What’s the line from the beatles song?
“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”
Well that’s exactly how I managed my trip to Chacahua National Park in Oaxaca, Mexico.
It started with “donde puedo tomar el colectivo o bote de Zapotalito?” and other Spanish travel phrases given to me by my Mexican buddies; and ended with birthday celebrations for my new-found Chacahuan chums.
Chacahua National Park
Chacahua, lovingly named ‘the hidden jewel of Oaxaca’ is renowned for it’s biodiversity and a go-to place for experiencing wildlife and the bioluminescent plankton of the region.
A tropical watery haven, the island of Chacahua boasts five lagoons of fresh water and salt water. As well as two incredible beaches; suitable for surf, swim, kayak and snorkel.
Located approximately 60 km from Puerto Escondido; you can get there easily over the course of a few hours using colectivos (a shared taxi, bus or boat).
A chance meeting
Making good use of my new found travel phrases; I arrived at the Zapotalito pier to find a handful of locals as well as a fellow traveller-type (surfboard and huge backpack in tow), who I soon found out was Alejandro from Mexico City.
I lucked in big time meeting Alejandro.
With a background in community development, the guy has been vacationing in Chacahua for several years – sometimes as often as 3-4 times a year. In which time he’s invested a lot of energy working with the local afro-mexican community; getting to know their struggles and helping them overcome the challenges of living remotely.
Immediately slipping into tour-guide mode, his love of Chacahua was evident and I was eager to learn more about his waterlust.
The first stop on Alex’s tour of Chacahua was a beachfront restaurant owned by his good friends Anita and Leovi. As old friends reunited, I took a peek at home for the next few days – a long stretch of white-sandy pacific coast, flanked by a maze of mangroves, opening up to the Laguna behind.
Staying beach-side, I opted for a cabaña rather than camping like Alex and a group of rastas who had pitched up at the far end of Anita’s restaurant (camping under shelter of a long, palapa-roofed restaurant on restaurant row’ is common here).
I felt a little like a fish out of water (a relatively normal feeling when travelling, but still nerve-wracking). My sub-par Spanish made communicating hard and I felt overly-dependent on the kindness of these relative strangers.
I needn’t have worried though.
A friend of Alex, is a friend of Anita – no questions asked. Without hesitation, she took me to see a lady along the beach to negotiate mates-rates on a three-tier high cabana room, with balcony and panoramic views of the beach.
I was thrilled about the view, but not so thrilled about the non-existent room security and lack of running water in the bathroom. Just a heads up, most accommodation won’t have a lock on the door and the lack of fresh water supply means you’ll most likely encounter other people’s poop on a daily basis. But hey, you get over this pretty quickly after discovering everything else the island has to offer.
The watery highlights of Chacahua
After a night acclimatising and a good few pep-talks about being “a strong, fearless, independent woman”; I rejoined my friend-come-tour-guide, Alex for breakfast at La Jungla restaurant and then set off for his half-day highlights tour of Chacahua National Park.
Swim across the river (where laguna meets ocean) and walk to the mainland beach
In traditional tour-guide fashion, Alex put my essentials inside a net bag so that I didn’t have to carry anything with me when crossing the river (currents can be fast at certain times of the day). After all the seawater action in Puerto Escondido, it felt good to feel the fresh water against my skin with the added benefit being that I got to clean myself as I swam.
Scramble up the rocks and take in the never-ending beach view
The rock formations here are like something out of The Hobbit, you get the feeling that they come alive at night and reform in new and fascinating ways each morning. Six months before, Alex and a local Shaman climbed the rocks to make an offering to mother nature – a simple ritual involving a feather and words of thanks, but thought to encourage balance and harmony between people and planet, which is crucial for Island life.
Head up the jungle track to the lighthouse
Mosquito repellent to the ready, a ten to fifteen minute climb up a well-trodden dirt path peppered with small-medium sized rocks, takes you to a little lighthouse perched atop of a cliff. Apparently face to arse in high season, people take it in turns to climb the tiny ladder to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse’s pride and glory – panoramic views of Chacahua National Park, the laguna and mainland. Amazingly (but not for the first time), I got to experience the watery magic alone.
Check out the waves on the jetty
The isolated beach of Chacahua is home to a super long right-hand break that’s porn to locals and in-the-know international surfers. Promising big, slow waves, surfers can expect a long walk back up the beach after catching a ride. As Alex and I scoped it out that morning, the waves were fairly small, but ever-committed surfers still took the plunge off the jetty to feel the ocean beneath their boards.
Finish off the morning with a mouth-watering lunch at La Jungla restaurant
Maybe I’m bias, but from how packed Anita’s restaurant is on a daily basis, I’d say that I’m not the only one who thinks she serves the best food on the Island. I had Pulpo ceviche on my first day and Mexican style pescado after my morning exploring with Alex.
After lunch Alex headed for a siesta before hitting the surf and I took the opportunity to take in the views while doing some much needed photo editing, ready for publishing this post!
An unforgettable experience
That night I headed back to La Jungla restaurant where it was Anita and Leovi’s joint Birthday. Alex surprised them both with a cupcake and candle each, while we sang Happy Birthday (badly) in English and Spanish. Just like before, I felt incredibly lucky to have found such kind, generous people who welcomed me into their home to share their special occasion.
The next day, I packed up early and headed for the colectivo to take me to the small ferry-boat crossing back to Zapotalito. I was sad to say goodbye to these people; Alex and the others made my short time on Chacahua a special one.
It’s a beautiful island, with a unique ecosystem that creates a watery haven for travellers. But the real jewel of this place is it’s people. A must-do trip for anyone visiting Oaxaca.
Take a colectivo (shuttle) from downtown Puerto Escondido to Zapotalito ($45 MXN) – 1 hour
From the main drop off, take another colectivo (shared taxi) to Zapotalito dock ($15 MXN) – 15 minutes
Get a small ferry boat over to Chacahua island ($35 MXN) – 15 minutes
Then jump on another colectivo (pick-up truck) to La Playa Chacahua ($30 MXN) – 30 minutes
- Total transport one way (colectivos & boats) $125 MXN
- Accommodation ( 2 nights) : $200 MXN
- Food and drink: $560 MXN
- Activities: $0
$885 MXN (£35)
Level of difficulty:
Low-medium: This trip couldn’t be simpler if you are able to speak Spanish. It’s best to have at least a basic level of understanding for asking directions and understanding the response. But, even if you’re a novice like me then it’s still doable. In my experience all the locals were extremely helpful, even if all you can do is signal and smile!