Rarely does one destination satisfy the needs of so many different kinds of travelers, from authenticity-seeking adventurers to languorous sun worshippers who never want to leave their all-inclusive resort. But the twin towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, just a short drive from one another on the Pacific coast of Guerrero State, offer something for nearly every vacationer on the tourism spectrum: stunning white-sand beaches; picturesque sunsets over placid bays; crystal clear waters to surf, dive, and snorkel; five-star hospitality; and even a taste of small-town Mexican life.
Although they couldn't be more different, Ixtapa (eesh-TAH-pa) and Zihuatanejo (zee-wha-ta-NEH-ho) are marketed together as a single resort destination, and both have gorgeous bays and beaches.
Zihua, as it's often called, was a remote fishing village with minimal tourist traffic for hundreds of years. Ixtapa was created in the 1970s when Mexico's National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR) cleared away a coconut plantation. Though both are still totally laid-back, they have attracted so much attention (and building) that "purists" are now heading 25 minutes north to Troncones, a once-rustic surfing enclave that’s grown to include a sprinkling of small, higher-end eco-resorts catering to the yoga-and-smoothie set, or 35 minutes south to the more low-key fishing village of Barra de Potosi.
Although Ixtapa is quite pleasant and self-sufficient in terms of services, its designers were unable to give it a heart and soul. The only real attractions (if you can call them that), are a pair of golf courses and a delightful marina at the northern end of town that offers a handful of upscale seafood restaurants; other than that, Ixtapa is simply a long line of beachfront resorts. Many of these are like small islands unto themselves, equipped with enough restaurants, pools, and activities to keep families occupied for weeks without even thinking of stepping off the property. Those who do venture out are rewarded with the bounty of the area’s natural wonders, from snorkeling among the rocky coves of Isla Ixtapa to deep-sea fishing to horseback riding on the vast sands of Playa Larga.
Many visitors head 7 km (4 miles) south to enjoy the more authentic character of Zihua. There are a number of different beaches, each with its own feel, and many are lined with hotels and eateries that run the gamut from casual to ultraluxurious. The cluster of pedestrian-only streets close to the pier is quite touristy, with restaurants, nightspots, and souvenir shops that cater to visitors. That said, tourism hasn't totally destroyed Zihua's small-town charm—it's one of the friendliest of the Pacific Coast's major resort areas.