We just got back from our first week spent in Zihuatanejo, near Ixtapa on the Pacific Coast of Mexico (17-24 May 2003). We really enjoyed ourselves, despite having the first heavy rainfall of the year (one night) and the oppressive humidity the next day.
We stayed at the Hotel Irma and think we made a great choice. The hotel is mid-level but fine, and is beautifully located, on the highest edge of the Madera beach overlooking the bay – gorgeous views especially at sunset. Rooms are large and comfortable; there is AC and a TV with a limited number of Spanish-language channels, and a small balcony all with great views. The staff was very friendly and the maid made those cute towel and flower arrangements for us every day. The Irma had a great deal for the low season – three nights for the price of two, with breakfasts thrown in for two adults for the two days that you pay. So our cost for 7 nights at the Irma for a couple and daughter, all taxes included with 5 X 2 American breakfasts thrown in, came to something around $460 US. We reserved it directly from them over the web without any problem (they can be slow answering sometimes). A very good and much longer recent description of the Irma is written by Curly – see http://www.loscowtones.com/zihua/irma.htm.
The Madera beach is not as pretty as the La Ropa beach (a 15 minute walk or 2 $US taxi ride away) but turned out to be better for young children – the water depth stays shallow fairly far out, which allowed my 7-year old daughter to learn to play in the surf; at the Ropa beach she could not do that. The walk from the Irma on the path along the beach to downtown (about 10-15 minutes) was great fun, especially in early evenings – that is where many young Mexican lovers go to talk and sometimes discretely kiss as the sun goes down. As Curly says in his report, bring a flashlight with you if you plan to walk back after dark – there are a couple short stretches with no light.
The Irma and the Villa Mexicana Hotels have the same owners, meaning that you can stay at the Irma and use the VM facilities (i.e., the lounge chairs and shade on the La Ropa beach). The manager of the VM restaurant occasionally asked us to eat/drink if we wanted to use the facilities, but the Irma and VM managers indicated that that was not necessary. The VM pools are big hot bathtubs; the ones at the Irma are bigger though still fairly small, but much better.
We visited Ixtapa one day and won’t be going back. It felt sterile to us, like being in a suburban mall as opposed to Zihuatanejo (which has more the style of a small Mediterranean-Mexican type town), and with ocean waves that are too strong for swimming most days. Apparently the sunsets there are very nice, although I’d be surprised if they are better than at the Irma or the Catalina. While there we had 2 drinks and a pitcher of lemonade at Carlo’s and Charlie’s in the afternoon, and paid the equivalent of $26 US to a surly waiter (the only person we expressly did not tip while in Mexico) – ridiculous prices for by far the worst margueritas we had during our trip.
Food and drink
The Catalina sunset bar (above the end of the La Ropa beach closest to Zihuat) is fantastic from 6-8PM (happy hour) – for relaxing and watching the sun slowly set on the beach. (The view at the Irma was about as good, but during low season the bar/restaurant closed at 3PM, and there is no fridge in rooms to keep your drinks cold.)
I didn’t like the Villa Mexicana restaurant. The food was alright, but we had a major problem. We are vegetarians (and said so) and we chose a dish (sopetitos classicos??) that the menu spelled out what was in it – small “sopés” with beans and cheese. Well, it came with meat hidden below the cheese. So, anyone with dietary conditions, avoid the VM restaurant – their disregard for our preferences and essentially dishonest advertising on the menu will keep us away in the future. (The hotel itself, however, seemed to have a very good reputation.)
The Sirena Gorda right on the waterfront of Zihuatanejo has great breakfasts. Their seafood lunch and dinner dishes are also supposed to be wonderful, although being vegetarians we didn’t try them.
Try tamales and other authentic Mexican food at Tamales Any about 3 blocks in from the Zihuatanejo waterfront – very good. Their quesadillas while good are deep-fried and very greasy.
The oriental restaurant across the street from Tamales Any was also very good – run by a Chinese Philippinian woman (Estelle??) who speaks perfect English, although the food is not US-style Chinese. It was a very welcome change for my daughter after a week of Mexican food, and the only place we saw with tofu, if you are looking for it.
We very much liked the Puesto del Sol (about 50 yards/meters up the road from the Irma) – very good food, great views, a real willingness to cook how and what you like whether it be on the menu or not, and their bananas flambé is a truly great show and yummy dessert too. We didn’t try the Kua Kan next door – our one contact with them turned us off (snobby, seemingly much less interested in going out of their way to make our meal enjoyable). But the place looked beautiful.
Over the past few years we’ve stayed at a couple top all-inclusive resorts (e.g., the Bahia Principe Tulum in Caribbean Mexico and the Iberostar Bavaro in the DR) which we liked a lot. However, this time around we really enjoyed getting out of those “golden prisons” and seeing more of Mexico. This didn’t come cheap – while the hotel was very reasonable, we also ate a many very good restaurants and drank our fill of margueritas in beautiful bars overlooking the water, and then had to pay the bills. We will definitely be going back to the area – hopefully next time for 2-3 days at the Irma or the Catalina and then a short week at a B&B in Troncones, located about 20 km north of Zihuatanejo.