The Lonely Planet describes Puerto Arista as 'an ultra-sleepy fishing town where the most action you'll see is a piglet breaking into a trot because a dog has gathered the energy to bark at it'. The image conjured elicits a little smile, and for most of the year, is quite correct.
Situated on Chiapas coast, this is THE beach for the locals and, judging by the abundance of seafood restaurants lining the beach and hotels along the only street, this place can get busy. However, whilst we were there the empty streets, discounted hotel rooms and deserted restaurants were a little reminiscent of a ghost town.
By all accounts, this place comes alive during Semana Santa and at weekends, particularly in the July and August summer holidays. And whilst the beaches may not be as beautiful as those of neighbouring Oaxaca, a few days spent here during the busier summer months would give you a taste of a real Mexican holiday.
Unless desperate for some beach-time after weeks within in-land Chiapas, we would recommend steering clear of Puerto Arista outside of major vacation times. Although you will almost certainly have the beach to yourself, the lack of other travellers in a town with such a small population can be almost depressing, especially in a place that clearly relies so heavily on tourism.
Although we never took them up on their offers, we were told that the trips to see the crocodiles were worth a few pesos. Although hotels may be able to arrange this for you, just ask one of the many locals riding their quad-bikes along the beach who will gladly let you hop on the back for a custom-guided tour and viewing.
where to eat
There really is very little getting away from it, Puerto Arista is not cheap. The majority of the restaurants are beach front, and as such charge a premium for their food. For those on a strict budget, paying $130 pesos for a single main meal is certainly not a viable daily option. Thankfully, after scouring the streets (granted there are only a few, but it still seemed to take some time), we discovered a small square bordered by a number of comedors (little more than small kitchens inside large closets). Here, $35 pesos would buy you any one of about seven traditional Mexican dishes in large portions with terrific flavour. Even if we could have afforded the fancier places, we doubt it would have tasted better. To find the square, either ask a local or head two streets back from the beach...
where to stay
As touted by the guidebooks, Jose's Camping and Cabanas is the go-to budget travellers accommodation in Puerto. However, if you are going to be there in low season (i.e any time outside of July or August), prices drop significantly, so it is worth checking around a few others to see what deals can be had.
getting there and away
If using public transport, the gate-way to PA is Tonala, a small town situated approx. a 25 minute drive away. There are no scheduled buses to or from the beach, but collectivos and shared taxis travel up and down the high-way from Tonala every 30 minutes throughout the day. The main drop-off point in Puerto Arista is the lighthouse, and per person a lift here will cost $20 pesos (for a few more, you can dropped off at your hotel). From Tonala, the collectivos are located a 5 minute walk from the bus station, where the drivers are likely to find you before you notice them!
Tonala is on the main bus route along the coastal highway that connects Chiapas and Oaxaca, and there are both multiple first and second-class buses each day.
budget maker or breaker?
Both. If you stay here during low-season and are savvy about where you eat, a few days here needn't break the bank, however, we can imagine when the place is in full hoilday-swing and budget accommodation is a little thinner on the ground, the costs here could mount up quite considerably.