Zihuatanejo a laid back beach, sailing and fishing destination
In Spanish it’s pronounced ‘seewhatanayho’ with a slight emphasis on the ‘nay’ and actually the name rolls easily off the tongue once you’ve said it a time or two. Now that you know how to pronounce it, read on to discover a lot of good reasons to visit and hopefully get to know the town of Zihuatanejo on the part of Mexico’s Pacific coat known as Costa Grande.
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The town is yet another example of a remote fishing village ‘discovered’ by the modern world and quickly transformed into a major tourist destination. In the 1970s, the federal government decided to develop a tourist destination at the nearby site of Ixtapa; the old town of Zihuatanejo and the resort area of Ixtapa are generally lumped together as a single destination. However Ixtapa was designed as a tourist resort; Zihuatanejo is basically a fishing village, with much of its sleepy community ambiance still intact.
The oldest, original ‘downtown’ on the northern side of the bay is known as El Centro, with narrow streets mostly paved with stone or brick. But the real center of the town is the Malecón, or waterfront walkway, called Paseo del Pescador (Fisherman’s Walkway) that runs along the beach from between the fishing pier and the archaeological museum. It is lined with trees and packed with shops, restaurants and pedestrians strolling and socialising.
Instead of the traditional town plaza, Zihuatanejo has a large basketball court right next to the beach, with shade trees and benches. Next to that is the Casa de la Cultura, where concerts and art shows are frequently presented. At the Crafts Market (Mercado de Artensanias) visitors will find over 250 different shops, many offering local arts and crafts made of shells (both sea and snail), coral and silver (from the Taxco area) and other indigenous arts and crafts.
An annual guitar festival known as the Zihua Guitar Fest began in 2004, and it has been a huge success in terms of tourism, which means support for local businesses. World-renowned artists bring their instruments and participate with great enthusiasm, generating a week-long celebration that moves from one venue to another in town. There are free children’s shows every night, and free concerts at the town ‘plaza’.
If you have an interest in sailboats, Zihuatanejo in February is the place to be for the annual Zihau Sail Fest. The event draws sailors and their sailboats from around the world to what is basically a fund-raiser for disadvantaged children.
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According to records, the Festival has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years; it’s a gala event for the whole town. There are street musicians and other entertainers, chilli cook-offs, concerts, sailboat races and auctions that continue for five days.
Zihuatanejo has gained a global reputation as a prime spot for sport fishing. The bay and the deeper waters a few miles out support an amazing variety of very big fish. And the catch-and-release policies help to insure that their numbers are not decimated by wildly enthusiastic sport-fishers who come to try their luck. In May each year the International Sailfish Tournament, with substantial prizes for the biggest Marlin, Sailfish and Dorado is a major event.
In fact you don’t need to be a fishing enthusiast to enjoy the experience. There are many highly reputable companies operating out of the Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa area. Most offer day trips for families that include lunch and the seafood is about as fresh as it could possibly be. With such a warmly welcoming climate, boating and fishing are year-round activities. And there are abundant and varied opportunities for sailing, motoring or just paddling in water that is never cold.
Ixtapa, which was originally a coconut plantation and mangrove estuary, has been re-constructed and is no longer recognizable except for the coconut palms. Condos and hotels line the beaches and a slew of all-inclusive moderate-to-luxurious resorts make up the ‘community’ that is designed for and dedicated to tourism. Only 6 kms to the south, however, Zihuatanejo seems worlds apart, it is two destinations for the price of one.
Zihuatenejo’s town beach is not the best for swimming because of busy boat traffic nearby, but it’s great for lying around and strolling. With plenty of shops, cafes and sidewalk vendors if you need shade and refreshment. Playa Madera (Wood Beach) a little further south is accessible via a walkway that’s often splashed by the moderate waves, and it’s a good spot for body-surfing.
For families with children the beach called La Ropa would be ideal; it’s about 3 kms of white sand, with gentle wavelets as opposed to heavy surf, and every sort of water sport is on offer. You can try para-sailing, snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, banana-boating (not much skill required) Or just amble amongst the shops and refreshments available along the boardwalk.
Snorkelers should definitely check out the beach and cove at Las Gatas (the Cats) reportedly named because at one time a lot of small and relatively harmless cat sharks made their home in the area. But now a stone seawall was built to keep them away. The water is warm and clear with terrific visibility, perfect for snorkeling but not for walking as there is lots of sharp coral. More than a dozen restaurants offer outstanding seafood cuisine.
Most short-term visitors fly into the International Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa Airport (about 15 minutes by car from the town) where they can rent a vehicle or take local buses or taxis to town. Any hotel/ resort will have its own transportation supplied, but if you wish do so some exploring a rental is your best option.
Cruise ships also stop at the port of Zihuatanejo; Holland America Line, Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises all currently have Zihua on their itineraries, with sail dates ranging from November to April. Most will be very short stops, however, so if you prefer to spend time in the ocean rather than on it and get your toes in the sand, consider an all-inclusive package. Then rent a car to go exploring a bit of Mexico without garnish and you will find its well worth the trip.