Thursday, February 28, 2013

Zihuatanejo Part 4: Barra Potosi, Ixtapa, & Playa Linda

The seemingly endless beach at Barra de Potosi was almost empty when we visited. Barra de Potosi is a tiny fishing village at the south end of a long, gently curving bay. The northern tip of the bay is the point of land forming the southern arm of Zihuatanejo Bay. The pristine beach is about 16 km (10 mi) long, and is lined with groves of palms rustling in the sea breeze. The tranquility is almost hypnotic. Walking for miles along the shore, you are unlikely to encounter more than a handful of other people. In this posting, we'll stroll a bit of the beach, then travel north past Zihuatanejo for a quick stop at the hyper-modern beach resort of Ixtapa. Finally, we'll check out Playa Linda, just north of Ixtapa. These three areas are all relatively close to Zihuatanejo and can easily be visited by car, taxi, or local bus on day excursions. For a map showing Barra de Potosi and its bay, click here.

Walking north, we saw a lot more wildlife than people along the shore. Great White Egrets, vultures, and other sea birds stand near the surf line, hoping for a quick meal. At the upper left, a Brown Pelican angles low over the surf. Set back in the trees, the second story of a small hotel peeps over the palms. Other small hotels and private homes dot the palm groves here and there. In the far distance, the coastal mountains loom. The area inland of Barra de Potosi is fairly flat for a few miles but the mountains to the north plunge almost directly down to the ocean.

Looking south, the beach curves out to a point that is the southern extremity of the bay. The village of Barra de Potosi (pop. 396) is located where the beach turns to follow the point. The day we visited, the surf was very gentle and the water was calm and warm, making the conditions ideal for swimming. Anyone looking for a quiet vacation spot, far from the madding tourist crowds, might find this an ideal location. The Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport lies half way between Zihua and Barra de Potosi, but most people go north to Zihua or Ixtapa. However, with the airport so close getting to a hotel on this beach would quick and easy. For a list of accommodations, click here.

Just beyond the surf line, human and avian fishermen eye each other. A young boy was casting his hand line when he noticed these two Brown Pelicans quietly paddling nearby. The pelicans have learned that they can often cadge a meal from sympathetic fishermen. The boy wears a plastic bag over his shoulder to contain his catch.

A kayaker silently paddles over the water parallel to the beach. In the distance, the dark horizontal line is the palm groves. Immediately behind them, the mountains rise up precipitously. The white blotch on the upper right is a hotel, somewhat indistinct because of mist rising from the water.

A snorkeler emerged from the bay as we strolled by. Notice the blue rubber gloves she wears. They appear to have webs between the fingers, probably to create a more powerful swimming stroke. The water looked fairly clear for snorkeling. Manta rays, sea horses, Whalesharks, Humpback whales, dolphins and the occasional orca inhabit the waters along the coast in this area.

Another fisherman tries his luck with a surfcasting rod while his labrador retriever looks on. Actually, as I watched this little tableau, I realized that the dog was not so much watching his master as he was the wave. The labrador, an intelligent and fun-loving dog, had figured out a way to entertain himself while he waited for his dog-dad.

The "Little Surfer Dog" rode the waves like a California beach boy. The lab would watch the on-coming wave for just the right moment, then turn and body-surf into the shore. He was actually quite good at it and I watched in admiration as he rode wave after wave. He reminded me of a labrador I once owned that taught himself to play fetch-the-ball by flinging it with his mouth up a sloping driveway and then pursuing it as it bounced back down. Labs are very smart animals.

Vultures strut along the beach, looking like black-suited couples attending a funeral, . These four were part of a large flock of vultures we encountered on our stroll. As I walked up, I looked for any sort of carrion, but could see none. Perhaps it was just a vulture social event.

Get your beer from "Super Jesus Christ." The town had a little market that was indistinguishable from hundreds we have seen throughout Mexico, except for its eye-catching sign. "Super" is not a Spanish word, but is an English language import.

Ixtapa, the Pacific Coast's answer to Cancun

Ixtapa is one of Mexico's major beach resorts. Most Mexican resorts such as Mazatlán, Manzanillo, and Puerto Vallarta were originally small ports or at least substantial fishing towns before they became tourist areas. However, Cancun and Ixtapa were created in the 1970s, literally from the ground up, as carefully planned tourist extravaganzas. While Cancun was built on an empty sand bar along the northeast coast of Yucatan, Ixtapa was constructed on the site of a hacienda devoted to coconut palms. The resort lies about 8 km (5.5 mi) north of Zihuatanejo, on the other side of a large point of land. It is packed with all-inclusive, high-rise hotels and luxury condominiums. The tightly secured area is filled with golf courses, north-of-the-border chain restaurants and boutiques, and manicured lawns. In other words, a classic "tourist bubble." For a Google map of Ixtapa, click here.

The Marina Bay View Grand is typical of Ixtapa's many high-rise tourist hotels. The units, which are for rent or sale, overlook Ixtapa's marina. This video shows the hotel's luxurious interior. I could almost imagine that I was in Southern California or Florida, rather than Mexico. To me, Ixtapa's hotels have a kind of a corporate "everywhere and nowhere" feel to them. In contrast, Zihua feels unique and its beachfront structures blend well with the surrounding landscape rather than overpowering it.

El Niño del Caracol was a charming little statue beside the marina. The Child of the Shell is a bronze and he holds what appears to be a real shell. The little statue felt somehow out of place among the opulent cruisers and sloops anchored in the marina.

The Marina hosts a variety of expensive boats. Luxury condos top the hills in the background. I wondered how many of the boats in this Marina sit idle most of the time, waiting for their owners to show up for the occasional short cruise, or just for a party on deck. I was struck by the contrast with the hard-working fishing boats plying Zihua's harbor.

The Marina's control tower overlooked the whole area. From here, harbor officials can oversee the busy traffic in and out of the Marina channel, much like the tower at an airport controls takeoffs and landings.

This small fountain sits a bit back from the boats near some restaurants. The fountain was dry when we saw it but, when operating, the seahorses spout water into the tiled basin. I'm sure there are those who visit Ixtapa and love it. Having done so, do they tell their friends back home that they enjoyed their visit to Mexico? I can only wonder: how could they tell they were in Mexico?

Playa Linda

Playa Linda begins a bit north of Ixapa's Marina. Hopefully, some of Ixtapa's visitors tear themselves away from their sterile paradise to visit. Rather than uptight and manicured, Playa Linda has a laid-back and thoroughly Mexican feel to it. As you can see, it is quite long. The beach is more heavily used than Barra de Potosi, but compared to some Southern California beaches I have frequented, it still seemed almost empty. For a Google map of Playa Linda and Isla Ixtapa, click here.

A seagull checks out a passing parasailer. This seemed to be a very popular activity at both Zihua's beaches and Playa Linda. While parasailing several hundred feet up, the views are spectacular. It would probably not be suitable for those with a fear of heights, however.

Prepping for another run, a parasail operator inflates his chute. There is usually a breeze along the shore, so the inflation is fairly easy. I wondered what would happen if there was a sudden stiff gust. Would the operator find himself boosted out over the water and subject to a drenching? The land in the background is Isla Ixtapa which can be reached by a water taxi costing 40 pesos ($3.13 USD). In addition to viewing the wildlife, you can snorkel and scuba dive on the reef located on the ocean side of the island.

A local fisherman was pleased to show off his magnificent catch. However small or large the fish, I have never found a fisherman who would decline a opportunity to display the results of his efforts. He is standing in front of one of the open-air shops just behind the south end of beach. They sell everything from flip flops to clothing to knick nacks of every conceivable kind. Carole bought herself a couple of nice beach dresses for about $140 pesos each ($11.00 USD).

Banana boaters ride by a trio of skeptical pelicans. These inflatable sleds have handles for the passengers to grip as they straddle the "banana" while being towed by a motorboat. The pelicans seemed a bit scornful of landlubbers who would have need of such a craft to move over the water.

A Mexican family enjoys a three-piece band of strolling musicians. We have encountered such musicians wherever we have traveled in Mexico. Down here, life has a musical soundtrack. The restaurant was a casual affair, just some cloth covered tables set on the sand under canopies. Service was a bit slow, but then who's in a hurry?

And the last word (squawk?) goes to the Brown Pelicans. These large birds like to perch on old wooden piers, or rocks protruding from the water, or anyplace else that is just off shore but out of the water. They sun themselves, dry their feathers, and gossip about matters of importance to pelicans.

This completes Part 4 of my Zihuatanejo series. The next two parts will explore the pre-hispanic history of this area, with visits to an active archaeological dig and to museums with fascinating artifacts from ancient times. I hope you have been enjoying this series (particularly all of you up in the snowy north). I always appreciate feedback and if you would like to leave a comment, please do so below in the Comments section below.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Great post. Which would you say is better to visit Mexico's Pacific coast or Atlantic coast?

  2. Dear Odyssian, you didn't leave an email, so I hope you find this reply. We've spent most of our "beach" time on Mexico's Pacific Coast. The only parts of the Atlantic Coast we have visited are some places on the Yucatan Peninsula. While there are miles and miles of empty beaches on both coasts, I tend to prefer the Pacific Coast because the mountains come down very close to the ocean, sometimes dropping right into the sea. This creates an especially scenic experience, with great cliffs looming over small coves and bays. Except for a handful of good sized cities (100k-200k population), the rest of the coast is fairly lightly populated. There are small fishing towns and villages here and there, sometimes only accessible by boat.

    As to the cities on the Pacific Coast, my personal favorites are Manzanillo and Mazatlán. A lot of folks like Puerta Vallarta, but I find it too much a "tourist bubble", too densly populated, and too busy. Mazatlán has a tourist bubble section to its north, but the Centro Historico (Old Town) is just great, and right across a channel is Stone Island (Isla de Piedra) which contains many miles of pristine beach backed by coconut palms. It also has an amazingly long malecon (beachfront walkway) that is 7 miles long and suitable for runners, bicyclists, skateboarders, or just strollers.

    Manzanillo is a working port, with ships sailing in and out every day, so it has a feeling of vitality I don't find in the tourist bubbles. There are lots of inexpensive hotels and good restaurants and its Centro Historico is also very nice. There are many secluded beaches to the north and south of the city, as well as the long beachfront of the city itself.

    You can find postings for both of these cities, and other Pacific Coast sites under "Beaches" in the Index of Topics on this page. Or, you can just go to the search box and put in the name of the place you want. If you have any further questions, you can reach me at jcmx07 (at)

    Best regards, Jim


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim