Chacahua Lagoon and the Allure of Oaxaca’s Coastal Marvel
In the remarkable state of Oaxaca, Mexico, you will discover several beautiful beach towns that grace the Pacific coast.
However, one rustic, almost rugged beach distinguishes itself from the others: Chacahua.
Despite the growing popularity of destinations like Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, and Mazunte, which are garnering considerable attention for Oaxaca’s beaches, there are still hidden gems waiting to be explored.
Chacahua exudes captivating magic. It is the meeting point of the ocean and the jungles, where bioluminescent plankton illuminate the lagoons, and the mountains of Oaxaca loom over the serene village.
This adventurous beach town is situated in the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park, spanning two coastlines and accessible through mangrove lagoons inhabited by crocodiles, turtles, and various bird species.
Once a quiet fishing village with only a few families, Chacahua has transformed into a paradise for travelers seeking complete disconnection.
It holds a unique allure, unlike any other place in Oaxaca. Chacahua is a beautiful blend of Afro and Mexican cultures, a rich treasure trove of unspoiled coastline, and a tranquil haven.
What makes Chacahua so special?
Rustic charm, pristine beaches, good surf, and an off-the-beaten-path atmosphere.
Arriving here feels like you are on a newly discovered desert island in paradise. Expect none of life’s luxuries, except natural beauty, and be prepared to get back to basics.
The island is far from Oaxaca’s most popular beach destination. But most backpackers who spend more than a couple of days in Puerto Escondido have heard of it.
However, few make the trip west by colectivo, boat, and a second colectivo to reach its sandy shores.
Perhaps it is the perceived difficulty of the trip or perhaps it is the lack of infrastructure (there is hardly any phone signal or wifi on the island). Either way, it makes Laguna de Chacahua Mexico a unique place to experience.
Fortunately, the town is in a national park. And, Mexico’s laws strictly control any new building and possible environmental impact in these national parks. Hopefully, the rustic charm will be preserved for many years to come.
How to get to Chacahua, Mexico
The pristine shores of Chacahua are most easily accessible from Oaxaca’s most popular coastal town, Puerto Escondido, about 60 km west.
Getting to Chacahua is part of the overall experience; it is part of the adventure.
Chacahua Beach sits in the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico.
The easiest way to get there by public transportation from Puerto Escondido is a mix of “colectivos” (public vans or buses) and boats.
Puerto Escondido is home to a small airport that receives domestic flights. If you’re coming from another country, you can fly into Mexico City and then take a flight to Puerto Escondido. It will take you about an hour and cost about 70 USD.
Otherwise, if you are in Oaxaca City, you can take an 8-hour coach ride for about 35 USD, as there are no direct flights to Puerto Escondido.
From Puerto Escondido to Chacahua
Take a “colectivo” from downtown Puerto Escondido, near the main ADO bus terminal, to the Rio Grande.
You have to get off at the intersection with El Zapotalito, the ride will take about an hour and will cost you 55 pesos (3 USD). Then, take a cab to El Zapotalito, where you will find all the boats going to Chacahua.
You will have no problem finding it, the white and green cabs will already be there waiting for you because it is a common route. The trip won’t take more than 5 minutes.
Once you reach the shores of El Zapotalito, you will have 2 options to finally get to Chacahua:
Take a direct boat from the main square in Chacahua. It will take you 45 minutes and about 200 pesos (12 USD). With this option, you will spend more time in the lagoon and less time on the road.
Boats and colectivos within the island begin operating around 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., while colectivos to and from Puerto Escondido operate at any time of the day.
Can you drive to Chacahua?
While you cannot drive directly to Chacahua, you can drive to El Zapotalito and take a boat to Chacahua. The trip from Puerto Escondido takes just over an hour.
8 Top things to do in Chacahua Oaxaca, Mexico
Here, you will find real natural beauty, pristine beaches, wildlife, perfect waves, and a very relaxed atmosphere.
Life here is very simple, yet it has everything you need to make you happy.
The town of Chacahua is very small, so you can walk everywhere. The island has two main sides: the beach, facing the ocean, and the other side facing the lagoon.
If you want to go from the beach to the lagoon, you will have to go through the main square, right in the middle of it, and that’s practically the whole island in a nutshell.
When you arrive in Chacahua, you will immediately feel its unique and special vibe, and you will relax in a matter of minutes.
But there are plenty of other things to do when the laziness goes away, and they all involve getting in touch with nature. Explore the lagoon, take a boat tour, surf, swim in the bioluminescence, and much more.
1. Enjoy Chacahua Beach
The beach is one of the main attractions, stretching for miles and allowing you to have endless walks with breathtaking ocean views.
But if you don’t feel like walking, just lie on the smooth sand, swim, get a massage (you’ll find several options on the beach), or take a break from the scorching sun at the countless beachfront joints.
Whether you are relaxing or walking, always keep your eyes on the ocean, you can see whales and dolphins at any time, and they swim very close to the shore.
During whale migration season (Nov-Apr), almost every part of Mexico’s Pacific coast will host humpback whales.
Chacahua is no different, and sometimes you can see them from the shore. However, if you want to see them up close and maybe touch them, you can hire one of the locals to take you out on his boat.
Along with humpback whales, you can see dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, and more.
Another great thing about the beach is that there are many food vendors who come up to you at any time of the day and offer extremely delicious snacks: fried plantain, empanadas, fresh juices, grilled fish and shrimp, fruits, etc.
2. Surfing in Chacahua
Like many of the towns along the Oaxacan coast, the waves along the shores of the national park are perfect for surfing.
And, perhaps more suitable for beginners than the fierce waves along Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido.
In addition to accommodations and restaurants, most beachfront properties have surfboards for rent.
Some even have kayaks. Alternatively, you can bring a shortboard from Puerto Escondido, as colectivos and cabs have luggage racks.
To enjoy surfing Chacahua, you can go out alone, with friends or ask on the island for someone willing to give you a lesson. Again, the rates will depend on your negotiating skills.
3. Turtle release
Chacahua Beach is not only popular with surfers and sunbathers but also as a turtle nesting site.
There are three different turtle species that nest their eggs in the sand at Playa Chacahua: olive ridley, leatherback, and green or black turtles.
Volunteers and staff at Campamento Tortuguero Bahía de Chacahua Oaxaca collect the eggs, incubate them, and then release them to ensure that as many as possible reach the sea.
Visitors can release a turtle on the beach, where it will then make its way to the vast Pacific Ocean. Or, for a more unique experience, you can accompany the team as they collect the eggs, possibly seeing adult turtles during the night.
Baby turtles hatch about 1.5 months after nesting on the beach. Therefore, it is best to check with the sanctuary if they will release any during your stay. Alternatively, you can also release them at Playa Bacocho in Puerto Escondido.
4. Take a boat ride through the lagoon and mangroves
If you didn’t catch the long boat ride 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 Chacahua Lagoon.
Negotiate a price and the duration of the trip before embarking to avoid surprises later.
5. Experience the Chacahua National Park Tour
As I mentioned before, the town of Chacahua is right in the Chacahua Lagoons National Park, so a boat tour through its incredible wilderness is definitely a must.
To find a tour, just walk into Chacahua’s small and unique main square, a few minutes walk from the beach entrance, and ask one of the many men selling tours.
There is no tourist center you can go to, everything is arranged in person.
***Another option is to visit the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park as a day trip from Puerto Escondido, especially if you don’t have much time to stay on the island.
6. Swimming in the Lagoon
While the ocean in Chacahua may be somewhat rough for swimming, there is one spot on the island that is perfect for it.
The lagoon estuary, a stone’s throw from the main beach, has hardly any waves and a nice little beach.
However, what makes this spot so perfect is the gentle current flowing from the sea into the lagoon.
You can jump off the beach sandbar at one end, float slowly downstream for 20 to 30 mt, and then walk back to the beach.
7. Visit the Chacahua Lighthouse
On the other side of the lagoon, just across from the town, there is another island that houses a hill with a lighthouse on top.
This is the best place to enjoy some of the most breathtaking sunsets you will ever see, while from Chacahua Beach you can see spectacular sunrises, but not sunsets.
To get to the lighthouse island, you must take a quick boat ride from the main square with one of the locals, and then take a steep 15-minute walk to the lighthouse.
Be sure to arrive about 1 hour before sunset so you can secure a spot. This place is well known in Chacahua and gets quite crowded.
If you don’t feel like going up to the lighthouse, once you get off the boat you can go to the other beach, where you can also watch the sun disappear behind the horizon with fewer people than at the lighthouse.
8. Swim in the Bioluminescent Plankton
One of the most memorable things you can do in Chacahua is to swim in the bioluminescent water.
This is a plankton present in the water that makes it glow at night in Chacahua National Park.
To do so, you will have to join a night tour of about an hour that will take you to the center of the lagoon by boat.
Once there, you can dive into the water and feel like you are swimming in the stars. Since there are no tour agencies on the island, again you will have to find a local to take you out on their boat, but that won’t be a problem.
Most of the time they will come to you on the beach and offer you bioluminescence tours.
Otherwise, just go to the main plaza in the daytime and ask for the “Lagunas de Chacahua” tour.
It is best if you can see the bioluminescence during the new moon when it will be very clear, and it is not recommended with a full moon, you may not be able to see anything.
If you loved the Chacahua Lagoons on the way in, spend more time exploring them on a private boat tour.
Many locals offer their services to explore a few stops in the national park. Boats are rented for a few hours and tours can be tailored to what you want to see and do.
Chacahua Travel Tips
Chacahua is quite wild and undeveloped, so there are some things you probably take for granted, but won’t find here.
- Cash: on the island, they only accept cash at restaurants, stores, or accommodations, so be sure to bring enough with you
- ATMs: don’t expect to find ATMs in Chacahua, there is only one supermarket in the main square where you can withdraw money, but they charge a 10% commission
- Internet: there is no phone signal in Chacahua, but you can find some restaurants or cabins that offer wifi if you pay. However, the wifi you can find is quite spotty, so be prepared to be disconnected during your visit to Chacahua
- Wear sunscreen and sunglasses, the sun is extremely strong between 10 am to 5 pm
- Bring meds if you need them, there are few pharmacies on the island where you can find them, but it is always better to be prepared
What is Chacahua known for?
Chacahua is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. It is part of the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park in Oaxaca, Mexico, famous for bioluminescent lagoons, mangroves, and beautiful beaches.
It is also known for its pristine coastline, fantastic surf, serene atmosphere, and traditional Afro-Mexican food and music.
Visitors come to Chacahua to relax and enjoy the unspoiled natural beauty of the region.
Does Chacahua have internet?
Some accommodations in Chacahua do have internet.
However, you should only trust that the wifi is stable enough to check and send WhatsApp messages occasionally. The internet in Chacahua is not very fast or stable.
Is Chacahua an island?
Technically, no. It is connected to land, but since Chacahua is also called Chacahua Islands National Park or Chacahua Island, it can be confusing.
Although it is not technically an island, since it is connected to the mainland of Oaxaca, many see it as such because most visitors take a boat to get to the town.
Chacahua can only be accessed by boat, as small estuaries in the lagoon separate it from the mainland.
However, the distance from El Zapotalito to the road on the east side of the island is not very far.
Chacahua, Mexico: Conclusion
In conclusion, the Chacahua Lagoon stands as a testament to the natural wonders that grace the coast of Oaxaca, captivating all who venture into its serene embrace.
The allure of this coastal marvel extends beyond its picturesque landscapes and diverse ecosystems; it embodies the rich cultural tapestry of Oaxaca, seamlessly blending nature and tradition.
Whether you are a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking an escape from the ordinary, Chacahua Mexico offers an immersive experience that leaves an indelible mark on the soul.
As the sun sets over the lagoon, casting a golden glow on the surrounding mangroves and crystalline waters, one can’t help but feel a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity to witness such beauty.
Oaxaca’s coastal marvel beckons travelers to explore its hidden corners, discover its unique biodiversity, and connect with the vibrant communities that call this region home.