History of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo


The name Zihuatanejo stems from the Nahuatl "Cihuatlan", meaning "the place of women". In pre-Columbian times, the Tarascan leader "Calzonzin" settled in the area and constructed the rock barrier on Playa Las Gatas (named for the harmless whiskered sharks found there) to provide a sheltered swimming area and harbor for the women and children, and that barrier continues to protect the beach to this day. With the arrival of the Spanish, the name Cihuatlan was transformed first into "Ciguatan" and then into "Ciguatanejo". Zihuatanejo’s current name form has only been in use for the past couple of centuries.
Over the years, Zihuatanejo was a often a stopping point and haven for Spanish fleets, pirates and privateers. It was known largely as a fishing village through the late 1800’s, and in the 1920’s the export of fine woods from the area began to augment the local economy and attract more people to the region.
Through the 60’s and a large part of the 70’s, Zihuatanejo continued to be a sleepy fishing village, frequented by a very small number of tourists who were looking for, and found here, the uncut jewel of the true Mexican atmosphere rather than the glitter of the larger resorts that were rapidly developing in the rest of the country.
In 1968 the Federal Tourist Agency Fonatur began developing it’s project for what today is Ixtapa in what formerly was a large coconut plantation. It lies some 6 kilometers to the north of town and is separated from it by a hill. Despite Ixtapa’s proximity, Zihuatanejo has retained much of it’s original flavor. Since it’s first hotel was constructed in 1971, Ixtapa now offers approximately 4,000 units of accommodation, as opposed to slightly over 1,000 in Zihuatanejo itself.

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Long before Columbus sailed to America, Zihuatanejo was a sacred sanctuary for indigenous nobility. Artifacts, figurines, ceramics, stone carvings and stelae are still being found in the area verifying the presence of civilizations dating as far back as the Olmecs (3,000 BC).
The original name, "Cihuatlán" means "place of women" in the Náhuatl language. It was apparently a matriarchal society where weaving was the dominant industry. This is evidenced by pre-Hispanic figurines, plentiful bobbins and other related artifacts found in the area. Close to a thousand pre-Hispanic pieces as well as murals and maps are on permanent display at the Museo Arqueológico.
In 1527, Spanish conquistadors launched a trade route from Zihuatanejo Bay to the Orient. Galleons returned with silks, spices and according to some historians, the first coconut palms to arrive in America where brought here from the Philippines.
The Spaniards did little colonizing here. A scout sent by conquistador Hernán Cortés reported back with his evaluations saying the place was nothing great, tagging the name Cihuatlán with the demeaning Spanish suffix "nejo", hence "Zihuatanejo".
While Zihuatanejo's roots are traced back centuries, Ixtapa's birth came about in the 1970's, conceived and developed by the Mexican government. As one of mexico's newest west coast resorts, Ixtapa has managed to coexist nicely with the charm of Zihuatanejo. Not many resorts deliver modern comfort, tropical beauty and village charm better than Ixtapa - Zihuatanejo.

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Downtown Zihuatanejo in the late 60's and early 70's, was, for the most part, an unpaved collection of a few blocks along the bay shore and the road leading into town.
The main landmarks in town at that time were the pier, the basketball court and the open-air movie theater situated on Cuauhtemoc Street.
The original airport was located back of town, near the water control canal area, between Zihuatanejo proper and the neighboring town, Agua de Correa.
About Zihuatanejo
Located on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, Zihuatanejo, (or "Zihua" in local parlance), is the quintessential beach village where fishing is both pastime and industry, people are friendly, and rustic is undeniably charming. Unlike its sister beach Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo is the antithesis of resort—you won't find towering hotels or landscaped promenades here, but rather a paradise as it has always existed, in its natural condition. Indeed, both the locals and the handful of European expatriates who call Zihua home embrace the inherently simple life in this pueblo by the sea. With great restaurants serving fresh seafood, a wealth of marine life, and plenty of outoor activities to keep one busy, coupled with a host of outstanding beaches, it's the kind of place you visit once and then make immediate plans to return to again.


Zihuatanejo's existence dates back to the period of the Olmecs in 3000 B.C. Its name comes from the Nahuatl Cihuatlán, which means "place of women," likely referring to the predominately female society that inhabited the area here, where weaving was the main industry. Later, when the Spanish arrived, a scout sent by Cortés reported back that the site wasn't of interest, adding the diminutive suffix "nejo" to the Nahuatl name. It thus came to be what we now know as Zihuatanejo. The Spaniards didn't colonize here, but there was a trade route set up in 1527 between Zihuatanejo Bay and the Orient, which brought silk, spices, and supposedly the first coconut palms in America, brought from the Philippines.
Getting there from San Miguel
Getting to Zihuatanejo from San Miguel has been made a lot quicker and easier since the construction of the new autopista "Siglo XXI" that runs from Morelia to the coast, and the trip can be made in around six hours. There is one part of the highway still under construction, with a detour for 40 km. over windy, mountainous roads. Motorists are advised to not drive at night for lack of signs and lights on the detour. Motorists are also advised that there are no gas stations between Morelia and La Unión. To get to Morelia, head south on 43 after passing Salamanca. Buses are available from Morelia and Mexico City and most other big cities, and the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo airport is served both nationally and internationally by Aeromexico and Mexicana, which fly in daily. The airport is located 15 minutes south of Zihuatanejo.
Tourist Information is available at the Zihuatanejo Tourism Office Module, on the main square by the basketball court at Álvarez. It's open from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and provides general tourist information.

The Beaches

Most of the beaches in Zihuatanejo are relatively safe, with less undertow and calmer waves than those found in Ixtapa. Zihuatanejo lies on the Zihuatanejo Bay, and all the beaches boast calm waters and delicate sands. Additionally there is a wealth of marine life to be found here—shellfish, starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins, coral and other marine life in their natural habitat.
Playa Municipal
This principal beach is the town beach, frequented most by the fishermen who dock their boats here and create a colorful backdrop along the main promenade, called Fisherman's Walk (El Andador de los Pescadores). Various shops and restaurants line the beachfront, which is protected from the Pacific ocean by the bay. Fisherman's Walk runs the length of the beach from the Archeological Museum to the Municipal Pier, from which you can take a water taxi to Playa Las Gatas. Most of the restaurants here offer great seafood specials at reasonable prices, and offer a nice ambience from which you can watch the passersby as you look out onto the seashore.
Due to the wealth of boats here the Playa Municipal isn't ideal for swimming, but it affords the dual atmosphere of both the city and the beach—great for strolling, dining, shopping or enjoying a drink at sunset.

Playa Madera

This beach occupies a small stretch of shore east of the Municipal Beach. It's named for the hills which surround the beach, which once formed a forest comprised of various types of precious woods that were shipped to Europe during colonial times.
While Playa Madera is open to the surf of the Pacific ocean, it remains generally peaceful. In fact, you can wade out quite a distance before reaching the point where the waves break. Playa Madera offers a wealth of seaside restaurants as well as comfortable accommodations—beach bungalows, condominiums and hotels.

Playa La Ropa

Playa La Ropa is known for being the nicest beach on with a long, sweeping shore. It is located in the south of the bay, and measures one kilometer and features reefs and rocky crags. It's a primary beach for swimming in Zihuatenejo, and is also great for seafood fanatics as the restaurants here abound. And visitors won't want to miss the sunset from La Ropa, as it affords the best view.
Playa La Ropa's name (Beach of Clothes) comes from a legend of a shipwrecked galleon coming in from the Philippines loaded with silks, which resulted in clothes strewn all over the shore.

Playa Las Gatas

With a coral reef located off the shore of Playa Las Gatas, this is by far the best beach on Zihutanejo for snorkeling. The beach can be seen across the bay from Playa Ropa and Zihuatanejo. Las Gatas gets its name from the time of the reign of the Tarascan tribe emperor, Caltzoncin, who ordered that a barricade of rocks be built to protect the women from being attacked by nurse sharks (referred to as gatas.) Legend has it that this is how the coral reef was formed.
Playa Las Gatas is accessible only by boat, and boasts clear waters, open-air seafood restaurants on the beach, and the feeling of seclusion. As there's no undertow or big waves, it's best for children. Boats to and from Las Gatas run all day until about 6:30 p.m.

Playa Larga

Quieter than the rest, Playa Larga is a beautiful, uncrowded beach that is accessible by water taxi from the pier or by walking on a footpath from Playa La Ropa. It's between Zihuatanejo and the airport, and features various beachside palapa restaurants, as well as hammocks and small wading pools for children, since the waves are too big for swimming in the ocean. There's also a well-known beach club with all the necessary beach facilities: bathrooms, showers, bar and a delicious restaurant serving up fresh specialties. Be sure to ask about the paved walkway to the lighthouse (El Faro)—it's a good walk that offers an incredible view from the cliffs of the entire coastline stretching from Ixtapa to Los Morros De Potosí.