Mexico’s Zihuatanejo Is More Than the Sum of Its Beautiful Beaches

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Thompson Zihuatanejo

Sitting on Zihuatanejo’s Playa del Ropa as the Pacific rolls in might just be the cure for whatever ails you. Drinking a Pacifico under a palapa umbrella, getting up only to watch a baby turtle release—the sun, the coconut palms, the bath-warm ocean—it sounds relaxing as hell, right? Zihuatanejo is just an hour flight from Mexico City in the state of Guerrero. It has more to offer than idyllic beaches.

Playa del Ropa (aka Beach of Clothes) has a storied history. Rumor has it a ship sunk offshore centuries ago and spread its cargo of clothing across the shore. Holding a prime spot on the beach is the Thompson Zihuatanejo. Opened in 2018, the luxury hotel has a contemporary design that isn’t at odds with its natural setting. Rooms are decorated with tile and parota wood and include artwork by contemporary Mexican artists. Outside HAO, the hotel’s main restaurant, there’s a new poolside mural by Mexico City artist Oscar Torres.

The new mural at the Thompson Zihuatanejo by Oscar Torres.
The new mural at the Thompson Zihuatanejo by Oscar Torres.

Try to time your trip so you can enjoy Pozole Thursdays, a tradition in the city of Zihuatanejo. Pozole is a hearty soup/stew made with hominy corn. You’ll typically find red pozole made with pork, but the Thompson offers a different take on the local favorite. Its green pozole is made from pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and chicken. To best enjoy it, executive chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo says to rub some Mexican oregano in your hands vigorously, then scatter it into the bowl.

“Smell your hands, then you take your first bite,” says Cerrillo. The aroma heightens the flavor.

In Zihuatanejo, Pozole Thursdays are huge. As such, you need to be punctual.

“You’re not going to find a bowl after 5 o’clock,” says Cesar Estrada, food and beverage director at the Thompson.

Pozole
Courtesy of Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Convention & Visitors Bureau

While pozole is typically red, the Thompson Zihuatanejo has a recipe that includes green pepita seeds. Another must on your itinerary: Take a cooking class with Cerrillo to master the art of grilled fish. He’ll instruct on the best way to clean and gut a sea bass, in this case, stuff its belly full of oregano, peppercorns, and lemon slices, then throw it on the grill. When the sea bass comes off the grill, it’s simple and amazing.

The chef introduces the class to molcajete, a stone tool that puts a mortar and pestle to shame. Cloves, peppercorns, cilantro, lemon, tomatillo. Nothing stands in the way of the molcajete. We learn how to debone red snapper, then marinade with a medley of onions, jalapeño, blueberries, and strawberries. It’s unconventional and outrageously delicious.

A resort with the heart of a fishing town

The chef’s class is a reminder that long before Zihuatanejo was a place to relax, it was a fishing town. And it remains so today. The next day calls for a walk on the Paseo del Pescador (Fisherman’s Walk) that follows the main beach, Playa Principal. During the winter, you’ll see sailboats from up north come to spend time in the bay. There’s still a daily fish market at the Playa Principal where boats come in early in the morning with the day’s catch. Before the first crack of light and before most shops open, locals carry away Spanish mackerel and red snapper to cook later in the day, while cats linger hopefully.

It’s no surprise the area is one of the best sport fishing destinations in Mexico. Nearer to shore, you might find roosterfish, bonito, and wahoo on the end of your line. Move a little farther out in the Pacific for bigger quarry like sailfish, blue and black marlin, dorado, and yellowfin tuna.

Exectutive chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo uses a wood-fueled grill.
Executive chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo cooks over a mesquite-fueled fire.

And, if fishing is not your thing, there’s always surfing.

“If you fall, fall flat,” says Leon “Leo” Perez from Catcha L’Ola surf school. A former Mexico masters surf champion, Perez has been teaching professionally for 25 years and informally for 40.

We’re in the waters off Playa La Saladita, a spot popular with surfers from Canada and the U.S. Along the beach, you can find surf shacks, bungalows, villas, and some places to grab a beer and some fresh seafood. Offshore, the waves roll in like clockwork; they’re a favorite among longboarders. For shortboarders, there’s a great spot at the nearby Troncones.

Development is on the way to La Saladita. Over a cold bottle of Victoria later, Leon explains that he bought land here in 1996. Since then, he’s sold some to help finance a small compound that includes a house for him, a pool, and an opening-relatively-soon vegan restaurant. The last one he plans to open with Rodrigo Sanchez from the acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.

The view from the Thompson Zihuatanejo near sunset.
The view from the Thompson Zihuatanejo near sunset.

At the end of your day, exhausted from surf and sun, nab a beach chair and order a beer from the hotel’s attentive staff. Watch frigate birds slowly circle overhead as the sun lowers. Yes, Zihuatanejo has more to offer than one spectacular beach, but at this moment, that spectacular beach is really all you need.

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