The options for traveling between Oaxaca, and the Pacific beaches of Huatulco and Puerto Escodido are numerous. Considerations include time, safety & cost.A common question on Mexico travel forums, and fielded by those in the Oaxaca tourism industry, ishow to travel between Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast (Puerto Escondido and Huatulco) and the state capital, Oaxaca city, and evaluating transportation modes in terms of time, comfort, safety and cost.
Cost Versus Time, Drive Versus Fly: Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco
While car rental is expensive relative to using a bus or van, the main question should be whether the traveler can rationalize spending over $100 USD per person each way, using one of two main local airlines, Aerovega and Aerotucan. Compare a 35 minute flight (unless one uses an airline such as Mexicana, which first goes to Mexico City before heading to its ultimate destination) to using a rental car which takes 5 – 7 hoursdepending on the route, to using a bus or van at a nominal cost, taking anywhere between 6 and 10 hours. Buses take longer than vans. Vans sometimes “motor,” and therefore are often as quick as using one’s own vehicle.
Safety of Small Airlines: Flying Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco
The safety issue using the small airlines tends to relate to delays which ensure that safety is maintained. Occasionally a flight between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco is delayed due to maintenance issues (which is a good thing), or weather patterns. All airlines have maintenance issues. However airlines like Mexicana and Aeromexico have large work crews which can get to planes virtually immediately. With smaller airlines, there is less staff, which means sometimes delays are occasioned as a result of one plane’s maintenance being in queue behind another’s – or a mechanic arriving late as a result of family or other issues.
Weather patterns create delays, assuring safety. Flights are traditionally early morning, sometimes around noon, when weather tends to be calm. But that’s not always the case; on occasion morning weather disturbances dictate delaying flights for an hour or so, depending on the season.
Highway Safety: Drive Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco
As of 2010, a highway 175 widening project between Oaxaca and the Pacific Coast (Pochutla, Puerto Angel, Puerto Escondido and other destinations up the coast from Huatulco) is ongoing. Presumably improved highway facilities will come with the widening. At the same time, a new toll road is being built between Oaxaca and Huatulco, although using the old highway 190 will remain an option. Suggested completion dates of the new / improved highways should not be relied upon, and accordingly it’s best to inquire of management of the hotel or bed & breakfast where one plans to lodge.
Safety regarding highway travel between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco has little if anything to do with bandidos, of course assuming one travels during daytime hours. While vans and buses travel after dark, it’s not recommended for private and rental cars. Foreigners are not as aware of local road conditions. Rainy season can create problems with washouts.
Mechanical fitness rules and regulations are not enforced like in the US, so there is no assurance of quality of brakes, tail lights, etc, of the vehicle in front of you. At eighteen one can become legally licensed to drive in Oaxaca, without an eye, road or written test. Therefore, conceivably the driver in front of you taking a switchback is in a car for the first time in his life, let alone legally driving.
The other safety issue relates to illness (nausea) mainly along highways 175 and 131. Highway 190 to Salina Cruz and Huatulco tends to be the easiest on the stomach. Van drivers are generally sensitive to such problems, but not always. A Dramamine or Gravol generally does the trick, but becoming drowsy can be an issue.
The highway works projects noted above will make the drive easier, safer, and apparently cut travel time between a third and a half.
Departure Frequency Between Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido or Huatulco: Airline, Bus, Van
Airlines depart daily. There are van depots throughout Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, and several in Oaxaca, along calles La Noria, Arista and Galeana. The first class bus depot is at the top end of downtown. While buses depart less frequently, van service in some cases is on the hour, but experiences at a couple of depots on Galeana suggest that there may be delays until enough passengers have been booked. The service on the north side of Arista, 100-block, is the most reliable in terms of punctuality and being able to reserve seats in advance.
Hiring a Private Car / Van and Driver for Travel Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco
With a group, hiring a private van can be easy and economical. For a couple or family of up to four,taxis and drivers often do the trip. The 2010 rate, one way, for a car is roughly 2500 pesos, and a van 3500 pesos.
The Conundrum: Fly Versus Drive Between Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido or Huatulco
Flights can generally be booked a couple or few days in advance, depending on the season, and vans the same day or a day before. One option is to drive one way, and then if the experience was not pleasant, fly back. The advantage of driving one way, be it in a private or rental vehicle, or bus or van, aside from scenery and diversity of landscapes, is that one has the option of stopping en route, for example to spend an afternoon and night at the quaint village of San José del Pacífico.