In the heart of the Mexican Riviera lies Ixtapa. Referred to as "the taste of Mexican present and past" and surrounded by mountains and turquoise-blue water, this picturesque resort area is a perfect getaway. The beaches are pristine white and never crowded, while the people are warm and so welcoming. I’ve never been to a place where the locals are more appreciative than Ixtapa.
We flew from New York to Mexico City, claimed our bags, and had to recheck them before continuing on to Zihuatanejo. We flew Mexicana Air, and although I initially had ill feelings about this airline, my husband and I were both pleasantly surprised. The cab ride to Ixtapa was slightly disheartening after seeing how the locals live, many in shacks and rundown buildings. Our hotel was located along the Zona Hotelera, which is a 3km stretch along Playa del Palmar shaped like a horseshoe. For the movie buffs out there, this is where the final scene of The Shawshank Redemption was filmed. It is every bit as beautiful as the movie portrays it and then some.
A lot of people go to Ixtapa expecting Cancun – an Americanized environment with loud parties, drunks everywhere, tons of bars, clubs, etc… - you won’t find it here. I cringe when I read, "Well, we went to Cancun and loved it, came here and were bored and disappointed and it sucked, etc." If you are looking for a Cancun-esqe atmosphere with fast-food restaurants that deliver at midnight, then go back to Cancun. Ixtapa is for a more mature crowd, one that appreciates great food, great weather, top-notch service, and peace and quiet. Just because Cancun is in Mexico doesn’t mean that all of Mexico is like Cancun. I really don’t get why people compare the two. It’s like comparing Maui to Florida because they are both in the U.S. and are both "warm" locales. Get real. I feel better having said that.
In general, Ixtapa is not a real city; instead, it’s an upscale beach-resort area. Locals predominately live in Zihuatanejo and work in Ixtapa. Most of the hotels were built in the 1980s after a major tourism push was created in the 1970s by a Mexican tourism organization called FONTAR. They tried to push Ixtapa as a glitzy, expensive tourist area, which it is not, although the resorts are beautiful, the beach remains the big draw for vacationers, not the glam factor. In terms of museums, theater, etc., you will not find that here, but you will find two championship golf courses, sports fishing, galleries, boutiques, and a few five-star hotels. For night owls, there is Carlos and Charlie’s, Senor Frogs, and Christine’s Disco (in the Krystal Hotel).
We booked an excursion one day to go horseback riding on the beach at sunset. The cost was almost $200 and was an experience to remember. I swear our "guide" was drunk but entertaining to say the least. We were taken to a private beach that was unkept and had overgrown weeds everywhere. Our horses were beautiful but not very well-trained considering all mine wanted to do was go knee-deep into the water (my knees that is) and my husband’s horse kept turning around to bite him when he pulled on the reigns. We ended up cutting the trip short after less then a half hour, but it was worth it. We got some great pictures and had a true experience that we will never forget. I think that if we were true equestrians, we would have really enjoyed ourselves since the beach was as long as the eye could see and empty, the guide was not on top of us, and the weather was beautiful.
The weather here tends to be hot and humid most of the time, with their rainy season occurring during the fall season in the United States. That being said, we were there in late October and never had a rainy day. I did mention it, though, because the bugs were out in full force and we were unprepared. My legs were covered in bites.
Generally speaking, the drinking water in Mexico is not exactly the safest, and although the hotels have purifying systems, your best bet is to just drink bottled water. Banks are open Monday to Saturday, just like at home, with varying hours. We found two internet cafés: Dolfy’s and Comunicacion Mundial in town. Buses run between Ixtapa and Zihua every 15 minutes or so and are usually packed with the locals. The bus fare is less then $0.50. Cabs were reasonably priced but not governed by anyone so the rates varied. It’s in your best interest to negotiate a rate before getting into the cab – this way there are no surprises. On average, the cabs from Ixtapa to Zihua were about $5 one-way. Our cab from the airport was less then $10 and took about 20 minutes. Car rentals are possible and cheaper to rent in advance, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The signs are all in Spanish and very vague, plus the public transportation is cheap and ample, so why bother.
There is a mall called The Mercado de Artesania Turistico in Ixtapa (just like in Zihua) that has 150 stands and stalls where bartering is a sport. It is smaller then the one located in Zihua, but the vendors here sell all of the same items, from wood carvings to leather and from jewelry to souvenirs. This mall became popular after a law was passed that vendors were no longer allowed to sell on the beach. Before you go to Ixtapa, decide whether all-inclusive appeals to you. For us, that is never an option because we like to explore and check out highly rated restaurants. If you are the type who never wants to leave the resort, this town is a great option for that and you will be well taken care of. Packages range, as do prices, but the Las Brisas does not offer it at all. We heard many people complain about timeshare pitches, but at the Brisas we were not approached by anyone. Most of our days were spent outside until 2-ish, then taking naps on our terrace on the hammock, and then going out to a nice dinner. How much more relaxed could two people get?! When all is said and done, it was a fantastic trip. Just to say it was relaxing would be an understatement. This is Highly Recommended.