Oaxaca Escondida (Oaxaca a Puerto Escondido)
156 Mi.(251 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
Note that this route was originally posted in 2015 and received a major update in June 2021. Please be sure to check in on Mexico’s COVID-19 Epidemiological Traffic Light Map before embarking on this tour.
When it comes to dirt road riding in Mexico, it doesn’t get much better than Oaxaca – which is saying something, because the country has a truly fabulous network of mountain, farm, and backcountry roads. This classic mounains-to-sea route runs from the beautiful and culturally rich Oaxaca de Juárez, up and over the Sierra Sur to the surfer hotspot of Puerto Escondido. And in doing so, it offers a little flavour of the whole state.
Wending its way out through the 1,500-metre Vallés Centrales on predominantly rural dirt roads (or terracerías, as they’re called in Mexico), it rolls its way up and down towards the high point of the route at 2,000 metres, before a spectacular descent to the coast. As well as the big reveal – that classic Oaxacan vista, a silhouetted range of lush mountains – it’s also an insight into this southern state’s remarkable biodiversity, running as it does from agave fields to pine forests to coffee plantations.
Back down on the coast, the busy coastal highway and Puerto Escondido come as something of a shock after a few nights camping. But still, there’s a string of fabulous beaches to visit, as well as a number of coveted surf spots. If you’re looking for a quieter coastal scene, just continue onto nearby Mazunte.
Generally speaking, this route is very straightforward and accessible, making it ideal for a broad range of riders, especially those new to dirt road touring. Yes, there’s some climbing to contend with. But overall, it unfolds across far mellower terrain than most other Mexican routes on the site. Oaxaca is known nationally for the quality of its regional cuisine. Rest assured, there are also plenty of places to sample this along the way – we’ve marked a number of resupply points on the map to satisfy your memela fix.
Difficulty 6: Despite the amount of climbing, this route is well within the scope of anyone new to dirt road touring. There are regular resupply points and the surfaces are mostly well graded.
Day Rides Out of Oaxaca
For those coming from afar, the city of Oaxaca de Juaréz makes a great base to learn about Zapotec culture and its traditions. It’s well worth allotting yourself time in town to visit the botanical gardens and various nearby ruins. Indeed, the three main valleys that prod like fingers out of the city offers much more than just riding, though cycling is definitely the best way of discovering them. With this in mind, we’ve included four recommended day rides to bookend your trip – see Trail Notes for links and details. The first will introduce you to the archaeological site of Monte Albán, one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica. Another leads out on quiet terracerías to the acclaimed Centro de las Artes de San Agustín. If you want to invest in a beautiful rug, dyed naturally, a third loops out to Teotitlan del Valle. The fourth is one of my favourite half-day rides in the area. It heads out to San Felipe Tejalapam on ridgetop dirt roads, offering a fresh perspective of the area. We’ve also included a number of other multi-day bikepacking trips in the area, both long and short. Again, it can be found within the Trail Notes tab.
This route is based closely on a ride that Tom and Sarah Walwyn first posted to the site way back in 2015! Inevitably, things have changed a lot since then, so it now includes a more dirt-orientated exit from the city and avoids an ongoing highway project (expect further minor reroutes over time) that has seen pavement coat many segments of the original route. With thanks to Tom and Sarah for the inspiration and initial research – follow their family adventures here. Please let us know if there are any further changes, and will continue to update the route.
With thanks to outdoor educator and artist Emma Bucke for sharing her beautiful botanical illustration – a fern with curled in fronds and its sori exposed – used in the route badge. The title is a play on words between its start and end points – Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido. Escondido means ‘hidden’ in Spanish. And compared to the new highway, this ride reveals a hidden side to Oaxaca.
- Spending a couple of days in Oaxaca before you leave, soaking up the city vibes, eating memelas, and exploring the surrounding valleys.
- Wending your way along quiet dirt roads and farm tracks from one community to the next.
- Hitting the lush forest of the Sierra Sur and all its remarkable biodiversity.
- Descending to the coast after earning it with some steep climbs.
- Surfing (or surfer watching) in Puerto Escondido, a legendary surf destination.
- Best bike: A rigid mountain bike or hardtail with a 2.1″ to 2.6″ tyre is the best choice for this route, due to the mixed terrain, the extended climbs, and occasionally steep grades. But as there’s nothing technical along the way, a traditional tourer works too. If you’re aboard a gravel bike, run comparable gearing and the widest tyres that you can. Pack light, as there’s lots of climbing to contend with!
- Best time of year: Oaxaca is a great destination throughout the year. But bear in mind that during the dry season (November to April), roads become dusty and temperatures can get sizzling hot – especially as you drop down to Puerto Escondido. In contrast, the rainy season (May to October) brings lush countryside and more bearable midday riding temperatures. But expect heavy nightly downpours and the risk of mud, too.
- Looking for a packlist? Find ideas in this post.
- Generally speaking, the mountains of Oaxaca are a safe place to travel, but it’s always worth seeking up-to-date information.
- Depending on the season, there are black flies and occasionally poison ivy too, so have some Benadryl handy if you’re sensitive to these. We’ve spotted brown recluse spiders as well, so an enclosed tent is recommended.
- Some Spanish language skills are recommended, as parts of this route see few foreign visitors.
- There are NO ATMs en route aside from the first day out of town, so bring cash and small bills. Try and break 500 peso notes beforehand.
- Want to get into the botanical groove? Visit the renowned Jardín Etnobotánico
de Oaxaca for a plant primer before you set off.
- Oaxaca Journal by Dr. Oliver Sachs is a highly recommended read for those interested in learning more about the area, from both a botanical and cultural standpoint.
- A short ride from the centre of Oaxaca, the trail network west of San Felipe Del Agua is rife with fun cross-country singletrack. See Trailforks for details; if you’ve brought a mountain bike, a loop around High Flyer Ridge/Escalones is especially recommended.
- There is also an abundance of techy enduro trails in the area, especially up in the Ixtepeji area. Again, see Trailforks for details or check out our Hebras to Ixtepeji route, which makes a great compliment to this ride with an appropriate bicycle.
- Need repairs? My favourite shops are Bicimundo and Zona Bici. Both are well stocked and both have branches in Reforma, which are recommended over those in the city centre. Expect to generally find sealant and a reasonable selection of mountain bike tyres, right up to 29 x 2.5/2.6″ sizes.
- MTB Oaxaca is an excellent resource – it lists bike shops, trails, and day rides in and around Oaxaca.
- Consider timing your trip with Oaxaca’s famous Dia de Muertos ceremony (early November), but book accommodation in advance as things get busy at that time of year.
- Oaxaca is a six-hour bus ride away from Mexico City. ADO is a recommended bus company and generally has room for a bike or two.
- Volaris, AeroMexci, and a number of other airlines fly to Oaxaca via Mexico City or Guadalajara. Depending on the size of your bike boxes, it’s likely to cost between 350 and 500 pesos for a taxi into town – for 2 to 3 people with bikes. You can buy tickets for the official airport taxis when you arrive and it’s all regulated. Download the Didi App on your phone for the return journey, or perhaps arrange something through your hotel.
- If you want to return from whence you came, it’s perhaps easiest to hire a car at Europcar in Puerto Escondido and take a midway stop in San José del Pacífico). A large vehicle – one that fits four bikes and four people – costs around $200, including fuel and a one-way drop off (offices are near the airport). There is also an ADO/OCC overnight service to the city that takes 11 hours and generally accommodates bikes a couple of bikes ($20-30 per person). Otherwise, you can try and fit your steed to the roof rack of one of the minibuses that ply the mountain road that runs between the coast, San Jose del Pacifico, and Oaxaca City. It’s quicker than taking the big bus but a lot windier, so those who get carsick, be warned…
- Dispersed camping is possible along this route. Bear in mind that they are unofficial, so be discreet, respectful, and be sure to leave no trace. I’ve marked a selection on the map, but with a keen eye, there are plenty more – especially in the more forested parts of the ride. If in doubt, it’s always best to ask for permission from the local ranch or ejido.
- I use denatured alcohol and have marked a spot where it can be bought in bulk (56 pesos for 1.5L) at a hardware store on Calle de Frey Bartolomé de las Casas (marked on the map) – it’s just south of the Zocalo, next to a paletería (by good fortune!) Ask for ‘alcohol metilico’. You can buy compressed camping gas bottles too – the shop is called La Gran Montaña and it’s on Miguel Hidalgo. It’s close to Marito and Mogli Cafe, a hip little coffee shop if you need a lift me upper.
- Lodging can be found in larger towns.
- There’s a wide variety of accommodation available within Oaxaca City, from budget hostels to fancy digs. If you plan on setting up a base camp to explore the area in more detail, Airbnb can be a good option. Location-wise, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere near the centre of the city but the area around Xochimilco is especially appealing. It’s the oldest part of Oaxaca and is artistic, colourful, and crammed with coffee shops.
- One of the aspects of touring in Oaxaca that I love most is that every settlement likely has tlayudas, memelas, quesadillas, or tacos. In short, you won’t go hungry on this tour. If you don’t want to bring your stove, bring a re-usable container for take-outs, like a Stasher bag or some stout zip locks.
- You’ll want to carry at least a few bottles of water with you. I’d recommend having the capacity to run around 3-4L, as campsites will invariably be dry. When you stop in restaurants, ask to fill your bottles and offer a few extra pesos, to save buying plastic ones. Otherwise, you can refill everything at the start of the day from the 20L, re-usable water jugs found in many local stores – especially if you’re 2 or more riders. Although they’re larger than you’ll need, at 20 pesos each, they’re both an economical and eco-friendly way of filling up. It can be worth carry a filter for mountain streams.
- To find out more about the culinary fare for which Oaxaca City is known, check out the Netflix series Street Food Latin America. It focuses on local legend Doña Vale and the region’s famous recipes.
- Pop into one of the many mezcal specialists or stop along the roadside and try the local tipple, distilled from agave (maguey) plants. There are many subtleties to mezcal, depending on the agave, where it’s grown, and how it’s distilled. If you want to dive deep into the mezcal-tasting experience, Mezcaloteca, in Oaxaca city, comes highly recommended, as does El Destilado.
- Visit any market for a wide variety of fruit and fruit shakes, a great start to the day. ‘Verde’, laced with celery, grapefruit, and parsley is a personal favourite. The main Oaxaca market – Mercado Benito
Juárez – behind the zócalo, is always a hive of activity and a great place to explore on foot.
- A post-ride recommendation in Oaxaca? Check out La Popular for a beer or two, and good local food. The wild mushroom (setas) and garlic dish is especially good.
- Eat meat? Or rather, insects? Grab yourself a bag of chapolies – grasshoppers seasoned with lime, salt and garlic – and sprinkle them on your food or just enjoy them for afternoon nibbles.
- In Oaxaca City, Calle de General Portfilio Diaz is becoming quite the street for locally run, ‘new wave’ Oaxacan fare. From the end closest to the centre, the Boulenc ’empire’ includes an incredible bakery, a fantastic restaurant and coffee shop, and a grocery store with all kinds of homemade delights. Further up the street, Hierba Dulce is a an excellant vegan restaurant that a great menu of traditional dishes. I firmly believe that their ‘cremosa’ is one of the best desserts in town! Further up the street still, vegetarians will love the small, hole-in-the-wall ‘Casuelas’ whilst Pan Con Madre, next door, is another excellent spot for bakery products. A few steps beyond lies Macha Pacha, which sells artisanal chocolate in compostable packaging.
- Coffee? Oaxaca has you covered! Coffee is grown in the state and roasted locally. There are too many coffee shops to recommend, but try out Café El Volador, at the beautiful Plaza de la Cruz de Piedra, to get you started. The square is a great spot to hang out after a day ride, too.
- Over the highway in Xochimilco, Rupestre is a nice spot with a lovely courtyard and especially strong americanos – there’s room for bikes too – or there’s the roof terrace at AM Siempre (great gluten-free chocolate cake!) next door. Nearby Chepiche is perhaps my favourite spot in town- it’s super spacious, there’s outdoor seating, it’s great for a breakfast, and again, plenty of room for bikes. I recommend trying La Huerta! Look this place up on Googlemaps, as it’s not signposted from the road.
- If you’re after something a little special, Ancestral, in Xochimilco, Ancestral is an excellent restaurant serving beautifully presented, traditional food. Want to treat yourself? Casa Oaxaca is considered one of the best restaurants in town.
- Oaxaca is well known for its chocolate, often melted into a hot drink, and its delicious mole, which is on every restaurant menu, so be sure to get a taste of that, too.
- Agua frescas are the drink of choice in Mexico and way better than Coca-Cola! Choose from jamaica, horchata, and tamarindo, along with whatever fruit is in season – mango, papaya, or guava. Where possible, buy soft drinks in glasses bottles as these are recycled far more times than plastics.
- Paletas! Mexico’s classic ice cream on a stick tastes especially good after (or during) a long day in the saddle.
In addition to the various bikepacking routes to be found in Oaxaca (linked above), bookend your trip with dirt, gravel, and singletrack loops, rewarding ways of gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the area.
The Monte Albán and Cuilapan Rural Ramble is a challenging, roughstuff day ride that passes by the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán en route to the Ex-Monastry of Cuilapan – a complex set in Oaxaca’s Valle Grande and Ejutla area. You can trim it down to the single loop, but I recommend the full figure of eight as it’s a wonderful showcase for Oaxaca’s traditional farming practises and inter-cropping – a combination of corn, squash, and beans to help fortify the soil and keep pests away.
For a shorter version with some short sections of trail, there’s also Monte Alban and Atzompa Rough ‘n Ruts. Either way, I highly recommend checking out Monte Alban. It’s an incredible Zapotec site and a highlight of Oaxaca City.
Venture into the Etla Valley and visit the acclaimed Centro de las Artes de San Agustín, housed in a former textile factory, by following San Agustín Etla: foothills out, railroad back day ride. It connects rolling dirt roads to San Agustín with a former railway line on the way back, making for a nice variety of surfaces. There are singletrack options too if you want to spice things up.
Interested in bringing back some a locally made rug? Check out Teotitlan del Valle – and its beautiful textiles that can be purchased direct from the makers – then the 75km Teotitlán, via Huilapam, Dainzú, and Tule is sure to add great memories to your purchase. It links up mellow trails, rural roads, and remote two-track, via the archeological site of Dainzu.
And for a fresh perspective of the area, this short loop is one of my very favourites, connecting dirt roads out to San Felipe Tejalapam. There are several ways of doing this – here’s my favourite.
With thanks to Larry at www.oaxacamtb.com sharing his vast wealth of route near Oaxaca City, via which much of my own knowledge is based.
Have a few more days to hand?
With the right bike, this route pairs especially well with the Hebras de Ixtepeji singletrack route, which is a 2-2.5 day exploration into the Sierra Norte mountain range. Not so keen on trail riding? Here’s a dirt road alternative into the Sierra Norte that hits up some of the same spots.
If you have more time still, consider enjoying the nearby Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve (a 2.5-hour bus ride away) or the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour. Or even, use this ride to the coast as warm up/shakedown to a bigger ride south, following the Trans Mexico (Sur).
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