Ever need a quick dose of the ‘foreign-ness’ of foreign travel? My family found it on Mexico’s Pacific Riviera, a favorite sun ‘n’ sand destination for California families. Despite the influence of high-rise, international Ixtapa next door, the lesser-known port of Zihuatanejo has retained its funky charm and a few traditional Mexican ways.
The Residencias Villa del Sol ( 52/755 554-5018) is a privately-managed condominium above the celebrated Hotel Villa del Sol (now Tides Zihuatenejo) on Playa La Ropa. Our stylish villa was comfortable for three, with gleaming white tiles and glass doors which opened onto a broad balcony draped with bougainvillea and hibiscus. Though it wasn’t shady enough for us, the sun deck wraps around a big pool and children’s pool, and two tennis courts await next door. (These modern villas are clustered on a terraced hillside — not for the handicapped.)
Unlike in years past, kids under 12 are accepted on request in the larger hotel accommodations. Definitely consider a splurge at the very chic Tides Zihuatanejo (Playa La Ropa S/N Zihuatanejo, Guerrero 40880 Mexico; 866/905-9560 or 52/755 555-5500), formerly the classic Hotel Villa del Sol, whose spacious beachfront suites have a private plunge pool for children to enjoy.
The 600 feet of glistening white sand in front of the property isn’t all. We thought the 70 rooms and suites were picture-postcard Mexican: whitewashed casitas with stucco built-ins, weavings, bamboo, Mayan pottery and terra cotta floors. Other facilities, some added in an expansion a few years ago, include two excellent restaurants, a spa and small fitness center, three swimming pools and a 60-foot lap pool. Rumor has it that more celebrities have sipped tequila at the hotel’s thatched-roof palapa — there from the beginning — than at any other bar along the coast.
We were stunned to learn that in March 2007, the Kor Hotel Group based in Los Angeles announced the purchase of the resort, with the ambiguous promise of turning it into “a world-class facility.” And we thought it was there already. Rebranded as a Tides Resort, it has ramped up its spa facilities with more holistic treatments, enhanced its beachfront restaurant with a Mediterranean and Mexican menu, and enlarged its bars and lounge with a bonfire area. Most notable for families may be the new beach-goer amenities, such a beach butler to refresh complimentary beverages, distribute pre-loaded iPods, and spritz down over-heated sunbathers; a crew of mayordomos will serve as butlers for guests in the premium suites. Kor has announced that by 2010, they plan to open the super luxe Viceroy Resort and Residences complex next door.
Families return to Zihua (ZEE-wah) as it’s fondly known, because of the glorious beaches and gentle, clear bay. An afternoon at exotic Playa la Ropa was transforming: I photographed my son playing with a trained alligator, my husband parasailing, and all of us in a sea kayak. Farther out and north of Ixtapa, the region’s waves are luring a new generation of surfers. To further protect the local tourism economy, the Mexican government has instituted a Shark Patrol to watch over a 15-kilometer area from Playa Saladita to Playa Linda.
While there, we dined at nameless feet-in-the-sand taquerias and watched Mexican families enjoying a siesta outside tiny bungalows tucked under the palms. At night, we took a brief taxi ride to the ‘downtown’ fishing port. You can shop in surprisingly fine crafts shops or dine at one of the many clean restaurants (we enjoyed El Patio and La Bocana.)
For more family fun off the beach, a variety of cycling equipment and tours can be found at Zihuanas in central Zihua.
The truly fit can do an all-day ride of 65 kms roundtrip to Troncones, a great surfing beach, or do a much shorter excursion to the beach at Manzanillo for a picnic. Note that reservations and a 20% pre-pay are needed 12 hours in advance. Venturing slightly north of Ixtapa will lead you to Luso Aventura (044/755 115 17 33), where you can go on a canopy tour, that is, try ziplining. Participants must be at least 4-years of age. If the kids are beat, babysitters are available from the housekeeping staff of most big and small hotels, though little English is spoken.
There are also many inexpensive in-town hotels but of the beachside ones, we liked Bungalows Las Rocas (no phone) near La Perla cafe, where small brick casitas with kitchenettes ran $60/N. Call the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Convention and Visitors Bureau at 52/755 553-1270 for other recommendations.
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