Introducing Zipolite, Mexico’s Free-Spirited Beach Town

The small town of Zipolite lies on Mexico’s southwestern Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca. A far cry from the concrete jungle of Cancun, the jungle surrounding Zipolite is real. Devoid of high-rise hotels and huge resorts, the beach is lined with cabanas and palapas and a scattering of lodgings unobtrusively tucked away in the jungle. Zipolite is a laidback, open-minded place and Mexico’s only clothing-optional beach. It’s a magnet for hippies, LGBTQ+ travelers, and, of course, nudists. Open-minded and free-spirited, nobody is judged in Zipolite – even those who opt to wear a swimsuit.  

Zipolite, Mexico

Back in the 1970s, Zipolite became popular with hippies, and it’s one of the few places in the world that has retained its groovy vibe. The dirt tracks that weave through the jungle are reminiscent of that other hippie heaven, Goa, in India. Fishermen and their families were the sole occupants of Zipolite until Gloria’s Shambhala, a rustic spiritual retreat, threw its doors open, and hippies were drawn to the oceanside village for the yoga, passing whales, and golden sunsets. Gloria’s Shambhala is still going strong after all these years.

Even in high season, Zipolite doesn’t seem crowded. At just over a mile long, there is plenty of space to find a spot on the long stretch of yellow sand. Before the heat becomes too intense, people stroll along the beach, sit and meditate, practice yoga, or enjoy a hearty beachside breakfast in the mornings and evenings. There are rocky bluffs at either end of the crescent-shaped beach, and at the east end, a short climb over the rocks leads to a gay-friendly cove. Swimming isn’t recommended in Zipolite as currents are strong, but at low tide, it’s possible to splash around the shallows. Some hotels and jungle lodges have pools to cool down between beach trips.

Zipolite Beach

One block back from the beach, Zipolite’s main drag consists of a handful of small supermarkets, pharmacies, shops, bakeries, and cafes. Don’t forget to explore the side streets where vibrant art covers the walls. A few stores sell locally produced handicrafts, and night markets are set up during high season. Stalls trade in jewelry, Frida t-shirts, and colorful Mexican textiles, while street musicians add to the chilled vibe.

There isn’t a lot to do in Zipolite, but that’s part of its appeal – it’s a place to unwind and recharge the batteries. Many visitors won’t make it beyond the hammock and the nearest bar, but for those who want to venture a little further afield, a couple of nearby beach towns are worthy of a day trip. For a mere few pesos, just hop on a colectivo (a truck with benches on either side) that is heading in the right direction. The small fishing village of Puerto Angel, only a mile from Zipolite, is a rustic but friendly enclave with a peaceful beach and a scattering of family-run restaurants. It’s also a great base to arrange snorkeling and whale-watching trips.

Zipolite beach, Mexico

Just under four miles in the other direction, Mazunte is a tiny bohemian town surrounded by beautiful beaches. A main street brimming with bakeries, cafes, and cool artsy shops leads the way to the beach. Between May and November, Mazunte is one of the best places in Mexico to see newborn turtles being released into the ocean, a magical experience. If you feel energetic, take a  20-minute hike through the jungle to Punta Cometa, a clifftop lookout point. You will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the ocean and may even be lucky enough to spot a migrating whale or two. It’s exceptionally breathtaking at sunset as the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean and changing colors fill the sky.       

From tacos to tagliatelle, Zipolite has a bounty of places to eat, and many restaurants are on the beach. You can’t beat a delicious breakfast while enjoying the sensation of sand between your toes while you watch pelicans swoop into the ocean. Check out Gula Gula for superb food and views in equal measure. As you would expect in a town as inclusive as Zipolite, there is an abundance of veggie and vegan food available, so nobody misses out. Seafood lovers will appreciate the fresh and tasty dishes served at many restaurants. While in town, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in fine dining at the highly acclaimed La Providencia, an attractive restaurant in a jungle setting. It’s not cheap by Mexican standards, but the food is outstanding and costs a fraction of the price you would pay in the USA.    

Everyone gathers at the beachside bars in the early evenings for Happy Hour. With beer or cocktail in hand, a golden glow bathes the beach. The sunsets are never less than spectacular. As daylight fades into night, fire eaters entertain the revelers, DJs spin their tunes, and live musicians kick off the first set of the evening. The vibes are mellow, and a harmonious blend of humanity celebrates life. The party continues until the sun rises.