Sunset Zicatela Beach
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SHE ROAMS ABOUT

Puerto Escondido, Oax., Mexico

 

Mexico is one of those countries that has a reputation that precedes it. When you think of Mexico you often think of beaches, tacos and tequila but unfortunately people also associate it with drugs, crime and danger. When I told people I was planning an extended trip to Mexico the number one response I got was “Be careful.”. So after six weeks in Mexico and over two weeks in Mexico City I think it’s time to address the top question: Is Mexico City Safe?


Museo Nacional de Antropología, CDMX


Expectation:


When I was planning my trip to Mexico I initially only set aside three nights in Mexico City, or as the locals call it CDMX. I figured because my flight had to land there anyways, I would take a look around but I didn’t think it was somewhere I really wanted to spend time. Due to a last-minute flight change with Aeromexico I ended up losing my first night in CDMX and arriving at 5am. The panic started almost instantly upon entering the terminal.


I had done some research in advance about the best way to get to my accommodation. I had booked a serviced apartment from Casai in the neighbourhood of Roma Norte. From what I had read, Ubers are reasonably priced and readily available and if that failed there were authorized taxis inside the terminal that were priced flat-rate by zone. When I exited into the main arrivals hall it was still very much nighttime outside and I was greeted by a wall of male drivers staring at me. Scanning the arrivals hall there was no obvious indication as to where Ubers would be so I asked an airport employee. This was when I realized that people in Mexico really don’t speak any English and I really didn’t speak Spanish at that time. I’m not talking about fluency either, I’m talking about any form of basic English. During my time in Mexico I would say probably less than 10% of all the people I encountered understood or spoke any English at all so I was fortunate to pick up Spanish quite quickly. After a very brief and awkward non-conversation about Ubers I found myself at the authorized taxi kiosk.


I had heard, like most people, that Mexico really wasn’t safe for foreigners. Now here I was, stood in the taxi bay, sticking out like a sore thumb having to open my bag and my wallet, exposing my laptop, tablet, phone and money to about 15 people who were all watching me. I was given a ticket to give to the taxi driver and loaded into a car by an enthusiastic older porter and then we were off.


Taxi drivers in Mexico are a bit like taxi drivers anywhere, they know their town and city and they don’t use GPS. I hadn’t considered this at the time of booking but I had selected an unmarked apartment in a tiny historical corner of Roma Norte, up a poorly lit, dead end back lane. The taxi driver got us to the general neighbourhood using the address I’d provided but neither of us knew where it really was and neither of us could tell the other that. Luckily, the previous day I had done a Google Street View walk from my apartment to a nearby café and I recognized the end of the lane. I got into the apartment, climbed into bed and told myself it would look different in the daylight.


View from the Apartment, CDMX


Reality:


And it did. With two hours of sleep under my belt it was time to join the free walking tour of Roma and Condesa I had previously booked. The meeting point was about a 3-minute walk from my apartment and this was when my perspective on Mexico really changed.

At this point, I had travelled to almost 40 countries and hundreds of cities and I felt more safe in CDMX than I’ve felt at times in London, Paris, New York and Barcelona, to name a few. I can honestly say that in all the time I was in Mexico I never once felt watched, threatened, stood too close to or unwelcome.


Safety Measures:


One of the reasons why CDMX feels so safe is because it actually is. A few years ago the city appointed a female mayor and her perspective on safety in the city brought forth a lot of change. For example, the city has introduced measures such as CCTV cameras in most neighbourhoods as well as panic buttons on streetlights that connect directly to the police. If you push the panic button they instantly know where you are, can look for you on the CCTV cameras, dispatch police to be with you in a matter of minutes and can communicate with you through a two-way radio. They also launched a CDMX app for your phone which has the panic button built-in as well as a way to hail city authorized taxis and track public transport to get you moving safely.


As a female in the city, you get a little special treatment when it comes to public transport. Women are welcome to ride on any train or bus but there are also designated trains and areas on transport that are for women only. The city also focused on installing plenty of lighting on the streets as well as in the many green spaces to improve safety at night for pedestrians. And finally, there is good, free WiFi provided by the city almost everywhere you would go so you are almost always connected to the internet. From a practical standpoint CDMX is doing a great deal more than a lot of other cities. I live in Toronto, Canada and we actually don’t have any of the safety measures in place that CDMX does.


Couples Dancing, Plaza Rio de Janeiro, Roma Norte, CDMX


Cultural Norms:


Another reason why CDMX feels so safe is because of the people and the culture. En masse Mexicans are a very proud and respectful people, and that attitude extends to those around them, whether you’re local or not. In fact, it actually took a bit of getting used to because where I live most people go through life looking straight ahead and ignoring those around them. For example, if you enter into a restaurant in Mexico and people are already sitting at a table they will say hello to you and they’ll say goodbye when they leave. People will also greet you when you enter most establishments and thank you when you leave.


Shoe Care Vendor, Roma Norte, CDMX


One of the things I had prepared myself for was avoiding scams and having to haggle but I found this to be a huge overreaction. Most places, including markets have prices listed or on signs and the vendors are incredibly helpful, offering sizes, colours, options but without pressure to purchase. One afternoon I decided to purchase some shoelaces from a street vendor. I asked him how much they were, and he said $20 pesos, so I picked out my pair of shoelaces and handed him $40 pesos, thinking he meant $20 pesos per lace. It was actually $20 pesos per pair and although he could have very easily doubled his money on me, he handed me back my change with a chuckle.


Even the poor community, operate with such respect. People very rarely beg unlike what I’m used to in North America. Instead of this they offer something in exchange such as selling small items or playing some music. This is very normal in Mexico and you could find yourself approached ten or twenty times a day, even when inside restaurants and cafes. Many Mexicans do donate to these people and if they do not they simply thank them with a smile and the person moves on to the next table. Almost every business, no matter how small operates with a great deal of pride.


Busy Shopping Street, Centro Histórico, CDMX


This pride even stretches to the streets which are spotlessly clean. CDMX actually removed most of the garbage cans from the streets because they found that they would fill up and overflow but when they removed them people were so reluctant to litter that they would carry their garbage with them until they found somewhere suitable to dispose of it.

This is not a place where you need to hide your phone or wear a money belt. People walk around everyday with smart phones and smart watches without fear. In restaurants they actually provide bag trees which are little, short coat racks that sit beside your table where you can put your belongings, bags, jackets so they are off the floor and right in your eyeline.

Trust Your Gut:


I’m not going to say that you are free to roam the streets of Mexico, leaving a trail of hundred-dollar bills behind you and you’ll be fine, but Mexico truly is not a place to be feared. Like any city, CDMX has rougher neighbourhoods and some unsavoury people but the city is so huge it’s very unlikely you would be near them. As with anywhere in the world you need to trust your gut and intuition, however that speaks to you. If you find yourself somewhere you think you shouldn’t be then leave.


Palacio de Bellas Artes, CDMX


By the end of my three days in CDMX I had fallen so deeply in love with it that I booked a flight back for another two weeks. It’s this really interesting blend of European architecture and Mexican culture that makes it feel so unique. CDMX and Mexico in general have so much to offer in terms of history, culture and unforgettable experiences. This false reputation of being “unsafe” is standing in the way of so many people exploring this incredible part of the world.


So however you want to ask the question: Is Mexico City safe? The answer is yes. Regardless of where you come from, what you look like or who you are, everyone is welcome.



-Ashlea

She Roams About



Puerto Escondido is becoming a hot topic in the travel world and with it being an up-and-coming destination it can be hard to find practical information. I did a lot of research before reaching the area and I was surprised when I arrived because what I had read and watched didn’t seem to align with what I was experiencing firsthand. One of the topics I struggled with was gaining a clear perspective on where to stay in Puerto Escondido so I’ve put together a cheat sheet to help other travelers heading to the coast.


Carrizalillo Beach, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Some Basic Geography


Puerto Escondido is a town located on the Oaxacan Coast in the southwest of Mexico. Many travel resources dub the town as “small”, so I was surprised when I arrived to find that it actually has a population of around 45,000 people plus the many long-term/temporary visitors that frequent the area.


The town is quite sprawling as it stretches down the Pacific coastline. Driving from the La Punta area in the south, to the Bacocho area in the north takes 15-20 minutes or about an hour and half to walk, although I wouldn’t recommend this method.


Depending on the type of traveler you are, budget and the experience you are hoping to have, there is definitely a best area to choose as a base. I like to break the town into four regions, in order from north to south: Bacocho & Carrizalillo, Centro, Zicatela and La Punta. Each area has a totally different experience and traveler demographic and choosing the right one for you is crucial to enjoying your time in this town. To help you along the way I have put together this cheat sheet on the pros and cons of each neighbourhood.



Map of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Bacocho & Carrizalillo


Located at the north end of the town you will find the neighbourhoods of Bacocho & Carrizalillo, only 5 – 10 minutes driving from the airport.


Ideal For: Late 20s+, couples/families, those looking to be within reach of the action but not in the midst of it.


View from Restaurante Pez Gallo at Club de Playa Villasol, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Pros:


-Beaches: The beaches in this area are, in my opinion, the best in town. They are less busy and also have much calmer waters allowing for swimming.


-Dining: Some of my favourite restaurants in town are in this area. The standard of food and the value for money is the best in this part of town.


-Quality Accommodation: The top end of the town offers several great options for 3-4* hotels at a good price. I stayed at the Hotel Aldea del Bazar which is a beautiful Arabian influence hotel overlooking the ocean.



Pool, Hotel Aldea del Bazar, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Cons:


-Nightlife: Most of the nightlife in town happens in Zicatela and La Punta so if you are looking for some late night drinks and dancing you will need to take a taxi to one of these area. The price during the day is around 50 pesos [$2.50USD/$3CAD] and at night can spike to as high as 100 pesos [$5USD/$6CAD] but you should try not to pay more than 80 pesos [$3.90USD/$4.90CAD].


-Walkability: Depending on where you end up in this area you may find yourself needing to take taxis to the restaurants or the beach. Taxis around the neighbourhood are generally no more than 35 pesos [$1.70USD/$2.20CAD] and are easy to hail or restaurant and hotel staff are happy to call one for you.



Centro


Centro literally means “centre”. This is the heart of the town and off the tourist trail.


Ideal For: Budget-Conscious travellers, Culture Vultures


Mural, Mercado Benito Juarez, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Pros:


-Budget: Centro is great for your budget no matter what you’re paying for. Accommodation costs here are significantly less than in other parts of town as well as food, water and supplies.


-Shopping: This was my favourite area for shopping. Other parts of town have the cute Insta-worthy stores but the central market, Mercado Benito Juarez is the place to go. Selling everything from clothing to fresh fish, the mercado is a one-stop-shop with the most reasonable prices in town. Centro is also where you’ll find most of the banks and even a Chedraui [big box store].


Chiles Roasted for Mole, Mercado Benito Juarez, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Cons:


-Beaches: If you’re coming for the beaches and the sunsets this may not be the area for you as you will need some sort of transportation to access the ocean.



Zicatela


Zicatela is one of the world's best surfing beaches and the backpacker hub of town.


Ideal For: Surfers, Backpackers, Younger Travellers


Sunset, Zicatela Beach, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Pros:


-Sunsets: The sunsets in Zicatela are some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. The sky dances with these incredible purples and oranges, it’s absolutely hypnotic.


-Centre of the Universe: In terms of activity, Zicatela is the place to be. Surf lessons, beach workouts, parties, dance lessons, skydiving, whatever you want to try you will probably find here.


Zicatela Sign, Zicatela Beach, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Cons:


-Touristic: This part of town definitely has a purpose-built feeling to it. All the businesses seem to cater to backpackers and surfers so if that’s not you, it can feel a little contrived.



La Punta


This is like the zen, barefooted big sister to Zicatela located at the south end of town.


Ideal For: Wellness Seekers, Yogis, Instagrammers


Coffee Shop, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Pros:


-Photo Worthy: La Punta is like a mini Tulum in terms of Instagrammability. Most of the businesses and bars here are very aesthetically lead so if you are looking for "likes" this is a good place to go.


-Wellness: This part of town is a yogi/vegan heaven. It is absolutely swarming with yoga teachers, chakra cleansers, vegan restaurants and barefoot beach bums riding scooters.


Shop, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Cons:


-Pricey: Many shops here are selling small items for thousands of pesos citing that they are made by artists or one-of-a-kind pieces. I also noticed a trend in more expensive coffee and food when using buzzwords like “organic” or “sustainable”.


-Somewhat Inauthentic: This is a controversial opinion so I will elaborate a little further on this one. Based on my personal travel history, La Punta felt like it was trying to be bohemian and beachy on purpose. I found myself drawing comparisons to places like Caye Caulker in Belize.


Caye Caulker is a sandbar island located in the Belize Barrier Reef. It has no paved roads, and the only modes of transportation are golf carts, bicycles and walking. The businesses on the island are run almost entirely by locals, the bars are full of locals, the streets are full of locals. When you are in Caye Caulker you feel like you have been let in on a Belizean secret and La Punta lacks that underlying authenticity. Most of the business are run by foreigners and a lot of the more rustic elements feel intentional rather than natural.


Puerto Escondido is almost like a collection of small communities that share the name "Puerto Escondido". No matter what sort of trip you're hoping to take there is a part of town that will cater to that for you. Identifying which area suits you will help you have the best possible experience.


While you're down in Puerto Escondido, don't miss the incredible Mezcal Experience with Puerto Mezcal Tours and the most incredible Oaxacan restaurant around. Until next time, be bold!


-Ashlea

She Roams About



When I decided to explore Oaxaca, Mexico I knew that if there was ever a time to do a mezcal tasting or tour experience it would be here. Although Oaxaca produces the vast majority of all mezcal it was surprisingly difficult to find any tours or authentic experiences. Being an avid fan of the spirit, I scoured the internet until I came across Puerto Mezcal Tours and secured myself a spot on this mezcal experience in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

Agave Plant in Stone, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Like many naïve teenagers, I once took an ill-advised left turn into a bottle of tequila which ended with me spending the next seven years recoiling at the mention of it. Fast forward to being 23 and living in London, England I was taken on a date to a tequila bar – not ideal. Reluctant to try anything, I forced myself into Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden without realizing that I had just entered one arm of Tomas Estes’s tequila empire and my perspective on Mexican liquor was about to change forever. I explained to the bartender that I could not physically drink tequila and after probing me with a few questions about what I liked and didn’t like I was presented with a small snifter of mezcal.


At this stage, I had never heard of mezcal and all I knew about tequila was that Jose Cuervo was my archnemesis. I remember the bartender using the words “just trust me” as I raised the glass and steadied my stomach. The smell was so unexpected, landing somewhere closer to whiskey than tequila. It was smoky and spicy and couldn’t be farther from what I was dreading so much. The taste was also a surprise. Intended to be sipped, it was smoky, warm and earthy. I was floored, this might be my new favourite drink!


Back in the early 2010s mezcal was still very much under the radar. I would ask bartenders everywhere I went if they had mezcal and many of them hadn’t even heard of it while others reminisced about it as though it were a myth or legend. Now that mezcal is becoming better known and mezcal cocktails are popping up on trendy menus across North America and Europe, I wanted to find an experience that would teach me about it but also let me enjoy it. This is how I found Antoine and Puerto Mezcal Tours.


Antoine, Founder and Guide of Puerto Mezcal Tours


When you think of a mezcal tasting in a somewhat remote Mexican town you probably wouldn’t think of Antoine. He is young, vibrant, sociable, and French. He’s one of those electric people who boost your energy just by being around them and you can tell he’s full of great ideas and grand plans. Antoine came to Puerto Escondido for a couple weeks, met a Mexican girl and moved his life to be with her. He has been in Puerto Escondido for two and a half years now and he and Arely started this business with their shared love of mezcal after realizing that nothing like this was being offered.


The tour itself is incredible value for money. At only 800 pesos [$40USD/$50CAD] per person it was the best value tour of any kind I found in the area. Things in Mexico can be a bit casual at times and if you’re like me that can be disconcerting, but Antoine was so refreshing to deal with. He allowed me to book well in advance, he reconfirmed a few days before the tour, he was transparent about the cost, he advised on what we needed to bring, he provided an exact pick-up time the night before and he was prompt.


The experience began with an included pick-up transfer in a nice air-conditioned vehicle. Antoine met me in the hotel lobby, introduced himself and welcomed me to the tour. We then headed off to pick up a couple more guests before making our way to the mezcal distillery which is just a quick 15-minute drive from the town.


Ancestral Mezcal Distillery, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Along with Antoine and Arely, the tour is facilitated by Tomas and Perla a young husband and wife who work at the distillery. Tomas’s parents own the distillery and Tomas is actually a 6th generation mezcal producer. He was also the driver for the day while Perla served the tasting and explained the production process alongside Antoine.


Once we met the team and had a moment to exchange niceties with the other guests, we gathered around a table for the presentation portion of the experience. The presentation is a quick and easy 30-minutes jampacked with fascinating history and interesting fun facts. Antoine’s passion for mezcal is apparent as he gushes about the spirit, often referring to it as “the Elixir of the Gods”.


Perla explaining mezcal production, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Now equipped with some knowledge of what mezcal is and where it comes from, we headed over to the production area to learn how it’s made. Perla explains each step of the production process in Spanish and then Antoine translates to English. The process is fascinating, and the tools and methods used are very traditional. We also had an opportunity to taste some of the product at different stages to see how it changes by each step. This portion of the experience lasted about 15-minutes and then it was on to the moment we had all been waiting for.


Mezcal with Worms, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Each guest was given a small clipboard with the 10 mezcals we were about to taste listed along with some different flavour categories and a spot to rank our preferences as we went. Clipboard in hand, we worked our way through the 10 carefully curated and very different mezcals. A common misconception, and one I had myself, was that all mezcal is smoky but this could not be further from the truth. One of the mezcals was sweet, almost like a Moscato dessert wine, another was really herbal bordering on medicinal, some were fruity and some were earthy. As a group we tasted both traditional and wild mezcals, becoming better and better friends with each round. It was fun to see how different people reacted to the different flavours and to discuss and banter over who was right and who was wrong. My favourite part of the tasting was when we got to the infamous, mythical worm. We tasted the same mezcal, one distilled without the worm and one distilled with the worm. Watching everyone laugh and chatter wide-eyed as Perla poured our drinks from a bottle with bloated worms floating inside was an awesome moment.


At the end of tasting, feeling loose and giggly we had an opportunity to purchase some of the mezcals we had tasted, available in small, medium and large bottles – cash and card accepted. Then we took a couple of group photos and hopped back into the gloriously air-conditioned vehicle for a ride back to town.


Mezcalería, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


This 2-hour tour is such a fun experience and I would call it a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Our group was made up of Americans, Canadians and Australians of various ages and interests. We had someone who didn’t drink much, others who were pseudo connoisseurs. The friendly group nature of the tour makes it easy to socialize and make new friends and would be comfortable for solo travellers and friends or couples. In fact, I made a few friends on this tour to go to dinner with and a beach day later in the week.


Puerto Mezcal Tours Group with Arely (left) and Antoine (centre), Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


You’ll want to make sure you dress comfortably and casually, bring water and don’t forget the bug spray. Tours operate daily up to three times a day but I recommend taking the 3:30pm slot as you’ve missed the peak heat of the day and it’s a great time to start sipping at the sauce. Antoine and Arely are very accommodating but being that this tour is the only one of its kind in the area it can get busy and book up. To avoid disappointment I would reach out to Puerto Mezcal Tours at least a couple of days in advance. You can also check out their Instagram here which is loaded with pictures and videos of the experience for you to peruse.


Why not make a day of it? Check out my post on Where to Eat in Puerto Escondido for my top pick for dinner in town. An amazing Oaxacan restaurant that will deliver one of the best meals of your life along with some outstanding cocktails. Until next time, be bold!



-Ashlea

She Roams About

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