Trip report

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Posted by MikeV on April 22, 2001 at 15:17:10:

Well here goes…
I’ll try to format this report so that anyone interested in doing so might more easily find specific information.
We were a party of seven, including our three kids 17, 13 and 13, and their Aunt and Uncle. We have traveled in Mexico before and were looking to discover some of the more laid-back experiences we encountered in the Yucatan last year. We found it!

The Basics:
Remember to bring your smile and relax. Life in Zihuatanejo is more laid back, the people are very friendly and willing to make your experience there one to fondly remember. We never, ever had a single moment of worry for our safety of our children or ourselves while there. The Mexican culture is still very much "family oriented", in that they enjoy being together with their loved ones and relatives whenever time permits.
Don’t overestimate your capacity to withstand the tropical sun. Use appropriate water-resistant sun block, and avoid dehydration by consuming at least two litters of water daily (while you sweat). Bring, or better yet buy, a hat. Or at least remember to use sunscreen on your "northerner" ears, nose and shoulders. Sunburns and dehydration can ruin a hard-earned vacation in a hurry!
Know at least a little Spanish. At least make an attempt to communicate in the native tongue. While elementary English is spoken in many places, you’ll find it easier to bargain, get answers and find what you need if you understand the basics. The locals are very forgiving of the butchery of their language, and you each can enjoy learning from the other.

Getting there:
Our flight into ZIH although uneventful, was a long one from Seattle. Oh for a non-stop……..
Alaska Airlines ticket-less worked fine except for a glitch which occurred with our travelling companions when their reserved seats were given away to someone else due to a "time change" error: This refers to the unusual Mexican habit of flexible starting times for daylight savings. A word to the wise: make sure you confirm your seats at the gate if there’s any question about what time it is in Mexico. This will save much confusion when boarding the plane. Zihuatanejo Airport is a modern yet small facility without boarding ramps. You get to walk to and from your plane on the ground, just like the "good ol’ days". Seattlites usually need protection from the rain, but not here!

Getting around.
Be sure to arrange travel from the airport while still inside the facility. While taxi fares are supposed to be regulated, a prepaid ticket makes worry of negotiating the fare unnecessary. For a Suburban style taxi (remember we are 7 with 2+ bags each) we paid $300 pesos plus a $50 peso tip.
Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap. A ride from one end of Zihua. to the other (full or not) is around $20p. Always agree to the fare before you enter the taxi. Some bargaining, especially for an unusual trip, is acceptable. And remember to tip, especially for a full taxi or for baggage handling etc. Time is money for these businessmen, so don’t be surprised if they drive a little faster than you would. The fare to a more remote destination may not be the same as the return leg. Taxis operate in different territories. The trip to the airport, or say Troncones, will be cheaper than from there.
Get a map from your hotel. There are a few small brochures available locally with maps of Zihua. and Ixtapa which include the locations of popular shops, restaurants, hotels and local attractions.

I can’t presume to know what hotel, condo or rental house would suite anyone’s needs. Because of its central location (walking distance to town), price $630p/night for two twin beds (off season), and the availability of A/C and swimming pool we stayed (actually paused between adventures to sleep, swim and shower) at the Hotel Irma above Playa Madera. The Irma is billed as the ‘finest 1 star hotel in Mexico’, and lived up to it’s reputation. The only thing we would have preferred was a small refrigerator in the room to keep our many liquids cool. The staff (especially in the restaurant and kitchen) was kind, thoughtful and attentive. At our request, they prepared a fantastic "boxed" lunch for our fishing trip, and made it available for us to take early in the morning. The baby scorpion discovered in the bathroom by my 13-year-old daughter on our last day reminded us that we were indeed in a tropical land. The hotel staff hurriedly removed the now completely deaf creature after a hastily arranged photo-op was concluded. All in all we very much enjoyed our stay.

We always drank bottled water, pop or beer. Drink lots. Bottled water is cheap, around $6p per liter. Watch out for homemade ice. Ask if the water is "purificado" or look for the ice cubes with the holes through them. These are most likely from a commercial machine using filters or purified water.

We ate our way through Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa and Troncones! The food everywhere was wonderful. I never had even a mediocre meal! We also never had any digestive upset. Shrimp, tuna, lobster, beef, chicken, lamb, pork-all fresh and well prepared. Remember that the local lobster (Langosta) is not the "Maine" lobster familiar in the states. They are, however, no less tasty. If you’re up early enough, you can see the commercial fishermen (and families) negotiate the sale of their day’s catch. Visit the waterfront in the morning and observe this age-old commerce.
Don’t store food in your room unless you are a fastidious housekeeper! The Mexican ants are legion, highly organized and relentless. Eat out! Check out the restaurant link on this web page. I brought a copy and used it as our bible. I wasn’t disappointed. There are myriad fine places to eat everywhere in town-and only a $20p taxi ride away. I’ll give you a run-down on our highlights:
La Casa Café: Best breakfast. On the road behind the hotels of Madera Beach. We ate here every morning until she closed for the summer. Quaint garden setting among Bougainvillea, almond and banana trees. Great coffee, eggs, and a homemade bread coconut syrup to die for!
Casa Bahia-The most romantic restaurant for dinner we found. In Zihua. Perhaps it was the full moon over Zihuatanejo Bay, the setting overlooking the harbor, or the live solo guitarist playing my favorite classics. But the cozy "Tiki Hut" ambiance was intoxicating!
Daniel’s-The best shrimp. On the waterfront in Zihua. Cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped and grilled.
Villa de Selva-Best sunset. On a beachfront hillside in Ixtapa.
Joaquin’s Taboga- Best (and biggest) Margarita, and biggest meal. Off the water in Zihua. Order the large margarita. The glasses are on display in the bar. I ordered the mixed grill for two (very reasonable), and damn near ate it all myself! We ate outside on the path to the beach. A freshly caught 400 pound Marlin, on its way to someone else’s dinner table or mantle was paraded by, straining its three couriers, and provided a colorful reminder that Zihuatanejo is a very active fishing town.
Carlo’s and Charlie’s- Biggest surprise. On the beach in Ixtapa. Great food and inspirational staff. We ate before the evening’s more "youthful" activities begin (before 9:30) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as the surf crashed in time with the ever-present disco beat.

Tipping and Money:
10% to 20% depending on the service. We had no trouble justifying an average 15% tip as service was always very good everywhere. Remember that tips should be paid directly to your waiter, maid, fishing guide etc. We never included tips on our visa charges. Many of these folks work for $30 pesos a day or less! (Many establishments collect all the tips and very little is returned to the people providing the good service)
Bring a few hundred pesos. It will save you valuable time trying to get money at the airport cash machine or "Cambio" booth. While US dollars are accepted in some places, the locals still prefer Pesos.The banks are usually the best place to exchange money, but lines can be long and they are closed on Sundays and local holidays. We used traveler’s checks which were readily accepted at all banks and cambio’s (money exchange shops). Several "cambio" booths offer almost the same rate and are open almost all the time. You can use your credit cars or bank cash cards in ATM’s adjacent to the banks. On busy tourist days like Easter, they may run out of cash. If so, just try another machine. Cash cards typically charge around 6$ US per withdrawal and credit card cash advances can come with stiff finance and transaction fees. Check at your bank before you leave home to see which will work best for you.
A bargainer’s paradise! Stroll into the numerous small shops and booths around town. You can bargain for price on most items if they aren’t marked (sometimes even if they aren’t). We began at 1/2 the asking price and added 20%. This sometimes works depending on the original price. Here’s where a little Spanish comes in handy!
Visit the central (produce) market for a flavor of old Mexico. It’s located in the center of town. View the catch of the day in the fish market there.
Try the "Super Mercado" in Zihua. It’s in the east section of town near I-200. It rivals anything we have in the states for quality and selection. Prices there are competitive or better for many of your staples. You can even buy a shirt. You have to have your camera bags tagged before you enter, as there are no pictures allowed inside. I got busted taking pictures of their rather large Tequila section! A great place to buy a fresh, hot lunch, a Styrofoam cooler for your "one star hotel", or just get out of the heat for a while.

Check out the fishing report on this page or simply go to the municipal pier and be prepared to be approached by several boat owners and/or skippers. Many fishermen return in the early afternoon and are available. A Panga (the local 10-12 passenger runabouts) will seat 4 passengers for fishing trips (10-12 for short water taxi service). These boats serve as guided fishing/excursion trips as well as for ferrying tourists to local attractions like Isla Ixtapa for snorkeling We paid $120 - $140 US for the whole day. If you prefer catch and release fishing, be sure to ask in advance. Fish is either money or food and therefore valuable. Remember to ask if the license fees and any beverages or food are included in the price. Bring a hat and sunscreen. While the Pangas have some shade, if the bite is on, you’ll be in the sun reeling ‘em in!
We caught 14 "Bonitas" close-in. They’re a small variety of local tuna that fight pretty well for their size (4-6 pounds), and were served fresh Ceviche prepared by our shipper. We convinced Daniel’s restaurant to grill some up for dinner that evening. What a treat! The extra catch we donated to the town’s needy, a common practice I understand. We followed several migrating Green Sea Turtles and a giant Manta Ray basking in the sun while searching for the elusive Marlin, Sailfish and Albacore Tuna. The moon was full at night and the warm "blue" water current was still way offshore so the big game was 18-35 miles out. We saw on average one large game fish hauled in every day, but these were mostly from the commercial fishermen who stay out until the "money" comes home. Check this web page for the current fishing report if you care. I just wanted the experience of a day in the boat fishing for big game in Mexico!

Bring water socks or underwater sandals that won’t come off easily. Most swimming and snorkeling areas hide sharp coral and spiny creatures that will chew up your feet.
Playa Manzanillo - the best. Hire a boat at the pier to take you for the day. Around $125 US. We hired a very nice gentleman named David Ortega (554-5246). He is an ex-navy-swimming instructor. This was a relief as we were unsure of the waters we’d be taking our teens to. A boogie board and life preserver worked well for the smaller tykes, as beaching the boat may prove too risky (lots of coral), getting in and out of it coupled with the swim ashore may not be for everyone. We anchored offshore and used the beach and boat as bases of operation. There are NO beach amenities. You’re camping out here! This however cuts down on the population density. The snorkeling there was wonderful. Moray eels, Porcupine fish, rays, brain coral etc. A day well spent.
Check out Pearl Beach on Isla Ixtapa. Take a bus or cab to Ixtapa’s Playa Linda and rent a panga water taxi to the island. Be sure to save your ticket stub for the return trip. A short walk from the main beach across a sandy isthmus, the beachfront palapas are well attended by restaurateurs who can offer you a variety of well-prepared food and beverages. The "Whole Pineapple" Pina Coladas there were colorful and delicious. The last water taxis are supposed to leave at 5PM, but the wait in line makes the schedule seem ludicrous. Be sure and leave early on busy days (around 4PM) or be prepared to wait in line a while.
Playa Los Gatos: Hire a water taxi at the pier to take you there. Good snorkeling. Many beachfront amenities. The currents around the man-made breakwater can be dangerous so be careful. Watch the 5PM taxi line here also.

Nearby attractions:
Ixtapa: We spent the day. Took a buss from Zihua-around $7p ea. One way. Smaller then Zihua, and a combination of massive hotels, swimming pools with swim-up bars and shopping centers. A great place for bored city kids to play in the sun. Prices are accordingly higher here, and the place is full of American tourists if you need to touch bases. Not my cup of tea. Not really Mexico to me (except for the weather). There’s a golf course here as well if you’re so inclined. Carlo’s and Charlie’s was fun and a good meal on the beach. The senioritas in the party also enjoyed shopping there in town. If you go, catch the dinner sunset at Villa de Selva.
Troncones: Population around 400. If you want a really laid-back experience on the beach, this could be the place for you. There are several beachfront condos/homes for rent here. We rented horses and went riding on the beach. There are a couple of restaurants here that all sport the same menu. We stayed at the Tropic of Cancer beach resort. We all enjoyed swimming and a poolside meal with several drinks. Stop in and see "Marguerite" at Gail’s Emporium. She’s a windy city escapee who runs an Internet café (laptop) and has a variety of interesting object de art on display. I purchased a bull scrotum basket.

Use this website, it helped us tremendously. Thanks much Zihua Rob!!! Can’t save money, or earn vacation, fast enough to get back again. As skipper David Ortero succinctly puts it; "You can buy a bed, but not the dream."

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