Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico-To Dos and not To Dos
If you're anything like me, you consider yourself an unofficial expert on a place after you've visited it once. Clearly, I am not an expert on barely anything but I wanted to share some of my experience on the West coast of Mexico since my usual dive is on the opposite coast.
Most people think of Mexico as Cancun, and I don't blame them! Cancun has beautiful beaches, great nightlife and enough tequila to satisfy even the thirstiest of travelers. Cancun and Playa Del Carmen will always have a special place in my heart and is such a consistent, reliable vacation spot that I almost feel like I should get a weekend home there.
But the west coast of Mexico is a new experience for me and I wanted to share our personal trip selections for anyone else that might want to switch things up for their next trip south of the border!
We stayed in a beautiful cliff-side resort called Las Brisas. My main pain point with Las Brisas is the entire building is painted a heavy shade of burnt sienna. While I am sure there are orange fans out there (that aren't me) it's a LOT to be surrounded by on a daily basis. Also, the interior designer in me likes clean, crisp white walls or pops of color. Of course, I wasn't entirely disappointed as the large stairway leading down to the hotels 2 main restaurants was a vivid, hot pink that made my heart flutter every time I traipsed down it to go to eat a delicious meal.
The hotel was perfectly situated on the cliff so it was half in the jungle but also oceanside. The way the rooms are setup, every room has a balcony, hammock and gorgeous ocean view. Since it's set up on the cliff, the 1st floor is actually floor 10, sitting 10 stories above sea level. The other exceptional thing about the resort is that it had a beach, surrounding us were rocky outcrops and cliffs that other resorts and apartments sat on with sadly no access to the ocean. Although, I had quite the experience being tossed around in the waves so if you're like me, grab a lounge chair and drink from your coconut instead of being devoured by the Pacific.
The food was so good. I've had my fair share of all-inclusive hotels in various locales and I do NOT recommend them. What you think you are making up for in money, you are paying for in quality. I have never enjoyed a meal at an all-inclusive resort (except for at Le Blanc which can't even really be grouped into the same category as others). So even though I had to pay for my food, drinks and other items separate from my lodging, the cost ended up only slightly more than what I would have paid at an all-inclusive and I actually enjoyed every meal, glass of wine and margarita that I purchased. We ate at every restaurant that was open, unfortunately the Brisas II beach-front restaurant was closed because it was low season and not enough guests to justify a full staff. But we had a great breakfast at the breakfast buffet, fabulous pool-side food at their pool restaurant and amazing food at the El Mexicana restaurant along with really decent italian at Il Portofino! Make sure you grab a cup of cafe de olla at the breakfast buffet, it will convince you that all other coffee you've ever enjoyed is swill.
If you're downtown, in Ixtapa, head to Casa Morelos for a delicious dinner and strong drinks before dancing the night away around the corner at Mentiritas where the dj takes requests (even if all of the songs you request are Beyoncé, he will still take them and play them and only act slightly annoyed)
Our original plan was to go to a "music bar" so we could force Mike to serenade us on guitar but we walked by it three times before we realized that sadly..it burned down.
3. Out and About
Downtown Ixtapa is just a short distance away from Las Brisas. While there are hotels that sit primarily on the main drag of Ixtapa, ours was slightly off the beaten path so we could avoid the touristy hustle and bustle. Downtown Ixtapa is a smaller version of the tourist mecca that is Playa Del Carmen and Cancun. There is a small, open air artisan vendor market and several restaurants, bars and cafes with constant glowing balloon covered cart rides around the strip with happy glowing music to satiate any typical tourist style needs you have.
If you get sick, there are tiny local clinics tucked away through the backdoor of pharmacies with a "doctor" who speaks limited english but with the help of google translate can help you with your ailments. Truth be told, my companion was a bit under the weather so we went and she treated her and gave her prescriptions to recuperate her for under $50. Funny enough, I decided to ask if they had a Mexican equivalent to Advair there which is my asthma medicine that costs close to $400 in the states. They had an option with the same ingredients and even the same coloring for $50 each. I bought two. Now, while I CANNOT condone picking up any sort of shady pharmaceutical in any foreign country I can report back on my own personal experience and let you know that not only has the Mexican asthma medicine not killed me yet, I actually haven't had to use my $400 American counterpart at any time recently. Again, I'm not telling you to go buy drugs from someone in Mexico...but it worked for me! (disclaimer #2-don't buy drugs in Mexico, especially don't buy drugs in Mexico and tell people that Rachel from The One Moment Events told you to)
Since the wedding venue was in nearby Playa Larga, we ended up out in downtown Zihuatanejo for most of our days and it definitely has more of a "in the mix" type of vibe. There is a bar called Bandidos that every taxi driver knows and for an incredibly reasonable 75 pesos will take you directly there where you can mingle with other tourists or head off to the downtown market or grab street tacos and bump elbows with the locals. Again, this area is a pseudo-tourist haven but also includes the local markets where everyone from around town goes to do their regular shopping. If you can, grab some tacos al pastor while perusing the shops and make a stop by pastelería La Boquita for the most delicious pastries you've ever consumed in your entire life. Try one of everything, they are only about .$50 each so you can stock up for your whole trip for under $10 and even bring some back home (as long as there is no fresh fruit on them!)
If you're heading to the market in Zihuatanejo, make sure you bring plenty of pesos! There are infinite stalls to browse and gorgeous hand-made items in every one of them. No one takes credit card here but everyone haggles so be prepared to negotiate if you're not happy with the price of something. If you spend the day there, head over to La Panga for some casual, open-air dining at dusk on fresh made pork and chicken tamales and listen to the mariachi band that can often be found there on Friday night! Also, if you are heading back to the hotel around sunset, ask your taxi driver to take you the backway via Escénica La Majahua if possible. This road takes you high up along the cliffside to connect you to the main road and offers the most gorgeous views of the ocean and setting sun if you can time it right. It turns out we found this out via a very happy accident as it was already dark out and we (I) thought our taxi driver was actually taking us in a different direction from the hotel and was going to subsequently murder us. Turns out he was just a really nice old man who knew the backroads. I now feel awful for speaking loudly about strangling him if he was planning on killing us, he really was sweet.
4. Things NOT to do
Now we come to the part I promised you-to DON'TS. While most of our experience was phenomenal, there were a few hiccups that I would advise against!
Firstly, taking a taxi is the recommended. Driving in Mexico is VERY different than driving in the US. You're still on the right side of the road but for some reason things are chaotic, street signs vary and in all honesty the taxi trips are so cheap it's totally worth it. Trust the locals to get you where you need to go, even if you think they are about to murder you. Just be vigilant...head on a swivel!
Take out pesos either before or when you get to the airport, there will be a small bank fee if you get pesos out at the ATM (less than $4USD) but it's worth it to have all of it beforehand, take out more than what you need, you can always convert it back before or after you return. I had to get money out 3 separate times because I kept wanting to buy things and also understanding that cash is king in the small towns!
Don't forget to pack bug spray and sun screen! You can of course buy these things at the local hotel shop or downtown pharmacies but it's cheaper and easier to have it brought with you. Bugs are vicious in the centrally located areas, especially since we are in the jungle and the sun is brutal no matter where you are-come prepared!
Don't just rely on wifi. It's totally fine if you want to shut off and disconnect from the world, but if you are going down for more than a few days and you do plan on going out, it's really best to have some method of communication turned on so in case you or someone gets lost you can text or call. My personal phone plan is $4 a day to transfer my usual plan over or you can do the international for a month for about $30. Again, this may vary depending upon your carrier but you really don't want to get stuck negotiating a piece of artwork at the market and not understand the cost and conversion rate. You can also use your phone for google translate to tell taxi drivers where to take you, ask for help, or just in general try to pretend you know what you're talking about.
This one is a personal one-don't get in the water. Before you freak out, again let me reiterate that is totally objective and my personal preference. If you're an East Coast gal like me, you will NOT be prepared for what the pacific ocean has to offer you. When you're standing in the water and 6 foot waves start crashing into and/or attempting to drown you, you will not have a good time. Also, your bathing suit will be FULL of sand, I mean enough sand to build a sand cottage, maybe not quite a sand castle, but definitely some sort of bungalow. Try to wear a two piece if possible and have a buddy help you scoop the buckets of sand out of all the mysterious places it settles inside of your suit. When you think you got it all, you haven't-try again.
Seriously though, be careful. The riptide and current is strong especially in the coves that are flanked by the rocky outcrops. There was a beautiful place of black rock that had black crabs scurrying across every time we walked by. One moment there is 3 feet of water and the next there is none, within seconds huge waves come crashing up against the rock and would batter your puny human skin if you attempted to hang out there. There are lifeguards on duty during certain hours, one of whom was kind enough to take Tracy out during his lunch break and essentially save her life from the brutal ocean (I'm exaggerating slightly) but if you don't know how to swim or are a weak swimmer or just terrified of sharks and don't trust your friends to save your life-maybe just go to the pool.
We decided to treat ourselves to "spa" appointments while we were there. Mind you, don't expect the most luxurious experience. This is quite literally a hair salon with 2 small harsh white back rooms, drop ceilings and flourescent lighting for massage space. While we did end up happy with our hair styles for the most part, the atmosphere was less than relaxing for the massage-maybe hold off on this until you get back home!
Don't forget how to say your room number in spanish! Memorize this! I have a hard enough time remembering my room number in english so when I had to repeatedly say "catorce vente cuatro" I would always trip up and forget until of course our last day when I had mastered the number 1424 and is now burned into my memory for all of my life. You will be asked by the guard at the gate, the restaurant servers, the front desk, the beach for drinks and almost any other place in and around the resort. If you don't understand what someone is asking you, it's most likely your room number so just say that on repeat until they give up and just bring you a margarita.
Be prepared to walk. At Las Brisas the elevators are on one end of the resort and the pool is on the other. This is great if you were like me and consumed as many tacos as you could every day like a ravenous honey badger. But 8 flights of steep stairs are also quite daunting.
Overall, my experience in Mexico was great. There is definitely a different vibe than the East Coast of Mexico and you can sense it mostly with the landscape, mountainous peaks and valleys, windy roads along the cliff and the thick jungle intersecting abruptly with cacti. Don't go to Mexico with expectations-good or bad. Just go and experience it and take it all in. Be safe but have fun. Let yourself enjoy the surroundings and don't get murdered by the ocean. If you follow that structure, you will love it!