Zihuatanejo had been explained to us as one of the coastal communities that had managed to avoid the mass of development that had hit Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and other ocean-front cities in Mexico. One person described it as what Puerto Vallarta was 25 years ago – still very Mexican, very local, very authentic. Well, I didn’t visit Puerto Vallarta 25 years ago, but I’m not sure I would go that far. Zihua is still very touristy. True, it is not overrun with high-rise all-inclusive resorts, but you’re certainly not overwhelmed with the local flavour of it all. The town is quaint, with day-time being relatively quiet (it’s still very hot in January) and the action heating up as the day cools into evening. There are your token stretch of beach-front restaurants, overpriced menus, and tourists sipping Coronas and margaritas at every one. As you go a couple of streets back into town, the prices drop, but the town is still surprisingly standardized: the shops are all in rows, built in the same style, with uniform signs hanging above the footpath (think coordinated mountain town, Canada.) If you go far enough (which isn’t really that far in this very walkable town,) you find the markets, one of the highlights of Zihua. From butchers breaking down hanging carcases, to juice bars towering with mountains of fresh fruit, to the very questionable corner selling quesadillas, you can find pretty much anything you could imagine for a quick meal or a feast at home in the markets. Spilling out from the edges are a number of other fruiteria shops and cheap clothing stores. Good bakeries (panaderias) are not a shortage in Zihua.
The beach right in front of the main town isn’t terribly lovely for lounging, but it is probably the most interesting, as it is where the local fisherman still operate from. There are countless, almost identical, boats crowding onto the beach, among storage containers for gear, supplies, and paint. If you wander past after a haul has come in, you can see locals bartering over the fish spread out along the beach.
If gorgeous sand, a beach lounger, and a couple of blended drinks is more up your alley, it’s worth making the trip to Playa La Ropa. It’s ony about a 20 minute walk from town, but it does involve going up and down a rather decent-sized hill, which for comforts’ sake should probably be avoided in the middle of the day. The alternative is to take a quick and cheap local bus. The walk, though not spectacular, does offer some nice views of the town and the bay. It also demonstrates, a bit more than the other part of town, the strength that the tourism is gaining – the hillside is lined with resorts and condos for sale. I had the good timing to arrive at Zihuayoga in Playa La Rope just as a class was starting, and enjoyed doing some downward dogs in the open-air studio facing the ocean. After that, I went for a quick stroll along the waterfront. The beach is covered in restaurants and lounge chairs, basically as far as the eye can see. You can get roped into anything that you want here, really – food, drinks, massage, water activities … I didn’t wander too far down, as it looks as though the same idea is just continued down until the end. As a place to hang out for the afternoon though, Playa La Ropa’s soft and beautiful sand would be hard to beat.
We also opted to visit Playa las Gatas, accessible most efficiently by boat from town, for 40 pesos round-trip. The beach is packed full of restaurants, luring you in with loungers, chairs, and umbrellas. We walked the full length of the beach to the end, where the restaurants stop, and found a patch of sand to lay our towels down on. The snorkelling was pretty average, but we saw a few colourful fish hanging around boat moorings and coral. The boat ride to the island was probably the highlight.
Our next stop was Puerto Escondido, which required a bus transfer in Acapulco. We weren’t able to buy our tickets for the second leg of the journey from Zihua, so we hoped for the best and boarded a bus to Acapulco, which would deposit us in the city at about midnight. The bus we needed to catch left at 2 a.m. Luckily, when we arrived at the bus terminal, the ticket windows were open and the transfer happened pretty much seamlessly, which was more than we were bargaining for. We arrived in Escondido in the morning, and had a couple of days to explore the legendary surf spot.