Saturday, February 23, 2013

Places To Stay

Places to Stay… For Fishermen, or the Family                                             by Ed Kunze 

   1)    Introduction
   2)    Ixtapa
   3)   Zihuatanejo
   4)   Moderate rooms on the beaches (Zihuatanejo)
   5)    Economy rooms
   6)    With kitchenettes (recommended)
   7)    Private homes and condos (Playa Blanca to Zihuatanejo to Troncones)
  8)  Puerto Vicente Guerrero and La Barrita
  9)   High end

Zihuatanejo Bay

1) Introduction - I have tried to avoid listing hotels or places to stay for the entire 15 years I have lived here. I am not a travel agent, so I do not get a commission, nor do I ever want to start making reservations for hotels. But, I get continual requests for me to help out with suggestions for places to stay. Also remember I have yet to ever stay in one these hotels, as my wife has yet to kick me out of our house, or there was never a need, because we have lived in our home for several years now. I can only go by client’s experiences.

With the repetitive emails I have to write about Ixtapa/Zihuatanjo’s places to stay and their plus and minuses, it is best for me to kind of summarize the locations, telling it from the perspective of a “local”, and not as a travel agent trying to get a commission. I will tell you things they will not tell you. We have it all here in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and to fit every budget. You can find a place to stay which meets your needs. We are a great family destination here in Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo, or for a fisherman and his fishing partner you can get a basic clean room with “just a roof over your head” with air-conditioning. If you prefer high end, then we also have that available. Plus, we have locations with seclusion on a private beach, yet you or your family will feel safe for your entire stay.

The only “danger” you will ever encounter here in ixtapa/Zihuatanejo is the possibility of not wanting to return back home.
Ixtapa - Note the abundance of Coconut palms
in the foreground. Ixtapa was originally a coco plantation.

2) Ixtapa – Everything as far as needed to book a room is on the internet, but here are some insights to what I have learned over the years. Ixtapa proper is a planned resort with about a mile and a half of main road, with hotels and condominium towers lining the beach; ending at the Ixtapa marina.
The marina is for private yachts only, and any tourist sport fishing from the Ixtapa Marina is illegal…even though it is done. (This includes certain resorts claiming they “have a boat” for charter in the marina).

Ixtapa is divided into 2 hotel zones. Hotel Zone 2 is up North and about 15 minutes from the main hotel zone. The Melia, Club Med, and Qualton are the three hotels in Hotel zone 2, with Capella about mid way between the two zones.

Even the Las Brisas in Ixtapa, which is very popular, tries to claim a 5 star status, but these hotels are not 5 stars, and would be pushing it to even be 4 star.

Most of the hotels in Ixtapa have gone “all inclusive”. In my estimation, they wouldn’t have done that, unless there was good money to made, which means you are probably paying more than you need to. And, an all inclusive really discourages people from wandering out and sampling the rich Mexican cuisine of the small restaurants we are noted for. After all, why pay for a dinner and take a taxi to somewhere else, if it is already paid for back at the hotel?  But, an all inclusive situation sure may pay off if you have a couple of teenage boys, who can easily eat up all the profits the hotel expected to make off you.
Ixtapa proper is located along Playa Palmar, which can be a terrible swimming beach. When the flag is up, it is not safe to swim as the shore break of the waves is very high, and the undertow is very strong. The flag is up a lot and a few Mexican Nationals die each year as the alcohol influences them to be macho. Plus, one or two north of the border tourists dies every couple of years from heart failure due to the stress of the undertow. The majority of the beach closures take place in June, July, and August, which are the popular Mexican National months for vacationing. I have never heard of a child drowning…Usually it is adult men (no matter the nationality).

If you have been to any other resort beach destination in the world like Florida, Hawaii, or Cabo San Lucas, the hotel resorts in Ixtapa are all the same as the other destinations. Once you have stayed in one, you have stayed in them all. But, it still amazes me how some people fly in to the Zihuatanejo Airport, take a taxi to the hotel in Ixtapa and never leave it until it is time to get a taxi back to the airport. They then go back home and tell their friends how they spent a week in Mexico and mingled with the “locals”. The locals are always the bar tender and waiters.  
You can’t believe how many times I have heard the story of “our friend the bartender…or waiter”. I have no idea when these people will ever wake up. The guy is friendly, and gets a tip. Come back next year, and he remembers the good tip…etc. He will invite you to his home for a special occasion, and you will bring a special gift for the child or whoever. The special gift would not have happened if you did not come, or had not been invited. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a special gift for someone who would not have had it otherwise. But, it is BS if you really think he is your friend. He will be your friend as long as the money does not dry up…Use common sense as to how far you want to dig into your pockets or make other long term commitments with the individual (loans, buying property, etc).

The Hotel Zone 2 in Ixtapa is way out and up to the north…It is a good 15 minutes drive from Ixtapa proper. There is the Club Med, Melia Ixtapa, and the Qualton. They are great all inclusive resorts, with the Club Med being especially kid orientated. The Melia is incredible, with new additions, a convention center and many extras. The beaches for these three resorts have are very protected with very little wave action, and no danger as you can have on Playa Palmar in Ixtapa proper.

The biggest problems with the Hotel Zone 2 are the remoteness and management’s attitude to keep the people confined to the resort. They do not want their clients to venture in to Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo to sample the shops or restaurants. If you are there, they want you to spend all of your money in their boutiques, extra bar tab, etc. They allowed the strong Taxi Union to set the rate for a trip to Zihuatanejo, which is a ridicules $30…They allowed the Union to set the rates just like the monopoly at the airport. A trip a mile away to Playa Linda, to get a boat for fishing is over $5.00, and the taxi driver is pissed, because he waited in line all night to get the $30 fee to the municipal pier in Zihuatanejo. A taxi trip anywhere in Zihuatanejo is about $2.00…so they have even doubled the costs for a short drive. I tell clients to have the boat pick them up at the Playa Linda pier, which is used by the water taxi pangas to take tourists to Ixtapa Island. Melia Ixtapa and Qualton people can easily walk the couple of hundred yards along the beach, and Club Med people will have to piss off a taxi driver for the $5.00 ride.

In Hotel Zone 2, for your every day sightseeing and getting around (7:00 AM to 7:00 PM), take the micro bus, which stops in front of the hotels on the main road. It will take you to Zihuatanejo Centro for less than $1.00 per person. When you go back, just take taxi to the front of Sam’s Club and wait for the bus with “Playa Linda” on the windshield… When you approach your destination, just yell out “Club Med”, or “Melia”…and the bus will stop. It is the same $1.00 price per person. Or, take a taxi back from Zihuatanejo…about $10.00…go figure as to how they set the taxi rates out there.

There is one advantage to staying in Ixtapa, and it is fiscal. There are some vacation plans which put together a charter for the plane, or a package deal through a specialized travel agency, and can give you a great break on pricing. Some of these packages will actually have the price where basically the hotel room is free for your stay, or the flight. These plans seem to be available to people from the mid-west, the Michigan/Wisconsin states, and even Colorado. They are great deals.
The zocalo in Zihuatanejo is a basketball court
and plaza on Playa Principal.
3) Zihuatanejo – Zihuatanejo gives a person the feeling of “freedom of movement”. You actually feel like you are visiting mainland Mexico, and not a tourist resort. Nor is the place you stay in lined up with one resort after another. They are spread out all around the bay and in the town itself. And, the taxi rates around town are far less than the rates in Ixtapa. The reason is in Ixtapa, the taxis deal primarily with tourists, whereas in Zihuatanejo, they deal with everyday local people. And that kind of summarizes it. Where the everyday working people live, rates are less than where the tourist destinations are. It does not matter if it is a taxi, restaurant, or a place to stay. The options are more varied to fit your needs and budget.
The only “tourist areas” in Zihuatanejo are the flea market and several shops within two blocks of the municipal pier. The balance of the city is a normal mainland Mexican town catering to the all the needs of the local population.

Plus, Zihuatanejo has the Bay and the Municipal Pier, where all sport fishing boats must embark from. On the southerly side of Zihuatanejo Bay are Playa Madera and Playa Ropa, and ending up at Playa Las Gatas. Playa Ropa is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.

One downside of Zihuatanejo is the sewage treatment plant coming out of the lagoon on the north side of the municipal pier. During peak seasons, with Mexican Nationals and north of the border tourists here (Christmas, and Easter Week) our population swells by more than 40,000 people. Or, from the heavy outflows of the rain season (June through October) the treatment plants can’t keep up, and discharge almost untreated water into the bay. In the last few years there have been improvements to the treatment plants, but the capacity still can’t handle the huge increases. This makes the areas around the pier, and the Playa principal as not being healthy to swim in under those conditions. A general rule of thumb is if the water is clear, there is less chlorophyll, and probably just fine.

By the time the beach gets around to Playa Madera and La Ropa, everything is fine again, due to the incoming swells flushing out the bay.
With the Municipal Pier in the background, night fishermen
sell their catch in the morning
Playa Madera
Playa Ropa
Another downside to Zihuatanejo is to try to avoid the hotels near the Centro two block “tourist zone”. The teenage kids here in town want to party, and the Mexican Nationals only come to party. The bars and discos in Centro encourage that with loud music until 5 to even 6 in the morning. A room may only be $35 a night in Centro, but if you can’t sleep, what good is it? It is best to leave those rooms to the people who party all night and let them blissfully sleep all day, to do it all over again the next night.

Plus, depending on where you are in Ixtapa, the same can be true from the bars and discos there. Always try and get a beach facing room, and not a main street facing room. The loud music will just bounce off those high rise hotels.

I certainly still recommend Zihuatanejo over Ixtapa for the normal unattached tourist. There are a lot of places to stay, unaffected by discos and all inclusive resorts, with a more realistic ambient of Mexico.
4) Moderate hotels on the beaches (Zihuatanejo) – I have had clients which prefer the Villas Mexicana on the Playa Ropa, and I agree. The sister hotel on Playa Madera is the Irma, but unlike the Villas, the Irma is a vertical hotel, with a lot of steps to the beach (and back up). Most places on Playa Madera are “vertical” hotels, with a lot of steps. Brisas Del Mar is another good hotel, but “vertical”.

This also holds true for the Sotovento and Catalina, which are traditional old standbys, with a great following, but they have a lot of steps.

The Avila, on Playa principal is an older hotel, but in great condition. The Avila has no swimming pool, and I would not recommend swimming in front of the hotel in certain times of the year, but, for less than $100 a night, it is has a very good value, especially if you have a small group. There are three rooms up on the 2nd floor with a great view of the Bay and a private terrace. But, contact the hotel direct, and not the name listed on the web page. He is just an American who developed a web page for them and is reaping the benefits in terms of commission. There are lots of very good places to eat nearby, including the restaurant downstairs.
5) Economy rooms – There are a few economy rooms available near the municipal pier, and not as much affected by the late night music of the discos. The first one is above the restaurant Garrobo’s (which means a huge male iguana). The rooms used to be about $45 a night and I have had a lot of clients stay there. They all gave it a decent approval.

The second one is across the pedestrian bridge in the parking lot at the municipal pier. It is the same location as Lety’s restaurant is located, so you can’t go wrong. In my opinion, Lety is the No. 1 seafood restaurant in all of the Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo area. The rate is about $50 a night, but lacks hot water in the morning. Plus, they have WiFi. Air-conditioned rooms are available, as well as you can ask for a small fridge for your room. Tani, Lety’s brother, is the manager.
A typical economy room at Lety's
And, there are a few others like the Monarca and Zihuat Centro, which people have been pleased with when we talked. Zihuat Centro will need a few more recommendations, as new discos have set up, and I am not sure if it affected or not.

6) With kitchenettes (recommended) - I highly recommend a room with a kitchenette, or full kitchen. It does not matter where you stay, either in Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo, when you pay almost $2.00 (or more) for a bottle of water, which costs 30 cents at the Commercial Mexicana market, combined with $5 drinks, $2 sodas, $3 beer, etc. It does not take long to having some serious savings for your room with a kitchen. And, all it takes is a short 25 pesos taxi ride to the Commercial Mexicana to stock up on what you need.

Plus, when you eat out for dinner, as most people do, the microwave in the kitchen is great for a mid-day snack for leftovers. And you can really appreciate a fridge when you have small kids, who will drink a soda, set it down and forget where they left it. Then 15 minutes later they want another.

Another advantage is having a coffee pot in your room, and not when the kitchen staff finely arrives and coffee is available at 8:00. Or, with the hot water in the coffee pot, you can also brew your tea…bought in the Commercial Mexicana.

If you look around on the internet a bit, you will find there will be large savings as compared to a hotel in Ixtapa on the beach. Yet, you will have everything you need, at a much lower cost...meaning you now have enough money to spend three days on the water fishing, and not just one. 

Author’s Note: A tip for getting drinks, beer, and sodas to your room when staying in Ixtapa, as they do not allow you to bring them into the hotel, is to tell the people at the entry you are fishing tomorrow, and will need them on the boat. It works…And, will save you some money.

A few of the hotels which I have experience with clients and their good recommendations are:
a)    Bungalows Aldemar on Playa Madera. They are great, with a pool and a very good setting. There is no view of the beach, but it is just a few paces around the corner to a great swim beach on Playa Madera…without a lot of stair climbing steps, up or down.
b)    Hotel Azucenas is one of my favorites. They are just off the beach on Playa Ropa (about 100 yards) and right next door to Villas Mexicana. The view of the bay is not there, but there are several amenities which more than make up for the lack of a beach location. The high end workmanship is incredible. Azucena is a great host, and speaks English well. She also maintains a very good restaurant.
c)     Hotel Solimar is not far from Centro, and about a ½ mile off the beach…but is a great hotel with very reasonable prices. Several clients have told me they really enjoyed their stay there. Plus, it is just a half a block away from Doña Liche’s, one of our best locations for breakfast or lunch, and 1 block from the main Mercado, which has an incredible amount of great eateries, sells fresh fish, fresh veggies, etc. It is a very quiet part of town, and very close to the real Mexico Mainland experience.
d) The small hotel Real de la Palma has also received an excellent recommendation. The couple had one of the kitchen suites for only 900 pesos a night (about $75). The hotel is just a short distance from Playa Ropa, down near the end closest to Las Gatas. Plus, there are a couple of separate bungaglows.   
Casa Los Arcos on Playa Blanca
  7) Private homes and condos – A private home or condo can actually be cost saving when
compared to a hotel with a small group or a large family looking for a place to stay. There will be 
a full kitchen for warming up leftovers, making dinner, or making a quick breakfast. There is a 
large fridge for water sodas, drinks, ice, etc.
They usually have a maid which can come in a couple of days a week and some even can provide more service, a cook, etc. Sometimes a vehicle or driver can even be had. If you want seclusion, but to feel safe and secure, this can happen also. Private homes and condos are located from Troncones on down to past the airport at Barra Potsi.
Beach view from Casa Los Arcos
a)    One of my favorites is Casa Los Arcos on Playa Blanca. I guess I am partial to the house as I built it. The owner, Lupe Martinez, lives in San Jose California, and has yet to pull the plug to move down here and live full time. The house is 6,400 square feet on a full acre of land, with 164 feet of beach frontage. The nearest neighbor is a full quarter of a mile away to the south, and over a mile away to the north

There is a gardener/care keeper in the day, a three times a week cleaning woman, and a night security man. An insured vehicle is also available for a small additional fee. Internet is available with the small memory stick which logs you on to TelCell (I do not think an iPad will accept the signal, but all other brands of laptops do.). The house has Dish satellite TV, and two TV screens of 42” and 50”, plus a selection of movies. There are a total of 4 bedrooms, with three available. All rooms are air-conditioned, have individual bathrooms, and a locking door.

Jack Crevalle sometime bust bait on the beach in front of the house, as well as roosterfish. In December through March, you can even see humpback whales and their calves.
Also, this is one instance I will be around to check up on things to be sure you are fine.

Rates are for a 2-3 night minimum:
2 rooms - $250 a night
3 Rooms - $300 a night

Rates for 4-6 nights:
2 rooms - $200 a night
3 rooms - $250 a night
Only one room per night (minimum 3 nights) - $125

b)    Bungalows Solecito, at Barra Potosi, is another favorite of mine. I have had a fishing client stay there for several years now. He has caught several jack crevalle from the beach in front of his bungalow with both the spin rod and the fly rod. They feature a pool and a restaurant, with 
individual bungalows and suites.
Solecito bungalow

One of Don Wolcott's severaljacks
 (a golden jack) from in front of Solecito

c) Tree Tops bungalows on Playa Blanca...only 5 minutes from the airport, but right on the beach. Artistically rustic, the cabañas are built of wood and natural materials with palm thatch roofs. Fully furnished with king size beds, dresser and drawers, table and chairs. And, a front porch with hammocks and lounge chairs. 

 d)   A very popular destination for people to stay is in Troncones. It has a nice beach,rocks,
tide pools and a general quite seclusion, sitting among many other similar places to stay there.
Troncones, with the new highway being completed to Zihuatanejo, is only about a 30 minute
Casas Gregorio in Troncones
Ernie Mrachek is a decent fisherman, has lived here for a lot of years, and has become sort of an icon in the Troncones area. He can help you out with just more than fishing questions. He manages Casas

e) Another popular place in Troncones is Casa Delfin Sonriente, a beach front rental villa/bed 
Casa Defin Sonriente - the smiling dolfin

8) Puerto Vicente Guerrero - Even further and more remote from Zihuatanejo is Puerto Vicente Guerrero just south of Papanoa. and about an hour and 15 minutes from the airport in Zihuatanejo. The main reason for mentioning this is because the fishing is incredible at times. It is my favorite place to fish.
 The clients stay in a small 4 room hotel which is primarily a restaurant. The rooms have air-conditioning. The Monserrat is on a beautiful, and very fishable beach, and also has a very nice swimming pool. The hotel is only a couple of years old, and the $80 a night charge is extremely reasonable. During most of the year you will be the only people there, as the restaurant really only gets its business on the weekends, and especially on Sundays. One small downfall is the restaurant closes at 6 PM, so you will have to eat early. Plus, for breakfast or lunch, you are not just confined to there, as there are also several palapa style beach restaurants nearby to sample.
Huge oysters at Puerto Vicente Guerrero for 
about $8 a dozen
La Barrita is a quiet and very small fishing village, about 50 minutes South of the Zihuatanejo airport. It also has several beach side palapa restaurants for travelers on the main highway from Acapulco to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. La Barrita has excellent year round shore fishing, especially for roosterfish from June through December. Starting in November of 2013, a small bed/breakfast bungalow will be available to rent to people who want to experience the true Mexican traditional beach living.         

La Barrita

Mark Denison with one of several jacks caught in March

9)   High End – As far as hotels go, there are only three 5 star hotels here. Two are on the bay in Zihuatanejo, and one is out near the Hotel Zone 2 of Ixtapa. The other hotels in Ixtapa try to claim 5 star status, but are no more than a three…and maybe approaching a 4 star…but not anything else.

a) The Viceroy on Playa Ropa in Zihuatanejo is probably the most popular. There are actually special offer savings at certain times of the year. I have never heard of a poor review. The worse I have heard has been “fantastic!”

b) The second, but closer to Playa Madera on the bay in Zihuatanejo, is Casa Que Canta. It is considered to be one of the top 10 small hotels in Latin America, with the No. 1 cuisine in Mexico for 2013 from Travel and Leisure. Built on a rocky promontory, it has only a very small rocky beach and lots of steps to get to it.
 c) Capellas is out near the Hotel Zone 2 in Ixtapa. I have also heard great reviews here, but it is relatively new compared to Casa Que Canta and the Viceroy. I also believe it is kind of a “vertical” hotel, with the pool area being down a bunch of steps. It is basically built on a cliff, with no beach anywhere nearby. Again, the taxis have control of the rates out in the Hotel Zone 2, so expect to pay.  
Horses are available to ride in Troncones and the Barra