Zihuatanejo, Mexico stays with you. The seaside town has a history of attracting minds like Sir Francis Drake, Timothy Leary, and Andy Warhol, and while the glamorous stars of Hollywood were partying in Acapulco, the beloved rock and rollers of the 1960s were hiding out in Zihua, as it's called by locals. Today, it is no different, and many of the same free-thinkers are still tucked into the jungled cliffs of La Ropa, living the life. There is a realness that can’t be ignored, and to foreigners, perhaps that is the best part about the place.
What to See
The beaches are stunning and the food is fresh, but it is the people who make Zihuatanejo what it is. The town exists in the Mexican state of Guerrero, which translates to “warrior,” and is a very fitting name for those born and raised, which are affectionately known as guerreros. The people are warm and welcoming, always smiling with a genuine pride: They're always there to help you when you need it most. To fully appreciate this, one should spend an extended amount of time with the guerreros of Zihuatanejo because, as with all cultures, there are subtleties that can be easily overlooked by an outsider. The humor and traditions, for example, are meant to be learned over a little mezcal and spoken in Spanish, then practiced while dancing to Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue. Fortunately, for those making a quick visit, there is a spot in La Ropa Beach where you can discover all the ins and out, meet all the right people, and find yourself in places you could never have imagined.
LOOT: Surf & Lifestyle Store, is your one-stop shop. A cafe meets restaurant, meets art gallery, meets surf shop, meets production company and music venue, and the list goes on and on. Founded by Mexico City architect, Andrés Saavedra, LOOT is run by an international team of surf-chasers and trouble-makers. There is always something happening at LOOT and it has been said that you feel like you are getting away with something just being there. If you are an artist or musician in town, make sure to stop by and introduce yourself because you never know what opportunities may await. Some come to vacation and never really leave. Those looking to emancipate themselves from society’s definitions of success seemed to have found freedom in the lawlessness of the Wild West.
What to Eat
Just after sunrise and on the way to morning surf, bollios (pastries), coffee and champurrado (a warm and thick Mexican drink ) are served hot, roadside. This perfect breakfast provides an intimate view into the morning routine of many locals, fueling up before the long day’s work.
What to Do
Zihuatanejo feels like a healthy mix of romance and adrenaline. There are beaches for hours in both directions, each one dreamier than the next. Rent a car, because the highway along the coast is very reminiscent of the infamous Highway One, only hotter and more tropical, and if driving in Mexico doesn’t feel like freedom, I’m not sure what does. Playa Blanca, a 30-minute drive south to the village of Barra de Potosi, is one particular beach you could explore for weeks, months or possibly forever. It is the epitome of paradise. A large lagoon hugs the village against the sea and is home to thousands of colorful birds. You can rent kayaks and get lost in the mangroves, returning just in time for a fresh feast on the beach at one of many enramadas (thatch-roof shacks). Trails connect Playa Blanca to another, completely secluded beach called Playa Tortuga, which is accessible only by horseback or foot. The area truly has everything you could imagine, you just need to ask. Just North of Zihuatanejo, medicinal hot springs are tucked into lush fields, where you can cover yourself in mineral-rich mud and watch stars peek through palm leaves. There are recipes and regional cuisine that will blow your mind, dishes such as apporeadillo and nacatamles that will inspire a fervor in the kitchen at home. After all, this is why many of us travel; to return home with wiser eyes.
The tans will fade and the cravings for afternoon beers tend to dissipate, but the gentle longing for life in Mexico will always remain. There is no escaping it, for in the day-to-day grind of life in any major city looms a pleasant reminder of simplicity at the beach. At LOOT, one always has a Mexican family to return to. Best described as Tulum’s hot older sister, where there is a balance between rest and adventure, Zihuatanejo awaits.
Enjoy Quiet Beaches All to Yourself
Playa Blanca, just south of Zinuhatanejo in Guerrero, Mexico, has stunning sunsets. Compared to the crowded, cool beaches of Pacific North America, the expansive stretches of tropical Southern Mexico will spoil you rotten.
Find Peace in Rural Villages
The rural villages between the highway and the Pacific Ocean are sleepy, colorful and filled with kind people. After a morning of surfing, we stopped for quesadillas and a beer next to this man’s home, and I couldn’t help but imagine being born into a different body, a different life. For some of us, living in the hustle and bustle of life in the United States creates a romanticized longing for something more simple. The grass is always greener, but have we gone too far? Too many options seem to lead to too many problems. Our resources are vast but there isn’t a direct correlation to happiness. Where is the balance?
Get Acquainted With Massive Brahma Cows
This is a Brahma cow. Brahmas were bred in the United States after cattle were brought from India. I’ve been told that the excess skin hanging down from cow’s neck acts as a radiator keeping the animal cooler in hot climates.
Chase the Waves
Rainy season along Costa Grande fills the land with lush, green vegetation. We arrived at Playa Boca early with the LOOT crew just as the swell began to build and the waves got larger and larger. At that point, we knew it was time to play!
Stop for Roadside Mangos
On the way to Playa Saladita, we saw a few gentlemen in the groves harvesting the sweetest and most delicious mangos I have ever tasted. We pull over to say hello and ask if we can buy some, but before we even cross the road we are greeted by the boss man with a basket full of mangos. Of course, in true rural Mexican fashion, he won’t take a dime from us and insisted we enjoy them. Mexico is the 5th leading producer of mangos in the world, harvesting just under 2 million tons per year.
Catch Fish with Locals
I have always wondered about the effectiveness of catching fish by using a cast net. After following this gentleman for a while down the beach, as the storm broke, I started to doubt the method. Time after time he would cast out into the rock shore bringing back nothing. However, after about an hour, he pulled in a large Robalo, one of my favorite fish varieties, and I realized that he knew exactly what he was doing. The people of this region are extremely resourceful in maintaining a seemingly healthy connection to their natural environment and all that it provides. Very little satisfies like bringing home food for your friends and family that you caught, hunted or grew yourself.
Visit LOOT Cafe
LOOT is an amazing cafe, restaurant, event space, and lifestyle shop in Zihuatanejo with a really tight-knit community of young, adventurous and creative folks. I was lucky enough to hang with them while in the area at a stunning oceanfront property near the legendary La Saladita Surf Break. This crew of surfers, artists, divers, yoga instructors, writers, and travelers showed me the sweet spots of the region.
See Wild Horses Roam
Just before a strong tropical storm approached, I found an otherworldly scene of free-roaming caballos (horses) crossing the field on their way to a mango grove across the road.
Hang with Pako
During a visit to Zihuatanejo, you must meet Pako, the resident pirate of LOOT, always equipped with a witty joke and a smile.
Sip Cocktails of the Land
Josh and Rodrigo are true professionals and were blowing my mind with cocktails focused on local ingredients grown within a few miles of town. Their bar program is world class, inclusive of an understanding of classic cocktails, as well as what's happening in major international markets. They take this knowledge and add a very authentic connection to the area by sourcing local fare. They maintain a healthy balance of sourcing inspiration for outside Zihuatanejo and creating truly expressive cocktails that you could find anywhere else.
Stay at LOOT Surf House
La Saladita is a classic, left-breaking wave in the area popular among the longboard crew; but with consistently breaking waves year round, it is a dream destination. The point in the far background of this photo will one day be the home of the LOOT Surf House, hosting artist studios, a recording studio, amazing lodging based on the use of local materials and stunning design.
Experience Wild West Culture
I spent time with locals to enjoy a cold beer and a sunset view at the end of the day in Playa Barra. We rented horses from this family and cantered through the palm groves and along the beach, splashing in the warm water. Very few places in the United States would let you have as much fun as these folks do. I feel freer in so many ways while exploring Mexico than I ever do in the United States. The wild west is still alive along these beaches.
Take a Sunset Horse Ride on the Beach
The beach will always be my happy place. Wherever there are a tropical sunset and a horse willing to get in the surf, I will surely be there with a smile on my face.
Sip Out of Coconuts
In Zihuatanejo, there are more coconuts than you can shake a machete at. Although coconut trees are not native to this region, they seem to be quite at home in the Pacific Ocean, with Mexico being the seventh largest coconut producer in the world.
Nosh on a Lobster Brunch
The waters around Zihuatanejo are full of delicious seafood, and for this Sunday brunch, my friends brought me to one of their favorite spots for fresh langosta (lobster).