Updated: Nov 26
Zihuatenejo is a small used-to-be-sleepy fishing village halfway up the western coast of Mexico.
Zihuatenejo has two personalities . As she looks out to sea, on her right she is traditional, unadorned, unapologetic of her clutter. Though she wears colour with bold abandon, she does so without adornment.
To her left, Zihua, the name she’s often called, is well-developed and posh, attracting hoards with her tangerine curves, bejeweled with purple and pink bougainvillea and lush sprays of palm leaves.
Ixtapa, her sister, lies fifteen minutes away. No, she's not Zihua’s sister, nothing like her.
Ixtapa is the rich lady up the highway. The one with a sixty-foot yacht in the huge marina outside her gates and glitzy, high-end ocean-side hotels, shopping centres, restaurants , and bars serviced by thousands of workers. Hard working, grass-watering, tree-trimming, sidewalk-sweeping locals who move through the city in white uniforms.
Were we still in Mexico, I wondered? Colourful, messy, lively Mexico? Other than the small market parallel to the high-rises, Ixtapa felt like a Club Med (which, by the way, can be found just up the highway), immaculate, all-inclusive, and expensive.
But, Ixtapa will pamper and entertain you for days. Banana boats race across the sea, filled with screaming youngsters, pretty masseuses wait at sparkling white beds, and paraglide chutes lie tantalizingly on her beach, waiting for customers. Señor, you want to go for a ride? A massage, Señora? Si, pero no, we say - repeating the title of one of our fave Alex Cuba songs. Yes, but No. We're too cheap to do either. It'd sure be fun though, we think, looking back longingly as we walk away. We comforted ourselves, however, with the best oven-fired pizza and delicious piña coladas we'd ever had on the rooftop terrace of the Tanta Vida.
Ixtapa's ten-kilometre bike lane, kilometres-long sidewalk along her edge, and her go-everywhere combi vans charging 15 pesos/pp make it easy to move around her or to leave for other destinations.
Zihua is just 15 minutes away, and the free-of-charge Cocodrilario Tamakun, a reserve where you can see crocodiles, iguanas and turtles, is just 20 minutes from Ixtapa. Playa Linda, a popular local beach, is adjacent to the reserve and also free of charge to visit, although there are many beachside restaurants happy to trade you a few bucks for a plate of coconut shrimp and a couple margaritas.
Getting In and Out of Zihuatenejo
We came from Acapulco. A five-hour bus ride from the Ejido Terminal there cost $30 each. It was another in a long line of indistinguishable bus trips for us, not horrible but nowhere near Greyhound quality.
The Parkihuni Bus out of Zihua north to Morelia was another story. So comfortable, with cushy seats and leg room to the moon. We were given lemonade and ear phones and had our own TV. Luxurious. Though, full disclosure, Aaron and I operate on a pretty low bar.
Where We Stayed
My ex-brother-in-law was renting a gorgeous, spacious condo near the marina in Ixtapa.
I called him, wondering if we could come for a visit. Maybe stay with them?
"Maybe you could babysit our dog while you’re here?” Keith had asked hesitantly. They’d wanted to get away, to visit Morelia for a few days, a beautiful university town a few hours north. Difficult to do when you have an animal.
We knew how they felt. Aaron and I had recently retired. Oh, the plans we'd had. New Zealand and Ireland were on the top of Aaron's list. I dreamed of Eastern Europe, the Philippines. So, I ask you... why the heck did we buy an acreage and a big ass dog? We’d ground our teeth in frustration after we’d moved, wondering why in god’s name we’d done it. Especially when the dog ate two couches in the first six months we'd had him.
And then we found Trusted Housesitters, a global network that matches up pet owners who want to travel with pet-loving people who want to travel. Oh happy day! Moments after we signed up, we had an application from a young Polish couple. Their references were great and after talking with them via a Zoom call, we knew Bear, our 100-lb 'pup,' would be in good hands while we were here in Mexico. We both breathed a sigh of relief. We could still travel!
Like us, Keith and his pretty wife, Cheryl, had been similarly frustrated, grounded from travelling since they'd bought Hazel, their English bulldog.
We were thrilled. It felt great to help them out rather than just to mooch a bed. And as we relaxed in loungers by their condo’s infinity pool, getting up only to grab nachos, guacamole and margaritas at the swim-up bar, I knew we got the long end of the stick.
Did We Prefer Zihuatenejo or Ixtapa?
Zihuatenejo, hands down. I knew I loved her before I’d met her; the internet showed her colourful personality well. And she didn't disappoint. Her lively streets and markets, the nightly concerts in the basketball court cum plaza, her gorgeous palm-lined beach above her pretty, calm bay, and the Sierra Madre foothills above it all made me want to stay forever. Check out Wikipedia's article on Zihuatenejo - it's great!
We stayed with family in Ixtapa, but if we hadn't, I would have chosen Zihuatenejo. And I would have gravitated to her simpler side, where the locals outnumbered the tourists, where street food carts abounded, and where hotels cost $45 a night.
I am like Zihuatenejo. The simple side of her. A free spirit, a vagabond. Messy, rather than glitzy.
Zihuatenejo appeals more to me. I am strangely proud of my vagabond skills, fantastic, if I may say so myself, at travelling on $6 a day. Others would not call this a skill. Or normal. Especially for a 60-year old. But...I love this kind of travelling. A book by Ed Buryn, titled Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa, inspired me at age 20 to quit my job and go vagabonding for 2 years. And I've travelled like that since, an extreme budgeter, ecstatic when I find a hotel for a great price.
So that's who I am. Well... that’s who I was.
But I’m feeling torn, suddenly. I have new wants, desires I’ve never had in my years of travelling. I long to embrace those tangerine curves on Zihua's left where, I know lie thick sheets, soft mattresses that let you sink as if you're in a cloud of ambrosia.
But I’m loathe to take even a baby step toward that luxury. What if, by leaning even a little into what I call 'the dark side,' I go too far? What if fall in love with it? Up my budget $20, then $30. Will I stop? What if I become like Ixtapa?
Ixtapa, the opposite of Zihuatenejo. The rich lady, the ultimate opposite of who I am now. A tourist. Tourists buy certainty, Ed Buryn said in his book - certainly of comfort, certainty of service, certainty of sensation.
NO! That's not me!
I’m an adventurer, a vagabond. I don’t want certainty, sameness; I want the unpredictable.
But I want thick sheets too. I’m so confused.
I hope you enjoyed this blog on Mexican beach towns. If you did, check out Part One (Huatulco & Zipolite), and Part Two (Playa Escondido)...AND... if you want to be notified when I post future blogs...
The link to Trusted Housesitters is an affiliate link, meaning that if you use to sign up for this fantastic pet and home sitting service, I'll earn a few bucks :).