Zihuatanejo slow travel stop to remember

Last Updated on May 28, 2023 by Ellen

Last Updated on May 28, 2023 by Ellen

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.

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” as the movie quote goes.

Zihuatanejo is a real place, and government statistics (from 2017) put the area as the third most-visited location in the country after Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. As a slow travel stop — it was awesome!

However, I need to share some not-so-awesome points about Zihua, as it’s called by local expats. They weren’t deal breakers for us – but eyes wide open.

Zihuatanejo slow travel stop

Zihuatanejo off the malecon

Zihuatanejo is a beautiful small city on a calm bay, about 150 miles north of Acapulco in Guerrero State, and it’s where we spent a month during what is considered “low season”. It traditionally rains a lot in September when we went, so there were fewer tourists when we were there. Just how we like it! And it didn’t rain all that much.

It’s a beautiful place along the Mexican Pacific coast known as Costa Grande, which will make for a slow travel stop to remember.

5 good points for tourists

  1. People: People were generally kind to us foreigners (as with all places in Mexico)
  2. 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)
  3. Shopping: There are abundant souvenir shops with trinkets and T-shirts, and there are many restaurants catering to visitors
  4. Accommodations: There are several hotels to chose from along the water and a few blocks inland
  5. 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)

5 good points for slow travelers (month-long stays)

  1. People: People seemed genuinely happy to see us tourists staying here for a month during the low season
  2. 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
  3. Shopping: Zihuatanejo’s market is a great place to stock up on veggies and other supplies (as markets usually are in Mexico)
  4. Accommodations: Our Airbnb hosts were 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
  5. Around town: As with all other places where we stay for several weeks, I saw 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)

Other good points

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.

The pollution… not-so-good point

I must mention the pollution. It’s real. It exists, like so many other places on the planet. The bay can have a big pollution problem. We knew this before we came here.

View of bay in Zihuatanejo slow travel stop for earth vagabonds
View of the bay and Zihuatanejo.

When the Mexican government developed the area for tourism, the population exploded but services didn’t keep up. In some years, some beaches closed because of sewage in the bay.

During our visit, the bay looked a little murky along the shore, so I generally didn’t swim in the bay (although I did dip into the water 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.

If you want to explore beaches outside of the bay and city, see this other post about beaches to visit near Zihuatanejo – and how to get there.

The U.S. State Department ‘Do Not Travel’ alert

When we went to Zihuatanejo, there was a ‘Do Not Travel’ alert for the state of Guerrero. We had no issues, whatsoever – not even traveling by bus an hour outside the city to other beaches I mentioned above. Still, State Department employees cannot travel to Zihua as of 2023. The official alert is on the State Department’s website.

Frankly, if you aren’t looking for trouble (drugs, prostitution, gambling), you aren’t going to be bothered.

The violence is much more prevalent in ‘Merica, in my observances.

Get busy living, or get busy dying

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. Flowers give your chakras good energy, according to ancient Buddhist and Hindu teachings.

In my opinion, Zihuatanejo is a gem. It’s a perfect slow travel stop on any early retired budget travel world tour — if you are busy living!

Thanks for reading, “Zihuatanejo slow travel stop to remember.”


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