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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
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
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
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
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
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