Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo: Beyond the Beach

There’s plenty to see and do in Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, Mexico By: Judith Fein
Bogart’s restaurant in the Krystal Hotel is a great spot for drinks. // © 2012 Paul Ross
Bogart’s restaurant in the Krystal Hotel is a great spot for drinks. // © 2012 Paul Ross

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The Details

El Refugio de Potosi Ixtapa Dolphinarium
www.delfiniti.com

El Refugio de Potosi
www.elrefugiodepotosi.org

Mexico Tourism Board
www.visitmexico.com

Picante
www.picantecruises.com

Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are usually destinations for lovers of sun, surf and sand, but there are many activities beyond the beaches that would appeal to a much broader clientele who are looking for novel and authentic experiences.

In Zihua, it’s worth getting up at 7:30 a.m. and heading for the seafront, where fishermen display their daily catches and sell them to locals. Tell your clients to bring their cameras. After seeing the fish, it’s time to go fishing on a private boat, where the owner supplies bait, rods, drinks and lessons. Hotels can make the arrangements, and it’s about $110 for three and a half hours or $250 for a whole day. In the evening, visitors love to take a sunset cruise on a 75-foot catamaran that goes from the bay of Zihua to the hotel zone of Ixtapa. They sip their favorite cocktails and party with the crew. Arrangements can be made through cruise operator Picante in Zihua.

In the center of Zihua, the best shop for hand-made Mexican masks is El Jumil. The markets around El Jumil sell pottery, clothes and souvenirs. If guests want to try a local eatery for dinner, I recommend Vivan las Pizzas, which serves Mexican-style pizzas with toppings such as jalapenos and refried beans. The decor is less than impressive with plastic tables and red tablecloths, but the view over Zihua at night is spectacular. After dinner, local bars serve a specialty called chamochela. It’s a beer laced with chili powder and lime and served with a tamarind lollypop.

Another great option is family restaurant El Mango on Nicolas Bravo street, where the locals go to eat. Jueves de pozole is a traditional dish that is usually consumed on Thursday but, here, it’s served every day. Antojitos Mexicanos is the name for local fast food, and it ranges from pozole to tacos dorados (fried), to enchiladas and chalupas. Even the taco chips are homemade.

In Ixtapa, instead of lying on the sand, guests can walk or run from one end of the beach in Ixtapa to the other. On one side of them are sun bathers, and on the other side are gently rolling and crashing waves, diving birds and the famous Elephant and Tower rock formations. The best time to walk is at sunset, when the sky is ablaze with color.

During the day, it’s fun to hop on a local bus to the Marina Ixtapa, where restaurants ranging from casual pizzerias to nautically-themed eateries line the waterfront. Beccofino’s is a popular Italian restaurant that features seafood. Alternately, the hotels can arrange transport and the rental of snorkeling gear or a kayak on nearby Ixtapa Island. The ocean is full of spider starfish, sea urchins and blowfish. Then it’s time to relax on Ixtapa Island with a cerveza at an outdoor restaurant on the beach. Organized tours that include lunch cost $35. Custom tours can also be arranged. Another possibility is a visit to the Ixtapa Dolphinarium. It’s $82 for 20 minutes in the water with dolphins or $124 for a 45-minute experience.

A gourmet lunch option in Ixtapa is the Coco La Palm restaurant at Dorado Pacifico Beach Resort. It’s essential to choose a seat overlooking the ocean and the Tower and Elephant rock formations. Expect specialties such as mahi mahi with nopal (cactus), spicy chicken tamales, quesadillas with guacamole and a berry and cream tart for dessert.

At night, visitors who are fans of the film “Casablanca” or who want a touch of romance, can go for a drink at Bogart’s in the Krystal Hotel, on the main street in Ixtapa. The elegant restaurant features white Moorish architecture and a piano player who serenades guests with “As Time Goes By.”

For excursions outside of town, hotels can arrange transport to El Refugio de Potosi, an interactive wildlife conservation center and ecological park, which is recommended for families. Nearby is a small fishing village, La Barra de Potosi, which sits beside a large lagoon. The outdoor restaurant serves excellent sailfish with guajillo pepper, garlic and butter for approximately $9. It’s possible to board a traditional boat to admire the variety of bird species.

Another excursion option (by rental car or hotel arrangement) is a trip to the Church of Padre Jesus in Petatlan and the village of Juluchuca, which is known as “candy town.” The latter is famous for its dulces de coco — candies made from coconut that are made on site and exported all over Mexico. And visitors come from all over Mexico for the former — a neo-classical-styled sanctuary with its statue of Jesus that was purportedly found at a riverbed in the mid-1500s. They climb the stairs to the left of the altar and visit the small chapel area behind the statue. Miracles are said to happen there, but, if no miracles are needed, children are purportedly blessed for their future.

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