Zihuatanejo - The Yang Next Door to Ixtapa

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  , Pacific Coast,
Friday, January 9, 2009

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First Time Reader? ......here is the background to this series of blogs:
Click on SLIDESHOW and then the rectangle in the bottom right corner to see photos in full screen format
Mexico:  23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months
No. 14 of 23 Destinations (this is not a ranking)

Real Time Message:  June 4, 2009

This blog was written while riding the rails for 12 hours on VIA RAIL train, the "SKEENA". The route is from Prince George, in the interior of British Columbia to Prince Rupert located on the Pacific coast.


Zihuatanejo - The "Yang" Next Door to World-Famous Ixtapa

(pronounced: "siwata'neho")

State: Guerrero
Population: 63,000

During a visit to Mexico in 2003, I just had to visit this region to check out the world famous Ixtapa.  After Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa had become the third major tourist destination on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Which one of these three is not in the same category - Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, or Ixtapa? The answer is Ixtapa. It is not because it is smaller or that it was developed later in the 1970's, but it is different because it was created in an area where no town previously existed. In Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta it is a pleasure to visit the "old town" or "centro historico" for it feels so much more Mexican than the modern resort areas.  Ixtapa has no such "centro historico".

While Mexico is not a country that is rich in natural resources it does have two coastlines - the Pacific and Caribbean - which in certain parts are spectacular and lend themselves to exploitation as "gold mines" for tourism.

Fonatur is the government agency that is responsible for tourist development in Mexico.  After Ixtapa they turned their attention in the 1980's to developing the Bays of Huatulco (future blog) located south of Acapulco. Furthermore during this trip, I read of a planned development of yet another major tourist destination south of Huatulco near the city of Santa Clara.

Notwithstanding the drug wars, the economic crisis and the swine flu, the philosophy of the Mexican government seems to be "build the resorts and the tourists will come".  Despite the short-term problems, the outlook for Mexican tourism is bullish due to the country's natural beauty, relatively cheap prices and fabulous winter weather.

Yes, the beautiful weather is something we appreciated greatly during our 42-day trip.

Just as an aside, there is no destination in Europe that has such warm temperatures in the winter months - not the south of Italy, Spain or Greece. Not even North Africa in places like Tunisia and Morocco is assured of the warm temperatures and good weather of Mexico.

This is all to say that Mexico has a lot of offer for the tourist.

As I said earlier Ixtapa was created in an area where there was no commercial development. This resulted in a planned, well spread out community of hotels, shopping areas and recreational facilities designed to entertain the tourists. To Fonatur's credit, it was all done tastefully in a very low-key fashion that de-emphasizes commercialism. There is none of the over-the-top development of most other resorts, especially Cancun.

To say that Ixtapa did not catch my imagination in 2003 would be an understatement. It was after all designed to meet the needs of the "7-day Mexican all-inclusive holiday" that is the antithesis of this blog "Mexico: 23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months".

However all is not lost.

For every "yin" there is a "yang" and the "yang" in this case lies only in a five kilometre drive from Ixtapa in what used to be the quiet fishing village of Zihuatanejo.

For everything that is planned and sterile about Ixtapa there is the authenticity of Zihuatanejo, basking in its beautiful setting nestled on Zihuatanejo Bay.

The beautiful bay still invokes the "fishing village" heritage of Zihuatanejo as to this day the harbour is sprinkled with small anchored fishing boats and an abundance of sailing and power yachts.

The first thing I had to do upon our arrival at the bay was to check whether the large sailing yacht that in 2003 was lying on its side quite close to shore was still gathering barnacles six years later. I was almost surprised to see that it was no longer there.

If Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo have anything in common it is that all three are located on beautiful bays. Nevertheless the scene here in Zihuatanejo is particularly beautiful because the bay is much smaller and protected making the scenery much more intense.

There are several layers to this interesting scenery. There is the bay surrounded by steeply rising hills, the boats bobbing around in the harbour, the expansive beach, the malešon - that beautiful walkway that goes all along the waterfront and finally there is the quaint and interesting town of Zihuatanejo. It all conspires to produce a very enticing place to put down roots for an extended stay.

So what do the expats have to say?

Unfortunately they were not numerous and our time was limited. It is the expats after all who have the experience and the knowledge that our whirlwind tour of "Mexico -23 Places to Spend the Winter Months" may lack.

We did however speak with an expat and her visiting son from Ohio.  She confirmed that there are not many expats living here in Zihuatanejo. During the last 12 years she has lived in Ajijic. This year she rented out her house in Ajijic for $2,400 a month (ouch!) and rented a lesser house in Zihuatanejo for $2,700 (double ouch!!). She came here for the warmer weather, which illustrates that you can't beat the weather on the Pacific Coast in the winter months, unless it is on the Caribbean Coast and I am not so sure about that. Certainly in the central highlands (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, etc.) evening temperatures fall to where indoor heating would be appreciated.

The website she used to find a place is one I have mentioned several times in other blogs and that I should maybe include in every blog:

vrbo = vacation rental by owner

I have been less than keen on this site because the prices appear to be high. Could it be that on this site it tends to be expats exchanging rentals with other expats? It may also be a question of quality as the old axiom - "you get what you pay for" - comes into play.

Her main complaint about Zihuatanejo was the lack of expats so essential to social contact in one's own language. She has met one small group of expats and "she is not sure whether she is welcome to join them".

She remains enthusiastic about Ajijic noting that one cannot live year-round on the coast as it simply gets too hot. Ajijic is the only place with a relatively temperate climate year-round. She also noted, as an advantage, the closeness of Guadalajara International Airport to Ajijic and the better medical facilities and care in the state of Jalisco.

Music to our ears was when her son agreed with us that Barra de Navidad was the best choice on the Pacific Coast.  Having said that, it is a personal preference and Barra de Navidad may not be everyone's cup of tea.  Therefore, don't sell the farm and move there based on our recommendation.

With the aim of gathering information for this blog we stopped at the America Hotel, which advertised furnished apartments for rent  at Calle H. Galeana no. 16 (zihuamerica7@hotmail.com). Its location is great on a shady pedestrian street close to the center of town. It also looked appealing from the outside and it was disappointing that Senor Monroy waved off my attempt to see an apartment with the feeble excuse that they are all occupied. The price seemed reasonable at $700 per month with the following included: utilities, cable TV with 72 channels, air conditioning, 2 rooms, small kitchen and wireless internet. It seems reasonable for a place not too far from the beach on a quiet location right in the center of town.

Next door was the Casa de Huespedes "ADA" which is run by Ada Abuerto Pineda.  Our photos give an idea as to the level of accommodation offered here. It is definitely a lower quality. The price at $600 per month without air conditioning was not that much cheaper for poorly lit rooms. There were two spacious airy apartments on the top floor renting for $1,600 per month.

Our four-hour visit to Zihuatanejo just seemed to fly by as we ended our stay with a stroll along the beautiful tree-lined malešon. The scenery of the beautiful beaches and the steeply rising hills occupied by terraced housing reminded me of scenes I had seen in Italy along the Mediterranean coast.

It was truly beautiful here but it was my second visit and there were more destinations further along our route waiting to be discovered for the first time.

Next on our list of 23 destinations would be Acapulco, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca and then San Cristobal de las Casas. It was San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas that enticed me the most. From hearsay, it promises to be a beautiful city in the province of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border.


Great general site about living in Zihuatanejo:

Real Estate:  http://www.zihuatanejo.net/realestate.html
Feedback: travelswithlobo@yahoo.com
Coming Soon:

Acapulco: Has Time Passed it By?

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