Zipolite The Beach of the Dead
Every year at this small Mexican
beach on the Pacific Ocean people are swept out to sea by invisible,
fast-moving currents, and drown before they can be rescued. For
this reason Zipolite is also known as Playa de los Muertos, the
Beach of the Dead.
Suprisingly, this does little to deter a steady
stream of holidaymakers from making the journey here all year round,
and people still swim despite the warnings. Perhaps this element
of danger entices those seeking a bit extra from their beach holiday.
It also keeps the crowds down.
Zipolite is not Cancun; there is no resort atmosphere,
no towering luxury hotels, no swimming pools or tennis courts, no
sweaty discos and still retains its rustic and easygoing charm.
Up until 1955 only one family lived here. This is a beach for those
on a budget who merely want to do as little as possible,.
The west end of the beach, known as Playa del
Amor, is the most popular with foreign travelers and has the best
places to eat and to stay. Nestled between rocky outcrops and sheltered
from the rest of the beach, it is accepted as a clothing-optional
spot, mostly utilized by a scattering of ageing hippies. Playa del
Amor is also a popular choice for many gay travellers.
Arriving late in the busy Christmas/New Year period,
after rushing around the sights of Mexico for two weeks, we had
five days left to relax. An eight-hour bus trip from Oaxaca City
dropped us off in the nearby town of Pochutla, and we crammed into
a taxi with some Mexican teenagers from the same bus. The taxi ride
around the winding hills, flying from bend to bend past crumbling
cliffs, dusty cactuses, snoozing dogs and strutting chickens revived
our travel-numbed selves. With all windows open to let in the breeze,
Spanish dance music pumping from the tinny car stereo, we caught
our first exhilarating glimpse of a vividly green and sparkling
It was late afternoon before we got to Zipolite
and we soon realised that finding suitable accommodation was going
to be a problem. Stumbling through the sand weighed down by our
heavy packs, place after place was full. With sweat dripping, despair
rising, and darkness deepening, we came to a rundown restaurant
with half a dozen empty tables. A tiny old woman appeared and in
very broken English offered us a room with two hammocks. Readily
agreeing we followed her to our room, which consisted
of wooden planks haphazardly nailed together, a roof of palm fronds,
and a sand floor scattered with cigarette butts. The door had to
be wedged shut from the inside with a concrete block and our luggage
stored in the womans already crowded one room house with her
large family and wall to wall furniture.
At first the notion of spending a night in a hammock
seemed wildly romantic and appropriately rustic. By the morning
however, things appeared differently. A hammock, while good for
dozing, is not a comfortable sleeping place for the unaccustomed.
The mosquito bite count from my legs alone came in around one hundred.
Discovering that the shower we were supposed to use consisted of
slimy concrete blocks with a trickle of cold water, and the toilet
seatless, blocked, and unflushable, did nothing to aid comfort.
However, after a slow and hefty breakfast of scrambled
eggs, bacon, tortillas, beans and freshly squeezed juice, luck was
with us and we found a room at the Posada Brisas Marina, one of
the largest places to stay. 120 pesos ($12US) got us a comfortable
room with two double beds, mosquito screens, a fan and a good strong
shower, and we happily settled there for our remaining nights. The
Brisas Marina is owned and run by a straight-talking American ex-pat
named Daniel who is always on hand to answer questions and boasts
the only facilities to change traveler's checks at Zipolite.
All day, locals wander the length of the beach
plying their wares, which range from strings of pearls and coral
beads, embroidered cotton clothing, and dried chillies, to homemade
pizzas and cookies, and fresh coconut milk served straight from
the shell. For those intending to stay a few days a good investment
is one of the multi colored hand-woven hammocks sold by the beach
vendors, cheap to purchase and well worth it as most beachfront
accommodations have frames set up for guests to hang their hammocks
across during the day.
Apart from sunbathing, braving the dangerous waves
to cool off, sipping from a coconut or an icy Sol (the beer of choice
here), or sampling the fresh seafood flavored with garlic and chilli,
there isnt a lot to do which is the attraction of Zipolite.
We did make a special effort one morning, rousing
ourselves reluctantly, to be up and dressed by 9am to catch a ride
in a rusting Volkswagen van lacking doors, seats and horsepower,
to the neighboring beach, Puerto Angel. A tour boat leaves here
every morning offering a day of beach hopping and snorkeling. While
visiting four tiny beaches along the coast there are opportunities
to see a variety of interesting wildlife dolphins, turtles,
sea snakes, nesting pelicans and the occasional whale, as well as
getting a close up look at handfuls of brightly colored fish and
If time permits, the neighboring beaches make good day trips for
a change of scenery and atmosphere.
On the west side is Mazunte, similar to Zipolite
in size and appearance but slightly less populated. Mazunte was
once the sight of a major turtle abattoir where 50,000 turtles were
slaughtered every year as they came ashore to nest. In 1990 the
Centro Mexicana de la Tortuga was established, a research and education
center dedicated to the protection and preservation of the seven
species of sea turtles that live in Mexican waters. The center is
open to the public and visitors have the opportunity to see all
On the other side of Zipolite is Puerto Angel,
where the shore and the hills behind are crowded with hotels and
restaurants, attracting large numbers of families. The sea here
is calm and ideal for a swim but because of this it is busy with
splashing children and boats of all shapes and sizes.
Nearby beaches can be reached on foot from Zipolite but there have
been reports of robberies, even during the day.
Taxis and local buses pass fairly frequently,
while the more adventurous or thrifty can climb aboard a colectivo,
a large truck converted into public transport and driven by locals,
costing only a few pesos. Expect to share with any number of tourists
and locals and hold on tight.
At the end of every day an unmissable sight is
of literally thousands of pelicans returning en mass from a days
fishing. Like a cloud of mosquitoes they travel from over the horizon
in a long line, before circling, and finally landing on, the appropriately
named Roca Blanca (White Rock).
The sun sets bloodred and breathtaking on Zipolite
every evening, softening the air with a mellow glow. This is the
perfect time to take a stroll along the shore in the cooling sand
or settle in for the night at a beachfront table with a plate of
king prawns and a pina colada.