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Mexico’s Zihuatanejo is more than the sum of its beautiful beaches

Sitting on Zihuatanejo’s Playa del Ropa as the Pacific arrives just might be the cure for all your ailments. Drinking a Pacifico under a palapa umbrella, getting up only to watch a baby turtle let loose – the sun, the coconut palms, the warm ocean in the tub – sounds relaxing like hell, right? Zihuatanejo is just an hour’s 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 history rich in history. Rumor has it that a ship sank off the coast centuries ago and spilled its cargo of clothing on the shore. The Thompson Zihuatanejo occupies a prime spot on the beach. Opened in 2018, the luxury hotel has a contemporary design that is not at odds with its natural setting. Rooms are decorated with tiled floors 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 Thompson Zihuatanejo mural by Oscar Torres.

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

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

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

“You’re not going to find a bowl after 5:00 pm,” says Cesar Estrada, food and beverage manager at the Thompson.

Courtesy of the Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Convention and Visitors Bureau

While the pozole is generally red, the Thompson Zihuatanejo has a recipe that includes green pepita seeds. Another must-see on your itinerary: take a cooking class with Cerrillo to master the art of grilled fish. He’ll walk you through the best way to clean and gut a sea bass, in which case fill its belly with oregano, peppercorns and lemon slices, then throw it on the grill. When the bar comes off the grill, it’s simple and amazing.

The leader introduces the class to molcajete, a stone tool that shames a mortar and pestle. Cloves, peppercorns, coriander, lemon, tomatillo. Nothing opposes the molcajete. We learn how to debon the red snapper and then marinate it with a mixture of onions, jalapeño, blueberries and strawberries. It’s unconventional and incredibly delicious.

A seaside resort in the heart of a fishing village

The chef’s course reminds us that long before Zihuatanejo was a place of relaxation, it was a fishing town. And it remains so today. The next day, you have to take a walk on the Paseo del Pescador (fishermen’s promenade) which follows the main beach, Playa Principal. In winter, you will see sailboats from the north come to spend time in the bay. There is still a daily fish market at Playa Principal where the boats arrive early in the morning with the day’s catch. Before the first glimmer of light and before most stores open, locals pack Spanish mackerel and red snapper for cooking later in the day, while the cats linger hopefully.

It’s no surprise that the region is one of the best sport fishing destinations in Mexico. Closer to shore, you might find roosters, skipjack, and wahoos at the end of your line. Move further into the Pacific for bigger careers like sailfish, blue and black marlin, sea bream, and yellowfin tuna.

Executive chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo uses a wood-fired grill.

Executive Chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo cooks over a mesquite fire.

And if fishing isn’t your thing, there’s always surfing.

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

We are in the waters off Playa La Saladita, a popular spot with surfers from Canada and the United States. Along the beach you can find surf huts, bungalows, villas and a few places to have a beer and fresh seafood. Offshore, the waves roll like clockwork; they are a favorite among longboarders. For shortboarders there is a great spot at the nearby Troncones.

Development is on its way to La Saladita. Later, around a cold bottle of Victoria, Leon explains that he bought some land here in 1996. Since then he has sold some to help finance a small complex that includes a house for himself, a swimming pool and a vegan restaurant which will open relatively soon. The last he plans to open with Rodrigo Sanchez of 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 by the surf and the sun, grab a beach chair and order a beer from the attentive hotel staff. Watch the frigates spin slowly above your head as the sun sets. Yes, Zihuatanejo has more to offer than a spectacular beach, but right now this spectacular beach really is all you need.

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