Plot Your Own Escape to Zihuatanejo & Ixtapa

Jan 25, 2018

It's one of the most iconic beach moments in cinematic history: Andy Dufresne, the wrongly accused inmate in The Shawshank Redemption, dreams aloud of a post-prison life in Zihuatanejo. "It's in Mexico ... a little place on the Pacific Ocean," he whispers reverentially to his friend, Red, as if the words themselves had magical powers. "You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life -- a warm place with no memory."

Memory or not, the once-sleepy fishing village of Zihuatanejo remains an epic spot to escape, whatever routine you could use a break from. And when you add in Ixtapa -- the sophisticated sister city next door -- the escapist options become even more varied.

Here, six of the best local ways to go AWOL there.

Claim your own beach

This 20-mile stretch of Mexico's mainland is home to several -- dreamy beaches -- but not the one most likely to make you believe you've given the world the slip. For that, you'll have to hop a water taxi at Ixtapa's Playa Linda, take a 10-minute ride to Isla Ixtapa, then hike across this wooded little island to the secluded Playa Carey. There you'll find no beach bars, no gear rentals ... no services at all. It's just you, this gorgeous curve of coastline -- and perhaps the occasional sea turtle (the beach is a hatching sanctuary).

Of course, having traveled (however briefly) to reach the island, you wouldn't want to leave it without snorkeling in its famously clear, calm, teeming waters -- especially off Playa Coral. Then finish out your escape at a palapa-sheltered beach table (they're hallmarks of the island's restaurants).

Get pampered into another dimension

Between Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, you'll find a seemingly endless menu of spa services, but the most sublime tend to be the locally-inspired ones. At La Casa Que Canta's Spa By Clarins, for example, you can cocoon yourself in one of the Mexican body wraps (they incorporate everything from exfoliating papaya to anti-inflammatory prickly pear cactus fruit) or simply zone out on the treatment table for a massage with local, organic oils.

Hang a "Gone Fishin'" sign

Here, gone fishin' isn't just a folksy announcement that you've checked out for a while, but a probable reflection of reality: This patch of Pacific is one of the best sport-fishing destinations on the planet, so if ever you wanted to test your mettle against, say, barracuda, mahi mahi, sailfish, marlin, wahoo, or yellowfin tuna, now would be a good time. Choose from a handful of boats (from 26 to 40 feet) at Zihuatanejo Sportfishing Charters and you'll get the boat, crew, bait, gear, license -- and a cooler full of water, soft drinks and beer. Just know that with the exception of meal prep and the occasional trophy, all local charters are catch and release.

Ride off into the sunset

Ixtapa is home to a number of horse ranches that offer guided tours on scenic coastal trails. Both El Riscal ranch and Rancho El Palmar are located near Zihuatanejo at Playa Larga, a long, palm-lined beach with views of Zihuatanejo Bay. Consider a late afternoon ride to watch the sun sink in the Pacific. Or, for a ride of a different kind, snag a rental bicycle for a self-guided tour of the Ciclopista, a five-mile cycling trail. The scenery varies from lush forested areas to marina, with possible iguana and butterfly sightings en route.

Go deep

Thanks to seasonally calm water, now's the perfect time of year to dive the region's 35+ sites, many of which are beginner-friendly (the clear, fish-filled Islas Blancas would be a good starting point). Others, such as Los Morros de Potosi, are suited to a range of skill levels (beginners can explore the coral while intermediate and advanced divers can wend through the site's caves, canals and tunnels).

As for the cast of characters you may encounter below the surface: sea horses, crabs, octopus, eels, rays, starfish, lobsters, sea turtles, stonefish, trumpet fish, pufferfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish and as befits a Mexican sojourn, guitarfish. And that's just for starters.

Eat your way into a happy food coma

Mounds of fresh seafood are incorporated into ceviches, soups (the most famous being the caldo de cuatete) and tiritas de pescado (a favorite local recipe originally improvised by fishermen). In addition, there are countless other iterations of foodie heaven here. One of the heartiest takes place weekly, on Jueves Pozolero (or Pozole Thursday), when pretty much everyone in Zihuatanejo eats this hominy stew. Not that you have to bide your time at the beginning of the week if you'd rather not wait: A whole lineup of regional pozoles is served daily at Santa Prisca Pozoleria and Teosintle.

Something else to consider: Guerrero -- that is, the state in which you now find yourself -- is one of only a handful in Mexico that can officially produce mezcal according to appellation of origin rules. And this deliciously smoky spirit is turning up in ever more creative cocktails across the area, though you can never go wrong with a mezcal paloma (with equal parts grapefruit juice and club soda, plus a bit of lime juice and sugar, and maybe a serrano slice or two).

Guerrero is also particularly proud of its baked cocadas -- rich little coconut sweets -- and come dessert, you'll understand why.

Ready to go? Plot your own escape to Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.


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