Sunday, December 20, 2009
November, 2009, we abandoned the gray skies of Seattle and jetted off to sunny Zihautanejo on the sunny west coast of Mexico. Zihua shares an airport with the nearby resort town of Ixtapa.
“Zihau” is what Mexico was; still retaining its fishing village charm without the high rise hotels that mark other coastal resorts. While cruise ships make stops at Zihau only the shops along the waterfront reflect their impact. Even there the small town flavor prevails as the shops compete for space with local fishermen who bring their catch to the beach and sell their product to restaurants and locals in an open air market.
We arrived at the modern airport, passed through an efficient customs and grabbed a cab for the 20 minute ride to the Intrawest Club on the Playa la Ropa, one of three beaches facing the Zihau harbor. The cabs must be well controlled for all were white, well maintained and most had cards explaining the set price to get to and from most of the key tourist places. Such order is comforting for wary travelers who are fearful of taxi scams.
The Intrawest Club, while four star in every way, was designed to blend into rather than dominate the scene. Setting on a steep hillside above the beach the club steps up the hill from the water in a series of small, low rise buildings of stucco with thatched or tile roofs. Trees along the beach and among the buildings further reduce the impact of the club.
The Club offers all the features you might expect from a resort hotel; a fine dining restaurant, pool side dining, adult and kids swimming pools, the list goes on. The staff is as good as you could hope for, typical of an Intrawest property. They went out of their way to learn our names. Stephen and Kathy became Estabon and Katarina and were easy for them to retain. Sterling and Nadine, without Spanish alternatives, were more challenging. They finally gave up and Sterling became Spanish for silver and Nadine became Spanish for queen. We were happy and so were they.
We experienced a Goldilocks and the three bears situation with our assigned rooms. The first room was too noisy, the second was too hot and the third was just right. Our first suite was midway up the hill from the beach. It had a good view and was close to the restaurant but was further from the beach and pool. Work on the unit directly below ours subjected us to noise and dust seven days a week.
At our request we were moved to a second unit closer to the beach with less view due to the lush trees on the grounds. That was fine until the AC unit failed. With 90 degree temperatures and high humidity the AC was most appreciated.
Our third unit was just right. It was quiet, everything worked and we were just four steps up from the pool with access directly from our deck. The staff had been most accommodating. Life was good.
There are three major beach areas in Zihua harbor, what I will call the City Beach, the Playa la Ropa (where the Intrawest Club is located) and the smaller Playa las Gatos. Each has a character of its own.
The City Beach is home to some of the older small hotels in the area. Portions of the beach disappear at high tide so it’s less inviting as a “lay around beach.” A paved path runs the length of the beach and provides a connection with the downtown area and a way around some of the small rocky headlands.
The best recreation beach is the Playa la Ropa. It’s long, sandy and most inviting. Low rise hotels and condos line the length of the beach and eight to ten small restaurants are located on or just back from the water’s edge. The Jet Ski and para sail rental businesses set up on this beach on busy days but they are nicely spaced out and you are not subjected to high pressure sales pitchs.
Because there are more tourists on Playa la Ropa there are more vendors working the beach. If you wanted jewelry, baskets, clothing or other small items they were available but we were never hassled by the vendors. The same could be said for the entrepreneurs brokering fishing trips and other tours. They were certainly there and would ask if you were interested but never pressured and left us alone once we said “no.”
Playa las Gatos is the smallest beach and can be described as funky. Access is a challenge; by water taxi from the downtown or by hiking a rough beach trail from Playa la Ropa. There may be a road that reaches the beach as well but we didn’t see it. The small restaurants that line the short beach were less inviting than others in town though their food offerings might have been just fine. We did sample their beverage selection and shared a plate of fresh fish with a couple that had just caught the fish on a charter and returned to the beach where a restaurant agreed to cook their catch.
We were disappointed with the cleanliness of the beach at Playa las Gatos; there was enough broken glass in the sand to discourage a return visit.
The conclusion; the Playa La Ropa offers the best beach for sunning, swimming and eating.
While we certainly didn’t visit every place in town we did sample food at a number of places.
Intrawest Club has a wonderful restaurant that is open to the public for morning and evening meals. The view from the open air restaurant was spectacular and the food was always good and well presented. They serve breakfast and supper. Lunch is available at a pool side restaurant.
There are a number of small restaurants along the beach. Their menus were similar with an emphasis on seafood, often locally caught. We had good meals at three.
• Elvira’s was our favorite. We enjoyed bantering with Nahum Reyes, the guy that worked the beach and tried to attract customers to the restaurant. Their margaritas were the biggest and best on the beach. All the staff worked hard to please.
• Paty’s had the biggest menu and the food was good. They didn’t take credit cards which was an inconvenience.
• La Perla offered good food in a nice atmosphere. But the staff didn’t engage and was a bit inattentive.
• Il Mare, an Italian seafood restaurant, is a short walk from the Intrawest club, perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the city and harbor. We were attracted by the view but the meal was excellent as well.
• Banditos is a “Red Robin” type place right in the downtown area. The food was casual and very good.
Finally, during a visit to the nearby resort town of Ixtapa, we had dinner at Ruben’s, a highly recommended place famous for its hamburgers. It was an average burger with below average service.
All of the places we visited seemed targeted to tourist and we had no concerns about cleanliness. We did drink bottled water and avoided salads everywhere but at the Intrawest Club. You can easily gain weight in Zihua!
If your unit has a full kitchen, like ours did, you can also shop locally and eat in. We found a gigantic “Super Walmart” type of place (it was not a Walmart, however) a short taxi ride into town. It had everything you might need in the way of groceries and drink along with beach toys, clothes and refrigerators. I don’t recall the name but it has “commercial” in it and the hotel staff and taxi drivers all knew what we wanted.
If you are truly adventurous you can try the public market in Zihua with its fresh items.
Things to Do:
While we tried to do as little as possible during our visit there are many activities available for tourists.
Snorkeling: Rental gear is available from some hotels and beach vendors in the area. You could find fish in the rocks in front of the Intrawest Club and off a small reef in front of Playa las Gatos. It was interesting but not spectacular.
Fishing: We did not fish but those that did had good success. Many restaurants will cook your catch adding to the experience. Vendors on the beach can arrange trips but most hotels recommend using their concierge service to avoid scam artists who charge but don’t show up.
Party Barge, the Picante: The Picante is a large catamaran that carries 40 people, lunch, liquor and snorkel gear on tours down the coast. It was great fun and worth the $80 cost. We sailed down the coast about 45 minutes to a small bay for snorkeling. Returning to Zihua bay we dropped a stern anchor, they rigged a spinnaker and let people “fly” from a bosun’s chair suspended from the sail. Most on board, young and old, took a ride.
Swim with the Dolphins: The aquarium in Ixtapa offers an opportunity to swim with trained dolphins. It was fun. The price varied depending on how long you were in the water with the delightful creatures.
There are also offerings that take you away from the beach:
• Horseback riding,
• Visit to an wetland area
• Jeep and other types of off-road riding.
We heard good reports but didn’t try any of them. When considering a tour it is always a good idea to ask around. You often will find someone on the beach or in the pool who has done it and can offer advice or counsel and help you avoid a bad experience.
The Bottom Line: Zihuatanejo is a great place to visit.