An Article Written for http://www.CSTN.org
Having traveled solo throughout Mexico for well over a decade, I have a pure love for the country that has yet to be matched by any other. In recent years however, I have found it more and more difficult to track down destinations, especially along the coast, that still harbor the feeling of “old Mexico” through the cultural offerings, affordable pricing and good old fashioned (rather than cookie cutter) hospitality. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is just such a place. Seaside sister cities that embody the true heart of Mexico, cradling their visitors in an embrace of tradition, and tranquility spiced with a touch of modernity.
Only an hour north of Acapulco, on Mexico’s Costa Grande the still sleepy fishing village of Zihuatanejo (called Zihua by the locals) has a way of instilling you with a sense of serenity. The pace of life here is slower, relaxed, causing even the most hustle and bustle of visitors to slow down to the peaceful rate of the rhythmic ocean waves in the bay.
Getting there is a breeze as the small international airport located just outside the center of town has a number of direct flights from cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Denver through carriers such as United, Alaska, Frontier and Delta.
The hill-lined bay of Zihuatanejo is dotted with boutique hotels that range from classic and quaint to stunningly splurge worthy. The beautiful Villas Miramar, with traditional Mexican architecture and hand carved furniture, is located right along La Playa Madera making it walking distance to downtown. Family owned and operated, its 18 well-appointed suites with rates from $75/night make this beachfront piece of paradise easy on not only your eyes but also your bank account. Proprietress Irma Casas is an incredible hostess. Taking me under her wing, she shared tips for secret beach spots, stories about her family and even joined me for a beachfront dinner, where under a full moon we witnessed a female sea turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs.
Below the hills, along the azure blue water, Zihua Bay boasts four alluring beaches, each with their own distinctive personalities. La Playa Principal is located right in the heart of Zihuatanejo, laying the backdrop for local fishermen in early morning and consequently, the best location to gain the latest gossip. Fishermen gather each morning, coffee cups in hand, their boats lined up along the sandy shore before departing in darkness, passing the submerged statue of Jesus Cristo, blessing them in their endeavors.
Secluded Playa Las Gatas with placid waters, sensational snorkeling and nurse shark inhabitants, is accessible only by private boat or water taxi from the village’s main pier. A fabulous place to spend a day, restaurants dot the beach with Palapa Roofs (hand thatched with palm leaves) and offer great snacks along with cold drinks.
Eateries in Zihuatanejo range from touristy to traditional. Wherever I’m traveling, I try to eat like a local and was pleasantly surprised by a downtown favorite La Casa Vieja. With a menu full of traditional Mexican dishes, you’ll find this open air restaurant packed with groups of locals on Thursdays for traditional Pozole, or Sundays for brunch with the entire family. Warm and welcoming, it won’t be long before you are invited to share in conversation and community. Fish is fresh and local, cooked to perfection and beautifully presented. Finish your meal with something sweet along with a spectacular cup of coffee, steeped with cinnamon for a surprising kick. Traditional fried plantains, frozen key lime pie and flourless Mexican chocolate cake are all exceptional options.
If your idea of a great beach vacation is a little more “All-Inclusive”, head up the beach, north to the hotel zones of Ixtapa. Here you’ll find a range of hotels that cater to families and singles alike. Given the All-Inclusive pricing, singles need not pay more for a room, as rates are based on a per person basis. Whether you feel like being in the heart of it all, in a hotel along La Playa del Palmer or off the beaten path, there is an area of Ixtapa that is just for you.
Checking into the new 323 suite Azul Ixtapa Grand, (All-Inclusive from $195/night) the only thing that impressed me more than the resort’s incredible new amenities, modern styling, unbelievable view to the west and delicious dining options, was their incredibly attentive staff. Calling me by name, joining me for coffee in the mornings, and sharing in genuine conversations, all made me feel so welcome, as if the hotel really was a home away from home, all while creating a truly unforgettable experience.
In downtown Ixtapa, you’ll find a number of dining options, nightclubs and shops. The marina is a great place to begin your evening out on the town. Unique restaurants line the boardwalk and fill with people as the sun begins to set. Stroll down the boat lined promenade and find a spot that tickles your fancy. The harbor is a fabulous place to enjoy a cocktail and do some people watching, the warm demeanor of the locals and tourists alike will let you enjoy an evening on your own without ever feeling lonely.
If you’re ready to get your heart pumping, take the Ciclopista bicycle path from one end of Ixtapa to the other on a complimentary bike from your hotel. If running is more your speed, tie up your sneakers and pound some tree lined pavement. Beautifully maintained by the governmental agency Fonatur, the path is beautiful, weaving you in and out of jungle areas while keeping a comfortable distance from the main road.
Public transportation in both of the sister cities is safe, reliable and inexpensive (only about $1 per trip). With routes clearly marked on the front of the small buses, you ride comfortably, assured as to which direction you are heading. The only two buses you’ll really need head to La Playa Linda, at the north end of the Ixtapa Hotel Zone, and Downtown Zihuatanejo. Although some of the vehicles are newer and cleaner than others, passengers are friendly and always willing to lend advice on stops or other destinations around the area.
On the north end of Ixtapa is La Playa Linda, a long stretch of public beach that plays host to El Muelle to Ixtapa Island, or La Isla Ixtapa. Stepping off the bus you’ll pass through a conservation park where you can marvel at crocodiles from a safe distance. Snowy Egrets watch from high trees and vendors welcome you into their humble shops. Along the pier, fishermen cast their nets into the water below and children fill bait buckets with minnows.
The pier is where your afternoon excursion begins. Paying $40 pesos (about $4) for a roundtrip ticket to and from the island, into a simple water taxi that quickly ferries you and a hand full of other passengers to one of the islands beautiful beaches.
About 2 miles from the mainland, the island is home to four of the most beautiful and fun beaches in the area. Palapa roofed restaurants line the shore of three beaches offering ice-cold beer and cocktails along with Mexican food favorites including made fresh ceviche served beachside. Each Playa has its own distinctive personality, catering to the type of experience you are looking for. I headed straight to La Playa Coral, which locals had told me provided some of the best snorkeling around as no boats or fishing are allowed in the crescent moon bay, creating a haven for its coral reef inhabitants.
On the east corner of the Playa, you’ll find a humble restaurant called Princess Rebeca with red umbrellas and a clearly displayed menu of their offerings. In addition to the frosty Coronas that will run you only a buck apiece, owner/operator Karina Farías Salazar is known for making some of the best Ceviche around.
Choose a shady spot under an umbrella of your choice and enjoy friendly service, an unforgettable view, and the sensation that you may indeed be sitting in your own private Corona commercial. In the clear water at the beaches edge, you’ll see fish jumping and enjoy the tranquil rhythm of the soft waves as the roll upon the shore.
Once you’ve had a little time to relax from the short journey and are ready for your next adventure, simply let your waiter know that you would like to snorkel and they’ll quickly return with appropriately sized equipment and a guide who’s ready to take you into the waters and share the plethora of life with you. Immediately off the shore, in the midst of the crashing waves, the water is teeming with fish.
Within the small bay, coral houses a number of fish, darting in and out of their seafloor homes in brilliant colors of blue and purple. Venturing further out towards the horizon, your guide stops and dives deep bringing up Sea Stars, Urchins, Sea Cucumbers and Spider Stars. Crawling around on the boogie board he brought along for just such displays, he lets you hold them, explains their biology and then carefully returns them to their exact locations along the sandy bottom.
Back on the mainland visitors to the area have a plethora of adventures to choose from including a new archeological zone, Xihuacan, opening early this year, nature preserves, world class surfing, golf courses, deep sea fishing, diving locations and award winning spas. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is a piece of paradise found for the solo traveler and is sure to be a favorite of any who visit.
Along the golden pacific coastline of Mexico’s Guerrero State, lies a pristine new property, its 5 star amenities exuding an air of excellence that is only surpassed by the accommodating attitudes of their enthusiastic staff.
With sleek modern styling, jetted soaking tubs overlooking the ocean and complete sense of serenity, suites create the perfect atmosphere for couples looking to spend some intimate “we” time, in the resort’s adult only accommodations.
The hotel’s stunning infinity pool seems to slip directly into the waters of the pacific below. Sunsets silhouette Ixtapa Island, creating picture perfect evening memories.
The brand new Azul Ixtapa Grand, was constructed in 2012 by a privately owned group of investors based in Mexico City. Slated for a grand opening in February of 2013, the brand new property with 323-oceanfront rooms, five gourmet restaurants, three bars including a
lagoon style swim-up and an uninterrupted view to the west, is nothing short of
Mexico’s Playa de Palmar is the countries longest certified clean beach. The once tropical plantation of Coconuts and Cacao, now plays host to some of the areas most prestigious All-Inclusive resorts. Each doing their own part to maintain the esteemed certification, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, has been pioneering the arena of biodiversity and sustainable tourism for the last decade.
A process that must be continually looked after, the accreditation involves not only limiting access of gasoline powered vehicles such as Boats & ATV’s, submitting water samples to the Federal Agency of Health, sifting sand for solid debris, but also maintaining the riverbeds and wetlands surrounding the surf.
Passionate about wildlife conservation as well, Sea Turtles are viewed as a “National Treasure” stated Francisco Camacho, the Director of DSPT’s Productos Turísticos in the Mexican State of Guerrero. “With four species of the turtles returning to Playa de Palmar every year to lay their eggs, we cannot stress enough, the importance of this beach to the survival of their species’.”
As a result, the governmental agency has been dedicated to the conservation of these magnificent animals for more than 50 years, including a rescue and rehabilitation facility for turtles injured by boats or other environmental elements. Education is provided to each resort along the Playa in order to train staff in how to handle the incubation of eggs and safe release of hatchlings 45-50 days after they are tenderly deposited into safely located cradle of sand.
Onlookers are allowed but kept at a safe distance by these individuals, employed to ensure the safety of the mother while she is ashore, digging her nest in the soft sand. Guests and their children are encouraged to participate in the liberation of hatchlings back to the sea, waiting for dusk when the beach and crashing surf provides the safest environment for these tiny treasures.
Hotels such as the Sunscape Dorado Pacifico, and Presidente Intercontinental truly pride themselves on the effort they put forward for sustainability and Sea Turtle conservation. Pride that is tangibly evident through the excitement of staff when a turtle ventures onto their shores or as guests gather to help farewell hatchlings into the azure blue waters of the Pacific.