Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: A Tale of Two Vacation Experiences
by, 08-15-2013 at 09:15 PM (2010 Views)
A couple daytrips to Tijuana and cruise stop-over in Ensenada aside, I had yet to experience the “real” Mexico. Our neighbor to the south has long been on my traveler’s hit list, and I knew I wanted my first true visit to combine a luxury beachfront resort experience with a more authentic immersion in Mexican culture.
For that reason, when I spotted an incredible offer for Las Brisas Ixtapa on Luxury Link – through the company’s partnership with Preferred Hotel Group – I jumped on it. The AAA Four-Diamond Las Brisas is a fixture in Ixtapa, with sweeping ocean views from each room thanks to its angled hillside design, a private beach and six on-site restaurants. Meanwhile, over the hill just 15 minutes south lies Zihuatanejo, a still-traditional fishing town with a rapidly-growing tourism infrastructure of its own, although much more understated than Ixtapa’s.
So I scheduled a “guys” vacation among four friends (including a fellow Luxury Link staffer) and in early August we boarded an Alaska Airlines flight three-and-a-half hours south to this most-dichotomous Mexican beach vacation destination.
Checking into Las Brisas Ixtapa took some getting used to. The open-air lobby is on the 18th floor, two above our guestrooms on the 16th. Accommodations have been recently remodeled, with cooling tile throughout and a separate couch and table area, which funnel onto Las Brisas’ trademark burnt-orange patio, complete with hammock.
Making a bee-line for the beach we uncovered another quirk – guests take an elevator to the 10th floor and then another one straight to the sand. La playa is the stuff of vacation legend: a perfect crescent-shaped cove fringed by tropical foliage and cacti, with plenty of open palapas and lounge chairs beckoning vacationers. The waves and undertow can get a bit intense, but nothing a competent swimmer can’t handle.
That night, on the advice of a hotel porter, we made the first of several taxi trips into Zihuatanejo. Provided two restaurant recommendations, we decided on Los Braseros, a “Zihua” institution. The staff immediately scored points when they switched the TV to the soccer game I was eager to watch. Los Braseros then floored our entire group with its authentic fare: mahi-mahi tacos declared “the best ever” by my three amigos, and a sort of scramble consisting of al pastor pork, peppers, onions and cheese for me, the non-fish-eater.
Another recommended restaurant is Tamales y Atoles Any, where I stuffed myself with pozole, a hearty stew that is a specialty of Guerrero state. Opting for pozole completa, I was presented with an colorful platter of stew accoutrements.
After dinner that first night, we meandered through Zihua’s compact downtown, and quickly realized we were in fact visiting during low-season… especially for tourists from the U.S. and Canada. Nearly all Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo visitors we encountered hailed from other parts of Mexico, and this only added to the authentic experience I was seeking. Finding our way to a local sports bar we encountered one of Las Brisas’ front desk attendants, who graciously flagged down the bartender and helped four gringos order a round of cervezas.
Two night’s later we stumbled upon a local festival in Zihua’s small central square where some kind of juggling clown performance was taking place, and nearby each morning is an open-air fish market with the day's fresh catch.
Aside from some serious R&R, we really only planned two activities during our four-night stay. Two of us did a pair of SCUBA dives just outside Zihuatanejo Bay and our entire group took a boat excursion to Isla Ixtapa the following day. With all do respect to the affable João of Zihua Divers, I think our hour of snorkeling off Isla Ixtapa trumped the dives in terms of sea life! We encountered a lobster, octopus and the usual assortment of brightly-colored fish that flock to coral reefs in translucent 80-degree water.
As I sit on the flight home writing this trip recap, I think I chose perfectly for a first foray into “real” Mexico. The juxtaposition of Ixtapa’s luxurious resort experience and Zihuatanejo’s portal into Mexican culture kept our group enthralled, well-fed and of course nicely-tan!