The Best Beaches of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo

Not long ago, I began to realize that a number of luscious strands around the celebrated twin resorts of Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo ranked among the loveliest in Mexico. That notion became a certainty one day as I stood atop a Zihuatanejo cliff, overlooking Playa La Ropa beach, at the sheltered inner edge of gorgeous Zihuatanejo Bay. From that summit I recognized, for the first time, that the beach sand, relentlessly scooped and redeposited by a gentle surf, appeared as a long necklace of miniature half moons.

[pullquote align=”right”]Accessible only by boat from Zihuatanejo pier, Playa Las Gatas, decorated by a sprinkling of palm-thatched seafood eateries, is heaven on earth.[/pullquote]Up closer, La Ropa beach goers enjoy that gentle surf, too mild for either surfing or boogie boarding, but nevertheless perfect for child’s play and a soothing afternoon in the sun or in the shade of a beach umbrella.

Tucked at an outer corner on the same side of Zihuatanejo Bay, lies another gem, petite Playa Las Gatas (“The Cats”). Accessible only by boat from Zihuatanejo pier, Playa Las Gatas, decorated by a sprinkling of palm-thatched seafood eateries, is heaven on earth: A beach for everyone, fine for kids, sunbathers, and beach snorkelers, with both an expert scuba shop and a good surfing spot, where the open ocean swells curl and break around a nearby rocky point.

Neighboring Ixtapa’s main beach, long, golden-white Playa del Palmar, is prime for a long, leisurely walk. Start in the morning, walking north along the beach, perhaps after breakfast at El Faro restaurant (at the summit end of the gondola cable ride at the south end of the beach). Sometimes called the “Billion-dollar Beach” for the investment money it attracted to Ixtapa, del Palmar’s broad strand stretches (a two hour stroll) to the north-end jetty at Playa Las Escolleras, known for its challenging surfing breaks.

Ixtapa’s hidden north-side beach gems begin at Playa Linda, a fifteen-minute ride north of Ixtapa. Here, the prime actors are a family of toothy crocodiles that bask in the sun beneath the end-of-the road bridge. Adding to the entertainment are freshwater turtles (some giant size), and a sprinkling of big birds, including luscious-pink roseate spoonbills, white herons, and great blue herons, who stalk, preen, and nest in the neighboring mangrove forest wetland.

The finale comes at Isla Grand (after the boat ride from the Playa Linda jetty). The fun centers at Playa Cuachalatate (koo-ah-cha-lah-TAH-tay), a petite playground of crystal sand, clear water, and gentle ripples, where families splash, swim, and picnic on fresh fish, shrimp, and clams cooked at the beachfront palapas.

For a lovely change of scene, stroll over the adjacent knoll to precious Playa Varadero and Playa Coral, on opposite flanks of an intimate little isthmus. Varadero’s yellow-white sand is narrow and tree shaded, its waters calm and clear. Behind it lies Playa Coral, a steep, white-coral-sand strand fronting a rocky blue bay, a magnet for beach lovers, snorkelers, and scuba divers. Local women offer massages ($25) to the soothing music of the waves.