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Posted 12 Apr, 2021 | No comments
Posted in: Mexico, Things To Do

It’s a good thing that Zihuatanejo usually doesn’t appear on the shortlist of famous Mexican beaches. This low-key fishing village on the Pacific coast doesn’t get nearly as much attention as Cancun, Acapulco, or Puerto Vallarta, giving it a more relaxed and off-the-beaten-track vibe.

There are many things to do in Zihuatanejo Bay, such as lounging on the beach, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, along with exploring the tiny but charming town of the same name.

On plane tickets and tour brochures, Zihuatanejo is often paired with neighboring Ixtapa, called Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. A trip to one doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll be seeing both.

The two are roughly 10 kilometers from each other and a little different: Ixtapa is more modern and spread out, with tall hotels and big resorts, and its beaches are on the open ocean, unlike sheltered Zihuatanejo Bay.

Not only are there gorgeous beaches and many things to do in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, but also wonderful food, friendly people, and good weather year-round. This is one of the top places to see in all of Mexico!

I’ve visited Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo many times over the years, usually to scuba dive, and I was always surprised by the great things I found — both above and below the water.

You can make the most of a trip to Mexican paradise by checking out this list of the 15 best things to do in Zihuatanejo.

1. Hang Out at Playa la Ropa

Large and protected from the big waves of the Pacific Ocean, Zihuatanejo Bay contains several beaches, including Playa Principal (literally, the Main Beach) right next to the town and secluded Playa Las Gatas on the other side of the bay.

best things to do in Zihuatanejo

Between these two is the largest and nicest, Playa la Ropa (Clothing Beach where this name comes from, I’m not sure). There’s good swimming and snorkeling, especially near the large rock at the far northeastern end.

It’s also a fantastic place for watching the sunset. You may end up sharing the view with a tranquil flock of pelicans floating on the water after their long day of diving into the ocean for fish.

Playa la Ropa is a 30-minute walk from the village, so if hanging out on the beach comes first on your list of things to do in Zihuatanejo, consider getting a hotel there.

2. Wander Around Downtown

Besides tourism, the primary activity in the village of Zihuatanejo is fishing.

The east end of Playa Principal is jammed with fishing boats pulled onto the sand. Before sunset, anglers return with fresh fish to sell to restaurants or to anyone right there on the beach.

Playa Principal has beautiful scenery, but unfortunately, the water can be pretty murky. You can find better swimming elsewhere, like at Playa la Ropa.

Instead, exploring the town is one of the best things to do in Zihuatanejo when you don’t feel like swimming or laying in the sand.

The core tourist area occupies two or three blocks directly behind the beach. There are narrow pedestrian streets, busy restaurants, quirky cafes, and rowdy bars. Look for the stage near the beach, which often has performances and live music, especially during Mexican holidays.

You can find some good restaurants mixed in with the touristy ones in the downtown core. Try to find a crowded spot that has more Mexican tourists and locals than international travelers to get the tastiest and most representative food.

After dark, the bars get noisy and the streets get crowded, making it an excellent area to look for things to do in Zihuatanejo after dark.

If you’d prefer some peace in the late hours instead, look for a hotel outside this central area. Once you cross Benito Juarez Street to the east of downtown, things get a lot calmer and more authentically local.

The municipal market is located on Benito Juarez street just north of the tourist area. Go there to browse for souvenirs, buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and eat a cheap lunch of genuine Mexican food in the tiny restaurants there.

3. Stroll Down the Paseo del Pescador

Between Playa Principal and Playa Madera is a long concrete path built into the rocks and cliffs called the Paseo del Pescador — the Fisherman’s Path.

paseo del pescador, Zihuatanejo

This walk provides great views of Zihuatanejo Bay and passes cozy artisanal shops, seafood restaurants with thatched roofs, and swanky international eateries with extensive menus and stylish decor.

A stroll down this path is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Zihuatanejo, especially at sunset. After dark, you’ll have views of the lights on both sides of the bay. But at all hours, this walk is one of the obligatory activities in Zihuatanejo.

4. See the Displays at the Costa Grande Archaeological Museum

On the Paseo del Pescador is the Costa Grande Archeological Museum, one of the most interesting places to visit in Zihuatanejo when you’ve had enough of the beach.

The museum contains six exhibition halls with art and artifacts found in nearby archeological sites from the Olmeca, Teotihuacan, Mexica, and Tarasca cultures.

The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM every day except Monday.

5. Catch a Boat to Playa Las Gatas

Although Playa la Ropa is the biggest, many people prefer Playa Las Gatas (the Beach of the Cats.) It’s in a tiny cove near the end of Zihuatanejo Bay, and although it gets crowded, it’s more secluded than the other beaches nearby.

catch a boat to Playa Las Gatas

Playa las Gatas also has some of the best snorkeling in the area. Besides coral and other sea life like starfish and endless sea urchins, there’s also a four-meter bronze statue of Jesus Christ erected under the water.

Getting to Playa las Gatas is half the fun. It’s possible to walk all the way from Playa la Ropa, and it’s a pretty walk too, on twisting paths that go over and below the rocky bluffs along the ocean.

The faster and more scenic way, however, is to take a boat from town.

From sunup to sundown, boats leave the docks located at the far east end of Playa Principal. Once you’re there, you can rent snorkel equipment and eat at several decent restaurants along the beach.

Or, you can arrange a tour from Zihuatanejo. Some tours include snorkeling and kayaking, while others combine with other places to see in Zihuatanejo.

6. Scuba Dive at Los Morros de Potosi

Some of the best diving on the Mexican Pacific coast is located at a rocky cluster of barren islands called Los Morros de Potosi, which is located about an hour south of Zihuatanejo by boat.

scuba diving Mexico

The shallow waters surrounding the islands of Morros de Potosi are full of coral reefs, schools of fish, sea turtles, and other aquatic life like octopuses.

If you’re lucky, you may even see a whale on the boat trip there.

This happened to me once when two humpback whales cruised past the dive boat, making it the first time on a scuba diving trip that I saw the most interesting creatures from above the surface of the water.

There are other great dive sites around Zihuatanejo, with some in the small coves located just outside the bay and others at the many small islands offshore from Ixtapa.

Zihuatanejo has several dive shops, all with similar prices. I went with Dive Zihuatanejo and highly recommend them.

7. Break Out the Binoculars for Some Whale Watching

Every year, around 20,000 humpback whales migrate through the area from late December to late March. During that time, a whale watching trip is one of the most exciting things to do in Zihuatanejo on the water.

Besides humpbacks, you’ll have a good chance of seeing minke whales, beaked whales, several species of dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, and lots of birds.

Bilingual whale watching trips like this one last three hours and are guided by a marine biologist. They keep track of the whales passing through, giving you a good chance of seeing them. You can also join a whale watching tour with Dive Zihuatanejo.

8. Devour Delicious Mexican Style Fresh Seafood

Mexican food is rightly considered one of the world’s finest cuisines, and eating seafood is essential when you visit a beach town and fishing village like Zihuatanejo.

food in zihuatanejo Seafood

Outstanding seafood restaurants abound, and discovering them is one of the top things to do in Zihuatanejo. In general, fancier places have ocean views, touristy places are a block or two from the beach, and local hangouts with the most delicious food are just outside the downtown core.

One of these is Mariscos El Tiburón de la Costa, which you can find in front of a traffic circle after walking a few blocks east from the end of Playa Principal. Their extensive menu has all kinds of fresh seafood, some land-based options, and tropical drinks like piña coladas and margaritas.

9. Experience a Crazy Potato

Crazy potatoes are an anomaly of Mexican food that aren’t well-known outside of northern Mexico. Although Zihuatanejo isn’t quite so north, it’s north enough for many local restaurants to have them on the menu.

A large baked potato is filled with whatever you want: different kinds of meat, seafood, or vegetables, and then it’s smothered with cheese, salsa, and sour cream. Basically, whatever could be put in a taco gets put in the potato.

There’s a clear winner for the number one crazy potato in town: Papa Loca Zihua.

It’s also outside of the downtown core and is definitely a favorite of locals. And if you’re not in the mood for a potato, Papa Loca serves excellent tacos and other Mexican specialties as well.

10. Relax All Day at Playa El Palmar in Ixtapa

If your idea of a beach vacation is an all-inclusive hotel with swimming pools and multiple buffets, then the Playa Palmar (Palm Beach) area of Ixtapa is definitely for you.

the beautiful Playa El Palmar in Ixtapa

Unlike Zihuatanejo, which is a functioning fishing village, Ixtapa is fully devoted to tourism. Located in Ixtapa’s main zone, Palmar Beach is wide, lovely, and on the open ocean, meaning nonstop waves and good bodyboarding.

Restaurants, bars, and small shops are clustered behind the row of hotels on the beach.

Centro Mercado is one of the prime places in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo for shopping, especially at night, when the stores and narrow walkways between them are lit up in colorful lights.

There are even tours available that take you to the shops and handicraft markets of Ixtapa. And for food, you can’t go wrong with some nachos and enormous glasses of beer at Señor Frog’s, or pizza and cocktails at Frank’s Bar and Grill.

Ixtapa continues to the north of Palmar Beach, where there are more beaches, like Playa Quieta and Playa Linda. These zones are less developed than Playa Palmar, but they also have many restaurants, hotels, and tourist destinations.

11. Ride a Bicycle Through the Rainforest

The Ixtapa Bicycle Path begins in the Vaso de Miraflores neighborhood at the far northern edge of Zihuatanejo, passes through the Playa Palmar area in Ixtapa, and continues over the mountains to Playa Linda.

Along the way, it passes the Parque Aztlán ecological reserve, where you can see caimans, parrots, and curious groups of coati, an exotic tree mammal from Mexico and Central America.

Riding this path and exploring the park is definitely one of the best things to do in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo to enjoy nature. To rent a bike, you can look for a bike shop near the path or book a private tour like this one.

12. Take In the Views from the Mirador Playa Linda

At kilometer 5 on the bicycle path, a smaller path branches off that leads to a viewpoint high in the mountains above Playa Linda.

Biking down the trail takes you through the lush vegetation of the native rainforest, and it’s easily one of the prettiest attractions in Zihuatanejo.

one of the prettiest attractions in Zihuatanejo

The top of the wooden platform provides panoramic views of the forest below and the long twisting coastline beyond. There’s no doubt that this viewpoint is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Zihuatanejo.

This is one of those activities in Zihuatanejo that you’ll need to be in good shape to enjoy because it’s a steep ride up to the viewpoint. Don’t forget to bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat.

13. Gawk at Crocodiles in the Playa Linda Cocodrilario

On a small peninsula directly to the south of Playa Linda is the cocodrilario (crocodile reserve).

Dozens of the huge beasts float in the water or lounge in the mud while big turtles, iguanas, and birds pass among them. It’s a small site, but there’s no fee to enter.

Nearby is a market with local handicrafts and a few restaurants. Playa Linda is gorgeous too, and strolling down it after checking out the crocodiles is one of those things to do in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo when you’d like a little more privacy.

14. Go Golfing at Ixtapa

If you’re thinking about what to do in Zihuatanejo while wearing funny checkered pants, then Ixtapa has two golf courses: the Palma Real (Royal Palm) Golf Club and the Ixtapa Marina Golf Club.

golfing at Ixtapa

Both have 18 holes and lovely scenery, with ocean views and tall palm trees. They also contain lots of native wildlife like birds, iguanas, and crocodiles, so think twice before reaching into the water to feel around for a lost ball.

Prices vary according to season. If you come at a busy time, you should probably reserve a tee time beforehand, but if you visit in low season, you may be able to just show up when you want to play.

15. Explore the Xihuacan Archeological Site

If you enjoyed the displays at the Costa Grande Archaeological Museum, then for sure you’ll want to check out the recently excavated ceremonial center of Xihuacan.

explore the Xihuacan Archeological Site

It’s one of the most interesting things to see in Zihuatanejo, and certainly the most historical.

Xihuacan, also known as the Soledad de Maciel Archeological Zone, may not be as massive or famous as Mayan sites like Chichen Itza in southern Mexico or Teotihuacan near Mexico City, but it’s an impressive area nevertheless.

Structures include a mud-brick stepped pyramid and an ancient ball court. The small onsite museum houses numerous artifacts and gives further explanations about the history of the area.

It’s a little far and complicated to get there from Zihuatanejo on your own, so a good option is to take a small group tour like this one, which takes about four hours and includes lunch.

The Xihuacan Archeological Site is open from 10 AM to 5 PM and is closed on Mondays.

Now You Know What to Do in Zihuatanejo

As you can see, there are many more things to do in Zihuatanejo than go to the beach. Fun activities in Zihuatanejo include snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, kayaking, golfing, mountain biking, and even crocodile gazing.

The charming and pretty fishing village is one of the top attractions in Zihuatanejo. Good restaurants, friendly people, and an extremely laid-back vibe make it a great base for exploring the area and a worthwhile destination in its own right.

Each time I went to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, I had a completely different experience. Whether it was after chilling on the beach, devouring massive plates of coconut shrimp, or night diving among neon blue bioluminescence, I always left wondering about when I could return for more.

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Ted is a writer and university professor who moved to China in 2020 after living in Mexico for 10 years. He has a Master’s Degree in English Education and has taught ESL/EFL in four countries and many different types of schools. While in Mexico, Ted traveled extensively, climbed volcanos, went on epic bike rides, explored underground rivers, ate countless types of tacos, learned Spanish, and wrote two guidebooks. You can read his stories about living and traveling in Mexico on his blog No Hay Bronca.
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