From your first glimpse of the colourful fishing boats pulled up onto the sand on Zihuatanejo’s Playa Municipal, you sense that beneath this buzzing vacation hub still sleeps the soul of a quiet Mexican fishing village. Picnickers linger at tree-shaded tables to watch the catch come in, then they wander Zihua’s central district, where narrow streets house art galleries, restaurants and modest boutiques. Meanwhile, glossy resorts and upscale shopping set the tone in nearby Ixtapa, leaving visitors free to mix and match vacation experiences to suit.

1. Eat at El Arrayan

Tiny, family-run Restaurant El Arrayan stands out among Zihua’s purveyors of traditional cuisine for its scallop ceviche and grilled shrimp, which locals consider the best in town thanks to ingredients the chef keeps under wraps. Line up for a seat on the flower-festooned patio and beat the heat with a homemade limonada made from fresh fruit.

2. Go snorkelling at Playa Las Gatas

Just a short water-taxi ride from Zihua’s municipal pier is the protected beach of Playa Las Gatas, where the water is so clear you’ll begin fish-spotting before you even step off the boat. The wide, curved beach is lined with snorkelling equipment rental stands, handy for the coral outcrops just offshore, as well as lounges ready with a cold beer for when you’re tired.

3. Visit the Xihuacan ruins

The Mesoamerican ruins at nearby Xihuacan (just 25 minutes from Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo) include temples and an ancient ball field. Buried by a natural disaster, the ruins were discovered in 1941 and are still under excavation, which means that visitors have the opportunity to tour a work-in-progress archaeological site.

Mesoamerican ruins in Xihuacan, photo by Ken Dow/Flickr

Mesoamerican ruins in Xihuacan, photo by Ken Dow/Flickr

4. Take a cooking class

Sign up for a Patio Mexica cooking class with chef Monica Duran Perez for some hands-on culture. You’ll start your day shopping for ingredients at the bustling Mercado Campesino farmers’ market and finish it eating mouth-watering enchiladas, chilaquiles, salsa, and ceviche that you’ve cooked yourself, under Perez’s guidance, in her cozy, tiled kitchen.

5. Take a jungle walk

Make close contact with crocodiles and iguanas at Playa Linda, just north of Ixtapa, where a biking and walking trail loops through dense jungle alive with butterflies, hummingbirds and exotic flowering vines. From there you can catch a water taxi to Isla Ixtapa, home to a gold-sand cove and beaches dotted with palapas serving fresh fish tacos.

Read more: Where to Go in Mexico


[This story appears in the November 2016 issue of WestJet Magazine]