Oaxaca City to the Beach — in Six Knuckle-Biting Hours

"Drive with caution -- windy roads" (Understatement? Yes.)

"Drive with caution -- winding roads" (Understatement? Yes.)

We just got back from a week of vacation in the Southern Mexico state of Oaxaca. We decided to make a road trip out of it, flying into Oaxaca City, picking up a rental car, and then heading south on Carretera 175, which takes you to the Pacific Oaxacan coastline — after traversing many, many mountains.

We had done our research and were aware it was up there in the list of “crazy drives you’ll probably only attempt once in your lifetime.”

But wow — what’s beauty if not a little crazy?

First, here’s how it looks on a normal map:

The orange dot in the middle is Oaxaca City, the dot on the beach is where we drove to.

The orange dot in the middle is Oaxaca City, the dot on the beach is where we drove to: a private little beach -- more on that later this week!

But in reality? Well, here is my homemade map:

My arms were sore from driving -- that's how twisty it is.

My arms were sore from driving -- that's how twisty it is.

But as you can imagine, there’s a good reason it’s this twisty. The never-ending mountains! Lots of them — through the desert, then the pine forest, and finally the tropics. (Segment 1: Twisty, dry, and hot. Segment 2: Twisty, dry and cool. Segment 3: Twisty, moist and very hot.)

Let’s take a look:

One of the reasons 175 is so crazy is that practically every farmer drops his donkey off on the side of the road, presumably so the donkey can chomp on all the roadside grass. But because  the mountains are often only 3 feet from the road (or there are sheer cliffs straight down), there’s not a lot of space for the donkeys. So, you get a really good look at them from your car window. We passed dozens….if not hundreds…along the way. When a donkey makes a sound, it does indeed sound like hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw.

Brendan started saying "donkey!" everytime he spotted one. It got old pretty quick.

Brendan started saying "donkey!" everytime he spotted one. It got old pretty quick.

Besides donkeys, there were plenty of dogs sunning themselves on the pavement (the road doesn’t get that much traffic) and lots of humans waiting for their bus to come by.

Yep, that's a donkey butt.

Yep, that's a donkey butt.

Many areas of the forest had been cleared for corn, regardless of how steep the hill might be:

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As you drive higher and higher, the trees turn entirely to pine. Logging is common at these heights, meaning  you often get stuck behind a very large truck carrying approximately 15 massive tree trunks as big as your car, only casually chained in to protect them from rolling off and smashing you into turista smithereens. I am normally quite the scaredy-cat about passing other cars on an incredibly narrow, mountainous two-lane highway, but I quickly overcame the fear to get away from the belching, lumbering (ha!) trucks.

Pine forest

Pine forest for miles and miles.

As if the constant need to turn your steering wheel isn’t enough, you also get to bump your ass a lot, too — the drive is littered with “topes” — speedbumps (“Mexican stoplights”). The older, handmade signs say “TOPE!” to warn you, and the government has also provided an extra sign using the more official “REDUCTOR” warning. So, while your leaning to the left or right, and bouncing in your seat, and trying not to go flying off the narrow road, you also must pay attention to two signs, a speedbump, donkeys, several dogs, some playing children and probably a logging truck struggling over the tope.

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Sort of halfway is the cute little town of San Jose del Pacifico, where we spent a night on the drive back (it was wise to do this — if you have time.) We stayed at some cabins perched on yet another cliff:

Cabanas Puesto del Sol. Warm during the day, freezing at night.

Cabanas Puesto del Sol. Warm during the day, freezing at night.

After a few hours past San Jose, you begin to descend, the contents of your stomach now thoroughly sloshed, and the trees change from pine to bananas. You can roll down the windows and hear tropical birds (and the loudest little lizards). Vendors on the side of the road sell giant bunches of red and yellow bananas, and coffee beans are being dried on the rooftops of many homes. More rivers and streams start to appear.

What doesn’t happen, though, is a straight road. Still twisty as hell:

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Finally, after all the hard work you’re rewarded with a stunning beach, such as this one. Playa La Boquilla….

Paradise

Paradise

6 thoughts on “Oaxaca City to the Beach — in Six Knuckle-Biting Hours

  1. DKN says:

    Damn! You guys never cease to amaze me! I had forgotten you were doing this (as you could tell from my last email) and DAMN!!! What a gorgeous trip! Worth every flip flop, I bet.

  2. a random authentic mexican says:

    i got a taste of that today… i am visiting Oaxaca and went to Hierve el Agua (petrified waterfalls) and it was curve after curve after curve… i cannot imagine that for 6 hours…

  3. a random authentic tour guide says:

    damn. i am bringing a group to the city of oaxaca tomorrow and some of them want to make a day trip to the pacific beaches. if it’s 6 hours long,i don’t know that is is worth it! damn!

    on another note, your trip sounds amazing! i am glad to hear you felt it was worth it and i hope to some day make it to the mexican pacific coast.

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