The sister cities of Zihuatanejo (see-wah-tah-neh-ho) and Ixtapa could not be more radically different. While Ixtapa is openly a purpose-built, sanitized version of Mexico, Zihuatanejo is the real deal. Zihuatanejo, or Zihua as it’s affectionately called, is a Pacific paradise of beautiful beaches, friendly people and an easygoing lifestyle. Until the 1970s, Zihua was a sleepy fishing village best known as a hideaway for pirates and hippies; Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman escaped here to live out the simple life in The Shawshank Redemption. With the construction of Ixtapa next door, Zihua’s population and tourism industry boomed practically overnight.
Parts of the city have become quite touristy, especially when cruise ships are in town, and luxury hotels are slowly replacing old family guesthouses. But for the most part, Zihua has retained its lovely, historic charm. The narrow cobblestone streets of downtown hide wonderful local restaurants, bars, boutique shops and artisan studios. Fishermen still meet every morning on the beach by Paseo del Pescador (Fishermen’s Passage) to sell their catch of the day. At night, young lovers and families stroll carefree along the romantic waterfront sidewalk. Zihua is the best of both worlds.
While Zihua’s suburbs have spread beyond the bay and into the hills, the city’s center remains compressed within a few blocks. It’s difficult to get lost; there are only a few streets and they’re clearly marked.