There’s a sensual exuberance and love of simple pleasures in this fishing village 120 miles north of Acapulco. It’s hard to imagine not falling in love in Zihua, or at least, not falling in love with Zihua.
Part of the fun of being in this sun-splashed non-resort is mingling with the locals. Even when it gets crowded during high season (December through Easter), locals far outnumber visitors. Fishermen sell their wares at the busy Mercado de Mariscos, while sporty types play basketball in the main square, and soccer on the beach just below. Grandpas survey the scene from front steps. Families stroll along beachfront Paseo del Pescador, the main street edging the bay. At the end of the street, a cement boardwalk leads to Playa La Madera, where local boys play soccer on the sand. The restaurant of moderately priced, excellent Hotel Las Brisas sits right over the sand.
Beaches A Go Go
You can continue walking along the sand to Playa La Ropa, just around a rocky outcropping. There are sailboards and jet skis for rent in high season, and parasailers float high overhead, tethered to speedboats like colorful balloons. It’s a pretty, long beach where you can get drinks and snacks from the restaurants and play all day in the lazy surf.
Continuing along the curve of wide, deep Zihuatanejo Bay, Playa Las Gatas is a wonderful beach accessible by boat. Covered launches from Zihua’s wooden pier make the short trip every 10 or 15 minutes for a small fee. Retain your ticket for the return trip.
On Sundays families stake out places at Playa Las Gatas’ side-by-side palapa restaurants, buying soft drinks and chilled coconuts and staying put all day. Open-air stalls sell bikinis and wraps from Indonesia; banana boat “captains” pile on the passengers. It’s a festive atmosphere.
Hills rise up sharply around the curvaceous bay; they seem to spring from the sea. The scene is especially beautiful after summer rains paint everything green. Summer also brings swells, and surfers catch waves at the point near Las Gatas, or around the point at La Manzanilla, accessible by boat from Playa La Ropa or from Zihua’s pier, where you can also arrange fishing and diving expeditions.
Shopping is great fun in Zihua. Crafts from the state (Guerrero) include mountains of silver jewelry from Taxco; painted or lacquered plates, bowls, and platters; decorative “masks” made of coconuts; and inexpensive shell and bead jewelry, among other treasures. Along Paseo del Pescador between Calles 5 de Mayo and Morelos, the Artisan Market has almost 200 similar stalls selling Guerrero’s crafts as well as sarongs, T-shirts, string hammocks, and cheap sunglasses.
The town’s main market, on Avenida Benito Juárez, is more traditional shopping for locals, but has lots of cool things and is fun to browse. Pull up a wooden stool and have a meal at a market restaurant. There are lots of nice shops throughout town with a slightly more individualized selection of goods.
After a day of heat and humidity, evening breezes are blessedly cool and palpably moist, like ones of those chilled and lemon-scented white washcloths you receive when you arrive, hot and sweaty, at a luxurious resort. Travelers mingle with working parents who take the kids out for a stroll around town, a Zapotec kingdom when the Spaniards came to call in the 16th century. The ancient place name, Zihuatlan, means “place of women.” The Spaniards, finding it less than appealing, added the somewhat pejorative suffix “ejo,” changing the name to Zihuantanejo.
Sunday Night Live
Sunday evening is cultural night in Zihuatanejo, with mainly local talent. The town plaza/basketball court becomes a cement stage for singers, comedians, and rappers. Behind the crowd, vendors in the plaza hawk popcorn, cotton candy, tamales, and balloons. Couples strolled arm and arm, teens in packs.
I was just a kid myself, 17, the first time I visited Mexico. In the fishing village of Santa Cruz, Nayarit, I watched a similar ritual every weekend. On Saturday evenings the whole town showed up in the village plaza in their best clothes. Men and boys walked one way around the square, girls and young women the other. During the traditional weekly cotillion, girls teased and giggled, while young studs engaged in mock battles designed to impress future sweethearts. The people mingling in Zihua’s plaza reminds me of my first, most innocent flirtation with Mexico .