A Traveler's Guide to San Jose Del Pacifico, Oaxaca
There are plenty of magical corners of Mexico, but perhaps none is more extraordinary than the tiny town of San Jose Del Pacifico tucked away in the mountains of Oaxaca. With an elevation of 2,500 metres above sea level, San Jose Del Pacifico offers amazing views, breathtaking nature and delicious food only a short walk away from all the local accommodations.
While many people know of these tempting features, the destination is most famous for its abundance and acceptance of magic mushrooms.
Though psychedelic mushrooms are illegal in most other places in the world, San Jose Del Pacifico doesn’t have such rules. In fact, they don’t have much of a police presence at all, which attracts many eager tourists hoping to embark on a peaceful trip in the mountains.
At the beginning of February 2022, my boyfriend, dog and I all rented a car and drove to San Jose Del Pacifico to experience its unique energy for ourselves. Here you’ll find all the information you need from our time in San Jose Del Pacifico, Oaxaca to best prepare for your own journey to the trippy mountain town.
Even though we drove to San Jose Del Pacifico from Mexico City, we were the outliers. Nine out of ten people who venture out to the travel destination will get there using public transportation because it's easy and cheap. However, we had our little dog named Bear with us and they don’t allow animals on public transportation in Mexico (rules may differ for registered service dogs).
So, if you’re not bringing a dog, cat or bird along with you to San Jose Del Pacifico, it's heavily recommended to use Mexico’s public transportation system. Renting a car is an expensive headache in Mexico that almost always requires a huge hold on a credit card no matter how much insurance you buy.
Though, it seems like many people tend to get sick on the windy roads up the mountain from the driver’s speedy style. So, it’s best to have some nausea medication on hand just in case.
If you’re travelling to San Jose Del Pacifico from Mexico City by public transport:
If you’re using public transportation to reach San Jose Del Pacifico starting from Mexico City, you can take the long (but cheap) journey on the bus. Arrive at Mexico City TAPO. You’ll need to take the bus that goes to Santa Maria Huatulco, which departs just once daily at 17:45 (5:35 PM). The bus ride will take a whopping 15 hours and 30 minutes and cost between $1,000 and $1,600 pesos (USD48.43 to USD77.48). It’s a super long drive, but it basically takes you all the way. Upon arrival in Santa Maria Huatulco, you can catch a taxi to San Jose Del Pacifico about 1.5 hours away. It’ll cost around $800 to $1,000 (USD38.76 to USD48.43). If this journey sounds too torturous for you, grab a quick flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca. It’s around $1,400 pesos or USD67.83 for a nonstop flight from CDMX to Oaxaca and it’ll make your life a lot easier to start the trip from there.
If you’re travelling to San Jose Del Pacifico from Oaxaca City by public transport:
Getting to San Jose Del Pacifico from Oaxaca City is a piece of cake. If you happen to have a car rental already, it’ll only take about 2 hours to drive up the mountain from the city and it's a gorgeous trip. Even if you don’t have a car, the average taxi from Oaxaca City to San Jose Del Pacifico costs around $1,500 to $1,900 (USD72.65 to USD92.02). Alternatively, if you’re by yourself or looking to save a buck, you can take the ever-popular shuttle. First, you take the shuttle from Oaxaca to Miahuatlán, which runs once daily and takes 2 hours. From Miahuatlán, you can grab a taxi to San Jose Del Pacifico for around $400 to $500 pesos (USD19.37 to USD24.21).
Renting a car:
So, if you’re like us and have a dog to bring with you, or just want to enjoy a wild road trip through the middle of Mexico, renting a car is always an option. We decided to rent a car in Mexico City where we’re currently living and drive all the way to San Jose Del Pacifico. We knew it would be an expensive endeavor, but renting a car in Mexico is even more deceivingly annoying than we thought it would be.
We ended up renting with the car company ‘Sixt’. It was a medium experience overall. We paid around $550 for a low-tier car from February 3rd to February 7th. This included adding a second driver, which cost $88. Even though we bought the most expensive insurance possible, Sixt still put a hold on my credit card of $600. So, its probably not a company we'd run to again.
Though we heard horror stories of the company charging you out the wazoo for a scratch, everything was fine when we returned the car and the hold was released on my card. So, it worked out, but it definitely was expensive.
The actual drive:
Then, of course, there’s the factor of the drive itself. From Mexico City to San Jose Del Pacifico, you’ll pay 8 tolls in total that will all require cash. In total, the tolls cost $554 pesos (USD26.87) each way so make sure you have cash on hand. San Jose Del Pacifico DOESN'T have any ATMs in town or anywhere near it, so you'll need enough cash to get through your trip anyway (however, some places do accept cards if you're in a bind).
The drive itself is absolutely gorgeous. It takes around 9 hours with no stops to get from CDMX to San Jose. For us, the reality was more like 12 hours because we made many stops for food and bathroom breaks.
The journey takes you through a variety of different terrains from cactus-covered mountains and lush forests to pot-hole-filled city streets. However, it's not a drive for the faint of heart. Drivers in Mexico go fast and the rules of the road are a lot laxer. We had to get the hang of how passing other cars works and figure out how to share the road with a bunch of huge semi-trucks that were often a little close for comfort.
Plus, for the entire last 3 hours of the drive, you’re going up the very, very high and twisty roads that bring you to San Jose Del Pacifico.
The conclusion? The road trip was super fun, but I’m glad my boyfriend did all the driving.
We finally arrived in San Jose Del Pacifico at around midnight, but even in the dark, we could feel the town’s lively energy. I imagine that impression is even more intense when arriving in the daylight.
Even though San Jose Del Pacifico is the definition of a teeny town, it has more energy flowing through it than in some big cities. The area has gained popularity in recent years and has a noticeable tourist population, but it's not all-consuming. The town is grounded in its cultural roots, however, it still has everything you could possibly want on a small stretch of mountain road.
Bakeries, countless restaurants, a butcher shop, pharmacies, even two different smoke shops.
One of the things I quickly realized about San Jose Del Pacifico is that there is a lot to see even though it's a seemingly small place. At the end of our trip, I started getting disappointed that we couldn’t see and do it all. So, I recommended booking a day or two longer than you think you’ll need to see everything.
When you think “this is the shroom capital of Mexico”, the place that likely pops into your head looks exactly like San Jose Del Pacifico; cosy, happy, colorful, bubbly.
Scattered around the streets you’ll find vendors selling honey and little knit mushrooms in every color of the rainbow. Zooming down the narrow road running like a vein through the town, you’ll see the bright red moto-taxis that spend all day taking people up and down the inclines for $20 pesos per person (USD00.97). Everyone is smiling, eating, or looking up at the clouds with a distinct look of awe.
Outside the main town, you can continue up or down the road where there will be funky hostels and construction workers building new cabins for future visitors.
Along the roads throughout the area, you’ll find carved out paths leading through the mountain’s greenery to what I can only call adult playgrounds. Some of them had hammocks and treehouses, others had wooden gazebos with benches and swings. Hidden little respites in the woods to appreciate the view or have some privacy during a trip.
If there is one thing to be said about the overall vibe of San Jose Del Pacifico, it's the overwhelming comfort and peace that comes along with spending time here.
The Local Activities
Before getting to San Jose Del Pacifico, I assumed it would be a lazy mountain town without much to do besides its crowning glory of magic mushrooms. Oh man, I was wrong. Every day we spent in the town was packed with activities and I still didn’t get to do half the things I wanted to.
Yes, there are mushrooms. They’re great and easy to find. There isn’t that hush-hush attitude about shrooms in San Jose Del Pacifico like there is in most other places of the world. There are signs in random corners of the town with hand-drawn pictures of mushrooms and WhatsApp numbers to call.
While I won’t give away exactly where we ended up finding our mushrooms (only because I didn’t get a chance to ask the woman whose store it was if she wanted to be included), I will say that we actually asked our accommodations host where to get them. He gave us two different options and the first place we went was a glorious success. So, if you’re having trouble finding them, ask around. Your hostel or waiter at dinner might be able to point you in the right direction.
Additionally, I heard a rumor that some of the restaurants sell mushroom tea. So, it's possible to even find it on a menu.
In terms of places to trip, San Jose Del Pacifico is one of a kind. There’s plenty of incredible nature to see, but it's also nice that shrooms are so accepted in the town. It makes it much easier to feel comfortable walking down the street tripping when you know everyone just wants you to have a good time. Plus, those hidden pathways are also helpful if you do get overwhelmed.
If you’re not interested in trying the local shrooms, there is still plenty to do around San Jose Del Pacifico. The adorable town is filled to the brim with great restaurants. Mexico in general has great food, but every single dish in San Jose Del Pacifico we had was amazing. More on that later.
There are quite a few walkable viewpoints and lots of hiking trails around the town. There are a bunch of shops with souvenirs and handicrafts to explore. Plus, you can find loads of Tezmacal ceremonies happening nearby for reasonable prices.
Even if you’re doing absolutely nothing, San Jose Del Pacifico is the perfect place for that too.
We knew the food around Oaxaca was supposed to be good, but we weren’t expecting just how good it could be. There are a variety of restaurants throughout San Jose Del Pacifico and the surrounding areas. These places serve a lot of local Mexican fare, but they also have some international options like sushi, Thai and pizza. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of coffee here too.
These were a few of our favorite places to eat and drink in San Jose Del Pacifico:
For Breakfast: La Morenita
Our favorite spot for breakfast/brunch in San Jose Del Pacifico was La Morenita. It was apparently a lot of other people’s favorite breakfast place too because it was always packed with customers. They strictly have Mexican cuisines like chilaquiles, tacos, quesadillas and tlayudas.
My top-choice menu item from La Morenita is huevos al gusto, a la Mexicana. For $45 pesos (USD2.18), you get a plate of scrambled eggs cooked with tomatoes, onions and jalapenos, a side of refried beans and a salad. Also, don't forget to try out their house salsa verde with your meal.
How to find La Morenita: This one will be very easy to find. It's located right in the center of town. Their menu is posted on the outside of their building so you can look it over before grabbing a table inside.
For Lunch: La Casa del Alebrije
It’s difficult to pick a #1 favorite restaurant in San Jose Del Pacifico when there are so many incredible options. But, if I had to choose just one place to eat at again, it would definitely be La Casa del Alebrije. This restaurant/bar was actually located right next to our Airbnb, so we decided to try them out for dinner one night on a whim. When we got there, we were greeted by the owners Rodolfo and Silvia who immediately made us feel right at home.
After we ordered a hamburger and torta, Rodolfo showed us around the place while Silvia got started making our food (which included fries she made from scratch). He brought us through to the back room, a space that they’re transforming into a spot for drinking and dancing the night away.
Through the back door, there are spaces to have some food and mezcal on the balcony while taking in the stunning mountain view. The place is homey and welcoming. I also had the chance to meet their adorable little black kitten who inspired the restaurant's logo.
While the space is beautiful, the main reason I’m so obsessed with this place is their incredible food. I got a cecina torta, and after trying it one night, I came back the next two days in a row and got it again. I’ve had tortas a few times since living in Mexico and have never loved them, but La Casa del Alebrije changed my mind about them for good!
If you’re looking for authentic food, top-quality mezcal and super friendly hosts, definitely check out La Casa del Alebrije while you’re in San Jose Del Pacifico.
How to find La Casa del Alebrije: La Casa del Alebrije is actually located a little outside of the main town. If you keep driving past the town up the mountain, it’s about one minute up the road on your right-hand side. It’s a wooden building with a white sign out front displaying their menu. Also, you can just look for the sign with their signature black cat.
For Dinner: Pizza Alma Zen.
I know, I know. Pizza probably isn’t your first thought when you think, “what am I going to eat in Mexico today?”. As a New Yorker, sometimes I just get that craving for pizza that can’t be stifled. And I’ve had trouble finding a pizza in this beautiful country that meets my high standards.
However, Pizza Alma Zen definitely met them.
I didn’t think I’d find my favorite pizza in the whole country in a tiny town at the top of a mountain, but that’s how it went. Pizza Alma Zen has a clay oven, large pizza sizes, good prices and a spectacular view. We opted for the Mexicana pizza that came with onions, jalapenos and chorizo. Needless to say, we gobbled down every slice as if our life depended on it.
Pizza Alma Zen also had a bunch of other flavors from margarita to vegetarian. The restaurant can get very busy though, especially on the weekends. On a Friday night, we tried to order a pizza pie and they told us that they’d already run out by 8:00. That alone should show you how tasty their pizza is.
How to find Pizza Alma Zen: Once you're on the main strip of town, take the road going up the mountain on the right. If you pass a smoke shop and a pink ice cream shop, you're going the right way. Pretty soon, the road will come to a fork and you'll go left. You should pass a little store selling souvenir items on the left. Keep walking until you see the sign that says 'Pizza' and 'Thai' and then follow that road down. Pizza Alma Zen has a small sign with a stoned pizza dude on their door and blue walls.
For Dessert: Bistro Embey.
You’ll have to take a little bit of a trek up the mountain to reach this cafe, but it's totally worth the hike. We stumbled upon this vibrant spot on a walk and decided to stop in for a quick coffee. The woman working there let us know that they were having a deal that came with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake for $50 pesos (USD2.42). Since it was my birthday, we obliged and it was a good choice.
The marble cocoa cake at this place is absolutely INCREDIBLE. The woman working there told us it would be good, but it exceeded our expectations. Fluffy, a hint of sweetness and just overall delicious. 10 out of 10 recommend.
How to find Bistro Embey: All the instructions for getting to Bistro Embey are the same as the pizza place, except you keep walking up instead of taking the side road down. You'll need to keep walking straight up the road for around 7 to 10 minutes before reaching Bistro Embey. It'll be on your left-hand side in a building totally covered with trippy art.
For such a small town, there are a lot of places to stay in San Jose Del Pacifico and as you’ll see, they’re in the process of building a lot more. There are options for just about every budget from enormous private cabins going for a few hundred USD a night to social hostels where you can rent a bed for around $400 pesos per night (USD19.39).
We opted for somewhere in the middle and rented a cabin on Airbnb for around USD60 a night called Cabanas Camino Al Cielo. It was my birthday, so we decided to splurge a little bit. For this price, we got a one-room cabin with a bathroom, outdoor kitchen and fireplace. The room was comfortable and clean, but best of all, it had an intoxicating view.
Perhaps the best part of staying in San Jose Del Pacifico is getting the chance to experience the sunset from the top of the mountain. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Looks like it was plucked right from a postcard.
If you’re on the edge of deciding whether a trip to San Jose Del Pacifico is worth it, I’ll be the tie-breaker for you – it’s 100% worth it. Despite an expensive car rental and a lengthy drive, spending a few days in this special town was well worth the effort.