The Wild Wild West Of Mexico: A FAST Guide To Zihuatanejo


I moved to Mexico because I followed my intuition. I had no expectations or long-term goals, but rather a few, wonderful connections and a passionate love affair with the country’s culture in general. My father spent most of his adulthood living between California and various Mexican cities, always rooting himself in business that allowed for such travel. Perhaps, when I packed my belongs into a box and moved to Zihuatanejo, I unconsciously was following his footsteps. Being raised visiting my godparents in Guadalajara, then Puerto Vallarta, then San Miguel de Allende, I have always lusted for the tropical and vibrant Mexican Riviera. I longed to learn the language, and the cooking. The music, the dance, and the humor; Mexico called my name and eventually I had to answer. I tried my best to finish nursing school and settle in the Bay Area, but, to put it simply, it wasn’t in the cards.

I met Andres and Tara, the owners of LOOT, the summer I moved South. They held a music series called Summer Fest, and every show was packed with locals and the occasional traveler. The summers in Zihua are hot and humid. The air is thick with the scent of sea salt and hibiscus flowers. Immediately upon meeting them, and taking part is what is going on in Zihuatanejo right now… Intuition told me to stay. And so I did…

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Barra de Potosí is like something out of a dream. There are no bars, discos or shopping markets. There are no commercial hotels, no cell phone service. There are only fishermen riding their lanchas out into glassy waters and pelicans diving into the bay. Horses and cows wander along the beach until they disappear into the jungle. Served fresh daily, there are tiritas in the day and street tacos at night. Here remains an authentic Mexican village of about 500 people nestled aside a virgin beach and salt water lagoon. Along the village beachfront are rows of enramadas. Hammocks hang from their thatched roofs and local children play futbol in the sand. Seafood caught that morning is served with thick tortillas, avocado and habanero salsa. The water of coconuts is drained and replaced by tequila and lime. The days pass slowly, but if it is adventure you are craving, the options are unlimited. A kayak trip across the bay or through the lagoon provides the opportunity to see the hundreds of birds that live there; a horse ride provides a journey through a small piece of jungle and over a hill to a private beach that stretches for miles. The locals are among the most friendly, beautiful people you will meet.

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Sea turtles instinctively return to their native beaches for their reproduction ritual. Sadly, so many beaches of the world are no longer safe spaces for turtles to lay eggs and hatch their next generation. Because of factors like pollution, boating and the illegal harvest of eggs, turtle populations are dwindling. Sea turtles of Guerrero are vanishing and endangered. The Ayotlcalli Rescue and Conservation Center of Barra de Potosí relocates turtle eggs to a safe new nesting area where they will be protected until they hatch. In about 45 days, the eggs hatch and immediately the Ayotlcalli Rescue brings the baby turtles to the beach and they are released onto the sand where they make their way home to the ocean. Just one in a thousand baby turtles who make it into the water will survive. Despite the tremendous odds, one cannot help but feel a sense of hope in witnessing the turtles as they swim off into the ocean.

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There is nothing quiet like having a house to yourself when traveling. It is a luxury and assurance that you will have privacy when desired. Serenata del Mar is a gorgeous 2-bedroom home right along Playa Blanca, just a 10 minute walk from the village of Barra de Potosí. The house itself feels more like a treehouse because it is perched up on stilts and over looks a sprawling garden that touches the sand. It is open, so the sea breeze travels in with the bright golden light. There is a big swimming pool with lounge chairs, hammocks and garden seating. You can wake up, make some local coffee and enjoy breakfast right on the Mexican Riviera.

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Hacienda La Rusa is a completely enchanting bed and breakfast. It is a dream destination for animal and nature lovers. The owner, Stasya, is a Ukrainian expat who works tirelessly to create a cozy home away from home for travelers. She is dedicated to promoting awareness about spaying and neutering local cats and dogs. She is radiant, knowledgeable and a most excellent hostess. She speaks more languages than you can count, and everyone in the village adores her for her commitment to the community. Hacienda La Rusa is a private, romantic hideaway, but the grounds are located just steps from the Playa Blanca beach. This small and elegant compound is surrounded by lush tropical gardens so everywhere you turn there are flowers and palm trees. Two pools provide comfort from the sun and offer beautiful views from each bungalow.

# 1 Barra de Potosi,, 40850 Zihuatanejo, Guerrero

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Laurel, my tía, is best described as the female version of Ace Ventura. Before relocating to Mexico, she grew Christmas trees on a farm in Oregon. Prior to that, she was a nurse in the U.S. Army. She’s lived many lives and the commonality between them all has always been this: caring for others. She loves plants, people and animals. Her dream was always to build an animal sanctuary and every time she would fly into the small Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa airport, she couldn’t help but notice the variety of iguanas living in the trees surrounding the tarmac. Within a few years, she had begun developing an animal refuge to support the local wildlife, complete with a large iguana preserve. Today, she houses everything from coatis to pygmy owls to falcons, parrots, wounded pelicans, and butterflies. She hosts children from local schools and educates the next generation on the wildlife surrounding them. She is vastly knowledgable, and even more passionate.

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Her latest project has been assembling a complete sperm whale skeleton. A few years ago, the gentle giant washed ashore and onto the Morros de Potosí, a cluster of rocky islands just off the beach of Barra de Potosí. Laurel and her team trekked through the jungle hillsides to assess the whale corpse. As you can imagine, this was no simple project and because of its rarity, it was a miraculous event for the small beachside community. With machetes and chainsaws, the team dismembered the body of the beloved sea creature and collected it’s enormous bones. Looking at the skeleton of this incredible specimen, you can’t help but think of a dinosaur. Laurel describes the path these animals took when creatures came from the sea and adapted to life on land. Some stayed and roamed the land as the legendary giants we romanticize while others returned to the sea. The whale is living proof of this.

When I visit her at the refuge, I walk in to see her throwing fish at an injured pelican, which is relaxing in her swimming pool. A baby coati follows at her feet like a small puppy, its long and ringed tail waving with delight. Parrots fly from tree to tree. Hundreds of hummingbirds buzz between the flowers. The entire property is alive with the sounds of nature. As I watch, I immediately remember the scene in Ace Ventura when his landlord leaves and he calls the animals out from every pantry and closet in his house. Laurel is beyond committed to making a difference in the local community. She lives for it. When you are in town, arrange a private tour of the grounds, see the sperm whale skeleton and meet this amazing woman for yourself.

Camino Los Achotes a Barra de Potosi, Zihuatanejo 40880, Mexico



LOOT is one of Mexico’s finest cultural hubs. Brought to Zihuatanejo by Mexico City-designer Andres Saavedra, the space has become an epicenter of creativity that focuses on design, art, music and surf. There is always something interesting happening at Loot. It is a space to drink coffee and read a magazine or to shop for beautiful clothing, interior designs and art; it is a space to experience modern Mexican culture at its finest. A highly-curated group of artists and musicians are constantly shaping and innovating the atmosphere here. All are welcome—Loot prides itself on being an all-inclusive family of like-minded individuals.

I see their vision in Zihuatanejo becoming a new destination for young people who want to travel to Mexico—for others like myself. It’s a place for people who want a trip to real Mexico with no vapid resort shit. It’s a place for people who want to speak Spanish, listen to good music, to surf and eat the best food and relax on the most gorgeous beaches. It’s grittier than Tulum or Puerto Vallarta, which I love. There’s an incredible community of people there and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of it.

Escénica La Ropa #55, Playa La Ropa, CP-40895 GRO, Mexico

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You’ll have to ask a local to get to Majahua Beach and for this, we have to thank Cesar. It’s my go-to place when I want to read on the beach for a few hours and let my dog explore. It’s almost always empty, aside from maybe a few men fishing or teenager sipping beers. Behind the gates of an abandoned beachside property, it is the most pristine beach in Zihuatanejo. It’s a place where you can tan topless, ride dirt bikes and swim in the crystal clear waters. Make sure to befriend someone at LOOT and ask them to take you to Majahua…

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Carmelita’s is one of the most beloved restaurants in the area. One meal, and you will understand why everyone says you cannot miss Carmelita’s. The staff are so friendly and knowledgable that they often end up helping guests plan places to go or things to see. They embody the relaxed and happy attitude that makes Los Costenos impossible to forget. The owners are both born and raised in the area and this can be tasted in the cooking. They specialize in traditional dishes, such as Aporreadillo; a Guerrero delicacy that consists of dried beef and scrambled eggs cooked in a flavorful chile and tomato sauce. This is without a doubt my favorite meal in Zihuatanejo. They also offer fresh-caught fish daily, usually Tuna, Mahi-Mahi and Concinero. The fillets can be prepared a variety of ways, my favorite being smothered in garlic and sweet-dried chilies. Octopus, shrimp, chile rellanos, pork ribs… do not miss Carmelita’s.

Calle Heroico Colegio Militar S/N Lte 1 Mz 3, Centro, 40880 Zihuatanejo, Gro., Mexico

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The people of the Guerrero Coast call this place “La Costa Grande.” Costeños have always lived intimately with the ocean…surfing, fishing, swimming. They live with the ocean’s power, with it’s flow and it’s infinite movement. Whether it’s a boat tour, snorkeling at Manzanillo or surfing in La Saladita, experiencing the Pacific with a guide is a must. Enlist the help of Poto at Zihuatanejo Dive Center, a tall, charismatic bearded man who spends half of the year in Mexico and the other half in California. Aboard his boat, you can explore coral reefs, chase multicolored fish and lounge on the bow while your toes dip into the warm waters below. A gentleman after my own heart, he will not leave port without the essentials: fruit, beer, fresh ceviche and tiritas de pescado estilo Zihuatanejo, a unique signature dish that’s traditionally prepared and eaten by fishermen during their daily fishing trips. A boat ride climaxes with an idyllic sunset cruise into the bay.

La Noria # 1, Zihuatanejo 40880, Mexico

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It is no secret that the Viceroy name guarantees a step beyond luxury. Upon checking into the hotel group’s Zihuatanejo property, the evening wind carries a sweet, toasty smell like coconut roasting over a fire. You’ll follow bridges over pristine pools and into La Marea restaurant, where an upscale beachside meal awaits. You’ll eat your dinner twenty feet from the ocean, dozing off with the twinkling lights of Ixtapa in the distance. In the morning, laze around your spacious adobe-inspired casitas as your body finally starts to adjust to life in the slow lane.

Playa La Ropa S/N, Playa la Ropa, 40880 Zihuatanejo, Gro., Mexico

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From 1976 to 1982, Arturo “El Negro” Durazo held a vast amount of power as police chief of Mexico City and he used this post to build himself an empire of corruption. In six years, El Negro managed to turn the entire Mexican police force into his personal racketeering scheme, and in that short amount of time, he also acquired a fortune. As with any illegal trade, cash must be funneled through legitimate means. Durazo built himself a palace and spent years throwing lavish parties and flying his friends in on police helicopters. Rumor has it that El Negro was a worshipper of the devil and that he held prisoners hostage and forced them to fight tigers. If they survived, they would be freed. The debauchery in the murals on the walls speak for themselves. By the presidential election of 1982, moral reform of Mexican government was demanded and El Negro fled the country. He was eventually caught in Costa Rica and served a long-term prison sentence. Upon his arrest, the palace was abandoned and looted. What remains today is a skeleton of what once was a temple of greed. This replica of the Greek Parthenon still sits atop the hills of Zihuatanejo like a scar on the city’s landscape. For a small bribe, the groundskeeper will grant you access, and you can experience the hedonism for yourself.

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