Las Gatas beach was our first early morning stop in Zihuatanejo
after catching a 15-minute ride in a small skiff from the wharf.
Unpretentious and filled with local color, it’s where the natives
go for fresh fish served under cool thatched restaurants facing the
“Where’s Tim Robbins?” someone quipped as we alighted from the
boat. Robbins, some years ago, filmed the final scene of the “The
Shawshank Redemption” on this beach.
Las Gatas is best known for snorkeling, so we forgot about Robbins
and paddled out a couple hundred yards to catch glimpses of puffer
fish, seahorses, tiny octopuses and the occasional ship’s anchor.
The harmless nurse sharks for which Las Gatas was named (because of
their cat-like whiskers) were too far on the bottom to see.
Our equipment was rented from Oliverio’s, an eatery owned by a
local diver who has become a legend in his own right for the diving
school he founded. We also hired a guide, bringing the cost for the
whole package to about $10 per person.
The shore curves for half a mile, providing calm, sheltered waters
for swimming. I walked the length to the palapa-domed rooms at Las
Gatas Beach Club, the only lodge along the strip. The beach hadn’t
changed much in the 15 years since I had first seen it. It still
had the same friendly vendors and simple structures.
This, as I see it, is the appeal of Zihuatanejo, which along with
Ixtapa, is being marketed as one destination. Growth has been slow,
which means uncrowded beaches and a small but exclusive ambience.
Only two hotels have been added in the last five years, keeping the
room inventory below 3,000.
“We don’t want to grow too much. We want to keep the flavor of the
destination,” said As Jose Luis Arriaga, executive director of the
local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
And that it has. Ixtapa is still the modern resort with high-rise
hotels and golf courses created by the government in the 1970s,
while Zihuatanejo is a fishing village with small inns, boutique
properties and a colonial past.
And even though the destination lacks the building booms of other
government-planned resorts like Cancun and Los Cabos, hotel
amenities have kept up with the times. For instance, one of the
Presidente InterContinental’s main facilities is its Tequila Club
with Mexico’s best brands, and at Villa del Sol, there’s wireless
Internet access on the beach, and plans for an elaborate spa.
After our time at Las Gatas beach, we headed to the Paseo Pescador
(Fisherman’s Street) in Zihuatanejo to explore. An easy stroll, it
skirted the beach about two blocks and was girded by quaint beach
bars, cafes, restaurants, a mask shop and a museum of archaeology.
Fishermen sold the day’s catch from their small boats or spread out
under an open-air palapa. A few blocks away, old-fashioned markets
were selling traditional handicrafts like hand-carved vanity boxes
made from Olinala wood and hand-drawn bark paintings.
Later that evening, we were back in Ixtapa to take in the new
Fiesta Mexicana show at the Melia Azul hotel, featuring a hearty
buffet of regional dishes, folkloric dances and live music preceded
by a walk though a cultural park with exhibits on the history of
Back in Zihuatanejo, we decided to explore some additional hotels
and beaches. La Casa Que Canta, a terracotta hotel filled with
attractive Mexican folk art, tumbles down a hill to the sea and has
become a sanctuary for those seeking privacy and spectacular views.
Also ranking at the top is the Villa del Sol, a prime luxury hotel
on the beach and a haven for weddings and honeymooners. Lunching
there, I dug into a salad of spring greens, crusted goat cheese,
walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Afterward I relaxed
on the wide, sandy beach watching the colorful wind-surfers glide
In addition to wind-surfing and snorkeling, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo
offers exceptional sport-fishing, swimming with dolphins and scuba
One evening, we stopped by the Radisson to watch the annual turtle
project sponsored by Unidos, a Mexican nonprofit that flew in
disabled youngsters to help release baby turtles into the sea. The
turtles had been incubated for a period of three months at the
An old hacienda awaited us for dinner. It was built in 1865 by a
family with large land holdings and later confiscated after the
1910 Revolution. The building was restored and resurrected as the
restaurant Coconuts in the 1970s.
Pacifica was our choice for another evening repast, a perfect spot
for clients looking for a romantic interlude. Located on a bluff,
the restaurant is illuminated by candles flickering in the dusk. I
looked down on the twinkling lights of the beach hotels below, and
was glad the place hadn’t changed much in 15 years.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hotel Villa Del Sol
Presidente Ixtapa Resort
La Casa Que Canta
Las Gatas Beach Club
Melia Azul Ixtapa