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When reading about Mexico in the media, it's usually the tourism hot spots like Cancun, Los Cabos and trendy newcomer Riviera Nayarit garnering most of the attention. The Pacific coast destination of Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo tends to get lost in the shuffle. This is a shame because it's one of the most appealing vacation destinations in Mexico, mostly because of its versatility.
Ixtapa is something of a man-made site of beachfront high-rise hotels. If you put a premium on modern comforts and service, then Ixtapa would be the choice for you. Zihuatenejo is a former fishing village with loads of charm and local color. In Zihuatenejo, visitors will find a funky, street level experience with plenty of restaurants and boutique hotels from which to choose. If authentic Mexico is more your style, then Zihua (locals shorten the name) is for you.
Whichever one you choose as your main base, only five miles separate Ixtapa from Zihuatenejo. Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo lies on the Pacific coast of Guerrero, about 150 miles northwest along the coast from Acapulco and a six-hour drive inland to Mexico City. Travelers have the option of nonstop flights from a number of cities in the U.S., including Dallas (American Airlines), Denver (Frontier Airlines), Houston (Continental Airlines), Los Angeles (Alaska Airlines), Minneapolis (Sun Country Airlines and Delta Air Lines) and Phoenix (US Airways).
There are hotels to fit every market, from high-rise beach resorts in Ixtapa to stylish boutique properties in Zihuatenejo.
This Pacific destination offers an array of active pursuits, including diving, swimming with dolphins, ziplining and hiking or biking along mountain trails. Dedicated duffers can tee off at the 18-hole Marina Ixtapa Golf Club, designed by Robert von Hagge and the 18-hole Palma Real Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Cultural travelers will want to seek out the Costa Grande Archeological Museum in Zihuatenejo, where they can learn about pre-Hispanic as well as the colonial era.
El Refugio de Potosi is an ecological park, whose highlight is its wildlife rescue center. Porcupines, coatimundi, sea turtles, crocodiles, various bird species, snakes, iguanas and more are featured.
Time the visit during March for plenty of extra bang for your buck. Annual March events include the International Guitar Festival (March 5-11), the Food and Wine Festival (March 22-24) and the Carnival Fest Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo (March 11-18).
On a personal note, one of my most memorable trips to Mexico was back in the 1980s on a two-week sojourn in Zihuatenejo. I ended up making friends with a 70-year old musician named Manolo, who is credited with bringing Cuban rhythms to Mexico. Days were spent on the beach and nights at the Blue Parrot, listening to Manolo's band. One special night, Manolo serenaded our group on the beach, under the stars, playing guitar and singing a famous ballad about Pancho Villa's horse. My time in Zihua was filled with moments like these, the type you can't book ahead - you have to catch them on the wing.
I returned to Zihuatenejo in 2010, and I found it to be still a welcoming and laidback town, although it was keeping pace with the changing times, and the quest for the tourism dollar was more evident than before.
As this story was being written, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging U.S. citizens to avoid all but essential travel to 14 states in northern and central Mexico, including the state of Guerrero, where Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo is located. Alejandro Poire, Mexico's top domestic security official in the country's Interior Department said in a news conference that the travel warning on almost half of Mexico's states is "ridiculous" and "out of proportion," and that "alerts such as these overstate or misstate the standards and security situation [in Mexico]."