Its neighboring resort town of Ixtapa gets more glory, but “Zihua” will win you over with its authentic vibe

Samantha Schoech

Until the ‘70s Zihuatanejo was the very definition of a sleepy fishing village. Much has changed since the construction of the planned tourist town of Ixtapa next door, but Zihua (as it’s known) is still a charmer, with cobblestone streets, a mercado bursting with local crafts and food, and fisherman selling their catch from the beach in the mornings.

Hotels

Hotel Aura del Mar. Perched above La Madera beach this boutique hotel is a romantic gem. Rooms are big with balconies, hammocks, and spectacular ocean views. The grounds are a lush tropical paradise with a steep staircase leading to the beach and Bistro del Mar, one of the town’s best restaurants. $$.

La Villa Luz. It’s a climb to reach this lovely 7-room hotel. But once you enter this airy sanctuary it will be worth it. Rooms are light with simple Mexican décor and big comfy beds. “Mar” has a particularly dazzling sea view. Children 14 and older only. $.

Tentaciones Hotel & Restaurants. This is elegant luxury at its best. With only 4 guest rooms—every one an architectural jewel with large balconies and sweeping views—you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. Ropa Beach is down the hill, but, honestly, between the infinity pool and the two excellent restaurants, it’s hard to leave. $$$$.

Restaurants

Doña Licha. Hearty, no-fuss Mexican food near the Mercado. Choose one of the daily comidas corridas (prix-fixe menus); all come with rice, beans, and handmade tortillas. $; Cocos No. 8 Centro. No website.

Paty’s Miramar. Paty’s, on La Ropa Beach is a place you could hang out at all day—from yoga in the morning to happy-hour margaritas at sunset. There’s even a children’s play area, and kayaks can be rented. The menu is classic Mexican and American fare, nothing spectacular, but all good. $$.

Things to do

Zihuatanejo Cooking School. Start with a trip to the traditional market and then return to instructor Mónica Durán’s open-air backyard classroom, where you learn to cook delicious Mexican classics (including grinding corn for handmade tortillas). $$$.

Ixtapa Island. Crystal-clear turquoise waters surround this oasis just 5 minutes offshore. The island can be swarming with tourists in the high season but Playa Corales, with its white sand and an offshore coral reef, is often less crowded. Seafood restaurants and massage providers are everywhere and you can rent snorkeling gear on the beach. Frequent boats leave from the pier at Playa Linda. About $4 round-trip.