Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are two coastal towns that sit side by side in Guerrero, Mexico. You may be familiar with Guerrero since the State Department rated it as a level 5 on the Do Not Travel list. While I am not an expert, it feels like assessing the safety of this state on the same scale as Syria is extreme. I have been to Ixtapa 4 times in the last 20 years and the only change I noticed this year was how many fewer tourists there were. Tourism being down is a shame as many of the restaurants and hotels rely on tourism and without it, things have fallen into a bit of disrepair. The Ixtapa marina and boardwalk that used to be such a crown jewel of the town is mostly deserted, that said we stayed in the Marina and had a lovely time.
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo Travel Guide
Things To Do
Diving, snorkeling and whale and dolphin watching can all be arranged through Dive Zihua owned by Canadian expat Maude. We arranged for a lovely trip for 1500 Pesos. We were picked up at the Zihuatanejo pier at 9 a.m. and proceeded to two different snorkel spots. On this particular day, clarity was not optimal, but we saw many beautiful reef fish, an eel, and some small rays. Maude was a great tour guide. She got into the water with us and helped point out unique fish.
Grab a ticket for 50 Pesos at the Playa Linda Pier and take a boat out to Ixtapa Island. Here you can spend a day at the beach. There are no waves, and the snorkeling is easy for all levels around a few small rocks (look for the little eel hidden in the rocks) Walk to the end of the beach and look for Pamelitas. They had the best coconut shrimp, grilled whole red snapper and buckets of beer. Don’t forget to get the requisite whole pineapple or coconut drink.
Los Gatas is a beach accessed by boat, but this time you leave from the Zihuatanejo Marina Pier. The beach is very calm and protected. It’s good for snorkeling (there’s some coral) and as a swimming spot for children, but beware of sea urchins. Snorkel the underwater wall and see if you can find the underwater Jesus beyond the wall sunk at about 30 feet.
Find your way into Zihuatanejo for cooking class with Monica. You start the course on the patio of Monica’s home and walk to the farmers market to select fresh fish and ingredients to make local specialties like fish tacos, ceviche and the local specialty Triritas, which is thinly sliced fish filet marinated in lime juice with chili and red onion. The class is entertaining and walking to the market and going through it and seeing all the local specialties was a highlight. There are other classes where you can learn how to make tortilla soup, chili rejenos, and mole. You can register in person or by email to reserve your spot before your trip at email@example.com
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo Restaurants
Coconuts have the second best coconut shrimp we had on the trip (see Pamelitas above for the first). The atmosphere of the restaurant is charming with twinkly lights and a small trio of singers. They are known for their Hearts of Palm salad with balsamic dressing, and they have tableside Crepe Suzette, Bananas Flambe, and flaming Spanish coffee drinks. This restaurant has been there for a long time, the servers are pro’s, and it does not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I also liked the Shrimp Curry, and the Beef dish they had that they served with a chicken enchilada, guacamole, and frijoles.
This restaurant was the fanciest one we went to in Zihua. You drive up into the hills, and the cab driver drops you off at a wall with a locked door and drives away. You ring the doorbell and tell the voice your reservation number, and they buzz you into the door. You walk down a flight of stairs to enter the boutique hotel restaurant that is stunning and cut into the hillside overlooking their endless pool and the Zihua harbor. Dinner was 1250 pesos a person (roughly $80 US) for a three-course pre-fix menu. Our server spoke excellent English and had lived in the US for most of his life. I resisted the urge to ask if Trump drove him out as that’s a story for another day. Our food was fantastic. Course 1 was a corn empanada in a fantastic corn cream sauce. Course 2 was a Scallop in a pea puree, and Course 3 was grilled fish. All of the dishes were beautiful and well executed. Dessert was a passion fruit sorbet that was tart and tangy. Amuleto is an excellent choice for a special event dinner.
Once again your taxi takes you into the dusty hills of Mexico, this time on the Ixtapa side. The cab shimmies along a one-way wall and drops you off amidst a dusty parking lot with a sign directing you to a model home to tour. This spot is the new location for an Ixtapa favorite called Kau Kan. Situated in the heart of a new condo development that is freshly being constructed is Kau Kan 3.0. You walk across a spectacularly high never-ending bridge to an elevator tower above the thrashing water crashing into the rocks below and take the elevator down three levels to the restaurant which is again cut into the side of a cliff. 12 tables are all the restaurant has, and each of the views is spectacular.
Kau Kan is an excellent place for a sunset and dinner will set you back about $75 for two courses. We had a salad of stuffed avocado with shrimp flavored with lemon, ginger, and lemongrass that was overflowing with big hunks of briny fresh shrimp that was perfectly cooked. We had the house special, a rock Lobster that was stuffed with potato and adorned with pesto cream. This dish was flavorful, but the rock lobsters just don’t have that much meat, so it was augmented with shrimp which made the recipe a little less special. The pesto cream was okay, but I probably wouldn’t order this again. The profiterole dessert was exactly as it should be. Whenever you can get cream puffs stuffed with ice cream and covered in chocolate sauce, why wouldn’t you?
In the central square of Ixtapa is Mexicos version of a pop-up restaurant called the Smoke Shack. It’s a slip of a place with picnic tables covered with checkered vinyl cloths, and it specializes in barbeque. The menu is minimal, smoked chicken wings, beef brisket, and pork ribs. These items come in plain red plastic trays with some sauce, and that’s it. No paper lining the basket, no garnish, not even a pickle. Sides of cole slaw or beans are ordered a la carte. The presentation was dumpy, but the food products themselves were delicious. I loved the brisket. A great bark and a smoky taste. The ribs were fall off the bone tender, and the BBQ sauce was tangy and not too sweet. Lord, I wished for some toast or fries. Not low price wise but if you are craving meat or BBQ which sometimes can happen in Mexico after a week of eating fish, check it out.
Located on the Marina of Ixtapa Fisher’s is a fun, open, sports bar type of atmosphere with fresh fish, fish tacos, many types of cebiche and aguachile. The service here is excellent. They keep the beers cold and the chip basket full, and they start you out with a shooter of fish soup that is delicious with a squeeze of fresh lime. We loved the shrimp aguachile here. This dish is raw shrimp, so freshness is critical. The shrimp was cut down the back and splayed open. Chopped avocado, cucumber, jalapeno, pickled red onion, and lime lightly “cook” the shrimp in the marinade leading to a tasty fresh series of yummy spicy bites.
There are two locations for Emilios Pizza. One location is in downtown Zihuatanejo, and the other is in Downtown Ixtapa. Here you will find huge fresh salads and thin cracker crust type pizzas and huge goblets of wine. Sometimes when you are in Mexico for a week or more, you look for something other than fish to give you some variety, and Emilios Pizza is a perfect choice.