Top Things to do in Zihuatanejo
Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo, or Zihua as it’s affectionately called, is a Pacific paradise of beautiful beaches, friendly people and an easygoing lifestyle. Until the 1970s it was a sleepy fishing village, but with the construction of Ixtapa next door, Zihua’s tourism industry boomed practically overnight.
Zihuatanejo (Spanish pronunciation: [siwataˈnexo]), or Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, is the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Politically the city belongs to the municipality of Zihuatanejo de Azueta in the western part of Guerrero, but both are commonly referred to as Zihuatanejo. It is on the Pacific Coast, about 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Acapulco, and belongs to a section of the Mexican Pacific Coast known as the Costa Grande. This town has been developed as a tourist attraction along with the modern tourist resort of Ixtapa, 5 km (3.1 mi) away. However, Zihuatanejo has kept its traditional town feel. The town is located on a well-protected bay which is popular with private boat owners during the winter months.
There are two possible origins for the name Zihuatanejo. One origin might be from the Purépecha language meaning “water of the yellow mountain;” another possible origin might be from Nahuatl (Xihuacan) meaning “place of women.” Xihuacan, or “place of women,” refers to the western paradise of the Nahuatl universe, the home of the “goddess women.” According to tradition, these women arose in the afternoon to lead the sun at dusk to the realm of the dead, Mictlan, to give a dim light to the dead. “De Azueta” is in honor of José Azueta, who died fighting a U.S. incursion into the country in Veracruz in 1914.
n the pantheon of Mexican vacation towns, Zihuatanejo is a hard one to categorize. I have visited it, and the nearby small Pacific Coast surf towns of Sayulita and Troncones, a handful of times over two decades. Change here is rare and slow. The fact that this area of Guerrero—closer to Guatemala than to the U.S.—isn’t easy to get to has surely played a role: Unlike Cancún, it requires at least one stopover. The terrain has also done its part. This swathe of the state is slammed up against the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains, with cliffs and ravines blanketed by mangrove, oak, and black olive, and tangled with subtropical shrubs, agaves, and snaking vines. None of this is conducive to the type of sprawling hotels you find in flatter spots of the country. Zihua (pronounced “zee-wha”), as it’s thankfully shortened to, is especially hemmed in by nature—by the scooped-out bay to the west, with its sliver of silt-fine beach and palm trees, and by hills in every other direction. The small stuccoed places to stay, covered in magenta and egg-yolk-yellow bougainvillea, and the thatched-roof private homes that do exist are daringly set on dramatic inclines.
This is not to say that Zihuatanejo has stayed away from the babble. The historical cobblestoned streets downtown are lined with restaurants and a scattering of shops catering to gringos looking to bring back a bottle of tequila or a bright woven serape. There’s also a bustling central market hawking everything from freshly plucked chickens to socks; for every bar announcing a happy-hour special, there’s a lunch cart selling steamed tamales that signposts everyday life in a way not seen in Mayakoba or Playa del Carmen. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was this mix of escapism and grit, this world caught between vacations and real life, that attracted Hollywood actors and musicians who wanted sun and sea minus the scene of Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta. John Wayne, Lauren Hutton, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards all found their way to Zihuatanejo, and for two trippy summers in the early 1960s Timothy Leary took over the Hotel Catalina and set up a psychedelic training center where students, in keeping with his counterculture credo, could “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
Short on time? Follow this link to a Google Maps version of our Zihuatanejo guide with all of our favorite spots labeled! You can “follow” the guide, and the saved locations will automatically transfer to your own Google Maps account.
Last weekend, Tyler and I sprinted away from reality, straight into the arms of the white sand and mango margaritas of Zihuatanejo.
You might remember Zihuatanejo as the paradise that Andy dreamt of and finally escaped to in The Shawshank Redemption. This sleepy fishing town is nestled on the Pacific coast of Guerrero, Mexico, and neighbors a plush and sterile resort town called Ixtapa (will discuss Ixtapa later).
“Zihua” is known for its kind, light-hearted locals and near-perfect beaches, and it did not disappoint in either regard.
Neither of us had ever done a “beachy” vacation before this.
I mean, I grew up clumsily trotting through campgrounds in the middle of the night, holding a flashlight as big as my body, trying to find the bathroom before the bears found me.
And Tyler and I haven’t gone on a relaxing tropical vacation since we’ve been married. This was our first time going somewhere just for the beach.
We spent most of our four days wading in the perfect temperature water at Playa La Ropa, drinking green juice after green juice, and shoveling buckets of chips and salsa into our mouths.
We absolutely loved our time in Zihua, but we did run into a few minor disasters on this trip–many of which, to be honest, was our own fault. #travelbloggers
Sometimes your dream vacay has a few hiccups. Ours just happened to have the kind of aggressive hiccups that make everyone in the restaurant turn and stare in concern.
A few examples. On our second day, we accidentally joined a tour that turned out to be an absurd waste of money and time, and we had to full-on break up with our tour guide. On our third day, a red-eyed canine, who I’m positive was rabid (Tyler thinks otherwise), kept showing up, causing more than a little alarm with no Atticus Finch to save us. And then Tyler got super sick the second-to-last night we were there. We spent most of our last day alternating dips in the pool with episodes of Modern Family.
While some of our hiccups were unavoidable, I’m including the ones that you can learn from in the following list of recommendations. Online resources about Zihuatanejo were extremely limited, so we wanted to put together a guide of things to know while you are planning your trip.
One of the huge benefits of choosing Zihua as your beach getaway is that it is a quick three-hour plane ride from LAX. We found the Alaska Airlines flight much cheaper than other options, and we had a great experience. You can read more about how we paid for the flights here.
Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo airport is really close to everything. It only took 20 minutes for us to cab from the airport to where we stayed at Playa La Ropa.
Zihuatanejo, Mexico stays with you. The seaside town has a history of attracting minds like Sir Francis Drake, Timothy Leary, and Andy Warhol, and while the glamorous stars of Hollywood were partying in Acapulco, the beloved rock and rollers of the 1960s were hiding out in Zihua, as it’s called by locals. Today, it is no different, and many of the same free-thinkers are still tucked into the jungled cliffs of La Ropa, living the life. There is a realness that can’t be ignored, and to foreigners, perhaps that is the best part of the place.
What to See
The beaches are stunning and the food is fresh, but it is the people who make Zihuatanejo what it is. The town exists in the Mexican state of Guerrero, which translates to “warrior,” and is a very fitting name for those born and raised, which are affectionately known as Guerreros. The people are warm and welcoming, always smiling with genuine pride: They’re always there to help you when you need it most. To fully appreciate this, one should spend an extended amount of time with the Guerreros of Zihuatanejo because, as with all cultures, there are subtleties that can be easily overlooked by an outsider. The humor and traditions, for example, are meant to be learned over a little mezcal and spoken in Spanish, then practiced while dancing to Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue. Fortunately, for those making a quick visit, there is a spot in La Ropa Beach where you can discover all the ins and out, meet all the right people, and find yourself in places you could never have imagined.
LOOT: Surf & Lifestyle Store, is your one-stop-shop. A cafe meets a restaurant, meets the art gallery, meets the surf shop, meets production company and music venue, and the list goes on and on. Founded by Mexico City architect, Andrés Saavedra, LOOT is run by an international team of surf-chasers and trouble-makers. There is always something happening at LOOT and it has been said that you feel like you are getting away with something just being there. If you are an artist or musician in town, make sure to stop by and introduce yourself because you never know what opportunities may await. Some come on vacation and never really leave. Those looking to emancipate themselves from society’s definitions of success seemed to have found freedom in the lawlessness of the Wild West.
What to Eat
Just after sunrise and on the way to morning surf, bollios (pastries), coffee and champurrado (a warm and thick Mexican drink ) are served hot, roadside. This perfect breakfast provides an intimate view into the morning routine of many locals, fueling up before the long day’s work.
What to Do
Zihuatanejo feels like a healthy mix of romance and adrenaline. There are beaches for hours in both directions, each one dreamier than the next. Rent a car, because the highway along the coast is very reminiscent of the infamous Highway One, only hotter and more tropical, and if driving in Mexico doesn’t feel like freedom, I’m not sure what does. Playa Blanca, a 30-minute drive south to the village of Barra de Potosi, is one particular beach you could explore for weeks, months or possibly forever. It is the epitome of paradise. A large lagoon hugs the village against the sea and is home to thousands of colorful birds. You can rent kayaks and get lost in the mangroves, returning just in time for a fresh feast on the beach at one of many enramadas (thatch-roof shacks). Trails connect Playa Blanca to another, the completely secluded beach called Playa Tortuga, which is accessible only by horseback or foot. The area truly has everything you could imagine, you just need to ask. Just North of Zihuatanejo, medicinal hot springs are tucked into lush fields, where you can cover yourself in mineral-rich mud and watch stars peek through palm leaves. There are recipes and regional cuisine that will blow your mind, dishes such as apporeadillo and nacatamles that will inspire a fervor in the kitchen at home. After all, this is why many of us travel; to return home with wiser eyes.
Is Zihuatanejo safe for tourists?
Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is an area frequented by tourists, and therefore, it’s relatively safe. But it’s in the Mexican state of Guerrero, which has a reputation for having more crime and violence than other states. … But ordinary tourists can still come to Ixtapa and stay in the touristy area.
What does Zihuatanejo mean?
Zihuatanejo. … There are two possible origins for the name Zihuatanejo. One origin might be from the Purépecha language meaning “water of the yellow mountain;” another possible origin might be from Nahuatl (Xihuacan) meaning “place of women.”