It’s clear from first sight that the ancient Aztecs, who called Ixtapa “The Glowing Place” in their native Nahuatl, knew a thing or two about naming locales. This gorgeous bay in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero is nothing but glowing. Islets dot a blinding blue sea just this side of the horizon. The water is always warm and inviting and palm trees sway in gentle breezes that waft down from the nearby Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains.
What remains a mystery is why Ixtapa took so long to find its niche among prime Mexican leisure destinations. As early as the 1970s when it was a feral wilderness of coconut plantations and fishing shacks, the administration of then-President Luis Echeverria decided that, along with Cancun, this backwater bay would be developed into one of the crown jewels of Mexican resorts to jumpstart a faltering economy.
Today, Ixtapa is everything those forward-looking planners envisioned. Unlike Cancun, though, touches of genuine Mexican flavor and style are evident everywhere. There are more than 20 luxury hotels with more than 5,000 rooms lining the shore. It’s a laid-back type of place where you come to relax, be pampered and eat well while enjoying the ambiance.
Presently there are several airlines offering seasonal service, including American Airlines, Continental Airlines and U.S. Airways. Aeromexico and Alaska Airlines offer year-round service from major U.S. airports.
As appealing, clean and luxurious as it is, Ixtapa is inherently identified with Zihuatanejo, a mere 15 minutes away, an enthralling town with allure stamped all over it. Zihuatanejo (“The Place of Women” in Nahuatl) flaunts the quintessential flavor of a Mexican town.
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are used in conjunction, rolling off the tongue as smoothly as Nieman and Marcus or Gilbert and Sullivan.
According to Mexican tourism authorities, it is the third most visited resort after Cancun and Puerto Vallarta—and gaining.
The area is so well developed and pristine that it’s difficult to grasp that more than 100,000 presently make the once lethargic fishing bay their home.
It’s also something of an urban planning miracle that Zihuatanejo has managed to retain the personality of a humble-visaged Mexican fishing village.
The city-center adheres to strict building codes that reflect the cultural heritage of a bygone era. It’s full of colorful buildings and streets thriving with art galleries, unassuming restaurants dishing out delicious fare, shops selling all types of locally made tchokes while an air of gaiety prevails in the background.
Zihuatanejo’s most colorful area is a tree-lined, waterfront, pedestrian-only zone full of people eating and shopping. The area, called El Centro, is a jumble of stucco buildings and palm-thatched restaurants. It’s only about eight blocks long, but what it lacks in architectural splendor it makes up in color. Even the cobblestones are a deep, rose red.
In the afternoon, fishing skiffs lie dormant on the sand at Playa Principal, but if you’re lucky enough to visit in the morning, you will be treated to the colorful spectacle of restaurant employees and housewives bartering with weathered fishermen for the day’s catch
As it is, locals tongue-in-cheek often say that the area is schizophrenic: Ixtapa, all fine champagne and caviar in tony, white-tablecloth restaurants; Zihuatanejo, beer and tacos at a sidewalk stand. There’s more than a grain of truth to that.
Because of this engaging combination, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is an effortless destination to sell. The visitor’s bureau can say without blushing that a visit to the twin towns is “twice as pleasing.”
Higinio de Leon, chairman of the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Convention and Visitors Bureau, reinforces this. “What makes the zone so distinctive is the multifaceted appeal of the different towns located just minutes apart,” he says. “Ixtapa is a vacation haven of sandy beachfront and world-class hotels and resorts, while older Zihuatanejo is a picturesque, traditional fishing village with oceanfront boutique hotels. Travelers to the region will experience the best that modern and traditional Mexico has to offer. Our guests tell us time and again that visiting Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is like having two vacations for the price of one.”
With the many levels of diverse resorts in the area, travel agents should have no difficulty finding one that fits perfectly a vacationer’s desires or needs.
Aside from the awesome and inspiring natural beauty surrounding Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo visitors will find a dazzling array of activities. There are more than 50 world-class diving spots, hiking and bike trails crisscross the rainforest abutting the area, wildlife viewing is nonpareil, golf courses are plentiful and sailing and watersports in the pristine bay are the frosting on the proverbial cake.