Travel Weekly Crossroads' associate editor, Judy Koutsky,
spent the holidays on a chartered cruise along the Pacific coast of
Mexico. The following is Part Three in a series of
ABOARD THE OCEAN MAJESTY -- We arrived in port about 8 a.m. on
what was promising to be a beautiful, warm, sunny day. After taking
the tender to shore -- about a 10-minute ride -- we were left to
explore Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Zihuatanejo, population 80,000, has
been around for over 700 years and used to be a fishing town.
Ixtapa, on the other hand, has only 12,000 people and used to be a
coconut plantation. It was converted into a tourist mecca, like a
Pacific-coast version of Cancun, in the 1970s. Ixtapa
translates to "white place," referring to their beaches; however,
some locals say it refers to the gringos who are present
I had signed up for the "off the beaten path" countryside
excursion. We left the flea markets, the outside cafes, and the
traffic and headed for the rural terrain. Our guide, Paco, was
extremely knowledgeable and, to our amusement, told us stories and
history in Spanglish.
Our first stop was the plantations. Here, we sampled fresh
coconuts, papayas, cinnamon and mangos right off the tree as Paco
explained how they are planted and harvested. The best fruit,
however, was the crossbreed of the orange and the grapefruit to
create a delicious, nonsticky, refreshing treat.
The second destination was the tile village. Here, families make
clay tiles, which are used to make the roofs and walls of the
The man giving the demonstration was said to make 1,000 tiles by
hand on a bad day. The village men seemed content with this
laborious way of life, while the children patiently waited for the
tourists to buy the handcrafted clay goods. Even though the sun
pounded mercilessly, everybody in this village seemed friendly and
patiently answered our questions, asked in bad Spanish.
What really surprised me, not only in this town but during my
time in Mexico, was how few children begged the tourists for money.
They doled out handpicked flowers to all the senoritas but
never asked for money in return. They simply smiled sweetly,
irresistibly -- and had tourists reaching for their pesos without
hesitation. Paco said that throughout Mexico, there was a strong
movement to get vendors off the streets and beaches and into
centrally located markets. In the past, tourists would feel
accosted and overwhelmed when peddlers confronted them on the
sidewalks, pushing their touristy trinkets. Now it's a different
scene; I wasn't approached once by adult or child begging for money
or pushing me to make a purchase.
For those who want to shop, however, there were ample markets
from which to choose. It's important to note that although
bargaining is encouraged in most of Mexico, it's frowned upon in
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. The asking price is the going price, as I
found out when I tried to bargain for a painting. However, things
are quite reasonable. Also most of the shopkeepers in this part of
Mexico don't pressure people to buy but instead stand a good
distance away, ready to assist if needed.
After buying our goods, we drove on. This four-hour tour took us
to some remote areas and lived up to the off-the-beaten-path
promise. Time went by quickly as our guide told us stories. We
heard how many Mexicans like to eat iguana and armadillo on
Sundays; Paco said they taste like chicken and are good for a
Tequila hangover. We learned that for weddings, special tamales are
cooked for days underground with banana leaves. Paco also said the
economy never really recovered from the peso crash in '94 and
tourism is more important than ever. All these stories were told as
we drove past donkeys, colorful wildflowers scattered alongside the
road, truckloads of families going to the beach and rural women
carrying bowls on their heads.
The last stop on our excursion was a sleepy fishing village
called Barra de Potosi, where for 40 pesos ($5) clients can take a
half-hour boat ride through a lagoon that boasts hundreds of
different types of flora, fauna and fish.
That was probably the best five dollars I've ever spent: beautiful
views of the montanas, birds swooping down for their
dinner, fishermen throwing out their nets. This was a perfect way
to cap off the tour.
Before heading back to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, many visitors to
Barra de Potosi enjoy lunch or a coco loco, a potent drink
served in a coconut shell that contains about five different types
of alcohol. They say that, after drinking two, the Americans start
There is enough to do in Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo to keep your
clients busy. Active travelers will enjoy the area's beaches. Playa
La Rope offers a nice view of the bay and many water sports, such
as jet-skiing, parasailing, waterskiing and swimming. Playa Las
Gatas is the best place for snorkeling (you can rent the equipment
for 15 pesos a day; about $2) and shell collecting. Also popular,
though expensive, is deep-sea fishing; while there, we saw one
group catch an enormous marlin.
Of course, as in all of Mexico, there is much shopping to be
done here, but it's important to remember that outside the flea
markets, all shops close for siesta between 2 p.m. to 4
Goes to Mexico, Part 1: 'Little Boat' Makes for a Cozy Cruise to
Goes to Mexico, Part 2: Acapulco Boasts Restored Infrastructure,
Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 3: Traditions Still Alive in Mexico's
Goes to Mexico, Part 4: Creatures From the Manzanillo
Goes to Mexico, Part 5: Whale Sightings Start the Year Right in