IXTAPA – ZIHUATANEJO REVIEW . . .
A DESTINATION OF “UNLIMITED FUN”
WHERE COAST MEETS CULTURE
Photos by Lawrence Davis, editor-in-chief
My Continental Airlines flight from New York to Ixtapa includes a change of planes in Houston. We arrive and depart from the same terminal, so there is no pressure or hassle reaching the gate of my connecting flight. In fact, being a Continental fan for many years, I appreciate and always enjoy their friendly and dependable service. Both segments are relaxing; the landings smooth and reassuring. Now that Continental and United Airlines are merging, I am looking forward to flying “the friendly skies” with the best of both carriers
The people of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are as warm and welcoming as the sun and the sea; life is laid back and stress free. There is a wide choice of accommodations at every price level: from high rise luxury beach front hotels and weekly condo rentals to privately owned small guest houses that rise up the hillside and overlook the harbor.
Each hotel offers a wide choice of amenities and daily activities, traditional and classic local food specialties, and fun group cooking classes. Not only that, but rates like tourism is way down, which makes this an affordable, as well as a safe and clean, destination.
Zihuatanajo.enjoys a wonderfully colorful history that spans nearly three centuries: from the early pirate enclaves and marauding Spanish galleons to its humble beginnings as a sleepy fishing village in the 70’s and 80’s, and now as a much improved and expanded charming town. Zihuatanejo has long been home to a luminous array of adventurers, celebrities and global dignitaries, who were drawn to the tranquility and privacy of Playa la Ropa. .
Part of the mystique, that continues to intrigue guests who have been coming here for more than 20 years, are memories of the old days, when artists and musicians like Larry Rivers and Mick Jagger swaggered down the beach, and movie stars and moguls watched the sunset from the bar at The Catalina Beach Resort, the oldest and most famous hotel in town.
Built by Mr. Alfonso Galindo Mackintosh in 1952, Catalina Beach Resort (former Hotel Catalina) was the first hotel along Zihuatanejo's beautiful and protected bay shoreline.
Perched proudly above the bay, with steps leading down to its private beach, .the views and sunset from the hotel’s infinity pool, bar, restaurant and rooms inspire tranquility and inner calm
Over the years, Ixtapa, its newer sister town, was developed with high rise hotels lining the beach, but it remains low key and extremely well maintained. The Hotel Association works together to keep the beach trash free and pristine; the Ixtapa beach, the longest in Mexico, is also one of eight certified as the cleanest in the country...
Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa are totally different, even though there is a blending of cultures and residents. On one hand there is the local life, and on the other hand, tourist life. People who were born here are still fishing and practicing traditions passed down from one generation to the next.
The Presidente Intercontinental, one of the earlier built hotels in Ixtapa; is the only
“all inclusive” in the hotel’s Mexican portfolio. Our first night is celebrated with an under- the- stars dinner on the hotel’s terrace, hosted by Ana Luisa Morin Fernandez (public relations manager of the towns) and Stephan Coudon, a charming Frenchman who is the hotel’s new manager.
I sip my first made- in- Mexico margarita, and share a feast of typical shredded fish in lime served in a coconut, sautéed shrimp with lime vinaigrette, beef filet grilled to medium rare perfection and a sour sop mousse with strawberry and mango coulis. It is a delicious and festive evening, and I am happy to be here.
I start my days at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, serving myself a healthy mix of fresh fruits, homemade breads, hot local specialties, or a- made –to- order omelet. Some of the staff has been working here for more than 20 years; they love the hotel; are part of its family of employees; and take pride in giving guests attentive service.
It is easy to reach the beach from my third floor room; I simply walk down a ramp which leads directly onto the sand. I watch a bird duck under the waves before they break, then reappear on the calm water. I follow his pattern; diving under a wave; the sea welcomes me. I wander down the beach; a fisherman from Zihuatanejo casts his line into the sea. He wears a diamond amulet at the end of a beaded rope, and tells me “there are more fish (which he sells) off this beach.” He has three fish in his bucket; I call him guapo and promise to come back to photo him in the morning. Two massage tents are set up at the edge of the sand. As I pass, two masseuses run down to entice me into paying $25 for an hour massage and $16 for a half hour. Quite high, considering a massage on the beach in Phuket, Thailand, only costs $5.
A young man stands on the edge of the water; he has a wooden paddle in his hands; fishing wire is wrapped around it with a hook and bait on the end. I watch him twirl the wire around his head like a lasso, and then hurl it into the sea. He slowly rewinds the wire around the paddle, repeating his unique fishing technique many times. I try my hand at twirling the wire over my head, and then flinging it out as far as I can. The waves carry it beyond my sight. I stand, patiently, slowly wrapping the wire around the paddle, hoping to catch a fish; but the sea refuses to surrender one of its inhabitants
On an afternoon city tour of Zihuatanejo, we visit Playa la Ropa, Cerro del Vigia, the food and artisan markets and the newly improved downtown section of town. There is much to see, buy and taste, and we enjoy a delicious late lunch on the outdoor patio of a typical local restaurant.
We cross the water on a small boat to Ixtapa Island. Once there, some of our group spend time snorkeling; others kayaking; I prefer an outdoor massage, watching the surf break, and then a swim before lunch. Long wooden tables are set up on the sand; we are served authentic local specialties like raw fish tiritas doused with lime juice and yummy pescadillas before we head back to the mainland.
Zihuatanejo’s bayside promenade (Paseo del pescador) is great for strolling, shopping for handicrafts and clothing, people watching and dining on fresh caught local fish at one of many outdoor cafés. You can also sample a variety of Mexican coffees and tequilas. We climb a steep flight of stairs to one of the town’s most popular pizza restaurants; where we are seated on a terrace overlooking the harbor, and then served Mexican style pizzas, filled with meats, chicken and spicy ingredients.
The rooms at the Dorado Pacific Beach Resort in Ixtapa are airy, spacious and beautifully decorated; they open onto private terraces that face the sea.
the view from a room
We have been invited to lunch al fresco, at the hotel’s Coco la Palm Restaurant. I watch a group of guests, dressed in aprons and toques, as they enthusiastically pound avocados and tomatoes at an outdoor cooking class.
Chef Daniel Pech is from the Yucatan, and has been here wowing guests with his Mayan cooking for ten years. He welcomes me into his kitchen; I watch him plate the delicacies he has especially prepared to challenge our palates.
Babbie and Chef Daniel in kitchen
He personally presents our table with a tomato, onion and garlic fusion of spices and salsas, tacos filled with mahi mahi, and chicken tamales. Well respected hotel owner Raphael Mizrahi is here from Mexico City to meet with his nephew Isaac who runs the property. I ask him, “Why a Mayan chef”? “Because they are good”, he replies.
El Refugio de Potosi is a center for wildlife conservation and environmental education that explores the biological diversity of the region. Laurel Patrick the founder, and a long time/ part time resident of Zihuatanejo, made a huge financial and emotional leap of faith when she sold her wonderful beach house to follow her dream of helping children and healing animals in the wild. It took more than two years to find, purchase, and build a visitor’s center on the 18 acre property. Her latest project is finding godfathers to adopt the bones of a beached whale so they can be mounted on stainless steel and hung as a learning experience. Laurel believes “if we increase awareness of the flora and fauna, we will end up saving it.”
For more info, or to adopt a bone. www.elrefugiodepotosi.org.
From here we visit the small fishing village of Barra de Potosi. I kick off my shoes, walk the beach; swim in the lagoon and then devour a heaping plate of fresh grilled seafood and fish, guacamole and rice.
Francisco Licona, some call him Frank, I call him Paco, has been a wonderful guide, taking us to small villages: one makes delicious bright colored coconut candy, and another where we visit a beautiful old church, eat with the locals and buy gold and silver trinkets.
To reach Paco: firstname.lastname@example.org
making candy in the middle of nowhere
At night, we are the guests of the manager of Bogart’s Restaurant. The original opened in Acapulco when the resort attracted a long list of Hollywood movie stars who danced on its beaches and drank till dawn. Bogart’s in Ixtapa has recreated the romantic and glamorous décor, and we are feted with many courses and attentive service.
Friday Night Beach BBQ
Our last night, begins at the Presidente Intercontinental Friday night beach BBQ. It is festive and fun; all types of meats and chickens are being grilled on open fires; long tables are laden with an array of salads and vegetables; others are heavy with sweet desserts. The night is lit with lanterns and a blanket of twinkling stars.
At about 10, it’s on to a nearby disco where I dance and drink my last margaritas.
Why come to Ixtapa?
”Here you don’t have to do anything …
just be yourself, or you can do everything.”
Not to be missed
Deborah Soles famous coconut cream pie and the succulent grilled lobster at her Mamma Norma Restaurant, you can email her for reservations, but not her secret recipe: email@example.com