Meet Me in Zihuatanejo

The Pacific resort towns of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa

By: Patricia Alisau

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 ocean.

“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 Mexico.

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 by.

In addition to wind-surfing and snorkeling, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo offers exceptional sport-fishing, swimming with dolphins and scuba diving opportunities.
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 hotel.

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