Playa Zipolite is a beach community located in San Pedro Pochutla municipality on the southern coast of Oaxaca state in Mexico between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. Zipolite is best known as being one of Mexico’s very few nude beaches and for retaining much of the hippie culture that made it notable in the 1960s and 1970s. The name Zipolite, sometimes spelled Sipolite or Cipolite probably comes from the Nahuatl word sipolitlan or zipotli, meaning "bumpy place" or "place of continuous bumps or hills". However, some claim the name means “beach of the dead” in either Nahuatl or Zapotec because of dangerous underwater currents just offshore. The beach is currently popular with foreign tourists, especially backpackers, who stay in one of the many rustic cabins or camping spaces that line the beach.
Archeological finds at the east end of the beach shows that the area has a long history, but for the first half of the 20th century only one family lived here. In the 1960s and 1970s, counterculture hippies began to congregate here in part due to the beach’s isolated nature. At the time, there was little law enforcement, and drug use became common. In the 1970s and 1980s the beach gained a reputation in Mexico and among foreign travelers as a free-love paradise.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Zipolite was hard hit by two hurricanes and a fire. The first hurricane was Hurricane Pauline on 7 October 1997, a category four storm which destroyed nearly everything in town with strong flooding, leaving it -along with Mazunte and Puerto Ángel- cut off from the mainland, but there were no deaths. Next was Hurricane Rick on 9 November 1997. While not as strong as Pauline, the storm damaged roads and other infrastructure that was only partially rebuilt after Pauline. The last disaster to cause major damage was a fire that broke out on 21 February 2001, burning many of the wood and palm-thatched structures that were on the beach.
Since its beginnings in the 1960s, Zipolite has evolved from handful of beachfront cabanas and palm-thatched palapas to concrete, but still basic, hotels and other structures with a few more amenities. Behind the line of beachfront construction is now an area called Colonia Roca Blanca with a street known informally as the Adoquin which has become the town center. Recently, the municipality has added tourist information services and police patrols on the beach both day and night during the busy season.
The community known as Zipolite consists of an approximately one-mile stretch of beach with a street that parallels it. It has a central neighborhood, Colonia Roca Blanca, situated at the western end where many of the hotels and restaurants are located. Colonia Roca Blanca is named for the island or large rock just off the shore, which is white due to bird guano. Until just recently, 2014, the main drag was the only paved street within the community. It is officially called the “Paisan” but locals call it the Adoquín. The Colonia Roca Blanca has now been completely redone, and the town now has three streets paved with yellow brick and stonework. Further behind the beach and Adoquín is a larger road that connects Zipolite with other local communities such as San Agustinillo and Puerto Angel.
There are no building codes enforced here, so constructions vary as to materials and quality. There are no banking services here. An automated teller machine (ATM)has been recently installed in the Roca Blanca. There is also an ATM and a branch of Banco Azteca in Puerto Angel. Several other bank branches are in Pochutla. There is no currency exchange either, but many places take U.S. dollars. Very few places accept credit cards. Almost all the establishments that face the beach have palapa sheltered restaurants and bars in front and lodging in the back. These lodgings can vary from wood huts, to simple concrete structures and often include hammocks and places to pitch tents. Most baths are shared. There is no high-rise development here and almost none of the lodgings offer air conditioning or hot water.
Zipolite also has a variety of restaurants from the standard Mexican to international cuisine and vegetarian choices. Many of the local restaurants are owned by expatriate Italians and serve pasta dishes as well as pizza. One restaurant serves crepes because of its French expatriate owner. Nightlife in Zipolite is subdued, however, in the high season (Nov. through May), some surprisingly good musicians pass through town. The local band, the Zipolite Beach Billies, hosts a weekly open mike that is very popular among tourists and locals alike. Many of the beachfront hotels have their own small bars. and there are a number of small nightclubs such as Livelula Bar, Zipolipas and La Puesta. Posada Mexico also frequently hosts live music. There is a large yoga community in Zipolite with classes being offered at the Alquimista and Loma Linda.
Zipolite still attracts those drawn to the hippie lifestyle. Today, music from artists such as The Doors, Bob Marley, Santana and others from that time can still be heard. Attitudes about drug use, in particular marijuana, are also typically relaxed. The police station is largely unmanned, but extra efforts for security are implemented during busy seasons such as Christmas and Easter week, supplementing the normal local auxiliary police with regular patrolmen from San Pedro Pochutla. Other efforts include checking for intoxicated drivers and boaters in Zipolite and other area beaches.
Zipolite can be reached by flying into Huatulco or Puerto Escondido and traveling on coastal highway 200. It can also be reached by road from Oaxaca City via Highway 175, which is a narrow, very winding road that takes six or seven hours to traverse. This highway ends at Puerto Angel and there are private and collectivo taxis that travel between this port and Zipolite.
Piña Palmera is a rehabilitation and educational center for disabled children and adults, from rural communities in Oaxaca state, the majority of which are indigenous people. It is a private charity which has existed since the 1980s, and the charity has enrolled over five thousand people in one or more of its programs. Most of its staff is volunteer. The endeavor is supported by a Swedish charity and it not affiliated with any political or religious group. Currently, about 350 people are in their programs.
Zipolite is a nearly pristine beach about forty meters wide and two km long, with medium grain gold colored sand. The water is clear with tones of blue and green. This was one of the beaches featured in the Mexican blockbuster movie “Y tu mamá también.” It stretches from a small isolate cove called Playa del Amor on the east side to the new age Shambala retreat on the west end which is partially sheltered by rocks. Behind this is, sea cliffs rise. The beach is lined by palm trees and rustic cabins, hotel rooms and hammocks with a few more sophisticated lodgings on the west end. This beach is part of the Riviera Oaxaqueño, which includes the nearby beaches of Puerto Angel and San Agustinillo. This beach is favored by foreign tourists, most of whom are backpackers and by the Mexican middle class, especially during Holy Week vacation in Mexico. The beach’s appeal stems from being one of very few beaches in which nudity is tolerated. Before it was mostly practiced on the sheltered far east Playa del Amor and the far west end, but recently the amount of nudist ,also families with children, is growing also on the 'main'beach, probably thanks to some hotel owners becoming more open and flexible (finally).
Swimming is practiced here but caution is strongly advised. Waves are strong in the afternoon, which is good for surfing and undertow is always strong. The ocean just offshore has strong currents that flow in circular patterns, some of which push swimmers toward shore and some which can pull swimmers out to sea. These currents are strong but not very wide. Swimmers have regularly drowned, prompting the creation of a volunteer lifeguard team and a flag system to indicate where and when it is safest to swim. The lifeguard team was founded in 1995 and trained by local charity Piña Palmera and U.S. citizen Joaquin Venado. In 1996, drownings at this beach were cut in half. The lifeguard service currently has ten lifeguards, an ATV, a jet ski, radios and other equipment provided by the state government. From 2007 to 2009, there have been no drowning deaths at Zipolite, a record, but there have been 180 registered rescues.