By Chris Foster 5/26/19
Some things don’t change. Zihuatanejo has not changed much since I was last here 10 years ago. This small town, about 150 miles north of Acapulco on Mexico’s Costa Grande, is a tourist and sportfishing meca closely connected with it’s more upscale cousin, Ixtapa, a few miles to the north.
The town rims a sizable bay with 3 beaches, Playa Madera, Playa Ropa and Las Gadas. We anchored off of Playa Madera near the town center and a municipal pier, which is under renovation.
A small panga harbor can be entered just to the left of the pier (watch for crocodiles!), however cruising yachts are not accommodated and must anchor out in the bay.
Ted flew in around 4 PM. I met him in town to celebrate his arrival with a margarita at one of the numerous watering holes downtown, which consists of a mixed bag of narrow pedestrian streets and others crowded with parked cars and taxis. The narrow walking streets are beautiful, shaded with palm trees and have well maintained cobbles. The driving streets, also narrow, could really use a good power wash.
That night we hung out downtown as the locals celebrated the weekend on the square, which included an outdoor basketball game, live music and even fire dancers. Ted and I may well have been the only americans to be found, which was just fine with us.
On to Ixtapa
No Marina For Us. The storm that had brewing to the south of us dissipated, so we had that going for us. Still, we had hoped to get a slip at Marina Ixtapa, however the 9′ shallow chanel entrance was closed with waves breaking across its entire width. We learned that this is pretty typical in the late Spring and Summer months.
Isla Grande. With no slip within which to reside we dropped the hook off of Isla Grande. The island is beautiful with 3 different white sand beaches, one of which fronts a coral reef. It lays about 500 meters off of Play Linda.
We enjoyed a lunch at one of the palapas on the island beach. Sundays bring plenty of activity.
After lunch, Ted and I headed out for a bike ride into town on the Ciclopista, a dedicated 9 km (each way) asphalt bike trail, which proved to be quite scenic. We enjoyed a drink at a beachside bar.
Ixtapa has its positives and negatives. The beach in town is wide and pretty, although I think that the shore-break might be a bit much for many casual swimmers at this time of year.
High rise hotels line the main beach, separating the modern shopping area from the water. Ixtapa reminded me of Mazatlan a bit; a little more polished, but without the historic district.
On the way back, we stopped to check out the Crocodile Sanctuary. Man, you can get right up next to these man-eaters! There were plenty of iguanas too.
Solitude Back at Isla Ixtapa Grande. That evening, after all of the tourists had departed, Alex took me in on the tender to go for a walk on the island. I had it pretty much to myself. Perfect…
The Crew Arrives. The next afternoon, the rest of the crew arrived, fit and ready to live the good life…
Crew clockwise: Megan, Susanne, Johnny and Elizabeth.
There Is No Free Lunch
On the way in from the airport, Elizabeth’s cab driver, Francisco, told her about a “deal” that he could offer us.
As he told it, Ixtapa Azul, an all-inclusive resort wanted to get people to come in to check out the facilities. Visitors would be treated to free drinks and could spend the day at the pools . He assured her that, “this is not a timeshare” and moreover, her cab fare would be reimbursed. Besides that, our visit would help him to earn some much needed extra money for his family. E even put up a 200 peso deposit. (One of Ted’s favorite sayings is, No favor goes unpunished…)
While were sceptical, the allure of spending the day poolside was too just much to pass up, so that AM Francisco and his boss met us at the Playa Linda Pier and drove us the two or three short blocks up to the resort(s). As it turned out there were three, all next door to one another, one of which was one of the few Club Med resorts still operating.
On entering the lobby we were lead downstairs to a room set up with lots of round tables where one of the staff gave us some forms to fill out asking for our names, home addresses, amount we spend on vacations each year, the color of our toothbrushes, etc. Afterwards we were introduced to Gregory, our guide. (This guy could sell ice cubes to an eskimo, and may very well have in an earlier iteration of his career.) He assured us that it was his job just to get to know us and to show us around. “Very few people end up buying anything, and that’s ok”.
At this, Ted started complaining about some sort of lower back pain or some such and slid out a side door for a massage.
First breakfast. The presentation would take place afterwards and would “take no more than an hour.”
Breakfast was to be at the tower next door, so we soon proceeded back upstairs and through the gardens, stopping, every 15 feet or so for some questions and for him to impart some jewel of wisdom about the place.
Twenty minutes or so later, we were over at the other tower and went to the breakfast room. We learned that all meals are served buffet style. I must say the were of generous portion and quite tasty.
Poor Gregory was so busy asking questions and pointing out how great everything was that he didn’t get to have any of his breakfast. I actually began to feel sorry for him. By the time we finished, he knew more about us that our own mothers.
Afterwards we began the long slow procession up to the hotel rooms. After stopping at the entrance for yet another set of questions and wisdom, he finally opened the door. Nice rooms for sure. When we asked they went for per night, he answered, “On the open market, about $700 per night, but with a Vacation Club membership, they can be had for as little as $40 per night.”
Ok, so now we know, this is not a “timeshare, it is a vacation club.” $40 per night (plus points we later learned) sounds like a good deal, but the market price is probably no where near $700 per night. It’s probably closer to $150 – $250 (see Trip Advisor). Still, the rooms were of good size, the finishes, both in the rooms and all around the resort were nice as well.
How much for a vacation club membership? “Oh, that would have to wait for the presentation” (as would direct answers to most all of our questions). At this, I began to wonder, you mean this is not the presentation? How long would this last? Might we have to give up our plans to cruise down to Central America in August, or perhaps even our Panama Canal transit at the end of the year?
Without doubt the most fantastic of the resort amenities were the pools. We later found out by reading reviews that they close at 6 or 7 PM each evening and the pool bars close an hour earlier than that (what??).
Enough. I won’t bore you with a lot more about the endless procession around the resort, so let’s skip to the end. At some point we were offered a break and sat down at one of the lobby bars for much needed liquid refreshment, at which time Gregory finally cracked my heretofore-close-to-the-vest armor and asked, “So Chris, what did you do before you retired and how are you spending your time now?”
I answered that I was a real estate developer and was now on a 3-year travel mission on our boat. Gregory listened and then looked a me for a long while, finally declaring, “you’re not going to buy into this are you?” When I let him know that was almost certainly not in the cards, he stood up and said, “Let’s not waste anymore of each other’s time then.” Gone was the ultra nice and relaxed facade.
We were summarily handed back over to one of the other staff members and issued our bracelets so that we could gain entrance to the pool and get on with our afternoon. (By the way, no cab fare or deposit reimbursement would be forthcoming.)
We proceeded to the pool, and again I must say, I was impressed with the fact that free food and drink notwithstanding, there was plenty of wait staff everywhere, bringing us an unending supply of cold refreshments which kept us well hydrated. All of the restaurants were open to us and we had our pick of nourishment of every kind (again, all served buffet style).
Verdict. Ok, the intro to the place was misleading. The “tour” was long and boring and the promised cab fare and deposit reimbursement never came. Still, the place is pretty nice and we did enjoy a nice afternoon at the pool. Would we “join” the vacation club – no. As Johnny put it later, “If I awoke on day two of staying at that place for a week and knew I would be confined there for the rest of the trip, well away from town, without a nice beach on which to swim (Playa Linda is not really so linda), I might kill myself.”
Is it a deal? I can’t really say as our “tour” was cut a bit short (thankfully). Maybe it is, but not for us. For a family with small children looking for a lot of pool time, it might be. Still overall, we agreed, this was an experience worth remembering for all of us.
When we returned to the boat Ted (who’s back had miraculously recovered), was at the ready with a spread of cheese, crackers, wine and of course, Black River Caviar.
Tomorrow, a private dinner on the beach, fishing with sea snakes (I mean scary looking things), and back to Z-Town for some pretty cool and unusual discoveries. Join us.