Trip Report (part 1)

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Posted by Mark in Alaska from ( on Wednesday, February 27, 2002 at 22:14:36 :

Our recent trip to Zihua was probably the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever enjoyed. To minimize stress, my wife and I made the long flight from our home in rural Alaska in stages, stopping at airport hotels in Los Angeles on the way down and Seattle on the return. I was able to find excellent rates (well below published specials) on the Internet through Expedia and Hotwire. Each way, we stayed in Hilton-quality hotels (with free airport shuttle vans) for totals of about $65 per night. The upshot was that we arrived at our destinations reasonably refreshed and already “on vacation” instead of worn out. Also, if you have any first class upgrades, I’d recommend you use them for this trip. The flights from the north are long, and the extra leg- and seat-room (not to mention the better food) are most welcome.

Another pleasure-enhancing bit of planning we did was to invite some good friends to meet us there. A foursome was just right: for group excursions, we could all get into one taxi, but the women could go off and shop while we men hung out on the beach. No problems.

Rather than post a chronological blow-by-blow trip report, I’ll jump right to my recommendations and caveats.

1. I liked staying in Zihua’s La Madera beach area, which is a short walk along the waterfront from downtown. While we were there, the workmen completed the new footbridge over the canal that separates Madera from the main town beach. That made the leap over (and sometimes into) the canal’s unpleasant waters a thing of the past. The new bridge is lovely--far more so than the older “new bridge” at the far end of the downtown waterfront--and is actually a pleasure to cross. La Madera is a fine swimming beach and is complimented by several good hangouts. I especially enjoyed sipping a cold beer while reclining in a sheltered, beachfront the hammock at the La Madera Restaurant. The food was outstanding there, too (more on that below). I also liked the fact that many local Mexican families and afternoon soccer players use La Madera beach. The people were friendly and cheerful and I did not feel like an unwelcome outsider.

2. Six-room Bungalows Pacificos, our hotel, was a treasure. Although the place is in many ways run down, it has so many mitigating plusses that you soon ignore the minuses. Everything works, more or less, and there is plenty of hot water. The chief plus is the place’s extraordinarily large, shady, private verandahs (with hammocks) coupled with its Mexican-style, “box-within-a-box” architecture. That design places air spaces between exterior walls and the walls of the inner rooms, keeping the interiors cool and well ventilated. In our survey of several Zihua hotels, none we saw had verandahs that compared with the Pacificos’. Additionally, each bungalow comes with an adequate kitchenette that let us keep our drinks and fruits chilled, and made light meal preparation simple. We made good use of the fridge’s ice-making capability as we enjoyed sunset Margaritas on the verandah. No need to trek to a bar for watered-down drinks!

The hotel is in a very quiet neighborhood just 5 minutes’ walk from the beach and about 8 minutes’ walk from downtown. There are a few steps to climb, but they are fewer than many other Zihua hotels I’ve seen. The Bungalows cascade down from the street toward an ocean cliff, and the top-level rooms back up to a quiet cul-de-sac. The best rooms are on the two on the middle level. The upper rooms have slight privacy and noise issues while the lower pair of rooms is not as well ventilated as the upper ones. Each morning we squeezed oranges for juice and sat on the verandah. Out there, songbirds roosting in the trees and flowering shrubs that grew just below our magnificent view of the bay serenaded us. We watched hummingbirds feed, too. We also enjoyed watching squirrels and other animals we took to be possums. At sunset we would watch small bats swooping just yards away, clearing the air of nuisance bugs. We stayed at the hotel for $80 per night including all taxes.

3. The area’s restaurants were outstanding, especially if, like me, you’re a “foodie” who doesn’t mind paying the price for a great dinner.

I searched my memory for a restaurant comparable to the “knock your socks off” view you get at La Cala, in Zihua’s Puerto Mio area. Although it’s not quite as dramatic the place reminded me of La Tour d’Argent, in Paris (a view of the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral) and the El Tovar dining room at the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, La Cala is not urban and the view is not as magnificent as the Grand Canyon. But I can’t imagine anyone will be unimpressed by the La Cala architect’s artful use of the dramatic setting. Be sure to go at night, when the surrounding rocks and cliff are lit to perfection. La Cala’s perfectly adequate--but not great--food is on the expensive side (we spent about $50 per person there). The wine list is the best I saw in the area.

Other fine Zihua restaurants—with better food--include the La Madera, on the beach of the same name. Their Nicoise Salad at lunch is delicious, and the Coconut Shrimp at dinner (total cost: $35-40 per person) rates a definite “wow.” So does the tuna in balsamic vinegar at Zihua’s Kau Kan ($35-40 per person as well). It was the best tuna this fish lover has ever eaten. For me, both the La Madera shrimp and the Kau Kan tuna rated a “wow.”

For a simple beachfront palapa meal, we had a fine lunch at Amado’s, the last restaurant on Playa las Gatas. Their barracuda tacos were to die for. In town, we thought the Thursday “Mexican Fiesta” at Tamales y Atoles “Any,” was a good value (at 25 pesos) and enjoyed as well as the remarkably complex spices in Any’s traditional Mexican foods. We also recommend the inexpensive wood-fire grilled chicken and ribs at Zihua’s Pollo Loco. Out of town, I can recommend the Hacienda Eden at Troncones. We made a day trip there and had a delightful time walking the beach, snoozing in their hammocks and dining in the restaurant. I’d have to rate their lunch salad the best we had this trip.

I was somewhat disappointed by the food at La Perla and Rossy’s (both on La Ropa). I found both places to be “just OK” but not worth a return trip. I was especially disappointed with Rossy’s Margaritas, which reminded me of lime Kool-Aid seasoned with a dash of tequila. La Perla’s sophisticated and romantic setting, however, made up for its ordinary and uninspired food. In a similar vein, the Puesta del Sol, near Kau Kan, is a good place to drink (in my opinion the Margaritas are better than average, but still not great) and watch the sun set, but go next door to Kau Kan for dinner.

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