A History of Puerto Escondido

and the surrounding area

I have broken down the history of Puerto Escondido and surrounding area into four sections; Preconquest Period, 1522 - 1922, 1923 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.

When using dates, instead of stating 300 B.C. or 1000 A.D., I state 300 BCE (Before Common Era) and 1000 CE (Common Era).

Preconquest Period

Prior to 500 BCE, archaeologist believe there were few inhabitants in the coastal area of Río Verde which is near San José del Progreso.[1] [2] There were probably few inhabitants along the Oaxacan coast from the state of Guerrero to Huatulco[3], all of which has similar terrain to Río Verde. Flooding and soil erosion from farming in the Oaxacan central valleys brought deposits of fertile soil to the alluvial plains along the coast of Oaxaca making the area of Oaxaca more favorable to farming.[4]

The area around Chatino town of Nopala[5] 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.[6]

Evidence from excavations near the city of San José del Progreso, provide evidence of trade from 400 BCE with the central valley of Oaxaca.[7]

Approximately 400 BCE, the Chatino language, a branch of the Zapotec linguistic family, separated from the Zapotec language.[8]

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]

The Puerto Escondido[10] area has long been occupied, there are unexcavated ruins near Colotepec River and artifacts are frequently found through out the area. The ruins of Eco-Archaeological Park Copalita just outside of Huatulco[11] have been excavated and provide an insight of what life was like.

1522 - 1922, a time of depopulation

In 1522, the Conquistadors and some Zapotec allies arrived at Nopala, after a bloody battle, Nopala fell to the Spaniards.[1] Tututepec[1a] was conquered soon after.

Colonial records show the area around San José del Progreso produced and traded ornamental conch shells, purple dye, cotton, salt, salted fish and cocoa.[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]

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]

1923 to Present

1921 Puerto Escondido was not listed in the 1921 census. No one lived there. The 1930 listed Puerto Escondido's population at 55.[1] Puerto Escondido was listed as part of the Municipality of San Pedro, Mixtepec, Juquila.[2]

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, January 15. 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.[5]

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

1937-39, the first airport was built next to 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]

1938, Colotepec[8a] "invades" Puerto Escondido, one person killed.[8b] Currently, Puerto Escondido belongs to two municipalities, Colotepec and San Pedro[9], which have long standing unresolved border disputes.

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

Puerto Escondido's first City Hall

1960, the first City Hall or Agencia Municipal of Puerto Escondido was built just above the "Adoquin."[11] The building is now used by the City of Colotepec.

Early 1960's, Highway 200, the coastal highway, reaches Puerto Escondido. 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] and a group of Venezuelans introduces Puerto Escondido to surfing.[13]

1964, the first deep well delivers potable water from the Crucero 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]

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]

1992. A scenic walkway, Andador Escénico, was built from Playa Principal to almost all the way to Puerto Angelito.

1996, Highway 131 from Oaxaca City - Puerto Escondido via Sola de Vega was completed.

1997, October 9. Hurricane Pauline makes landfall near Puerto Angel followed on November 10 by Hurricane Rick. Although weaker than Hurricane Pauline, it caused plenty of damage as the area had already been devastated by Hurricane Pauline.

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

Around 2005, Puerto Escondido gets its first traffic light.

2007, December 4. 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, July 30. 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, June 15. 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, May 3. Massive swell hits Puerto Escondido and coastal Oaxaca. The waves crossed the beach break and overflowed onto Calle Morro.

Notes of Interest

Puerto Escondido means "hidden port" in English.

Approximately 400 BCE, the Chatino language, a branch of the Zapotec linguistic family, separated from the Zapotec language.[1]

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 harrasment.

Playa Zicatela gets its name from a Nahuatl word, "place of large thorns" so some tourist guides claim and I am not saying anyone is wrong however I can not find any sources to back up the claim. The Nahuatl word "zacati" is defined as grass in one on-line dictionary.[2] In another dictionary the Nahuatl word "zacati" is defined as "grass, hay";[3] and "zacatia" is defined as "grassy field or meadow; open plains".[4] A Spanish word for grass/hay is zacate. Perhaps the word "Zicatela" is a corruption of the Spanish and Nahuatl words for grass/hay.

Playa Manzanillo gets its name from some plants that used to grow there.[5]

Puerto Angelito gets its name from some large murals that were painted there, one mural of a girl was 8 meters by 3 meters.[6]

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 gold.[7]

Playa Carrizalillo got its name because locals used to cut carrizo, type of stick or pole, there for the flag for Independence Day celebrations.[8]

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.

Puerto Escondido, 1964?

This photo makes its rounds regularly on Facebook sites related to Puerto Escondido. It is the best photo I have seen from Puerto's early years. The photo is dated 1964 but it actually dates from the mid 70's, the airport in the top left side of the photo was built in the late 1960'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.[9] Another interesting video is Abraham Garibo, Part I (Spanish) and Abraham Garibo, Part II (Spanish). [10]


Footnotes - Preconquest Period

  1. 1. San Jose del Progreso, Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo, Juquila.
  2. 2. 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. 119.
  3. 3. Santa María de Huatulco, Pochutla, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Huatulco.
  4. 4. Joyce, Winter and Mueller, 111.
  5. 5. Santos Reyes Nopala, Juquila, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Nopala.
  6. 6. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  7. 7. Joyce, Winter and Mueller, 9.
  8. 8. Ibid. 1.
  9. 9. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  10. 10. Puerto Escondido, Mixtepec, Juquila, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Puerto Escondido
  11. 11. Santa María Huatulco, Pochutla, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Huatulco.

Footnotes - 1522- 1922

  1. 1. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  2. 1a. Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo, Juquila. Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Tututepec.
  3. 2. 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. 9, 11.
  4. 3. Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. (Thames and Hudson 2013). 161.
  5. 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.
  6. 5. Ibid. p. 74.
  7. 6. Santos Reyes Nopala. Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  8. 7. Ibid.

Footnotes 1923 to present

  1. 1. Estado de Oaxaca. Cuadro XXXVIII. Poblacion Orden Alfabetico de Localidades. Censos de 1921 y 1930. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). 485-6. Line 232. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  2. 2. Ibid.
  3. 3. Ramírez Silva, Julián (2011). Puerto Escondido Al Descubierto. Cuauhtémoc Peña, Oaxaca México. 45-46.
  4. 4. 1931 Oaxaca Earthquake. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  5. 5. Ramírez Silva, 48.
  6. 6. Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  7. 7. Ramírez Silva, 52.
  8. 8. Ibid. 53.
  9. 8a. Santa María Colotepec, Pochutla, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as Colotepec.
  10. 8b. Ramírez Silva. 59.
  11. 9. San Pedro, Mixtepec, Juquila, Oaxaca. Locally referred to as San Pedro.
  12. 10. Ramírez Silva, 55, 56, 58.
  13. 11. Ibid. 54.
  14. 12. Ibid. 56.
  15. 13. Ibid. 65, 66.
  16. 14. Ibid. 50-53.
  17. 15. Ibid. 61-62.
  18. 16. Pochutec Language. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  19. 17. Ramírez Silva, 63.
  20. 18. Ibid. 56.
  21. 19. Significant Earthquakes of the World, 1999. U.S. Geological Survey. 26 June 2000. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  22. 20. Castañeda, Jorge (August 13, 2009). Se Oficializó Como Ciudad a Puerto Escondido. Notihuatulco.com. Retrieved 17 September 2014.

Footnotes - Notes of Interest

  1. 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. 9.
  2. 2. Sestavil R. and Joe Campbell (1996). Zacati. A Dictionary of the English and Nahuatl Languages. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  3. 3. Zacati. Nahuatl Dictionary. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  4. 4. Zacatia. Nahuatl Dictionary. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  5. 5. Ramírez Silva, Julián (2011). Puerto Escondido Al Descubierto. Cuauhtémoc Peña, Oaxaca México. 69.
  6. 6. Ibid. 65.
  7. 7. Ibid.
  8. 8. Ibid. 69.
  9. 9. Jaciel Santiago. Los Fundadores, Part I (Spanish). Youtube.com. 24 December 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  10. 10. Edson Ortiz Garcia. Abraham Garibo, Part I (Spanish). Youtube.com. 21 August 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2015.