“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
You may remember Red, played by Morgan Freeman, thinking this to himself in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Fresh out of prison after 40 years, Red is headed to the town of Zihuatanejo, Mexico to meet up with his friend Andy Dufresne. It’s a beautiful message, and an equally beautiful feeling… to be full of excitement and hope, and to feel that all of your time is your own. And as fortune would have it, we too were in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, enjoying the deep blue of the Pacific.
We rode into town after 5 hours in a plush 1st class bus from Morelia. We booked a double room in a hostel for a night, and it sucked us in for a whole week. It was in an ideal location, next to the local market and a quick 10 minute walk to the beach. Of course we didn’t even make it 5 minutes from checking in until we were already getting served some amazing food in one of the local market’s fondas, Fonda Irma. The most outgoing member of the kitchen, Rosa, took care of us like we were her own children over the course of the next 5 days, feeding us some of the most amazing food we’ve had yet. Fresh caught seafood pulled right from the neighboring fish stalls just minutes before you eat it is absolutely heavenly. We ate many meals here, and practiced our Spanish while stimulating our taste buds and filling our stomachs
After our first meal in a new town, we headed to the beach. After eating breakfast in Patzcuaro while wearing 2 jackets and hats, it was nice to head out wearing shorts and flip flops. Only getting lost a few times, we landed on Playa Madera, kicked off our flip flops, and soaked our feet in the warm salt water. A boardwalk led off into the distance, bringing us to Playa Principal just as the sun set behind the hills.
The town itself is pretty sleepy, and lacks any sense of being a tourist destination (although in theory large cruise ships do dock here.) The market shuts down around 6:30 pm and the streets have only minor activity after dark, although its always possible to get some street tacos or ice cream. Which of course we did. There are a few large condo communities, but they blend well into the surrounding landscape so they aren’t an eyesore. The architecture throughout town is simple, with no outstanding town square or colonial church, but is charming nonetheless. The condo complexes up on the hill over Playa La Ropa have an amazing view, as we found from an Italian fusion restaurant in the area
We explored 3 of the main beaches near town, Playa Principal, Playa Madera, and Playa La Ropa. Playa La Ropa had by far the best beach, a fine white sand and the calmest water for swimming. We still managed to spend a great day body surfing and relaxing in the sun.
After a couple months of high elevation living, we weren’t used to the hot temperatures on mid-day. A side benefit though is that we could climb the steepest hill at sea-level without even breathing heavy. During the hottest time of the day, we typically retired to our hostel where we sat on the balcony enjoying the breeze or took a quick nap in a hammock. Rough life
Looking to change it up a bit, we took a bus to Playa Linda. The bus makes its way through Ixtapa, a 1970’s government planned resort community. It’s basically a little piece of Florida in the middle of Mexico… big ugly hotels, strip malls, and strip clubs. For $200 – $300 a night you too can pretend you are still in the United States
Arriving at Playa Linda, we find a small nature reserve filled with crocodiles, iguanas, and some of the most beautiful white and pink duck-billed birds. We watched the crocodiles bask in the sun, and the birds battle for nesting space. The Rosetta Spoonbills are some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen
A 5 minute water taxi brings you to Isla Ixtapa, a small island with a few beaches. We camped out on Playa Cuachalate, which was even better than Playa La Ropa for swimming with hardly any waves at all and beautiful sugary sand. There are a few other beaches on the island but we didn’t explore as the conditions were perfect at Playa Cuachalate. We spent a whole day here swimming and sipping beers and fresh young coconuts
Zihuatanejo is near the top of our list of favorite places, and was a great welcome to the Pacific coast of Mexico. Originally not even on our list of places to visit, a fellow bus passenger to Morelia recommended it. Everybody we met was warm and friendly, the food was amazing, and the beach time was spectacular. But since we knew there were more beaches ahead of us, we hit the road
1 night in Adrianita’s Hostel: $275 pesos (~$22)
One serving of Camaron al ajo: $90 pesos (~$7)
Bus to Playa Linda: $10 pesos ($0.80)
Boat to Isla Ixtapa (roundtrip): $40 pesos ($3.20)
Cold beer with lime, on the beach: $15 pesos ($1.20)
4 kg of laundry, washed, dried, folded: $60 pesos ($4.75)