I sense your sympathy may be limited when I tell you that today is the last day of our LAST Mexican beach vacation, and it’s raining. We’ve truly been spoiled with all the amazing travel opportunities during our 2.25 years here in Mexico, but nonetheless we wanted to jam in one last trip to a beach. The selection process of “which beach” was helpfully facilitated by the implosion of Mexicana Airlines (which had the only flights out of Benito Juarez Airport to places like Puerto Escondido and Huatulco), and the near infinite number of times I have seen The Shawshank Redemption on TBS while growing up.
For the possibly 5 people who have seen fewer movies than I have, I will try not to unduly spoil the plot by disclosing that at the end of the movie, someone ends up going to Zihuatanejo. Although I now understand that scene was actually filmed in the US Virgin Islands (liars), the seductive call of the name Zihuatanejo was enough to sway us– particularly when combined with a reasonably-priced plane ticket + generally positive reviews on the innerwebs.
Traveling to a Mexican beach in the month of September puts you firmly entrenched in the rainy season. I wasn’t overly worried about this, because God knows it’s not like my skin is destined to spend a lot of time in the sun. (see evidence at right) But I did sell John on the idea of spending a bit more money to stay somewhere nice, since odds were good that we would be spending a lot of time indoors. 😛 We settled on Casa Cuitlateca.
I wasn’t sure if Casa Cuitlateca could possibly live up to all the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, but it did. We were especially appreciative given the constant weather forecast of:
We arrived on Friday to a beautiful sunny day, but it poured that evening & has basically continued raining with ~2-3 momentary pauses over the subsequent three days. Casa Cuitlateca gets bonus points because despite only having five rooms, they have a number of open-air common areas so you’re not trapped in your room all the time during the downpours. We lucked out being the only guests during our three nights here, but I think even if the other four rooms were full, there’s enough space that you wouldn’t all be on top of each other.
This place was probably the best-designed B&B that we’ve stayed at, combining innovative design, traditional decor, novel water features, excellent food, great service, and very well thought-out rooms. If you were willing to pay a lot more, I’m sure there are more luxe options available, but for us Casa Cuitlateca struck a good balance with their boutique hotel feel + their off-season pricing ($150/nite + tax for the nicer rooms, apparently a 60% discount off high-season prices). Check out more pics below:
Casa Cuitlateca also had a jacuzzi on the 3rd floor that we didn’t test out. They serve a small lunch menu of things like sopes, quesadillas, guac, sandwiches, burgers, etc. at *extremely* reasonable prices (i.e $75 pesos for a cheeseburger, $50 pesos for 4 sopes with the best tinga I have had in Mexico, etc.). Everything we had was excellent. Dinner you have to request in advance, and it is a set menu priced at $65/$75 USD per person, depending on entree (and includes an hour of open bar + a bottle of wine). I have read numerous rave reviews, but we didn’t try it as the pricing seemed a little high to us for a set menu that included several traditional Mexican dishes (that we eat often).
The last two highlights are the breakfast and the staff. For desayuno (which is included), you’re handed a menu listing juices, fruits, eggs, meats, side orders & drinks, and you basically order as much as you want off of it. Our first morning, we had 4 cups of coffee, a glass of fresh OJ, a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, a plate of mixed fruit accompanied by a bowl of yogurt for dipping, huevos rancheros, a ham-n-cheese omelet, and two orders of waffles. Um, yeah. Let’s just say we didn’t go hungry. 😉 Finally, the staff were all extremely friendly, helpful and attentive– we enjoyed chatting with Alfredo & Amador, and Sylvia did a great job in the kitchen. I believe there are 10 employees in total, and they do fantastic work maintaining a property that is certainly no small task!
As for Zihuatanejo in general, it is definitely a very laid-back spot that skews towards smaller hotels and houses vs. the massive, high-rise, chain hotels that are found in Ixtapa. The water/beaches were not the best I’ve seen in Mexico, but I think some of that is a function of rainy season + a really heavy rainstorm on our first night in town. I’m sure the beaches look more like this during the dry season, whereas I would not rush to go swimming in the ocean or walk along the sand barefoot in the rainy season.
Zihua’s centro is cute, with a good mix of touristy + local restaurant options and plenty of shops to buy all the Mexican artesanias that your little heart desires. Be aware that in the rainy season, the centro definitely has some drainage problems, so no need to wear your fancy high-heels here! Apparently water management has been a consistent problem in Zihua due to small, old pipes & the massive elevated area that is draining into the centro. We saw a number of “storm drains” that were actually functioning as fountains…
Many of the fancier restaurants are located along Playa La Madera/Playa La Ropa, mostly in hotels. We visited Kau-Kan Restaurant on Saturday night, and had a fantastic meal. To be fair, it didn’t end up being *that much* less expensive than the dinner pricing I mentioned above, but we had some novel dishes like an Asparagus & Cranberry Tart, Smoked Sailfish Salad, Seared Tuna w/Creamed Spinach & Mushrooms, Sea Bass w/Herbs, and an amazing Passion Fruit Sorbet. Service was very good; highly recommended.
The other spot that everyone & their pet dog has recommended on Trip Advisor is Lety’s Seafood Restaurant. I will admit to being slightly skeptical as to how good these coconut shrimp could possibly be. FYI: they’re great. Big shrimp, not greasy, filled with a bit of cream cheese & accompanied by a coconut milk dipping sauce.
Lety’s is located just across a footbridge from the centro, so have a taxi drop you off in the parking lot by the pier. Cross the bridge & turn left, and look for the below sign. Lety’s is on the 2nd floor.
In summary, we’ve enjoyed our time here in Zihuatanejo despite being impressed by just how consistently it can rain for for 3 days. (We do have rainy season in DF as well, but it tends to consist of sunny mornings & temporarily rainy afternoons/evenings.) If you visit here, I recommend staying somewhere with a pool (as I’ve heard mixed reviews of the cleanliness of the bay). Zihua is a nice, traditional Mexican town/fishing village, vs. vacationing somewhere like the Zona Hotelera in Cancun where you could be on any beach in the world, trapped on a strip of chain hotels. For dining, there are plenty of fancy, high-end options that are priced accordingly, but you can also easily access <$1 USD tacos & traditional Mexican fare. And for drinking, there are numerous liquor stores in the centro if you’re looking for a better bargain than hotel bar prices. (May we recommend the Havana Club Siete Años rum?)
Now I am off for our Last Meal on a Beach in Mexico. See you back in DF!!
****Quick Update (Sept 7, 2010)****
For those interested in prices for getting from the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo airport (airport code ZIH) to town, here is a photo of one of the signs listing taxi prices: