Flanked by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains and several from Mexico City and Acapulco by car, the sleepy fishing village turned low-key resort town of Zihuatanejo has thankfully escaped the kind of overtourism its more well-trodden counterparts like Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, and Cancun have endured over the years. Opened in 1953, the airport first brought local Mexican tourists to its pretty palm tree-fringed beaches before foreign travelers (including two Rolling Stones and counterculture figure Timothy Leary) discovered the charms of “Zihua” a decade later. Many of the resorts were built back then, too, along with gorgeous private homes (designer Betsey Johnson has a place there) that still discreetly dot the hills hugging Zihuatanejo Bay, including hidden gem hotel, Thompson Zihuatanejo.
A Sleek Intimate Resort
Being just fifteen minutes by car from the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport means you can be in full vacation mode (read: cocktail in hand under a beach palapa) at Thompson Zihuantanejo not long after touching down. The 56-room hotel sits in a prime spot on Play La Ropa and is a Shangri-la destination for sunseekers, surfers, and creative types or anyone looking for a low-key yet luxe place to stay steps from the sand.
Local architectural firm, Andrés Saavedra Design worked alongside the in-house Thompson design team on a major renovation of the property in 2019 with accommodation and public spaces benefitting from a sleek new look that fuses mid-century modern with traditional Mexican artwork. Colorful handwoven rugs, mosaic tiling and native stone features across guest suites, plus furnishings and original prints by local artist collective, Casa Studio. Warning: you’ll probably want to put at least one piece in your suitcase to take home with you.
Swim-up Suites & Private Plunge Pools
Intimate yet spacious the property is dotted with walkable gardens punctuated by a meandering lagoon. Impressively each of the guest rooms and suites enjoy Pacific Ocean views it’s just a question of deciding whether you’d rather have a private terrace with a plunge pool or plump for one of the 11 swim-up suites. With its own outdoor entertainment area, including a wet bar and private terrace with an oversized day bed, the grand Poobah Thompson Suite boasts third-floor ocean views and plenty of seating areas for entertaining should you be in town to party with friends or family. While the Beach Suite with Plunge Pool is another fun option for couples with something special to celebrate. Finished in dark granite bathrooms also feel like luxe affairs and come stocked with coveted DS & Durga products.
The new mural at Thompson Zihuatanejo by Mexico City artist, Oscar Torres
Barefoot Beachfront Dining
Newly appointed executive chef Javier Garcia Cerrillo is leading the charge at both of Thompson Zihuatanejo’s culinary concepts sourcing much of the ingredients used across the dishes locally – from rock oysters and ricotta cheese to vegetables from nearby farms. At palm-thatched palapa restaurant Ceniza (the Spanish word for ash) dish components get the wood-fired treatment, including a sesame–charred serrano chili salsa and a huitlacoche truffle-corn ash clemole (a Mexican style chicken stew). Romantic dinners on the beach can also be arranged and staff can also set up a little private fire with cushions so that couples can retire for a dessert of toast s’mores and stargazing. Meanwhile stylish all-day eatery Hao has an extensive menu of local favorites, like huevos rancheros, plus fresh juices and classics like French toast, making it perfect for breakfast and lunch.
While it’s taco night on Saturday at the Thompson, in Zihuatanejo Thursdays are for pozole. Don’t feel like venturing into town? Chef Cerrillo makes a hearty yet deliciously fragrant green pozole using poblano peppers, green tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds among other key ingredients. It’s traditionally served with a shot of mezcal to sip alongside the soup with a slice of grapefruit to open the palette and tantalize tastebuds even further.
SUP, Yoga & Spa Time
Despite downtown Zihua being only a few minutes away by taxi, many guests prefer to spend their time ensconced at the resort. And with the golden sand of Playa La Ropa stretching out in either direction and the sparkling Pacific Ocean steps away from suites and sun loungers, it’s hard to blame them. For a change of scene, there’s an adults-only oceanfront infinity pool and a family-friendly pool with a swim-up bar.
While the spa offers a selection of rituals and treatments, like massages and facials, guests who want to get out on the water can borrow SUPs and cruise around on the bay – sunrise is a great time for this when the water is at its calmest. They can also schedule a tennis lesson with a local pro or put their names down for the 7 a.m. beachfront yoga class before grabbing breakfast at Hao.
Made famous by “The Shawshank Redemption,” (when Tim Robbins’ character escapes prison, he’s headed straight to his dream paradise, Zihuatanejo) and despite seeing a slow but steady influx of tourists over the decades, Zihuatanejo has held onto its laid-back charms. Despite more hip and recent modern additions like the Thompson and concept space, Loot, the pace is slow and unhurried, and the town’s fishing village roots are still evident. Fishermen line Playa Principal every Saturday morning, selling their catch to residents and restaurant owners. The Mercardo Municipal is another venerable spot selling everything from fruit and fresh-baked bread to molcajetes (Mexican mortar and pestle sets) that’s well worth a nose for people watching and souvenir shopping.
Less than an hour north along the coast, mellow beach towns Troncones and La Saladita draw surfers from California, Canada, and beyond who come searching for long peeling left handers the region is famous for and not so secret breaks like “The Ranch”.
Getting There & Away
Playa La Ropa via Flickr
Alaska Airlines operates a direct daily service from Los Angeles (LAX) while national carrier Aero Mexico also flies to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport (ZIH) from major hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) via Mexico City (MEX). From the San Diego-Tijuana Cross Border Xpress (CBX), Mexican no-frills airline Volaris operates a twice-weekly direct flight 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 photos courtesy of Thompson Zihuatanejo unless otherwise noted.