jungle is amazing with its rich vegetation and waterfalls. Take a hike, discover the home of the Pluma shade-grown coffee. You’ll see local people working in the coffee plantations and small producers tending their crops and processing the beans.

Stay for a camp out and experience the expanse of a big, dark, starry night. You can pitch a tent at Don Gabriel in Pluma or rent a cabin or hotel room and enjoy the spring-fed pool. If you do stay here, you will be up early with the sun coming up right out of the ocean. Let us know how the show was.

You can also go glamping at Las Margaritas.

If you stay all night, take a walk around town. Pluma is one of the quaint towns where there’s not a lot going on. In fact, there may be nothing going on. You may be able to find a roasted corn on the cob, some evening tamales or a small grocery with some “medicinal” mezcal, doctored up with plants. Whatever you find in the simplicity of this place, it is sure to soothe your soul.

La Ventanilla

Named after a window in the rock that can be seen from Punta Cometa in Mazunte, La Ventanilla is a small community between Mazunte and San Antonio. Here, tour guides in red t-shirts will give you a tour of a small, crocodile-filled lagoon… in a rowboat. This small laguna is protected by an eco-tourism project. Young, local people work to protect the laguna and its wildlife, plant mangrove trees and provide visitor access and education. During an informative tour, you will learn about the mangrove eco system, the incredibly versatile adaptation skills of crocodiles, and approach some large, colorful iguanas. Show up any time knowing that earlier is better. Birds are more active early in the day or at sunset.

The Mazunte National Turtle Museum (Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga)

Mazunte comes from the Nahuatl word `Maxontetia` meaning “I ask you to please lay your eggs”. In the town of Mazunte is the Centro Mexicano de la Totuga (Mexican Tortoise Centre). This center is the only of it’s kind in the world as it investigates sea turtles, welcomes visitors interested in observing the miracle of turtle life on the beach, and attempts new growth plans for the economic development of the Coastal villages. These villages used to live off turtle exploitation before the advent of industrial procedures for their capture and its subsequent ban. Mazunte has a Museo Vivo de la Tortuga Marina (Live Sea Turtle Museum) and administers several bungalows for those who desire to witness the reproduction of thousands of sea turtles in the beaches of Oaxaca.


The Oaxacan coast has several protected nesting beaches for sea turtles. All of the planet’s species of sea turtles’ nest along this coast. Depending on the season, you may catch a massive arrival of sea turtles coming to leave their eggs or witness baby turtles hatching and heading out to sea. The turtles arrive year-round but some seasons like late summer and fall usually host the massive arrivals. Call ahead and ask at the Eco tourism center of Escobilla if there are turtles nesting. They will give you good advice about the recent activity. The center also has cabins for rent.


Closer to Puerto Escondido

Barra de Navidad

Approaching Puerto Escondido, you can explore the Barra de Navidad. Tours are set early in the morning. You will feel like you stepped into a National Geographic magazine watching migratory birds, waterfowl and crocodiles from your rowboat. Call Javier Santos, a certified wilderness guide, who organizes small or personal tours here: 954 135 0188. He speaks English.

Around Laguna Manialtepec

An impressive laguna lies about 20 minutes north of Puerto Escondido. The Manialtepec River runs out to the ocean here. The laguna is separated from the ocean most of the year with a high sandbar. But around the summer solstice, like in Ventanilla, high waves wash away the sandbar and the laguna and ocean connect.

Locals revere this event as an auspicious time. The laguna is brackish water. The yearly connection with the ocean cleans out the laguna and creates just the right conditions for its wildlife by mixing the salty ocean water with the fresh river water. A haven for migratory birds, during the winter, you may see storks, spoon-billed x, bald and golden eagles, hawks, 3 types of herons, waterfowl and northern songbirds. Motorboat tours are offered. You can also rent kayaks and paddle around the mangroves.

Thanks to the magical mix of the salty and fresh water, you can witness bioluminescence here. A tiny plankton that thrives in the water lights up at night when the water moves. To get the most out of this experience, just be sure to visit when the moon is small.

Tours of the Laguna are offered by several operators. You can reserve online.

Atotonilco Hot Springs

Close to Manialtepec, are the sulfurous Atotonilco Hot Springs. The springs are known to have healing properties. You can hike or ride horses, about an hour to an hour and a half from a village called Las Negras. The horse back trip is a beautiful adventure crossing the Manialtepec River several times and walking through the back country. Contact Javier Santos, a certified wilderness guide for this tour: 954 135 0188.

Waterfalls Hike

La Reforma Waterfall close to Manialtepec is an impressive waterfall that can be combined with several smaller waterfalls accessible by hiking. Also contact Javier Santos, for this tour: 954 135 0188. He can combine the tour with breakfast or lunch with a local family in a remote village.

When next you get the opportunity, we hope you enjoy these ecotourism adventures as much as we do. Let us know about your favorite nature adventure around Huatulco and Puerto Escondido!

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