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The 8 Best Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo Beaches to Explore!

Sleepy. Quiet. Low-key. That’s how the Mexican beach town of Zihuatanejo is often described.

Perfect!

After a busy time exploring several of the country’s colonial cities, we were looking forward to some R&R in Zihuatanejo.

We especially couldn’t wait to chill on some of those Zihuatanejo beaches we’d read about!

As it turned out, all that powdery soft sand (and a few margaritas) did the trick.

A week in Zihuatanejo restored our energies and readied us for the return flights home.

The best Zihuatanejo beaches include Playa Las Gatas.
We can’t wait to hit the beach in Zihuatanejo!

Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo beaches

If you’re traveling to Zihuatanejo for a sun-soaked Mexico vacation, here’s all you need to know about the beaches in Zihuatanejo and neighboring Ixtapa beaches.

Zihuatanejo vs. Ixtapa

View of Zihuatanejo and its most popular beach, Playa La Ropa
View of Zihuatanejo and its most popular beach, Playa La Ropa

First, though, it helps to know a little about the general area.

About 200 miles north of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo is a charming fishing town with cobblestone streets packed with little restaurants. It’s so charming that Mexico’s ministry of tourism recently designated it a Pueblo Magico or magic town.

Shawshank Redemption, Zihuatanejo

Remember the movie, The Shawshank Redemption?

Zihua is the paradise that prisoners Andy and Red dreamed of escaping to.

Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo Beaches
Now, this is a beach! (Credit Visit Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo)

Ixtapa, on the other hand, is a large modern resort area some four miles away.

Despite being so close to each other, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo feel completely different.

Zihuatanejo (or “Zihua” for short) offers a small town experience, with a traditional Mexican ambience and intimate boutique hotels and guest houses.

Ixtapa has a Cancun-like feel, with all-inclusive and large first-class beach resorts.

Okay, ready now to check out the 8 best beaches in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa?

1) Playa Principal (or Playa Municipal)

Playa Principal
You can see scores of fishing boats on the sand at Playa Municipal, the Zihuatanejo town beach (Credit: Alejandro Linares Garcia)

Playa Principal is the main beach right in front of the town of Zihuatanejo.

While the beach is sandy with calm water, it isn’t suitable for swimming because of the amount of boat traffic.

But it’s a great place for watching the local fishermen or getting a fishing charter (the Jack Crevalle fishing is excellent here).

Playa Principal restaurants

The walkway running the length of this beach (Fisherman’s Walk or Paseo del Pescador) hosts several good restaurants.

They include Coconuts Restaurant & Bar, known for its seafood and drinks, as well as El Agave, offering seafood, Mexican cuisine and vegetarian dishes.

Location: Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo

Playa Principal is located smack-dab in front of downtown Zihua.

2) Playa La Madera (or Playa Madera)

Playa Madera, Zihuatanejo
Playa Madera

The beach walkway in front of Playa Principal continues past several picturesque coves to nearby Playa Madera (or Madera Beach).

The walkway has recently been rebuilt, and Playa Madera is now a beautiful 10- to 15-minute, oceanfront walk from downtown Zihua.

This small Zihuatanejo beach is sandy, and the water is relatively calm closer to the shore. Bodysurfing is one of the most popular activities here, next to swimming.

Restaurants near Playa Madera

Several restaurants in the area proudly serve Mexican food, including the top-rated Maderas Seafood Grill & Bar, right on the beach.

Location: Playa La Madera, Zihuatanejo

Playa Madera is a short walk from downtown Zihua. Local micro-buses also offer easy transportation from and around the Zihuatanejo area.

3) Playa La Ropa (La Ropa Beach)

Playa La Ropa, about one mile long, is the main beach in Zihuatanejo for swimming and watersports.
Playa La Ropa stretches for about a mile

Ahhh… For many people, this is the best beach in Zihuatanejo.

All those great beach quotes – like “Life’s a beach” and “Happiness is a day at the beach!” – were probably dreamed up after spending time on a beach such as Playa La Ropa.

Indeed, we think La Ropa is one of the nicest beaches in the world!

Want to go sailing at Playa La Ropa?
Who wants to go sailing at Playa La Ropa?

Early in the morning, before people are out and about, it’s lovely to walk La Ropa Beach, a silky soft sand beach that extends for about a mile.

Coconut trees provide shade, and the sea water is bathtub warm and smooth most of the time, making it ideal for swimming.

Body surfing on the gentle thigh-high waves that roll up on the beach is also popular.

Zihuatanejo beaches - stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)
Zihuatanejo Bay is calm and perfect for stand-up paddleboarding (Credit: Visit Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo)

You can rent SUP boards to paddle out in the bay – we once even saw a spotted stingray near our board.

Parasailers sometimes soar overhead, and wave runners occasionally zip around the bay, but for the most part, Playa La Ropa is known for its peace and quiet.

A few vendors stroll the wide beach, hawking beach bags or jewelry, but they’re not very pushy. Yes, of all the things to do in Zihuatanejo, spending a day on this beach is tops.

You can get some good core exercise when paddling out on a SUP board from Playa La Ropa.
You can get some good core exercise when paddling out on a SUP board from Playa La Ropa

Playa La Ropa restaurants

Several restaurants have tables on the beach so you can eat with your toes in the sand. Seafood,of course, is the hit of the menu.

To rent beach chairs and an umbrella for the day – and for a tasty lunch – try La Perla.

Location: Playa La Ropa, Zihuatanejo

Playa La Ropa is about a 20-minute walk away from Zihua town. The beach is also accessible via the bus that travels to Zihuatanejo from Ixtapa (or you can take a taxi to get there).

4) Playa Las Gatas

You can walk along a rocky path from Playa La Ropa to Los Gatas beach, which is smaller and more intimate.
We walked along a rocky path from Playa La Ropa to Los Gatas Beach

Another one of the best Zihuatanejo beaches is Playa Las Gatas.

Named for the harmless cat-whiskered nurse sharks that once hung out on the sandy bottom years ago, Playa Las Gatas is the perfect beach to get away from it all.

It’s great for both snorkeling and swimming.

A man-made breakwater of boulders keeps the shallow waters free of surf. So this beach in Zihuatanejo is ideal for children and adults who aren’t strong swimmers.

Snorkeling beyond the man-made breakwater at Playa Las Gatas is good.
Snorkeling beyond the man-made breakwater at Playa Las Gatas is especially good (Credit: Visit Mexico)

Bring your snorkeling gear (or rent from a beach shack) because there’s a nice variety of colorful underwater marine life to gawk at – from eels to angelfish and puffer fish.

Also keep an eye out for the large bronze statue of Jesus submerged about 30 feet underwater.

Playa Las Gatas restaurants

A string of open-air seafood restaurants are tucked by the trees lining the beach, most offering beach loungers and umbrellas for rent.

(The loungers are complimentary if you buy lunch.)

Pick your beach chair! There are lots to choose from at Playa Las Gatas.
Pick your beach chair! There are lots to choose from at Playa Las Gatas

Recommended options include Arnaldo’s with white tablecloths and vases of flowers decorating the tables. It’s known for its coconut shrimp and killer Coco Loco cocktails, served in a coconut. (Also check out the parrot near the back by the loos.)

Or plant yourself at Restaurante Otilia, near the far end of the beach, which is a little quieter.

Location: Playa Las Gatas, Zihuatanejo

Las Gatas Beach is nestled at the south-western tip of Zihuatanejo Bay and isn’t accessible by taxi or bus.

You can take a panga boat (water taxi) from the main pier in Zihuatanejo – about 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) p.p. round-trip. Or from Playa La Ropa, you can walk along the stony trail to Playa Las Gatas (about a 15-minute walk).

Alternatively, join this Las Gatas kayaking and snorkeling tour.

5) Ixtapa Island (Isla Ixtapa)

Take a panga to Isla Ixtapa (Ixtapa Island) for snorkeling and a fresh seafood lunch.
Take a panga to Isla Ixtapa (Ixtapa Island) for snorkeling and a fresh seafood lunch

One of the best day trips from Zihuatanejo is to take a water taxi to Ixtapa Island.

Get there early to make the most of your visit (and for the best snorkeling).

Ixtapa Island beaches

There are three beaches on Ixtapa Island (Isla Ixtapa):

  • Playa Cuachalalate
  • Playa Varadero
  • Coral Beach

Playa Cuachalalate is sandy with calm water. It’s the most popular beach (and the one closest to the boat dock).

A short walk away is Playa Varadero, also sandy and good for swimming.

Swimming and relaxing is the name of the game on the calm and sandy side of Ixtapa Island.
Swimming and relaxing is the name of the game on the calm and sandy side of Ixtapa Island

On the other side of the island, Coral Beach offers snorkeling along a coral reef in shallow waters.

Though the water wasn’t very clear the day we snorkeled, we still saw clouds of small pink-and-yellow rainbow fish, butterfly fish and yellow-and-black striped Sargent Majors.

Coral Beach also gets a lovely breeze, so if it’s a hot day, you may want to swim on the sandy side of the island but hang out and have lunch on Coral Beach.

If you feel like a bit of exercise, hang a left when you get off the boat and hike up the hill for some great views. The trail then descends back down into Coral Beach.

Ixtapa Island restaurants

All three beaches have rows and rows of white plastic chairs and loungers under umbrellas, with little tables covered with colorful tablecloths.

The pink tables belong to one restaurant, the blue to another restaurant, and so on.

A toes-in-the-sand lunch at a restaurant on Coral Beach, Ixtapa Island
This couple enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the sand on Coral Beach, Ixtapa Island

In the middle of the island, there are bars and a large open-air kitchen space, where the fresh-caught seafood is grilled and drinks are made.

It’s hard to make out the names of the restaurants, but Restaurante Cuachalalate (with the orange umbrellas) on Playa Cuachalalate gets a thumbs-up for its fresh tortillas and huge coconut shrimp.

Together, these three gems rank among the top picks for Ixtapa, Mexico, beaches.

Ixtapa Island snorkeling

Most of the eateries rent snorkeling gear if you don’t have your own.

Location: Isla Ixtapa, Ixtapa

Ixtapa Island is accessible by water taxi boat from the Playa Linda marina in Ixtapa.

6) Playa Larga 

Playa Larga is mostly undeveloped and very sandy, although the water features large breakers at the shore and a strong riptide.

Even though swimming is less than ideal here, there are other opportunities for fun that include jogging, horseback riding, fishing and whale watching.

Hiking trails that lead from the beach up into old plantation grounds are also worth exploring.

Restaurants near Playa Larga

Be prepared to walk a little if visiting restaurants or bars here, as they are quite spread out.

Some of the restaurant options near the beach include Popeye’s Restaurant for casual family-friendly dining and El Dorado for upscale choices.

Location: Playa Larga, Zihuatanejo

Near the airport, Playa Larga is a short taxi ride from Zihuatanejo.

7) Playa Contramar

This rocky beach is very inviting, with a location in a cove that keeps the water calm.

The clear water is ideal for swimming, as well as snorkeling. One thing that stands out about this beach is the array of tropical fish species, as well as octopi and eels.

Consider having a pair of sandals or flip-flops handy for walking on the beach to protect your tootsies from the rocks and pebbles.

Restaurants near Playa Contramar

Coconut shrimp at Lety’s (Credit: Darren and Justine, Wikimedia)

If you need to grab something to eat nearby, Lety’s Restaurant, Casa Bahia, Coco Bahia Botanas & Tapas and Bandido’s De Zuhia all offer great local favorite dishes.

Location: Playa Contramar, Zihuatanejo

A 45-minute walk from the Zihuatanejo town center, Playa Contramar is also accessible by water taxi from other local beaches.

8) Playa Linda

Playa Linda boasts a sandy beach and much calmer water than many other Ixtapa beaches. Swimming is always fun here.

What’s special about this beach in Ixtapa is its location within a crocodile preserve.

Crocodile preserve in Ixtapa
Yes, there’s really a crocodile preserve here!

Large crocodiles sun on the banks of a fenced-off mangrove estuary that feeds into the ocean. (Don’t worry, you’re not swimming with the crocodiles!)

We were told there are about 100 crocs in this cocodrilario.

You can also see two-foot-long iguanas resting on tree branches (keeping out of harm’s way). White herons and other exotic birds strut their stuff too here.

Crocodiles? Yes, see them at Playa Linda.
Crocodiles? Yes, see them at Playa Linda (Credit: Visit Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo)

Playa Linda restaurants

As with most Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo beaches, there are a bevy of restaurants to choose from offering loungers and table seating; some have hammocks in the shade.

If you’re hungry for seafood, try Bistro Soleiado or El Tiburon de la Costa.

Location: Playa Linda, Zihuatanejo

Playa Linda is accessible from Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo by local bus, car or water taxi. (The Playa Linda marina is also the jumping off point for catching a water taxi to Ixtapa Island.)

Where to stay in Zihuatanejo?

We loved the boutique La Casa Que Canta, which means “the house that sings.” It’s absolutely lovely…

See our review of La Casa Que Canta. You can book it on Booking.com.

That wraps up our guide on Ixtapa Zihuatanejo beaches!

Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, Mexico, boast some of the most serene and inviting beaches.

Ixtapa Island, especially, is renowned for its sandy shores, tranquil waters and palapa restaurants – making it a hot spot for snorkelers as well as those seeking a peaceful beach day​.

From water sports to sunset views, each beach has its own charm. You’re sure to find your own slice of sandy paradise on these Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, Mexico, beaches!

Beaches in Zihuatanejo
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo beaches!

Experience more Mexican beach destinations!

Los Cabos: From Medano Beach to Playa Palmilla, there are lots of beautiful beaches in Cabo.

Puerto Vallarta: Check out the top boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta and the best Puerto Vallarta restaurants.

Tulum: Which of these Tulum hotels with private pools is calling out to you?

Cancun and Riviera Maya: Discover tons of totally awesome things to do in Riviera Maya.

How to choose? Which is better – Cabo or Cancun? Or maybe you’re trying to decide between Puerto Vallarta and Cabo?

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


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Best Beaches in Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Best Zihuatanejo Beaches

Photo credits: 6, 7, 9, 10, 12 to 15, 17 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

V. Cox

Tuesday 23rd of January 2024

Hello. Can you please share with me the safest places to stay in Zihua? I will be traveling alone and coming from San Miguel de Allende.

Should I fly or take the bus? I want to walk everywhere and be on the beach.

Thank you so much!

Janice and George

Saturday 24th of February 2024

You'll be quite safe staying alone in Zihuatanejo. It's a fairly mellow tourist area :-). And a lot of Canadians and Americans go there.

The bus is also safe. Get a first-class or premium ticket! It's so worth it. Mexico's luxury buses are extremely comfortable (way better than what you could get in the U.S. or Canada).

As for where to stay in Zihuatanejo, anywhere on or near Playa La Ropa would be your best bet. We walked everywhere when staying here (e.g., to town for restaurants). And this beach is lovely!

Have a great trip!

Susan

Thursday 26th of November 2015

Any worries about eating the food?

Janice and George

Thursday 26th of November 2015

No, we weren't worried. We've visited different places in Mexico many times (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo, Riviera Maya, etc.). We only got sick once many, many years ago. So long as you pick restaurants that look good (the resort restaurants are all fine), you should have no problems. Many of the smaller, hole-in-the-wall fish taco places are good too. Many Canadians and Americans visit Zihuatanejo without any problems. We stick to bottled water, however. For ice, ask if the hotel/restaurant uses purified water to make the ice. If you have a sensitive stomach, look into taking Dukoral in advance - could help. Have fun if you go!

Robert

Monday 23rd of March 2015

So glad I discovered your beautiful website and this article on Zihuatanejo!

My wife & I have traveled to many parts of Mexico, both flying to various destinations and driving down in our RV from British Columbia. After watching one of my favorite all-time movies Shawshank Redemption, I have always been wanting to visit this location.

Your photos and article certainly make it a worthwhile place to travel to.

Janice and George

Monday 23rd of March 2015

With your appreciation of Mexico, you're sure to like Zihuatanejo too...

Nikki

Monday 23rd of March 2015

Zihua is one of our all time faves. Loved seeing your pictures. Brought back so many great memories! Cheers guys :-)

Suze

Friday 13th of March 2015

So did you try the paddleboarding? I think the panga would be more my style ;-)

Janice and George

Friday 13th of March 2015

Yes, we did do some paddleboarding! The bay in front of La Ropa beach is very still, calm and windless (at least during our stay) - perfect for paddleboarding if you want to stay upright :-).