IXTAPA. ZIHUATANEJO Mexico A Tale of Two Cities
About Zihuatanejo, Mexico
The secret of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on The Golden Pacific coastline of Mexico 250kms northwest of Acapulco is out. Canadians arrive in plane loads now to enjoy the guaranteed sunshine (300 days a year), the beautiful topography and the white sandy beaches.
The secret of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on The Golden Pacific coastline of Mexico 250kms northwest of Acapulco is out. Canadians arrive in plane loads now to enjoy the guaranteed sunshine (300 days a year), the beautiful topography and the white sandy beaches. The adjoining towns share the same gorgeous Zihuatanejo bay but are practically each other’s opposites in every other way. It’s best to know the differences to know where to stay.
Ixtapa is the new comer with a line-up of first class hotels along El Palmar Beach and two golf courses: Palma Real and Marina Ixtapa. There are wide tree lined streets, plenty of fancy shopping malls and plazas and a lively nightlife. It’s a modern resort area that was created from the ground-up by Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund of Mexico) in an old coconut plantation that was expropriated in 1968 for development. The city maintenance is still done by Fonatur with federal funds and the place is spotlessly clean. In Ixtapa we stayed at Las Brisas designed by world-renowned Mexican architect, Ricardo Legorreta. Just 5 minutes away by taxi from the hotel zone, its beach is as private as it gets and its ocean views breathtaking. It was filled with families no doubt attracted to its all-inclusive option, large rooms with oversize terraces, multiple pools and spacious beach. However while our room was a delight, especially since it was cool enough at night to leave the terrace doors open to enjoy the sea breezes and surf sounds, we felt cut off from the true tastes of Mexico. The only restaurants we enjoyed were the adult only Italian fine dining ristorante Portofino and the casual snacks at La Brisa on the beach.
Zihuatanejo, on the other hand, held the charm and appeal of yesteryear. It has been a fishing port for centuries that has evolved into a tourist destination without losing its origins. Stroll along the Paseo del Pescador in the morning and you’ll see fisherman displaying their catch of the day for sale. The narrow streets wind around past small boutiques, craft shops, little cafés, galleries with local art, bars, small budget hotels and traditional restaurants. (City government does all the chores here and while safe to walk, the sidewalks can be narrow and in disrepair.) At the five star Viceroy Zihuatanejo, just minutes by taxi from downtown, our grand Mexican designed suite was just a few steps from Playa La Ropa beach where the calm, warm waters where ideal for swimming. The hotel offered a “shop and cook” activity with the chef which of course we had to do. Mexican native Chef Arturo Eduardo Avila Zarraga was appointed to the dual position of Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director at the Viceroy in January after 15 years of experience including at St. Regis Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City. My husband and I joined Chef Eduardo, his sous chef Freddy and two other Canadian couples (are Canadians the biggest foodies in NA?) for the morning which began with a walk through the local Mercado to buy fresh fish and produce.
The market is a compact labyrinth of small stands selling all kinds of fresh seafood, local vegetables, fruits and herbs along with sundries, fast food, cleaning supplies, hair care and whatnot. It helped tremendously to have chefs show us the way, help us learn the Spanish names and uses of products we’ve never seen before and negotiate the buying. We returned from the market laden with goodies that the chefs taught us how to turn into a delicious lunch in a hands-on cooking class, beachside. We made guacamole (grilling the garlic and peppers first), pico de gallo (salsa of fresh chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, serrano peppers, salt and lime juice), sauces such as molcajete (grilled tomatoes, habanero chili, garlic and onion smashed together in a stone mortar called a molcajete) and tiritas (the local ceviche made with strips of raw fish, lime juice, hot peppers, onion, salt and Mexican oregano). The chefs also butterflied and grilled a large red snapper over coals slathering it first with several sauces they had us make. It was an amazing feast which we washed down with smooth Mexican wines.
Our final stay was at Casa Que Canta in Zihuatanejo draped on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It had the most dramatic architecture and views of all though beach access was too treacherous for my husband to want to attempt. At night their open-air Mar y Cielo restaurant was pure romance. Enjoying the Casa’s scrumptious breakfasts in the morning by our private infinity plunge pool was pure rapture. The other culinary options in the area were numerous and varied. Lunch in town at Garrobos, was a truly local treat. This family owned business opened in 1981 and run by the third generation Gregorio Lara Guzmán, his sisters and mother is as popular with Mexicans as with tourists. Fishermen bring their fresh catch of oysters, fish, octopus, lobster and more daily directly to the restaurant which is just a block from the ocean. Beloved dishes include the Aztec soup and grilled lobster with garlic butter. The most gourmet meal of our stay was the tasting a la carte menu at Amuleto high up in the hills with yet another spectacular view of Zihuatanejo Bay. It’s no wonder tourism to this area keeps going up and Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and WestJet, all offer seasonal non-stop flights from Canada. Just wish we could keep it ‘our’ secret.