About 200 nautical miles southeast of Manzanillo lies the adorable tourist destination of Zihuatenejo. We weighed anchor from Las Hadas in Manzanillo about 1 pm on Thursday, February 2 for the 42-hour sail down.
Our first 18 hours were glorious downwind sailing at over six knots. That lasted until we changed course towards the east to conform to the coastline, and we lost wind and had to motor. Again, we tried our new watch schedule of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cindy, and 2 a.m. to dawn Rick. That works great because we have until 10 p.m. to get settled into a sail configuration that is likely to work through the night since any sunset fluctuations have calmed down by then, and I (Cindy) get to sleep through the night once I finally get to bed after 2 a.m.! I love it! We arrived so early Saturday morning that to avoid anchoring before daylight, we went all the way into Zihuatenejo bay rather than stopping at the closer Isla Grande.
We barely got to Zihuatenejo before the whirlwind of Sailfest was upon us. This is an annual fundraiser for building local schools that has been going on since 2003. They netted over $80,000 USD this year, and it cost only $45,000 USD, with lots of donated labor and government support, to build a six-classroom high school. So, they have built lots of schools and additions since the program began. The week-long fundraiser has a huge on-land component, all organized by gringos and Canadians, mostly, who live in Zihua all or at least some of the year. Monday night was a welcome party at a local beach restaurant with a live band; Wednesday was a concert; Thursday was a silent auction and chile cook-off, Friday was a “gala dinner,” and Sunday was the final beach party. And then in the water, there was a race on Wednesday and a boat parade on Saturday. In addition, a hugely expanded and successful “custom cruise” component was added this year, where people offered up their boats to take land-based people out for a romp around the bay, sometimes offering wine, cheese and even live music. Our friends Deslie and Phil were instrumental in making those custom cruises happen. We joined them as crew for the boat parade. We also took advantage of a custom cruise by a 68-foot Nordhaven luxury powerboat/yacht that Phil helped to persuade to participate. It was a very busy week.
Somewhere along the way, Super Bowl happened. Deslie and Phil arranged for a table at a lovely private resort called Embarc for us to eat, enjoy the facilities, and watch the Super Bowl from our private TV near our table on a secluded deck. Here we are with Deslie and Phil, as well as with Helen and Tom from Catatude, enjoying the infinity pool.
Shortly after, Valentine’s Day happened. We spent the evening with the same group at El Bistro del Mar, the beachfront restaurant associated with a lovely hotel on Madera Beach called Aura Del Mar. We highly recommend that hotel for a charming hideaway if you ever get to Zihuatenejo.
Zihuatenejo was a sleepy fishing village until the 1970’s when the Mexican government decided to develop neighboring Ixtapa as a Cancun-style tourist destination, with an accompanying international airport. High rise resort hotels were built all along a deserted beach, but most people stayed at their resort hotels, so Ixtapa never developed into much of a town. Zihuatenejo grew in turn, to become the shopping and dining center for inquiring tourists. Also, it’s laid back atmosphere, away from the glitz of Puerto Vallarta or the big city of Mazatlan, attracted Canadians and US retirees in search of a more authentic Mexican snowbird experience.
Zihuatenejo is adorable. It is protected inside a large bay. The bay has four distinct beaches divided by natural barriers. The town is surrounded by mountainous hills that have been developed for housing, but there is a flat area along the north shore where the city streets are walkable and quaint. They have covered most of the sidewalks with tile roofed-awnings to cool the streets, and they have labeled most of the businesses with identical wooden plaques that hang down from the awnings. Many of the streets are pedestrian-only. And there are tons of good restaurants of all price ranges. There is also a malecon along the waterfront. While the waterfront is mostly touristy, there are some cute sidewalk cafes to enjoy a refreshment while feeling part of the beach scene.
THE ANCHORAGES AND THE BEACHES
There are four distinct beaches in the Zihuatenejo bay, plus a few others over in Ixtapa. We chose to first anchor near the Playa Principal or Playa Municipal because of its proximity to the dinghy landing spot. Something we have never had the privilege of having before, was a dinghy valet! For about a dollar to land and the same to depart, the same friendly Mexican man will guide you into the beach, haul your dinghy up to shore, watch over your dinghy while you are in town, and push you back through the surf to leave. How awesome is that! The surf really is nothing to be concerned about, but having someone watch your dinghy while you are in town is a great comfort, even if theft is not known to happen here frequently anyway. It just buys peace of mind. We can take the engine “key” with us, but it can be replicated by any old piece of wire, and there is nothing stopping someone from stealing the motor or the whole dinghy if they wanted to, unless you have someone watching it.
A cool thing happened when we were landing our dinghy at the dinghy beach the other day. There was a Mexican man on shore holding a Mercury outboard. I asked him if he was a mechanic and he said yes. Mercury and Tohatsu are apparently the same brand, and our sunk oil dipstick belonged to our Tohatsu outboard. So I asked him if by any chance he had an extra dipstick for a 6 HP Mercury. He did! So goodbye Grand Marnier cork, hello new dipstick! I love it when the world brings you together in seemingly random ways with just what you need.
Aside from the Principal beach, there is also Madera Beach, which is accessed by a cement walkway built over the rock separating it from Playa Principal. We enjoyed Playa Madera because of the cool hotels and restaurants in that short section of beach.
To the southeast of Playa Madera is Playa La Ropa, another long beach with lots of small hotels and restaurants. Anchoring there is much more fun because the water is clear and makes swimming more inviting than in the merkier waters of the Principal Beach near the lagoon. We also would like to go salsa dancing on Saturday or Sunday afternoons at one of the beachside palapas. After we leave the marina, where we are now, we will probably head over the Playa La Ropa. And nearby Playa La Ropa is Playa Las Gatas. It is protected by a reef so we can’t anchor over there, but it is a fun day visit by lancha for 50 pesos round trip (about $2.50 US). We joined our friend Nancy for a day ther already and had lunch on her coupon she won at a Sailfest raffle, but we have another coupon we bought at the Sailfest silent auction we have to use, so I guess we have to go back and enjoy another relaxing day on the beach! And finally, there is an island off north of Ixtapa called Isla Grande, with a good anchoring spot and lots of clear water to snorkel and swim in, plus some good day-restaurants as well. Tourists come during the day but then everything closes up at night and all that remains are the anchored boats. Isla Grande is another must-do, we are told.
We have been hanging around a lot with our friend Nancy, who is the skipper of her Catalina 42, Aldabra. She has no permanent crew so she arranges for crew along the way. We connected her up with a dancing friend of ours from Sacramento, and he is arriving in two days to crew for her for a month. We are talking about heading up the coast together. She has a bit of a schedule to keep so I am not sure if our plans will intersect, but I hope so. It is just so hard to pull ourselves away from Zihuatenejo; if we had a whole season to spare, I think we would spend it all here. There is just so much to do, and everything is so convenient. We have started taking salsa lessons three times per week, there are zillions of restaurants we still would like to go to, and we need to have Cool Change’s bottom washed, oh, the list is endless! Weather heading north can be challenging and unpredictable. Our friends in Wind Dancer left the same day as a bunch of other boats heading north, with winds predicted to be calm. Instead, they faced 30 knot winds and choppy seas. Apparently, it was not fun. We hope to avoid that, so we will be watching carefully for a weather window confirmed by multiple sources. So stay tuned for our next post. It may not be until we make it north in a week or two, or we may still be here!