The city of Zihuatanejo (pronounced see-wan-tin-a-o), also referred to by locals as Zihua for short, is located southwest of Mexico City and is considered the "sister" village to Ixtapa. That means, when someone refers to one, they are usually speaking of both, although Zihua is very different from Ixtapa in every way. Zihua is the classic Mexican beach village, and Ixtapa is more of a luxury, high-rise sort of town. Zihua was made famous in the final scene of the movie, "Shawshank Redemption".
Less than 30 years ago, Zihua was known only as a fishing village where the locals were willing to live without basic amenities (like running water) in order to be in paradise. It wasn’t until the city of Ixtapa was built up that Zihua began to make a name for itself, although it has remained a low-key, lower-budget village. Today the streets have been paved, boutique resorts have been built, and the fishermen have become entrepreneurs by working with nearby resorts (to provide local catch for their restaurants) and by hosting fishing charters. Although there are very expensive boutique-resorts located in Zihua, overall most of the budget lodging will be found here, rather than Ixtapa. This is also the home to the airport, which is located in a very dirty and poor part of town. The major shopping "mall" in Zihuatanejo is called Mercado de Artesania Turistico and has 255 stalls and stands selling everything from silver jewelry and masks to ceramics and T-shirts. A supermarket called Mercado Central sells excellent tropical fruit, veggies, fresh fish, and booze, and it's easy to get to by bus.
Obviously known for its beaches, Zihuatanejo has four major areas to speak of: Fisherman’s Walk on Playa Municipal (also known as Municipal Beach), Playa La Ropa, La Madera Beach, and Las Gatas. Fisherman’s Walk (also known as Paseo del Pescador) is a pedestrian walkway along the municipal beach between the fishing pier and the regional museum. The "walk" is shaded by trees and is lined with restaurants, shops, and a small shell market. You’ll see both tourists and locals relaxing on benches, having picnics, or shopping daily here. The Regional Museum of Archaeology is at the southern tip of the municipal beach. Inside, there are historical and archaeological artifacts from the region. At the fishing pier, you can buy tickets for small boat rentals, taxi tickets to Las Gatas Beach, or purchase fresh fish from one of the local fisherman’s tables. The Port Captain's office also arranges fishing charters here, if you’re interested. During the first week of May, Zihua hosts an annual International Sailfish Tournament, where hundreds of fisherman come hoping to win a prize for the largest sailfish, marlin, or dorado. There is live music, food, drinks, and a ton of people for the 3-day event. Other events are held during the year, as well, but this one is by far the most popular and well-attended.
Playa La Ropa is a long white-sand beach which goes from the Zihuatanejo Bay to the south part of town. It is by far the most convenient beach here and is considered by locals as the best. Only a 5-minute cab ride from downtown, this beach has lots of great seafood and international cuisine restaurants from the very casual to the very expensive. The northwest end of the beach is home to expensive residences built up on the rocks (near La Casa Que Canta and Villa de la Roca resorts). The rocks provide a great area for snorkeling. The Sotavento was the first hotel to be built on this beach. La Ropa is a great beach for swimming, since the waves are small and there are plenty of rental places if you are interesting in snorkeling, jet-skiing, sailing, or just getting an umbrella to lay out. Between the Villa Mexican and the Villa del Sol resorts, you will find a small market filled with souvenirs, hammocks, rugs, etc. Similar to the Las Brisas, many of the hotels along this beach are part of the "turtle conservation campaign" in which staff members rescue turtle eggs that are abandoned by their mothers and cultivate them before setting them free into the ocean.
There isn’t much to say about Playa La Madera, also known as "Wood Beach". It’s basically a small beach between the Municipal Beach and Promontory Over (a road). This is the beach where you’ll see surfers, condos, bungalows, and some hotels. Playa Las Gatas is considered a very special beach here; legend says it was the playground for ancient royalty. The legend goes on to say that a man-made reef was created to provide a safe swimming area for an Indian princess. To get here, take a taxi from the municipal fishing pier ($3 round-trip) across the bay. This beach has no major hotels, no roads, and is a safe place to swim and spend the day (children included). Las Gatas is by far the most popular snorkeling beach in Zihua, and there are several areas for wave-runner rentals and banana-boat rides. The last taxi heads back around 5-ish, so ask before you go or get there with a tour. Camping is permitted here if you get permission from the restaurants (can you imagine); if not, there is the Las Gatas Beach Club at the far end of the beach, which has a few very simple bungalows for rent. Overall, there are no major sights or sightseeing in Zihuatanejo, but the land is beautiful and exotic, the beaches are unspoiled, and the people are warm—you will never want to leave. If you chose to stay in Ixtapa like we did, make your best effort to at least come to Zihua for dinner, because the restaurants are some of the best and definitely the most romantic. The best resort here is La Casa Que Canta, hands down.