Surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains and many a Mexico City and Acapulco drive-in, the sleepy fishing village turned low-key resort of Zihuatanejo has thankfully escaped the kind of overtourism that its more popular counterparts like Puerto Vallarta, Cabo and Cancun have suffered over the years. Opened in 1953, the airport first brought local Mexican tourists to its beautiful palm-fringed beaches before foreign travelers (including two Rolling Stones and counterculture personality Timothy Leary) discovered the charm of “Zihua” a decade later. Several resorts were built at the time, too, along with the gorgeous private homes (designer Betsy Johnson has a place there) that still dot the hills hugging Zihuatanejo Bay, including a hidden gem hotel, the Thompson Zihuatanejo.
Intimate elegant resort
Being only a fifteen-minute drive from Ixtapa-Zihuantanejo International Airport means you can be in full vacation mode (read: cocktail in hand under a palapa on the beach) at Thompson Zihuantanejo shortly after landing. The 56-room hotel is primely located in Play La Ropa, a Shangri-la destination for sun seekers, surfers, creative types, or anyone looking for a low-key but luxurious place to stay just steps away from the sand.
Local architecture firm, Andrés Saavedra Design along with Thompson’s interior design team worked on a major renovation of the property in 2019, in which accommodations and public spaces benefited from a sleek new look that fuses mid-century modern with traditional Mexican artwork. Colorful handwoven rugs, mosaic tiles, and original stone features feature in all guest suites, as well as original tapestries and prints by local artist group, Casa Studio. Warning: You may want to put at least one item in your bag to take home with you.
Swimming suites and private plunge pools
The intimate and spacious property is dotted with walking gardens punctuated by a meandering lake. Impressively, every guest room and suite has views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s just a matter of deciding whether you prefer a private balcony with plunge pool or plump for one of the 11 poolside suites. With its own outdoor entertainment area, including a wet bar and private terrace with a large daybed, the large Poobah Thompson Suite features ocean views on the third floor and plenty of seating areas for entertaining if you’re in town to celebrate with friends or family. The Beach Suite with Plunge Pool is another fun option for couples with something special to celebrate. Dark granite bathrooms look luxurious and come filled with coveted DS & Durga products.
The new mural in Thompson Zihuatanejo by Mexico City artist Oscar Torres
Eating barefoot on the beach
Keri Bridgewater/Just Lux
Newly appointed Executive Chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo leads the charge on each of Thompson Zihuatanejo’s culinary concepts that provide plenty of ingredients used across dishes locally – from rock oysters and ricotta cheese to vegetables from nearby farms. At the palm-straw Palapa, the dish’s ingredients in Ceniza (the Spanish word for ash) get the woodpecker treated, including sesame-charred serrano chili sauce and huitlacoche truffle-corn ash clemole (Mexican-style chicken stew). Romantic dinners can also be arranged on the beach and the staff can also set up a small private bonfire with pillows so that couples can retire for a dessert of toast and watch the stars. Meanwhile, the chic all-day restaurant Hao has an extensive menu of local favorites, such as huevos rancheros, as well as fresh juices and classics like French toast, perfect for breakfast and lunch.
While it’s taco night on Saturday at Thompson, on Zihuatanejo Thursday is dedicated to the Pozzol. Don’t feel like adventurous in the city? Chef Cerrillo makes delicious green pozzol with poblano peppers, green tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds, among other key ingredients. It’s traditionally served with a shot of mezcal to sip along with soup along with a slice of grapefruit to open up the plate and excite the taste buds even more.
Sup, Yoga & Spa Time
Although downtown Zihua is only a few minutes away by taxi, many guests prefer to spend their time at the resort. And with the golden sands of Playa La Roba stretching in either direction and the sparkling Pacific just steps away from the suites and sunbeds, it’s hard to blame them. For a change of scenery, there’s an adults-only oceanfront infinity pool and a family-friendly pool with poolside bar.
While the spa offers a selection of rituals and treatments, such as massages and facials, guests who want to get out on the water can borrow SUPs and wander the bay – sunrise is a great time so when the waters are at their calmest. They can also schedule a tennis class with a local pro or write their name down for a 7 a.m. beachfront yoga class before breakfast at Hao.
Made famous by the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” (when Tim Robbins’ character escapes prison, he heads straight to his dream paradise, Zihuatanejo) and despite seeing a slow but steady flow of tourists over the decades, Zihuatanejo has held on to its charms. Despite recent and recent additions like Thompson and Concept space, Loot, the pace is slow and unhurried, and the town’s fishing village roots are still evident. Fishermen line Playa’s main beach every Saturday morning, selling their catch to residents and restaurateurs. The Mercardo Municipal is another majestic place that sells everything from fresh fruit and bread to molcajete (Mexican mortar and pestle combos) that is well worth a nose for people watching and souvenir shopping.
Less than an hour north along the coast, the sleepy beach towns of Troncones and La Saladeta attract surfers from California, Canada, and beyond who come in search of long-handed left-handers whose area is known for its no-discreet hangouts like “The Ranch.”
To get there and get out
Playa La Roba via Flickr
Alaska Airlines operates daily direct service from Los Angeles (LAX) while national airline Aero Mexico also flies to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport (ZIH) from major hubs such as Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) via Mexico City (Mexico). From San Diego-Tijuana Cross Border Xpress (CBX), no-frills Mexican airline Volaris operates a direct flight twice a week every Wednesday and Saturday. Mexico is open to travelers, and there is no need to provide a negative PCR test or quarantine on arrival while a COVID-19 test is also not required for returning CBX passengers.
All images are courtesy of Thompson Zihuatanejo unless otherwise noted.