Zihuatanejo, Mexico, is a sleepy fishing village turned into a small city because of an explosion in tourism. It features some points of interest that are somewhat common to seaside tourist cities, but Zihua (as the locals call it) also has elements I have not seen any at other place so far on our early retirement budget travel tour.
Here is a mix of obvious reasons, and the not-so-obvious to the casual traveler reasons, why Zihua is a unique place.
The market and the malecon in Zihuatanejo
Zihua’s market is vibrant and varied, and people come from all over the region to get their goods. I’ve wandered through there a few times, and, as with other markets in other cities, marveled at the foreign nature of it. Unlike other cities, to navigate this one is manageable — I didn’t get lost or turned around.
Its malecon (walkway near the ocean) is gorgeous. It features restaurants, shops, hotels, fresh fish sales, statues honoring women, and the basketball court that acts as the main square and gathering place for families and friends – especially evenings and weekends.
The malecon also runs along rocks on the other end for magnificent views of the bay. This is the only place I’ve seen (so far) where the malecon goes through a part of town and also out along rocks.
Speaking of views…
Zihuatanejo’s views and beaches
The views all around are stunning. Tedly says this is one of the most photogenic spots we’ve visited. I agree.
There is a different kind of beach for whatever your preference. Waves, or no waves. Snorkeling, or jogging. People watching, or solitude.
The beaches in this region definitely stand out as special. Four popular beaches are right on Zihuatanejo’s bay.
There are more beaches all up and down the coast. I previously wrote extensively about eight beaches, and how to get there by walking or by using public transportation. Find that post here. There are even more beaches (and also some islands) that I didn’t get to this time around.
The garbage collection is excellent
It’s tidy around town. In the central tourist district, trash pickup happens every day — even during low season during our visit.
This is a stark difference to other places I’ve lived, such as Oaxaca City – where trash collection was sporadic, and people came out of their homes with bags of garbage when a neighborhood watch woman rang the bell before sunrise to alert people the garbage truck was coming. Another example of poor trash collection is when I lived in Tulum during low season. Garbage sometimes piled up on the streets in town just off the main drag for two weeks before it was finally collected.
Our apartment rental in Zihua was perfectly located inside the tourist zone, so admittedly, I cannot speak to trash collection outside of this highly maintained zone.
The tourist zone, by the way, is north of the malecon section with the basketball court and the fishing boats. A Google map of the city is here. The tourist zone is colored in tan near the word “Centro”. (The zone appeared to me to include some more blocks north and east, but you’ll get the general idea.)
In addition to daily trash pickup in the tourist area, maintenance workers were out sweeping streets several times a week – even during our during our visit in low season. Also, there was a repaving job on the main road during our visit, and some sidewalks were getting overhauls. It’s obvious the locals want the place to look good.
Covered sidewalks in the tourist zone
This was the genius idea someone had some years ago, in my opinion. Most sidewalks in the tourist zone are covered. Locals told me this happened seven or eight years ago.
The covers blocked the sun from roasting me as I walked around town. In rainy season, the sidewalk covers kept me mostly dry when sudden downpours caught me off-guard without an umbrella. Not every street in the tourist zone has a sidewalk cover, but many do.
No other place we have visited in Mexico has this. It’s pure genius I tell you, genius.
Local transportation is safe, affordable, easy
Transportation is easy and cheap here. The cost to get to outlying beaches (see previous post) is a bargain. No need for a rental car if you’re up for public transportation. Colectivos (shared taxis that are vans or pickup trucks), taxis and buses are all are easy to use.
The local transportation also was safe. I always felt safe taking the local buses alone. Granted, I did not venture out far into the State of Guerrero, where U.S. government workers are prohibited by a State Department warning. (*Update on this warning at the end of this post.*)
But, as a woman who sometimes explored the near-region on her own without the spouse, I found locals to be helpful and polite – as almost all Mexicans are – and I always felts safe and welcome.
Taxis cost much less in Zihuatanejo than in places like Puerto Vallarta, Tulum, or Oaxaca City. For example, you can get from the area by the library on one side of town, to the Commercial Mega supermarket on the other side of town for just 30 pesos, $1.62 USD at the time of this writing. To go about a quarter of that distance in Oaxaca City, for example, cost double that. In Tulum, round trip from town to the beach can cost up to $10 in high season.
All of these points contribute to what makes Zihua unique.
But what really makes Zihuatanejo special is the people.
As with any place we visit, it’s the people we meet I’ll remember most fondly. You likely won’t meet the same people I did – but every local person I’ve met here has been friendly, helpful, kind — and also happy to see a tourist like me here in Zihua during the rainy season. If you come to this place of dreams and stay for awhile, you’re likely to meet your own group of fantastic locals.
Our Airbnb hosts made us part of their family. We were invited to family parties – a farewell party for someone who took a job in another city, and their Mexican Independence Day gathering. I learned a lot about Mexico’s history. We also were invited to family outings at the beach and invited to lunch to try a weekly Thursday tradition – a pozole meal. (It’s made with meat so I ordered something else but spouse said it was great.)
These people were so kind and helpful. This was the most authentic stay we’ve ever had with Airbnb, in terms of learning more about Mexican culture, and spending a good amount of time with a family. It’s quite different from the American way of life, but that’s for another blog post sometime.
I also met American and Canadian expats who captured my heart and helped my soul. These are some wonderful people who now call Zihatanejo home, and it’s easy to see why.
I’d definitely return here in the future for another stay. And with that, I leave you with a few images from paradise. Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’, as the film Shawshank Redemption said…
Reach out if you have any questions about Zihua. I might be able to answer them or at least direct you to someone who can.
Update, as of December 17, 2019: The U.S. State Department considers Guerrero State, including Zihuatanejo, to be a “Level 4” – meaning, “Do Not Travel.” However, as I said, I always felt safe. Additionally, I know expats who live in this beautiful place with absolutely no problem.