Trip Report - LONG!


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Posted by Josee from 67.121.78.86 (adsl-67-121-78-86.dsl.snfc21.pacbell.net) on domingo, noviembre 23, 2003 at 19:21:06 :

Caution: Read the following report with this in mind: my husband and I are seasoned travelers who have touched upon some of the remotest islands in some of the most beautiful and pristine parts of the world. We search out the most reclusive, exotic, far flung, white sand, crystal waters known to exist and find a way to get there. These are the eyes through which Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa has been observed. Paradise is after all, a state of mind, and relative. So please read our report with a grain of salt.


DAY ONE
My husband (S) and I decided on Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa after a window of vacation opportunity unexpectedly opened up for us. Mexico was not on our list of ďhot spotsĒ but being from San Francisco, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa offered a quick getaway.

The flight, via Alaska was fine. We chose to stay at the five star hotel, Las Brisas because we found a good deal online and it was billed as the nicest place in Ixtapa. We crosschecked our findings with Conde Nast (concierge.com) and Las Brisas was indeed ranked as one of the top places to stay in Mexico.

We prepaid a cab at Ixtapa airport. Beware, the woman at the taxi kiosk gave us the wrong change by returning 200 pesos less than what was owed to us. When S informed her, she without hesitation forked over the 200 pesos. While her willingness may seem cooperative, we took at as a sign that she either counts wrong all the time, or she knew she gypped us in the first place. Otherwise, letís hope that she was just really nice. We remain skeptical because it was the third time during our stay that we were overcharged or given the wrong change. Coincidence? Hope so.

The cab ride to Las Brisas from the airport cost us 20 dollars. Thatís cheap eats for us San Franciscans and itís a bill youíll only have to foot twice. The entrance road into las Brisas is oddly all cobble stone and cars have to crawl at a snailís pace, lest their cars lose their shocks and their passengers their cookies! Nonetheless, las Brisas greets the visitor with an appealing burnt orange, earthy exterior and nice green foliage. All the rooms are the same at Las Brisas, overlooking the beach, complete with terraces, lounge chairs and hammock. The views are pretty and you can see much of the Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa coastline. Sunsets are great; you can lay in your bed and watch the sun fall into the Pacific. The hotel also has a great pool. The water is warm and you can get a nice waterfall massage from the cascading water towers in the pool. S and I noted that this was an especially nice touch because the sound of the waterfalls drowns out the noise of kids splashing around and other rowdiness. The service, drinks and food are also decent. The hotel has a private beach, a hike away from the main building however.

Funnily enough, there is a sign at the entrance that says no outside food or drink is to eb introduced into the hotel. A Martini, for example, is twelve bucks US so you can bet the farm that we were buying drinks at the local market and taking them back to our room. Hotel security gave us odd and accusatory looks every time we came in with plastic bags. S wanted to dare them to check our bags so he could give them a piece of his mind about this silly policy. Ignore the sign. Buy your drinks elsewhere.

Yet, this is no five star hotel. S and I have traveled all over the world and this is one of the least nice places we have stayed at. For example, in Thailand, Las Brisas would be rated a three star hotel. Rooms are extremely plain and not spacious. In fact, if it were not for the terraces and the pool, the rooms could pass for any commercial zone forty dollar a night motel, easily. The unattractiveness of the room compels you to spend most of your time on the terraces, at the pool or elsewhere. Thus, if you are the type who spends little time at the hotel pool or the hotel proper, this place is not for you. Also, if you are a person who has traveled and are used to letís say, Asian or European five star hotel standards where the rooms are immaculate and the service is always outstanding , this place is not for you. Then again, if Las Brisas is rated as one of the top places to stay in Mexico, Iím not sure I would want to see the other hotels.

We settled in during the early evening so we were hungry. After the flight, we thought a good walk would do us good so we hiked into Ixtapa. That took fifteen minutes. We decided to wet our appetites with cold drinks. Senor Frogís on the main strip provided S a reliable cool beer and me a huge, tasty Strawberry Margarita. Then, having no references, we looked for a restaurant with some clientele. We usually find this a good sign of a restaurantís worthiness; especially if local people are enjoying the fare. We settled on a joint called Mama Norma Y Deborahís. S had the fajitas and I had quesadillas and tacos. The dishes were satisfying and reasonably priced. Flavors are watered down to suit the American/Canadian palate but we were nonetheless pleased. It was a long day of travel. To bed we went.


DAY TWO
We spent the next day piddling around Zihuatanejo town. We asked the cab driver to take us to a good breakfast place. He took us to Nueva Zealanda. We had eggs, Mexican style, coffee and orange juice. It was good and decently priced. We then walked around the small town and frequented the arts and crafts shops. If you like Mexican style crafts, then youíll enjoy yourself. S and I usually do our tourist zone shopping quickly and wander away from the zone to get a better, more authentic feel for a place. Getting a local flavor of Zihuatanejo is easy as you donít have to wander very far to meet some locals. We walked around for a while, popping into some local shops and snapping pictures of authentic Zihuatanejo sights and people. We stopped at an internet/video rental shop. I canít remember the name of it but I should have because once again, we were purposefully given less change then due. Suffice it to say, if you are on the outer rim of Zihuatanejo town, and you have to walk through a video rental store to get to the computers, donít go. We made a loop around outer Zihuatanejo and wound back at the main beach, Playa Municipal. One look at it, and we knew we would not be staying. There are too many boats docked in the Zihuatanejo bay and that usually spells polluted, dark water. Playa Municipal is no different.

Feeling hot and dusty at this point, we wanted to jump into water and cool down. The bay was out of the question and we didnít feel like taking our chances with another undiscovered beach, so we decided to take advantage of the Las Brisas pool. We are beach people who think the pool is for wimps so this was very out of character for us. Nevertheless, S grabbed a six-pack of Corona and we spent the rest of the day at the pool. It was so relaxing and refreshing; I am now reformed and proud to call myself a pool wimp!

We enjoyed the sunset from the terraces. Beautiful and peaceful. Our evening plans were to linger over a drink and then head over to Tamales Any, a restaurant plugged on this message board. We had drinks on the beach in Zihuatanejo at Tataís. Itís an easy place to find; the last restaurant on the strip with candles lit on tables draped with sweet orange tablecloths. Since itís last, you get some privacy and quiet because there are no diners to one side of you. There, ask for Sergio to hook you up and you can soak in the lovely Zihuatanjeo evening air, stargaze and count the lights of the fishing boats out on the water. You can almost make the place your own. There are so few people that the beach seems desolate enough-perfect for those who enjoy serenity and stillness.

We then made our way over Tamales Y Any. The host greeted us warmly and told us to consider the establishment ďhomeĒ. I felt that was a nice touch. S ordered chille rallenos and I decided to go for the namesake of the place, tamales especial. What a big mistake! Sís meal was fine but mine was absolutely tasteless and bland. The chicken was rubbery and the meal was lukewarm. I was so disappointed. S encouraged me to order something else but I just couldnít imagine having to deal with explaining to the waiter why I was unhappy, why the meal was bad, why I was choosing something else, etcÖI picked at it and shared Sís meal. I concede that sometimes, itís simply the luck of the draw that determines if the menu will yield bounties or busts. But my meal was so bad that I refused to take any further risks at Tamales Any. We will not be returning.

DAY THREE
With no plan for the day in mind, we slept in and took our time getting up. We decided to have breakfast at the Las Brisas restaurant. The buffet was in full swing and it looked good, until I found out the price. Seventeen US dollars for the buffet! Thatís ridiculous if you ask me. Heck, seventeen dollars for a breakfast buffet at a five star hotel is still on the high side. We stuck to the menu which was still highly priced. The view is nice from the dining area. Thatís what you are paying for really. Ultimately, we paid twenty-six dollars US for coffee, juice, eggs and toast for the two of us. If you have are the type who has breakfast and lunch, go with the menu. If you like to have your brunch, go for the buffet. Try to get your moneyís worth.

We decided to go to Isla Ixtapa for some beach action and snorkeling. The cab ride from Las Brisas is sixty pesos and drops you right off at Playa Linda. Head through the shops and buy your two-way ticket for thirty pesos. Caution to seniors or persons with disabilities: A small speedboat pulls up to the dock and is not moored. The boat swings to and fro as you try to get on. Jumping in is easiest as you donít want to get stuck on the side of the boat trying to balance yourself. We helped elderly travelersí hop on and off. It was not easy for them. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities have no access to Isla Ixtapa through this popular route. Perhaps you can hire a private boat to get you there.

The boat lets you off on the beach at Isla Ixtapa. Luckily, we asked the man driving our boat where the good snorkeling was. We followed his instructions; ignore the first beach where you land. Walk about fifty yards down the beach and you will come to a path that crosses into the island. Follow that for a few minutes and youíll arrive at another beach with rockier and prettier features. There are a few establishments that will let you use their chairs and tables and umbrellas as long as you buy drinks or food from the. We looked around-prices were similar. We took a front row table and settled in for the day.

S stays under the shade. I move from sun to shade to water. I did quite a bit of snorkeling. It was okay. You Caribbean snorkellers would not like it . The water is murkier and the fish not as bountiful. But hey, itís the Pacific! Nonetheless, the water was warm, gentle and refreshing. The beach itself is fine. You can only enter the water though at a certain spot due to close coral and rocks so there is kind of a bottleneck effect. But once you get out, itís a lot of fun. We had one boatload of tourists land for a snorkel wearing their black and yellow striped life-jackets. They looked like bumble-bees. I find tour groups funny when they engage in water sports. They never stray from the guide and travel in a pack. One big bumble bee!

The facilities at Isla Ixtapa are..well, manageable. Sís chair looked like it had open heart surgery because it had been mended so often. My chairís arm was cracked in two. We took a walk and actually found a beach chair graveyard! Our chairs were certainly next, poor things. Isla Ixtapa is not the prettiest beach youíll ever see but you the sun still shines brightly and the water is certainly as inviting as ever.

S busied himself by ordering a chain of Coronaís at twenty pesos a pop-not bad. We also ordered what has become our traditional lunch fare-chips and guacamole. We love the guacamole here. Itís so fresh and sumptuous. The couple next to us ordered red snapper and loved it. That was our day; drinking, eating, reading, sunbathing and snorkeling. Can life get any better?

Back at the hotel, we napped and woke up just in time to enjoy drinks on the terraces at sunset. We took too many pictures and decided to eat at Casa Elviraís. We arrived at the storied place only to find it closed for no apparent reason. So we walked around looking at menus and chose to dine at La Sirena de Gordo. The ambiance was pleasant and there was ample seafood on the menu for us to choose from. The strawberry Marguerita I ordered was delightful-thick, sweet and deeply red. We had the ďworld famousĒ fish tacos as appetizers. They were great! I canít remember their name but itís the tuna taco with bean, onion and cilantro (forty pesos) S followed with red snapper (80 pesos). It was also very yummy. I ordered the garlic shrimp (150 pesos). They were delicious but I couldnít eat the salad they came with so I was still hungry. So was S actually. We ordered another round of the scrumptious fish tacos! The food here is tasty, but thereís not much of it. If you like big portions go somewhere else. If you donít mind ordering a good dish twice (seems silly I know, but the fish tacos were that good), then youíll be all right. We have yet to really find value for our money food-wise. Most things are overpriced here, thatís for sure.

By the way, we have asked every cab driver, store owner and bellman for a good restaurant recommendation. Every single reference was different! We were just waiting for one person to repeat a recommendation so we could say we checked our sources. It never happened. We have a mental list of about 12 restaurants that we are just waiting for a cross-reference! It seems like everyoneís got a friend who owns a place that each person agrees to plug. Or, people can read our minds. Who knows?

After dinner, we walked around the town, which is growing on us, bought some crafts for Christmas presents, had some ice cream and returned to the hotel. We had to get our rest for another day of relaxation.


DAY FOUR
Slept in again. Donít you love how that always happens on vacation? We decided on a relaxing day at Las Brisasí private beach. Being in no rush, we took a pleasant stroll into Ixtapa for breakfast. The walk is nice as the landscaping is lush and well manicured. We ended up at Mama Norma Y Deborahís again. Deborah is Canadian (from B.C) and so am I, so I like giving my country folk some business. Iím Canadian, S is from India. The locals think heís Spanish yet he doesnít speak a word. Itís quite funny. The food at Mama Norma Y Deborahí is good and very reasonably priced. S and I had each had eggs, toast, hash browns, sausages, coffee and orange juice for only ten US dollars. Remember, one breakfast buffet at Las Brisas costs seventeen US dollars.

We popped into some of the Ixtapa shops and took a cab back to the hotel. We actually spent most of the afternoon on the terraces, sunning ourselves and reading. These terraces are great I tell you. The hammocks are a nice and comfortable touch.

After sunset on the beach, we headed out to Ixtapa for dinner. My stomach demanded a break from Mexican food. I was craving Italian. While the restaurant at our hotel is Italian, you apparently cannot get dinner for two for less than a hundred US dollars, according to a few Las Brisas guests we surveyed. Thus, we went searching in Ixtapa for something that would soothe my craving. We chose Raffaelloís on the main strip. It seemed elegant but reasonably priced and the menu had plenty of choices. I ordered spaghetti bolognaise and S ordered pizza. Both dishes were deplorable. I know I must sound like a spoiled brat complaining about the food, but what can I say? Bad food is bad food. Donít go to Raffaelloís, period. I ate a quarter of the dish and went to the supermercado and bought chocolate chip cookies and milk-one of my best meals of the trip.

DAY FIVE
My stomach was still dancing this morning so we decided to stay close to home and eat breakfast here at the hotel, reluctantly. Sís Mexican eggs were good. I ordered eggs and sausages. Instead of sausages, I was given tiny wieners out of the can. I tasted to verify. No doubt about it-the can variety, micro waved. I sent them back and asked for bacon instead. I got rubbery micro waved bacon. AhhhÖitís probably a blessing in disguise considering the jig my belly is doing.

We spent the day at the beach. Sun, sand and ocean always relieves any ailment. When we arrived, there were no choice beach chairs to be had. Suddenly a man waved me over. I recognized him from our day at Isla Ixtapa. A San Diegan, retired doctor, around seventy-years old, he had carried over a chair to me when he saw that mine was broken at Isla Ixtapa. He called us over to tell us that he was leaving and we could take over his chairs. I told him that it seemed to be his calling to find me suitable seating on our vacation. We laughed and talked. His wife and he are celebrating their twenty-third wedding anniversary. They were not going to come because he had recently suffered a small heart attack and they were both fighting early stages of cancer. As he sat there talking, sipping from his bloody mary, I became humbled and ashamed that I had been complaining about this place. If Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa is good enough for this kind man and his wife, than it certainly is good enough for me.

We relaxed on the beach; S under the shade with his string of Coronaís and shrimp tacos. I spent a lot of time in the water today playing hide and seek with the sizeable waves. The water is rejuvenating. I felt younger and healthier each time I emerged from the Ocean. Perhaps thatís what the old doctor came here looking for. I hope he found it.

We headed into Ixtapa for dinner. We looked around and just could not find any other establishment that met the choices, portions and prices of our trusted haunt, Mama Norma Y Deborahís. Our dinner was great and extremely reasonable. S had the enchiladas in salsa verde which were fantastic. We had dinner and drinks for 22 US dollars. You just canít beat that around here!

We are getting a better feel about this hotel. Itís huge and caters to conventions and large groups. If you are on such a trip, great. Honeymooners, love birds and those looking for a little something more intimate, Iíd suggest somewhere else.

DAY SIX
This morning, I took S to Cafť Zihuatanejo for a pre-birthday treat. S is a coffee lover and connoisseur and my research led to me to this small, yet distinguished cafť which has won numerous international awards for its organic brews. I emailed them before our trip and had them prepare a gift basket of their best stuff for S. We arrived and they had arranged a huge, wonderful gift basket, adorned with large red bow including their finest roasts and a large bottle of kaluha wrapped in leather. S was surprised and I was impressed! We chatted with Juanita, the barista and sipped on deliciously smooth cappuccinos and lattes. I highly recommend this little gem which is just is short stroll beyond the main tourist shopping area on Calle Cuahutemoc, #170. They are online as well.

We then had breakfast at Neuva Zelanda again. Their hash browns are yummy and their prices fair. We then made our way to Las Gatas where the waters are supposed to be calmer for snorkeling. We were overwhelmed by the amount of people at Las Gatas. Granted, itís a Mexican national holiday (la Revolucion) and a long weekend, but one would think we were in Cancun rather than Zihuatanejo. It was nuts! You could barely walk without bumping into someone. We rushed to the extreme end of the beach as far away from the pier as possible. This is obviously a popular vacation spot for Mexican families and the amount of kids running around makes it seem like Disneyland on steroids. I can see how the surf-less waters are ideal for kids but the amount of boats and wave runners jetting around is very hazardous. We settled in at Alfredoís-the last establishment on the beach. I immediately head out for some snorkeling. After navigating the mass of bodies near shore, I made my way out.

I did not see one fish for fifteen minutes. I swam further out towards a noticeable reef where more people were snorkeling. I saw a few fish and sadly, a lot of dead coral. Iím sure this reef was once abundant with life and colors but people are disastrously crawling and walking all over it-even sitting on top of it with beer. This reef will be totally dead in no time at all. I headed back seeing as there were more people in the water than fish. We left Las Gatas shortly thereafter. It got too crowded for us. Beware, Alfredoís tried to charge us for more drinks than we consumed. Back at the hotel, we happily lounged by the pool.


We headed back into Zihuatanejo for dinner, wanting to savor the authentic Mexican mood on our last night here. We ate at Casa Elvira. The service is great and the food is pretty good. The portions are big and you can expect to pay about 50 dollars US for two plates of seafood, appetizers and drinks. After dinner, we lingered at Banditoís, savoring the warm night and listening to local music.


CONCLUSION

Did we like it here? Yes. There are many things to enjoy; the balmy weather, the bright sun, the warm ocean water, the nice people. Plus, if you look hard enough you can find little jewels of good food, good drinks and enjoyable sights. Plus, Zihuatanejo proper grows on you. Ixtapa is really just there and not worth mentioning. Yet, Zihuatanejo can sometimes make you feel like you are in another time and another place.

Will we be returning? No. Partly, thatís just our nature. We are adventurous and curious and like to discover new parts of the world. Also, there are more beautiful, more reasonably priced places in the world with the same kind of weather and even more inviting waters, gracious people and exquisite food. Granted, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa is a short trip for many. But we would highly recommend that if paradise is what youíre looking for, put in the extra hours and go somewhere else. This is a good quick get away, but itís not a place where you will leave some of yourself behind or that will stay with you forever. The Andaman Sea is a good place to start.






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