The tropical paradise on Mexico's Pacific coast that's not Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco
When I think of an authentic Mexican getaway, I immediately start with the food: fresh ceviche, guacamole, and fish tacos. When I think of an ideal beach vacation, I think of a tropical climate with warm water, coconut palm trees, and soft sand. And when I think of great service, I think of raising a flag on my beachside palapa to signal I'm ready for another margarita and having it delivered moments later. But there's only one place I know that has all three: Zihuatenejo.
In mentioning to friends that I'm headed to Zihuatenejo, Mexico, for a vacation, they either don't know where it is or have only heard the name from Shawshank Redemption. It's the place Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman escape to -- quite literally -- in the denouement of the 1994 film. I've been visiting Zihua, as it's known, with my wife for more than a decade. Our destination wedding took place there in 2003 on Playa la Ropa, the main beach on Zihuatenejo Bay, in front of what was then Hotel Villa del Sol.
This small luxury beach resort with 46 rooms and a picture-perfect infinity pool has changed ownership twice since then. It became The Tides and is now the Viceroy Zihuatenejo. During this same period, my wife would give birth to our two children, now five and eight. I'd write a book and found a VC-backed software company. The United States would fight two different wars in the Middle East, elect its first black president, and go through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And yet through all of this, the Viceroy Zihuatenejo changed only in name. The rooms, the vibe, the menu, the service, and several members of the staff are just as they were in the late '90s and early '00s. Which makes sense, because it's not possible to improve on perfection.
The low-key town of Zihuatenejo is located just south of the midpoint between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco on Mexico's west coast. The allure of the destination in general and to this hotel in particular is its unique mix of intimacy, convenience, and luxury that I've yet to find anywhere else in Mexico, despite years of trying. I find that while Cabo San Lucas is convenient to Los Angeles, it's a desert climate, much like LA, and the luxury hotels go too far. I don't need a butler or a $30 cheeseburger. Zihua is a three-and-a-half hour direct flight from LAX, and the Viceroy is a 20-minute cab from the airport. Which means you take off around 10am PT, and you're drinking a margarita on the beach by 4pm CT.