Zihua Getaway

Escape the cruise crowds in Zihuatanejo

By: Maribeth Mellin

I was on deck at dawn as the Carnival Spirit sailed into Zihuatanejo during a Mexican Riviera cruise. It was the most exciting port on our itinerary. The name itself set my mind to wandering. See-wah-ta-NAY-ho. Sounds like a bonfire chant from summer camp. Remember Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”? Can you hear Freeman whispering the name? Zihuatanejo a place of escape.

I’ve long had a fondness for this sprawling Mexican city by the sea. It’s basically an overgrown fishing village, albeit with more than 80,000 residents. Thus far franchises have stayed away; shops and restaurants are as unique and independent as their owners. Fishermen pull their pangas (small boats) onto the downtown beach beside the Paseo del Pescador, the main waterfront walkway. Kids play basketball on the waterfront court that serves as Zihua’s plaza principal. Travelers and transplants slothfully sip cervezas while sifting sand through their toes at beaches all along Zihuatanejo Bay.
I rushed for the first available tender as our ship anchored in the bay. As my fellow passengers boarded tour buses in the parking lot beside the paseo, I walked inland toward the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market). I was on a mission, you see. My shopping list included sea salt, coffee, coconut masks and huaraches (woven leather sandals), and I wanted some time on the beach. Within minutes, I’d lost the crowds of daytrippers and was immersed in animated bargaining. Help your clients experience the real Zihuatanejo by suggesting the following activities. They’re sure to develop a fondness for this friendly, laid-back community.

Shop Till You Drop
Artisans from villages throughout the region bring their creations to shops and markets where prices are reasonable and treasures abound.

The best souvenir at the sprawling enclosed Mercado Municipal is the local, flavorful sea salt sold at several stands. Photographers take note you can get some gorgeous shots of chilies, mangos and flowers here.

Mercado de Artesania Artisans’ stands line Calle Cinco de Mayo on the western edge of downtown just a block from the waterfront.

Look for hand-painted ceramic platters and bowls, leather sandals, seashells, silver jewelry and hammocks.
At Casa Marina clients will find a collection of shops on Paseo del Pescador with walls covered with coconut-shell masks of devils, mermaids and chubby-cheeked doll faces sprouting wings and spiky hair. Other finds include Oaxacan rugs and pottery and embroidered dresses.

The pedestrian-only street of Calle Cuauhtemoc is lined with cafes and shops. Clients should check out Alberto’s for gorgeous handcrafted silver jewelry and Cafe Zihuatanejo for robust organic coffee.

Sample Local Cuisine
Zihua’s waterfront cafes are perfect for watching the local lifestyle while sipping a michelada beer and lime juice served in a salt-rimmed glass or fresh limonada (lemonade). Small family-run spots serve grilled fish, tacos and pozole, a savory hominy stew. Guide your clients toward these old favorites for a classic Zihua experience.

Casa Elvira offers simple Mexican fare that’s always good. I first learned about micheladas while chatting with a family from Mexico City who seemed intent on spending an entire sunny afternoon at this cafe on the paseo.

Coconuts, downtown Zihua’s enduring “fancy” restaurant (shoes and shirt required), is located in a restored 19th-century coconut weighing station. Patrons go for the crunchy coconut shrimp or huachinango (red snapper) with oil and garlic. Coco Cabana, an excellent folk-art shop, happens to be located at the entrance.

At La Sirena Gorda amusing paintings of fat, happy mermaids clarify any confusion about the name of this small restaurant near the cruise pier. It’s a good place for a final cerveza and seafood taco before heading back to the ship.

Located near the municipal market, the bright, clean cafe Tamales y Atole Any serves tamales (with meat or fruit fillings wrapped in plantain leaves or corn husks) and sweet, hot atole made with ground cornmeal and milk. Tacos and enchiladas are available for less adventuresome eaters.

Hang Out at the Beach
Have your clients don bathing suits and pack a bag with beach towels, sunscreen and water. All the toys and treats they might need are available on Zihua’s best beaches.

A five-minute taxi ride from downtown, Playa la Ropa is often filled with guests from hotels that venture down the cliffs behind the soft sand. There are plenty of watersports rentals, open-air restaurants and hammocks for languid siestas. Outsiders can use the pools and facilities at some hotels for a fee.

Small skiffs depart from the downtown pier every 10 minutes or so for the secluded beach of Playa las Gatas, located 15 minutes across the bay. Lounge chairs are available at casual seafood cafes and rental stands offer snorkeling gear. The water is usually clear and calm, with colorful fish swarming about rocky coves.

Local children splash in the waters off Playa Principal along Paseo del Pescador. Swimming isn’t a great idea here (the water isn’t always clean), but it’s a great place to check out the fishermen’s daily catch, browse through small stands displaying seashell trinkets and lounge on the sand. Dining and shopping options are plentiful, and the cruise ship tenders are just a few steps away.


Casa Elvira
Paseo del Pescador 32

Pasaje Augustín Ramirez 1

Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Convention and Visitors Bureau
Paseo de las Gaviotas 12

La Sirena Gorda
Paseo del Pescador 90

Mercado Municipal
Avenida Benito Juarez at Avenida Gonzalez

Tamales y Atole Any
Calle Ejido 38, Zihuatanejo