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Solo in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo
Tradition and Tranquility With a Splash of Modernity

Text & Photos By Jessica Smith

Having traveled solo throughout Mexico for 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 hospitality. In Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, I found the true heart of Mexico alongside the sizzle of a modern resort.

Zihuatanejo Bay Mexico

Old Style Tradition and Tranquility

About 240 kilometers northwest of Acapulco, on Mexico's Costa Grande, Zihuatanejo (called Zihua by the locals) still oozes a sleepy fishing village lifestyle that has a way of instilling serenity, and visitors soon slow down to its tranquil pace. The hill-lined bay of Zihuatanejo is dotted with boutique hotels that range from classic and quaint to splurge worthy.

The Villas Miramar is a family-owned, Mexican designed piece of paradise located right along La Playa Madera within walking distance to downtown. Its 18 suites, well-appointed with hand-carved furniture, start at US$75/night. Proprietor Irma Casas is an incredible hostess. Taking me under her wing, she shared tips for secret beach spots and stories about her family. One evening she joined me for a beachfront dinner after which, by the light of a full moon, we witnessed a female sea turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs – a truly unforgettable vacation memory.

Eateries in Zihuatanejo range from touristy to traditional. Wherever I Fried plantains and ice cream for desert at La Cas Vieja, Zihuatanejo Mexicotravel, I try to eat like a local, and I was pleasantly surprised by a downtown favorite – La Casa Vieja – and its menu full of traditional Mexican dishes. This open air restaurant was packed with locals who come on Thursdays for traditional Pozole and on Sundays for family brunch. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to share in conversation and community. The fish was fresh, cooked to perfection, and beautifully presented. Traditional fried plantains, frozen key lime pie, or flour-less Mexican chocolate cake were delicious options for desert along with a spectacular cup of coffee, steeped with cinnamon for a surprising kick.

Below the hills, edging the azure ocean, Zihua Bay boasts four alluring beaches, Fisherman gather at La Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo Mexicoeach with its own distinctive personality. La Playa Principal, right in the heart of Zihuatanejo, is where fishermen gather early each morning. Coffee cups in hand, their boats lined up along the sandy shore, they trade gossip before departing in darkness. On their way out to sea, they pass the submerged statue of Jesus Cristo who gives them blessings in their endeavors.

La Paya Madera is further along the bay, about a 5-minute walk from town. About 25 minutes from town. the long, sandy La Ropa beach is ideal for a walk and impromptu frisbee games.

At the secluded southern end of the bay, Playa Las Gatas, with placid waters, sensational snorkeling, and nurse shark inhabitants, is accessible only by water taxi from the town's main pier. It's a fabulous place to spend a day – no need to carry lunch as restaurants and palapas with hand-thatched roofs dot the beach. All together, the beaches of Zihua Bay create an enchanting setting for evening sunsets.

Modern and Trendy Resort Style

If your idea of a great beach vacation is a little more “all-inclusive,” head north to the resort zones of Ixtapa where a range of hotels and resorts cater to families and singles alike.

Resorts at Ixtapa Mexico

I lucked out at the brand new 323-suite Azul Ixtapa Grand, which had only just opened when I was there. It wasn't fully booked, and some of the gym and spa facilities weren't quite ready, and, consequently, some good promotion rates were available. Normally, with all-inclusive rates starting at $195/night, this adults-only (14 and over), all-suite spa resort would be outside my budget range. My king suite had a soaking tub with an unobstructed view to the west, so I could enjoy the sunsets from my own personal oasis. As if that weren't decadent enough, there was an infinity pool that looked as if bathers might float directly into the Pacific. Luxurious amenities, unbelievable views, and delicious dining options certainly were treats for the senses, but it was the exceptionally attentive staff that truly made my holiday. Calling me by name, making dinner reservations for a single in their a la carte restaurants, even joining me for coffee in the mornings to share in genuine conversations, they made me so comfortable, like the hotel really was a home away from home.

Out and About

While my hotel provided every vacation pleasure I could have wanted, it was also fun to go exploring. I liked to start the day with a heart-pumping ride on the Ciclopista bicycle path from one end of Ixtapa to the other – bike loan was part of the all-inclusive package. 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 weaves in and out of jungle areas while keeping a comfortable distance from the main road.

I could check out downtown Ixtapa by catching the bus just outside the hotel's front door. I found the public transportation to be safe, reliable and inexpensive (only about $1 per trip). With routes clearly marked on the front of the small buses, I rode assured as to which direction I was heading. In Ixtapa, the two most useful buses were those that went either to La Playa Linda at the north end of the Ixtapa Hotel Zone or to downtown The Marina at IxtapaZihuatanejo. Although some of the vehicles were newer and cleaner than others, passengers were friendly and always willing to lend advice on stops or other destinations around the area.

After a short four-mile bus ride to the heart of Ixtapa, I was ready for an evening out on the town starting at the Marina. Restaurants lining the boardwalk filled with people at sunset. I'd stroll down the boat-lined promenade and find a spot that tickled my fancy. The harbor was a perfect place to enjoy a cocktail and do some people watching; the warm demeanor of the locals and tourists alike let me enjoy an evening on my own without ever feeling lonely.

Idyllic Ixtapa Island

One day, I walked along the shore to La Playa Linda, a long stretch of public beach at the north end of Ixtapa. Although La Playa Linda is within walking distance of the Azul Ixtapa Grande, it is faster and easier to go by bus. At the entrance, I found a conservation park where I marveled at crocodiles from a safe distance. Snowy Egrets watched from high trees, and vendors beckoned me into their humble shops. Along the pier, fishermen cast their nets into the water below, and children filled bait buckets with minnows.

El Muelle, the municipal pier, is the place to begin an afternoon excursion to La Isla Ixtapa. It's about two miles from the mainland, and a round-trip water taxi ticket cost me $40 pesos (about $4). Ixtapa Island has four beautiful beaches each with its own style. I headed straight to La Playa Coral which, locals had told me, has some of the best snorkeling around. No boats Taking it easy at Coral Beach, Ixtapa Island Mexicoor fishing are allowed in the crescent moon bay, creating a haven for its coral reef inhabitants.

On the east corner of the playa, I found the Princess Rebeca, a humble restaurant known for having the best ceviche (marinated raw fish, the Mexican equivalent of sushi). A serving of ceviche, a frosty Corona, a shady spot under an umbrella, an unforgettable view – no wonder I felt like a model in a Corona commercial. Tummy satisfied, I rested awhile, lulled by the rhythm of waves rolling upon the shore, undisturbed except by the occasional fish jumping at the water's edge.

Snorkeling and Other Adventures

When lunch had settled, I let my waiter know I was ready to snorkel, and he promptly brought appropriately-sized equipment and a guide who led me into the crystal clear water. Immediately off the shore, within the small bay, the water teemed with brilliant blue and purple fish darting in and out of their coral homes. Venturing further out towards the horizon, my guide dove 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 let me hold the living creatures while explaining their biology. Then, he carefully returned them to their exact locations along the sandy bottom. For $15 including tip, I had a personalized snorkeling excursion that lasted well over an hour. With add-ons for ceviche, beers, and snacks, I figure I spent under $35 for the entire afternoon outing.

Back on the mainland, tourists have a plethora of other activities to choose from, Archeological zone, Temple at Xihuacan Mexico including world class surfing and golfing, deep sea fishing and diving, visits to nature preserves, award winning spas, and Xihuacan, a new archeological zone recently opened to visitors. Booking a day trip is easy with the help of Amstar, an international company that specializes in arranging tours with local resources and guides. Whether it's swimming with dolphins, sport fishing, or taking a day trip to Morelia for the artisan silver its inhabitants produce, you'd need more than a week or two to do everything available in and around Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.

In Zihuatanejo I found the tranquil old style Mexico I was longing for. In Ixtapa I found the fun and resort activities of modern Mexico. In retrospect, I enjoyed each place for its own sake, and both are on my must-return list.

>> JS

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