Sunset Zicatela Beach
A multi-coloured sunset of purples, pinks and oranges fill the sky in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

SHE ROAMS ABOUT

Puerto Escondido, Oax., Mexico

 

Updated: Feb 7

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
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 the guide stands in an old mezcal distillery
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
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”.


A young woman stands in a mezcal distillery
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.


A bottle of mezcal with a worm
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
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.


A smiling tour group at a mezcaleria
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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Updated: Feb 7

Whether you consider yourself a “foodie” or not, it’s indisputable that food is a large part of travel. Great or terrible meals can make or break an experience and often the most memorable moments are based around food. This is why before I visit anywhere, a great deal of my research goes into the food culture, regional dishes and recommendations for where to eat. If you only have a handful of opportunities to eat in a specific area then surely you would want at least some of those experiences to be outstanding. True to form, before visiting I did my customary research into where to eat in Puerto Escondido and came back with a lot of information, most of which was largely the same.


The vast majority of travel blogs and vlogs covering food in the area of Puerto Escondido seem to mention the same handful of restaurants. A breakfast joint in the mercado, a few Instagrammable spots in the trendy boho neighbourhoods and some cheap eats in centro is basically what you’ll find online. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon one of the best meals I’ve had in my entire life, at a place that didn’t seem to be mentioned on any travel resource that I had found. To give a little perspective, I have visited nearly 40 countries and over 200 towns and cities and this was one of the top 5 meals I have ever had.

A table and chairs in front of a wall of vines
Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Puerto Escondido can be divided into several neighbourhoods that run along the Pacific coast. The southern point of the town is the trendy area where the barefooted yogis roam and about 15 minutes driving north of there is the quieter area of Bacocho. Along the Rinconada in a strip of restaurants, is an unassuming gem nestled between a beachwear shop and a café, Almoraduz Cocina de Autor (Signature Cuisine). As soon as you approach this restaurant you notice the quiet confidence that oozes from every inch. Greeted at the door by well dressed servers, the tone has been set for an amazing yet affordable dining experience.

A food menu for Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido
Food Menu, Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


Almoraduz is clearly a chef-driven ship. The menu politely reminds you that changes to the dishes are not permitted and while that may be off-putting to some, I assure you it is worth trusting them over. The cuisine at its heart is traditional Oaxacan with a focus on local ingredients and dishes changing seasonally. The list of offerings is small and every item is so thoughtfully assembled to absolute perfection with a unique flare that can only come from an unbelievably gifted and creative chef, in this case Chef Quetzalcoatl Zurita.


Grasshopper and corn stew in a small clay pot
Grasshopper and Corn Amuse-Bouche


A recurring theme as you travel Oaxaca is the use of insects as food. In the culinary world, or even most areas outside of North America and Western Europe this is not unusual. Insects are an excellent source of protein, and they happen to be just about everywhere. In Mexico it is very common to see grasshoppers and ants used as ingredients, snacks, infused in alcohol and even ground down and mixed into salt. In fact, my first introduction to consuming insects was through a mezcal cocktail that used grasshopper salt on the rim.


My meal at Almoraduz began with an amuse-bouche of grasshopper and corn stew. A delicious little pot topped with Oaxacan cheese and served along side a variety of tostadas and salsas. After my first bite I knew we had wandered into a culinary goldmine, and I couldn’t wait to see what came next. The prospect of eating insects can be daunting for those of us who aren’t used to it but I would encourage you to try. A small dish like this is a great introduction to these ingredients and shows that whatever you thought “bugs” tasted like, you were wrong. They are actually delicious, savoury, smoky and worth trying.


A brightly coloured tuna tostada topped with a slice of radish
Blue Tuna Fish Tostada, Avocado, Ginger, Soy Sauce, Chiltepin and Fried Leek


The Blue Tuna Fish Tostada starter was a little bite of seafood delight. This appetizer was so perfectly balanced with carefully selected compliments like ginger, avocado, fried leek. The tuna was so fresh with just the right amount of creaminess and crunch to leave me wanting for more.



Fillet of fish on a cream potato sauce
Catch of the Day with Chimichurri, False Potato Risotto and Salad


For my main course I opted for the Catch of the Day with Chimichurri and this was some of the best fish I have ever tasted. The fillet of sea bass came out perfectly cooked, breaking away easily with just a nudge of the fork. The portion was generous and rested atop an absolute flavour bomb of false potato risotto and topped with salad and grapefruit for a citrus punch.



A chocolate lava cake next to a yellow and red popsicle
Oaxaca Lava Cake with Prickly Pear and Burnt Milk Popsicle


When in Oaxaca, do as the Oaxacans do and indulge in their delicious chocolate for dessert. As a chocolate fan I believe Mexico holds its own amongst the chocolate giants of the world like Switzerland and Belgium. Mexican chocolate is somehow both less sweet and less bitter than European counterparts. Often lightly spiced, Mexican chocolate has a natural flavour that tastes like something you could enjoy everyday without feeling too guilty about it.

Almoraduz has two chocolate options on the menu and in the name of research I tried both.


The Oaxacan Lava Cake is incredibly decadent. A molten river of Oaxacan chocolate pouring out onto the plate, balanced by the cooling freshness of the burnt milk popsicle it was served with.

Three stuff churros with a yellow ice cream on top of chopped walnuts
Stuffed Churros with Oaxaqueño Chocolate Cream, Walnuts and Mamey Ice Cream


The other option is my personal favourite, Stuffed Churros. The churros are served warm and stuffed with melting Oaxacan chocolate cream, with walnuts and an unusual, almost fruity pumpkin-like mamey ice cream.

Cocktail List, Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Cocktail List, Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca


While the food is incredible, the cocktails are also right on par. The restaurant offers non-alcoholic options, a curated wine list which you can navigate with the help of the in-house sommelier and a cocktail list I would happily drink my way through.

A yellow cocktail
Calenda, Olive and Chamomile Infusion, Rosemary Syrup and Gin


The cocktail list is a law unto itself. I am an avid cocktail fan and the creativity of this list had me seeing combinations I had never come across before. The first cocktail I tried was the Calenda, a gin-based drink with olive and chamomile infusion and rosemary syrup. As with many cocktails, if I see gin and olives together, I’m sold but I wasn’t sure what to expect with the other botanical additions. The Calenda is beautifully refreshing, perfect for the hot evenings in Puerto Escondido. The unusual flavour additions served to draw out the natural highlights of the gin and is an absolute thirst quencher.

A purple and red cocktail in a large glass
Hibiscus Chai, Hibiscus, Basil, Guava, Cardamom, Cloves and Mezcal


The second cocktail that caught my eye was the Hibiscus Chai. Oaxaca is the land of mezcal so it seemed only right to have a mezcal-based libation. Presented like a gorgeous, vibrant fishbowl, the Hibiscus Chai is fruity yet floral and spiced with cardamom, cloves and the smoke of the mezcal. Another refreshing option but given the bold flavour profile I would recommend choosing this before or after your meal rather than as an accompaniment.

Espresso Martini
Espresso Martini, Espresso, Coffee Liqueur, Simple Syrup, Vodka


The last cocktail I tried is one that is close to my heart, the Espresso Martini. The Espresso Martini was created by the late, great Dick Bradsell, a London-based mixologist. I had the pleasure of knowing Dick, being a member of his private cocktail club in London and enjoying many cocktails that he created, most notable of which being the Espresso Martini. Now a staple of the corporate crowd menus, this cocktail is easy to find all over the world.


Some places stick to Dick’s recipe while others try their own variations like adding Baileys but whatever the take, when you’ve been spoiled by the pioneer, the bar by which you measure is high. I can honestly say that the Espresso Martini at Almoraduz is the best I have had since Dick himself. Dangerously smooth, the cocktail drinks like a dream. Not too bitter, not too sweet, just gorgeous, satisfying coffee, so good that I had two.


If you can't tell by now this isn’t a recommendation, this is a love letter. Almoraduz does what most restaurants only strive for. Everything from the effortless décor to the smartly dressed front of house staff to the unbelievable food and cocktails they just know what they're doing and they do it so well. Any visit to Puerto Escondido without a meal at Almoraduz is a wasted journey. This restaurant is the perfect introduction to Oaxacan food by glorifying local ingredients and tradition in a modern way. It is an unexpected surprise to have a world-class dining experience in a surfer’s haven of tacos and smoothie bowls but that’s exactly what Almoraduz delivers.


A woman in a floral dress holds a purple cocktail
Hibiscus Chai, Almoraduz, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca



-Ashlea

She Roams About

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Updated: Jan 26

Times are strange! That’s no secret. In 2020 the whole world was thrust into a worldwide chaos none of us were ready for. Although we aren’t out of the woods yet, many places have done the one thing humans are best at: adapted. There is still a lot of uncertainty hanging over travel at the moment, but many people are choosing to get back out into the world for a much-needed change of scenery. In my last post I explained my thoughts on this and why I’m one of those people.


Initially I wanted to provide a few travel destination recommendations for the pandemic but as I began research for this feature I realized that it’s just too much of a moving target. The covid landscape is constantly changing and what destinations are and aren’t doing is also on a sliding scale. So I decided that instead of making a recommendation that could change by next week I would share with you the criteria I used when choosing my next destination and what you should be looking out for when choosing yours. I will be using Mexico as a reference point so you can see why I opted to travel there instead of somewhere else.


Suitcase


Last Things First


Unlike how travel used to be, now you not only need to consider where you’re going but also coming home. The first thing you need to do is check your own country’s government guidelines for travel. I live in Canada and up until recently international travel for non-essential purposes was not allowed. Governments are going to great lengths to protect their citizens and that often includes restricting who can enter and what they need to do so. I’m a citizen of Canada and therefore have the right to enter but the government is now controlling what that looks like. It is important to read the government guidelines from your country in detail and ensure you fully understand what is required of you before you book anything. To you give you an example of what sort of hoops you may have to jump through, I’m going to highlight some of the restrictions Canada has implemented.


Fully vaccinated Canadians returning to Canada are required to present a negative PCR test prior to boarding their flight home. This test has several additional requirements:


1. Only specific tests are deemed acceptable, and the government website goes so far as to list the test names. Canada is strict on this and requires a PCR test, not an antigen test. PCR tests are not cheap and are harder to come by than the antigen tests accepted by the States.


2. The test must be completed by an approved laboratory. This restriction is tricky because they don’t actually tell you which laboratories they consider approved so a little research is required to see which labs seem reputable.


3. The test must be conducted within 72 hours of your departure flight to Canada. This can be a challenge especially if you have a stopover along the way because you may have to test twice, once to enter your transit country and once to enter Canada. PCR tests can take up to 48 hours for results which can mean a bit of math to make sure you have your valid results in time.


4. Finally, the test results must include some key information. Full name and date of birth, laboratory information, date of test, type of test and result of test.


Showing up without all of the above requirements being met can result in a fine of $5,000 along with a mandatory quarantine stay which you would also be liable to pay for. Talk about an expensive oversight! Each country is different and the rules are changing all the time so be sure to have the most up to date information before travelling.



 

What to Consider


When researching destinations for my first trip since the pandemic I decided to focus on a few key criteria:


1. Safety First: Where are they taking visitor safety most seriously and implementing safety measures to protect locals and travellers?


2. What to Expect: Where is tourism still operational, are they open to visitors, and is there still plenty to do and see?


3. Plan for the Worst: During these times, things can change on a dime so which destinations have the best contingency plans for travellers should they test positive or be unable to return home?



 

Safety First


Safety should be your number one priority. If a country isn’t doing its best to implement safety measures then I wouldn’t even bother considering it. Safety is absolutely paramount not only for travellers but also for people who live in the travel destinations. If a destination isn’t taking additional care to protect everyone then not only are individual travellers at risk but entire communities. With the different variants making their way around the world we are seeing very wealthy countries and cities struggle to stay afloat in response to treating the virus locally. Imagine what could happen to a small village, indigenous community or developing nation with a similar outbreak.


When doing your research I recommend going directly to the official tourism website and looking for the COVID-19 response page. Each country and sometimes region, does things differently so I recommend familiarising yourself with what your destination is doing. This will give you a good idea of how much is or isn’t being done for prevention.


Tourism is a major economic industry in Mexico so it was no surprise that they got to work as soon as possible to lay steps for the return of visitors. Mexico implemented a nationwide traffic light system which is divided by states. Depending on the case count in each state they will move up and down the system tightening and relaxing restrictions to maintain an appropriate level of safety and this information is updated in real time online.


Another great resource that gives a more local perspective is to follow a few local tour operators on social media. If you find one with an active Instagram or Facebook you can see up to the minute updates of what it is really like in situ. Just the other day I watched a live stream by Eco Adventures in Puerto Escondido, Mexico where they took us down to the beach to show the safety measures in place after a recent surge in covid cases in the region. It was really reassuring to see local officials taking temperatures, enforcing the mask and social distancing mandate, monitoring capacity on the beach and disinfecting and screening visitors before entry. It’s also helpful that these tour operators generally speak great English and are ready and willing to answer any questions you have to set your mind at ease before booking.


To help visitors plan the safest possible experience the Mexican Ministry of Tourism has also implemented a program called The Clean Point Quality Seal. This program demarcates tourism service providers that adhere to a rigorous set of safety and cleanliness protocols and best practices to protect visitors and employees alike. The program covers a broad range of services from car rental to coffee shops, bars to eco tourism and more. Additional steps like this really make a difference so look for this sort of program when researching where to go.


Mexican Street Decorations


What to Expect


The advice in the safety section applies here too. Take a look at the official tourism website and local tour operators to see what’s open. The official website will give information on the blanket restrictions such as capacity requirements, curfews and closures. As small businesses have suffered during the pandemic and many closed entirely it’s important to look at a local level to see what is still operational. For example, in some areas beaches are open only during the day and certain tours that used to run every day now run on a restricted schedule or by request only.


For a tourism powerhouse like Mexico, an argument could be made that this could be the best time to visit yet. All the major touristic sites are open with enhanced safety protocols and capacity restrictions. Many of these sites, especially those in the larger tourist hubs are now operating on a prebooking basis. While this does mean a little more preplanning and a little less see-as-you-go it can also mean an improved experience. If you’re anything like me, pandemic or no pandemic, being herded around like tourist cattle ruins my experience. I tend to find myself working my way to the exit more so than actually enjoying the attraction itself so the capacity restrictions and timed entries are a bit of a dream come true for me. The prebooking systems mean you have a specific window of time to enter which is basically like getting in line early without having to actually get in line early. The capacity restriction means you have space to take it all in, move at your own pace and aren’t elbowing your way to the front of the pack.


Mexican Pesos


In terms of bang for your buck this is a fantastic time to visit some places. Mexico is doing its best to entice travellers back and some of that will reflect in your wallet. I recently booked a private airport transfer in Cancun which was 50% off and even included two tickets to a tour of our choice, a total savings of about $90 USD. It is worth mentioning that I had also quoted this transfer through my accommodation and was given the regular rate with no bonus tour.


Other deals I’ve been able to secure through a little internet wandering include 30% off a hotel stay which included free breakfast, bicycle rental and covid testing for my return home and 50% off a full day eco tourism trip to a national park.


When researching where you want to go it’s worth considering what deals are on offer. In my recent experience the best offers are coming from the accommodation or tour operators themselves. I like to use the big third-party websites for ideas and then find the provider directly to see what benefits they offer. In addition to monetary benefits, you’ll tend to see increased flexibility and cancellation, bonus inclusions and discounts for other local businesses.


Plan for the Worst


While we all hope it doesn’t happen to us, it could. In the event that you were to contract the virus what happens next is dependent on where you are and where you’re headed. Some countries operate under a mandatory quarantine policy which can be expensive. Others don’t require official quarantine at all which could mean out of pocket expensive for extended accommodation. Many insurance providers also don’t cover covid related expenses because it’s a well-known fact that it’s basically everywhere, whereas some will allow you to pay a premium for extended coverage.


Mexico doesn’t offer a government mandated contingency plan for covid positive travellers so travellers are responsible for covering the cost of their own additional accommodation. Accommodation is generally quite affordable in Mexico so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to pay for extra nights to self-quarantine. Other countries may have an expensive quarantine policy or more costly accommodation which would be something to consider.


The moral of the story when planning travel during a pandemic is that we don’t know what we don’t know. So my best advice is this: Research everything, make safety your top priority, book and confirm as much as you can in advance, plan for the best, prepare for the alternative.


Over the next several posts I’ll be writing about my experiences actually travelling during the pandemic so make sure you come back for the honest truth about what to expect and follow me on Instagram to see Mexico along the way! Until next time, be bold!



Ashlea

-She Roams About

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