Zihuatanejo: the place of dreams from Shawshank Redemption fame. The sleepy little Mexican fishing village on the Pacific Ocean – the ocean that forgets, or so the saying goes in the movie. Zihuatanejo is a real place, and government statistics put the area as the third most-visited location in the country after Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
It’s a beautiful small city on a calm bay, about 150 miles north of Acapulco in Guerrero State, and it’s where we are spending several weeks during what is considered “low season”. It traditionally rains a lot in September, and not as many tourists seek out this place of dreams as in other months, like December and January. I like that it’s low season, however, because there aren’t many gringos here right now.
Five first impressions as a tourist
- People: People are generally kind to us foreigners (as with all places in Mexico)
- The city: Zihuatanejo has retained an authentic feel despite nearby Ixtapa’s mega-resort development (Ixtapa is another town about three miles away, and the two places are often marketed together)
- Shopping: There are abundant souvenir shops with trinkets and T-shirts, and there are many restaurants catering to visitors
- Accommodations: There are several hotels to chose from along the water and a few blocks inland
- Around town: Zihuatanejo is a relatively small city and walking is easy, but if you want to take a cab, rides are much more reasonably priced than in other Mexican cities ($1.50 to go across town here, where it was double or triple that price to go the same distance in a city like Oaxaca)
Five first impressions as someone living here longer than a week
- People: People seem genuinely happy to see us tourists staying here for a month during the low season
- The city: Explore outside the tourist zone and you’ll find some of the better restaurants (in our opinion) are a block or two back from the beach and the malecon
- Shopping: Zihuatanejo’s market is a great place to stock up on veggies and other supplies (as markets usually are in Mexico)
- Accommodations: Our Airbnb hosts are wonderful and have treated us like family – inviting us to a beach day and dinner and giving us information about the history and the culture of the city we would not otherwise get
- Around town: As with all other places where we stay for several weeks, I see the same people each day and am getting to know the rhythm of life in this part of town (and since it’s a smaller city, it feels more intimate in that I’m likely to easily spot someone from this neighborhood in another part of town)
One difference between Zihuatanejo and other coastal cities in Mexico is that the ‘town square’ is not connected to a municipal building or Catholic church, but it’s on the malecon (walkway near the ocean) at the town’s basketball court. This is actually a great place for people to gather – especially on Sunday evenings. The city sets up small rides for children; adults set up speakers for music; families stroll along the water; vendors sell everything from horchata (a drink) to ice cream cones to tacos.
The court is at the municipal beach where fishermen gather each morning to sell their catch. You can have the fish fileted if you wish, right on tables at the beach for a small fee.
The malecon goes for a good portion in Zihuatanejo. To get to another popular beach in town called Playa La Ropa, take the malecon to a road and walk up over a large hill, or, take a colectivo (a shared taxi) from the main part of the city. Playa la Ropa is a popular beach for tourists because it’s cleaner and has white sand.
Colectivos can also take you to the main big-box supermarkets in town, or you can take buses to get around. The buses also of course go out of town to other places, such as nearby Ixtapa, the marina in Ixtapa, and other beaches on the coast like Playa Linda and Playa Quieta a few miles away from Zihuatanejo.
I’ll write a separate entry about local beaches in the coming days after I explore a few more areas, but I will mention the pollution, since this is a known issue over recent years. The bay can have a pollution problem. We knew this before we came here.
When the Mexican government developed the area for tourism, the population exploded but services didn’t keep up. Some years, some beaches closed because of sewage in the bay. However: that has not happened this year or last year, to my limited knowledge. Still, it’s rainy season and I can see the bay looks a little murky along the shore, so I generally don’t swim in the bay (although I have taken a dip in Playa la Ropa – which is a little bit away from the municipal beach). That’s just my personal preference – I have seen some people in the municipal beach.
Zihuatanejo has everything you can think of that you might need to live – from dentists and doctors to gyms and florists. In fact, it seems like there are florists on nearly every block and the flowers smell amazing when you walk by.
Zihuatanejo is a gem. It’s a beautiful place along the Mexican Pacific coast known as Costa Grande, which we still are exploring.