Mixtec drawings

A History of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

and the surrounding area

I have broken down the history of Puerto Escondido and surrounding area into four sections; Preconquest Period, 1522 - 1911, 1912 to Present and Notes of Interest. I intend to go bit heavy on footnotes; there are just too many unsubstantiated "facts" as far as the history of Puerto Escondido is concerned.

Preconquest Period

Prior to 500 BCE archaeologist believe there were few inhabitants in this part of the coast of Oaxaca.[1] Flooding and soil erosion, some of it from farming in the central valleys of Oaxaca, brought deposits of fertile soil to the alluvial plains along the coast making the area more conductive to farming and settlement.[2] The ruins of Eco-Archaeological Park Copalita just outside of Huatulco have been excavated and provide an insight of what life was like.

The area around the mountianess Chatino town of Nopala[3] was first settled around 2300 BCE. The town itself was established around 800 BCE. The area reached its zenith between 500 and 700 CE, the ruins outside of town contain pyramids and a ball court. In 1500 CE Nopala was conquered and made into a tributary by the Aztecs.[4]

Evidence from excavations in the area of Tututepec[5] provide evidence of trade from 400 BCE with the central valley of Oaxaca.[7]

1250-1522 CE, the Mixtec city of Tututepec controlled most of the coast of Oaxaca from the border what is now the state of Guerrero to the port of Huatulco and it extended inland by 75 km or 47 miles.[9]

Colonial records show the area around Tututepec produced and traded ornamental conch shells, purple dye, cotton, salt, salted fish and cocoa.[10]

The Puerto Escondido area has long been occupied, there are unexcavated ruins near Colotepec River and artifacts are frequently found through out the area. There used be to lots of matates, stone slabs for grinding corn, in the area above Puerto Angelito. People used to dig up old bowls and flutes. Some people claimed to have found ceramics filled with gold.[12]


During much of this time, Puerto Escondido was also known as Punta Escondida (Hidden Point in English).

In March 1522, the Conquistadors under the leadership of conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and some Zapotec allies arrived at Nopala, after a bloody battle, Nopala fell to the Spaniards.[1] In the same month Tututepec was conquered.[2]

The indigenous population of Oaxaca was disseminated by disease following the Spanish conquest.

In 1590, José de Acosta, notes in his work, Natural and Moral History of 1590, an English Corsair arrived at the Port of Huatulco and burned 24 million coffee beans, which were worth a fortune at the time.[3]

From 1793 through the early Mexican Independence period, there were Afro-Mexicans or Afro-Mestizos assigned to The Point on Playa Zicatela to watch for pirates sailing along the coast.[4] Their descendants lived nearby until 1873 when men from the community of Santa María Colotepec burned their crops and huts.[5] You can learn more about The Point here.

In 1811 a rebellion was put down near the Lagoon of Chacahua after the people of the area declared their independence from Spain.[6]

1896, Nopala and surrounding areas rebel again over high taxes. The rebellion is referred to as the "Guerra de los Pantalones" or "Guerra de los Calzones".[7]


1921 Puerto Escondido was not listed in the 1921 census, population 0.

The 1930 census listed Puerto Escondido's population at 55 and the town was listed as part of the Municipality of San Pedro, Mixtepec, Juquila.[1]

1930, a cloud of locust consumes most of the plants in the area, leaving only banana trunks and tree branches. Many go hungry.[3]

1931, 15 January. Oaxaca City and much of the the state of Oaxaca get rocked by a 8.0 earthquake.[4]

1935, first primary school opens in Puerto. It was named La Luz, or "The Light" in English.[5]

1937, Lagoons of Chacahua National Park or Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua is created.[6]

1937-39, the first airplane landing strip was the leveled sandy area in front of Piedra de la Iguana, on Playa Zicatela.[7]

1938, Hurricane hits Puerto. Before the hurricane hits Puerto there was a half hour of hail. It took two months to reopen the road between San Pedro and Bajos de Chila after the hurricane.[8] A short video about the hurrican can be found here: El huracán de 1938, Puerto Escondido Oaxaca. (Spanish).

1938. The territorial dispute between the municipalities of Colotopec and San Pedro heats up. Colotepec "invades" Puerto Escondido leaving one man dead.[9]

1950, the first Health Clinic or Centro de Salud was opened.[10a] 1955, the first Catholic Chapel was built.[10b] In 1955 the lighthouse was built and it was in operation in 1956.[10c]

first City Hall

1960, the first City Hall or Agencia Municipal of Puerto Escondido was built just above the "Adoquin." Originally it was a one floor structure, the second floor was added on later.[11] The first and second photo of the Agencia Municipal were taken after 1966, the first photo shows the Agencia Municipal when it was a single floor structure and it also shows a palapa (under the red arrow) to the left of the Agencia Municipal which would have served as a mercado. Click here for a larger image of the first photo and here for the second image. When the new City Hall was built in the late 1980's, the old city hall was briefly occupied by the Teacher's Union (SNTE) but is now used by the Municipal of Colotepec.

Early 1960's, Highway 200, the coastal highway, reaches Puerto Escondido. September 1962, the road connecting Oaxaca City, Sola de Vega and Puerto Escondido is opened.[11a] In 1996 it will be fully paved and become Highway 131.

Mid 1960s, "cucaracha del mar" or "lengua de perro" (commonly known as chitons, a type of mollusks) were driven almost to extinction in the Puerto area from over harvesting.[12]

1960's. There is some debate as to who introduced surfing to Puerto Escondido. According to local historian, Julián Ramírez Silva, a group of adventurous Venezuelans introduced surfing to Puerto Escondido in the 1960's. The Venezuelans stayed with the family of Jesús (Chuy) Silva Silva, there were no restaurants or hotels in Puerto Escondido at this time. Ramírez Silva also states that at the time that the best waves broke in front of Piedra de la Iguana.[13]

1964. The first deep well, initiated by Daniel Bramblett, delivers potable water from the Crucero area to the Adoquin.[14]

1966. Electricity (Comisión Federal de Electricidad) arrives in Puerto Escondido.[15]

The late 1960s, the airport in what is now the Rinconada was opened.

By the 1970s, the Pochutec language, once spoken around Pochutla goes extinct.[16]

1985, Puerto Escondido's current airport was opened.[17]

1985, Mercado Benito Juárez opens. The old market, at what is now Parque Idilio will be closed down in 1992.

In the late 1980's the new and much larger City Hall was opened. In 2009 it was upgraded to an Agencia Municipal.

1990. Sea turtles became protected by Mexican Federal law. Prior to this, local fishermen had a quota of 4000 to 5000 turtles that they could capture annually. In the last years when fishing for turtles was still permitted, the quotas were rarely met.[18] The photo below comes from Old photos of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

Puerto Escondido turtle slaughter

1990, Mercado Benito Juarez was opened in Puerto Escondido.

1992. A scenic walkway, Andador Escénico, was built from Playa Principal to almost all the way to Puerto Angelito. It was not maintained and was closed down in 2017. There is talk of rebuilding it from time to time.

1992, the old market at what is now Parque Idilio is closed down.

1997, 9 October. Hurricane Paulina makes landfall near Puerto Angel followed on November 10 by Hurricane Rick.

1999, 30 September. Puerto Escondido gets rocked by a 7.5 earthquake.[19]

Around 2005, Puerto Escondido gets its first traffic light.

2007, 4 December. Puerto gets submerged in thick layer of fog. (In the 25 years I have live here, it has only happened once.) It was creepy and scary, Stephen King would have been pleased.

2009, 30 July. The Oaxacan State Congress declares Puerto Escondido a city but does set establish its borders nor does it resolve the border disputes between Santa María Colotepec and San Pedro Mixtepec.[20]

2012, 15 June. Hurricane Carlotta, a Category 2 hurricane, makes landfall near Puerto Escondido.

2014. Puerto Escondido begins recycling garbage and sewage treatment center is built for the areas of Playa Zicatela and Lazaro Cárdenas.

2015, 3 May. A Massive swell hits Puerto Escondido and coastal Oaxaca. The waves crossed the beach break and overflowed onto Calle Morro. You can learn more about the massive swell here.

2017, 17 September. A 8.2 magnitude earthquake centered in the Gulf of Tehuantepec shook central and southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and even Belize killing at least 91 people.[21] Although the quake shook Puerto Escondido, there was very little damage in the area.

Mercado Zicatela entrance

2018, 17 November. In Puerto Escondido, Mercado Zicatela, located on Highway 200 above Playa Zicatela opens for business.

2020, 23 June. 7.1 earthquake rocked the coast, the epicenter was just outside of Huatulco.

Notes of Interest

Puerto Escondido means "hidden port" in English.

Legend has it that a pirate named Andrés Drake kidnapped a young Mixtec woman from the village of Santa María Huatulco. While the pirates were camped out in the bay of what is now Puerto Escondido, she escaped and hid from her evil kidnappers. The pirates referred to her as “La Escondida” and every time they returned to the bay they looked for her. Afterwards the bay became known as Bahía de la Escondida.

There are many people of African descent along the coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero; perhaps escaped slaves from a ship that sank off shore or perhap they escaped from Spanish sugar plantations. Afro-Mexicans, like Afro-Americans, suffer from discrimination and police harassment.

Playa Zicatela gets its name from a Nahuatl word, "place of large thorns" so some tourist guides claim. Playa Manzanillo gets its name from some plants that used to grow there.[1] Puerto Angelito gets its name from some large murals that were painted there, one mural of a girl was 8 meters by 3 meters.[2] Playa Carrizalillo got its name because locals used to cut carrizo, type of stick or pole, there for the flag for Independence Day celebrations.[3]

Legend has it that Isla de Gallo (Rooster Island in English) at Laguna Manialtepec got its name from a crocodile hunter, who went hunting with his pet rooster on Isla de Gallo. On the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, the hunter lost his life on Isla de Gallo to a crocodile he was hunting. The poor rooster died of loneliness and hunger on the small island. Locals are said to hear the rooster crow for his master every Christmas Eve at midnight.[4]

Puerto Escondido sits between the two municipalities of Santa María Colotepec and San Pedro Mixtepec. (Municipalities in Mexico are something like counties are in the U.S.) There have been long standing territorial conflicts between the two municipalities and every once in a while someone gets killed over it. The federal government and the state government choose not to resolve it.

The photo below, taken in the 1970's, makes its rounds regularly on Facebook sites related to Puerto Escondido. This photo does not belong to me nor do I know who the owner of the photo is.

Puerto Escondido late 1970's

The photo below dates from the early 1980's. In the bottom right hand corner shows the beginning of the road layout for the neighborhoods of Rinconada and Bacocho. The photo was taken by Paul Mader and given to me with the understanding I would Open Source the photo. Click here for the original unaltered Open Source photo or just look at the photo below.

Puerto Escondido early 1980's

On YouTube there are a number of videos of interviews of some of the original settlers of modern day Puerto Escondido. Los Fundadores, Part I (Spanish) and Los Fundadores, Part II (Spanish) are the best. Another interesting video can be found here: Entrevista con Abraham Garibo Abad, un fundador de Puerto Escondido, parte 1 de 2. (Spanish).

Footnotes and Notes

  1. Preconquest Period
  2. 1. Joyce, A. A., Winter M., & Mueller R. G. (1998). Estudios de Antropología e Historia #40. Arqueología de la Costa de Oaxaca: Asentamientos del Periodo Formativo en el Valle del Río Verde Inferior. Centro INAH Oaxaca, Mexico. Spanish. p. 119.
  3. 2. Joyce, Winter and Mueller. p. 111.
  4. 3. Santos Reyes Nopala, Juquila, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Nopala.
  5. 4. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  6. 5. Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo, Juquila. Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Tututepec.
  7. 9. Joyce, Winter and Mueller, 9.
  8. 10. Joyce, A. A., Winter M., & Mueller R. G. (1998). Estudios de Antropología e Historia N. 40. Arqueología de la Costa de Oaxaca: Asentamientos del Periodo Formativo en el Valle del Río Verde Inferior. Centro INAH Oaxaca, Mexico. p. 9- 10.
  9. 12. Ramírez Silva, Julián (2011). Puerto Escondido Al Descubierto. Cuauhtémoc Peña, Oaxaca México. 69.
  10. 1522- 1922
  11. 1. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  12. 2. Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  13. 3. Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. (Thames and Hudson 2013). 161.
  14. 4. Gopar Martínez, Eleuterio. 2012. Acercamiento Microhistórico al Pueblo de San Pedro Mixtepec-Juquila, Oaxaca. Carteles Editores-Proveedora Gráfica de Oaxaca, S.A. de C.V. Spanish. p. 73, 74.
  15. 5. Ibid. p. 74.
  16. 6. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  17. 7. Ibid.
  18. 1923-Present
  19. 1. Estado de Oaxaca. Cuadro XXXVIII. Poblacion Orden Alfabetico de Localidades. Censos de 1921 y 1930. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). Spanish. 485-6. Line 232. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  20. 3. Ramírez Silva, Julián (2011). Puerto Escondido Al Descubierto. Cuauhtémoc Peña, Oaxaca México. Spanish. 45-46.
  21. 4. 1931 Oaxaca Earthquake. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  22. 5. Ramírez Silva, 48.
  23. 6. Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  24. 7. Ramírez Silva, 52.
  25. 8. Ibid. 53.
  26. 9. Ibid. 59.
  27. 10a. Ibid. Ramírez Silva, 58.
  28. 10b. Ibid. Ramírez Silva, 56-57.
  29. 10c. Ibid. Ramírez Silva, 55.
  30. 11. Ibid. 54.
  31. 11a. Historical marker on Ave. Perez Gasga. Retrieved 6 January 2018. Historical marker.
  32. 12. Ramírez Silva. 56.
  33. 13. Ibid. 65, 66.
  34. 14. Ibid. 50.
  35. 15. Ibid. 61-62.
  36. 16. Pochutec Language. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  37. 17. Ramírez Silva, 64.
  38. 18. Ibid. 56.
  39. 19. Significant Earthquakes of the World, 1999. U.S. Geological Survey. 26 June 2000. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  40. 20. Castañeda, Jorge (August 13, 2009). Se Oficializó Como Ciudad a Puerto Escondido. Notihuatulco.com. Spanish. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  41. 21. Thousands of homes wrecked by huge Mexican quake, death toll at 91. (10 September 2017). Reuters. Retrieved 07 January 2019.
  42. Notes of Interest
  43. 1. Ramírez Silva, Julián (2011). Puerto Escondido Al Descubierto. Cuauhtémoc Peña, Oaxaca México. 69.
  44. 2. Ibid. 69.
  45. 3. Ibid.
  46. 4. Bitto, Robert. 3 December 2017. 5 Brief Legends from Oaxaca: Mexico Unexplained. Mexico Unexplained Youtube Play List. Retrieved 28 January 2019.

Photo Credits

  1. The header and footer images come from one of the Mixtec codices, I can't recall which one.
  2. The two black and white photos of the Agencia Municipal were found on Facebook. I have no idea of who the owner is.
  3. The third photo of the first Agencia Municipal of Puerto Escondido Photos was taken by Marc Wilkinson and is now Open Source.
  4. Photo of dead turtles on Playa Principal came from Mexico In Photos. Retrieved 12 February 2019. Used with permission.
  5. Ariel photo of Puerto Escondido in the late 1970's photo regularly circulates on Facebook. I have no idea of who the owner is.
  6. Ariel photo of Puerto Escondido in the early 1980's photo was taken by Paul Mader and is now Open Source.