Zihuatanejo is a laid back fishing town located on a beautiful bay in the state of Guerrero, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico about 240km (approx. 144 miles) northwest of Acapulco.
Zihuatanejo (Zihua or Z-town as some of the locals say) shares its international airport with Ixtapa, a resort only 5km away. Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo couldn’t be more different with Ixtapa being the ultimate planned tourist resort including high rise hotels and chain restaurants Cancun style. Zihuatanejo has managed to escaped these developments and still has a charming small town feel.
The waters off the coast of Zihuatanejo provide overall gentle Pacific ocean diving with strong currents at some dive sites. You will find a variety of dive sites ranging from shallow coral reefs to caves, tunnels and wrecks. Marine species that can be encountered include sea horses, crabs, octopus, morays, starfish, urchins and lobsters to all kinds of fishes such as stone trumpet, puffer, drum, angelfish, grouper, chub, butterfly fish, jack, goatfish, needlefish, spadefish, grunt, parrotfish, flounder, triggerfish and guitarfish to name a few. On a lucky day you might see a sea turtle, and if you’re very fortunate a manta ray! Eagle rays can be found easily swimming by at certain dive sites like Los Morros de Potosi.
If you enjoy snorkeling there are a number of beautiful places to snorkel in Zihuatanejo. Playa Las Gatas is a favorite. The beach is protected from waves by a pre hispanic man made reef which, according to legend, was built by a Tarascan King so his princess daughters would have a safe place to swim. There used to be a lot of nurse sharks in Las Gatas bat but they have all gone. You can rent masks, fins and snorkels at Carlo Scuba and if you get hungry, the beach is dotted by seafood restaurants. This beach makes a good day trip visit from town.
We dove with Carlo Scuba in Zihuatanejo. Email communication with manager Thierry prior to our departure was very efficient. We were all set to go diving with a group of experienced divers from Mexico city to explore the more challenging and rewarding dive sites the area has to offer.
Carlo Scuba is a well organized (new gear and nice boats) and personable dive center with two dive boats located on beautiful Las Gatas Beach. The dive center is run by friendly father and son team Jean Claude and Thierry Durant. Jean Claude’s father established the dive shop back in 1962 and it is now managed primarily by 3rd generation son Thierry. Widely known as the friendliest center in the area they definitely make you feel welcome the moment you step on their premises.
The dive center is PADI certified and has a relaxing palm shaded bar/beachfront area to enjoy in between dives. Carlo Scuba dives only in small groups with no more than 6 people at one time and makes sure you have a wonderful time. Las Gatas beach is still relatively isolated from the rest of Zihuatanejo as you can only get there by boat. You arrive at the dive center by taking the little ferry from the main pier (departures every five minutes at $3/person) or by hiking the rocky path from Playa La Ropa (wear sturdy shoes).
On a sunny morning with calm seas we were picked up at our hotel beach by Carlo Scuba’s dive boat to head out to the first dive site; La Piedra Solitaria. The family from Mexico city was already onboard and greeted us warmly. We found out they dive Zihuatanejo every year and turned out to be the best group of fellow divers you can imagine. The diving was pleasant with a lots of marine life to enjoy including an octopus, some morays, lots of starfish and urchins. Also trumpet fish, puffer fish, angelfish and many needlefish.
The dive sites were never too far away and it was great to hang out listening to Jean Claude’s entertaining stories on Las Gatas Beach and go for a swim to cool off.
Highlight of the diving in Zihuatanejo was dive site Los Morros de Potosi, a 40 minute boat ride Southwest from Zihuatanejo Bay. It is one of the most spectacular diving zones of the Mexican Pacific. On our way to the dive site, Thierry, our dive master/instructor managed to catch a big tuna. The dives were filled with interesting topography and it was beautiful to watch the groups of startled eagle rays flying out of the caves when we paid them a visit.
Thierry turned our surface interval into a food fest when he turned the day’s catch into a “tiraditas” style ceviche; cut in small strips mixed with onion rings. The Mexican family showed us how to eat it; on salty crackers with chilly sauce on top, this is definitley a local delicacy not to be missed and a great dive boat snack!
All in all we had a wonderful time on and in the water with Thierry and his crew and can highly recommend this dive outfit.
When in town, try to take a look at the “Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Guía de Buceo” (dive guide) that some dive shops still have around. It is full of detailed information about local dive sites and very worthwhile to peek at.
Please note that there are “swim with the dolphins” programs advertised at the Dolphinarium in nearby Ixtapa but we highly advise against visiting these. The dolphins are kept under notoriously cruel conditions and there are many marine protection organizations fighting to close down these operations.
Zihuatanejo Bay offers a dozen dive sites with something for everyone, from beginners to advanced divers:
LAS GATAS (best for snorkeling)
Las Gatas (‘The Cats’ for the cat sharks that once lived here), protected from the waves by a man made little reef, is beautiful for snorkeling and watching turtles and other rare species. At Pango, the deepest site in the Bay, you can observe rays courting in the winter months. Carlo Scuba rents snorkeling gear and if you share a beer and a laugh with Jean Claude he will give you good pointers as to where to go.
A rock cropping only ten minutes by boat from Las Gatas Beach offering an easy dive with eagle rays, porcupine puffer fish, masked puffer fish, moorish idols, starfish and lots of moray eels and octopus.
LOS MORROS DE POTOSI
These large white granite rocks that emerge from the waters are also known at the Frailes Blancos (White Friars). You are sure to see lots of marine life underwater and a great variety of birds including pelicans and seagulls on the rocks. The Morros de Potosi are full of surprises like caves, cliffs, vertical walls, canals and tunnels. Because of the strong currents this site is recommended only for experienced divers.
El Bajo de Afuera is well known for it’s great beauty. Swim through arches and vertical walls.
North of the Morros, in Caleta Norte (North Cove), there is an area protected from the currents where you can snorkel close to the cliffs, ideal for passing surface time between dives. To the south of the Morros, you may dive the Cave of Gertrudis, which was once inhabited by a cat shark by the same name. A special course in cave diving is recommended before exploring undersea caverns. In front of the shark’s cave are other equally interesting sights.
Fandango is a sunken boat broken in half, laying in the bay of Zihuatanejo and populated by a variety of invertebrates and seahorses. Please do not touch the boat’s structure and be careful of loose lines.
Other good dive sites include: Sacramento, Bajo de Jaime, Bajo de Chato, Bajo del Borracho, Manzanillo and Cueva de la Gata. Some less spectacular sites include: Contramar and Caleta de Chon.
When To Visit
With a year-round semi-tropical climate and average temperatures ranging from 23 to 33 degrees Celsius (73-93 degrees Fahrenheit), Zihuatanejo enjoys approximately 300 days of sun annually. The rainy season generally starts in June and carries on through the end of September or into October. The rains usually fall in the late afternoons or evenings and infuse the region with an intense greenness.
Water temperatures and visibility vary constantly throughout the year. Visibility may range from around 15ft. (5m) up to about 120ft. (40m). Average annual water temperature: 79F (26C). Winter average: 70F-73F (21-23C), Summer average: 80F-82F (27C-28C).
Our favorite time to go are the winter months avoiding the busy days around Christmas and New Year.
Plenty of airlines fly directly into the small but efficient international airport of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo from the United States among them Mexicana, Aero Mexico and the American airlines America West, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines. You can also connect through Mexico city. From the airport (14 miles south of Zihuatanejo) it is a short taxi, collectivo or bus ride to town.
There is plenty to do in Zihuatanejo and surroundings other than go diving. Enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk and visit the different beaches around the bay. Eat at one the many delicious oceanfront of downtown restaurants. Dive Global recommends La Sirena Gorda in particular for its excellent cevice and impossible cake dessert. Tamales and Atoles “Any” has the best pozole and tamales in town. For evening entertainment go see the latest english spoken flick at Cinema Paraiso, enjoy live bands and delicious food at the plaza each Sunday evening or make some new friends at the popular Barracruda bar which is frequented by friendly tourists and locals alike.
Rent a moped at Angelo’s and venture out of town to explore the quiet beach of Troncones up north. Don’t miss lunch at the “Burro Borracho.” Get your fill of nature and visit Barra de Potosi, another gorgeous beach that ends in a bird filled lagoon just south of the airport. Both beaches offer gentle waves (in the summer) and plenty of palappa restaurants to sit in the shade and taste the great seafood the area is famous for (try the fried red snapper).
There is a large variety of accommodation to choose from in Zihua town as well as on nearby Playa Madera and Playa la Ropa. Take your pick from a luxurious boutique hotel (la Casa que Canta or Villas del Sol) or rent your own private villa with spectacular architecture/furniture and vistas of Zihuatanejo bay to match. Our personal favorite (albeit not as upscale) were the accommodations you find on La Madera Beach for its ocean front location and easy walk into town. Bungalows Ley and las Brisas del Mar on are good options. The area knows its busiest time during Semana Santa and the week between Christmas and New Years. Make sure you book your accommodation ahead to avoid disappointment and having to sleep on the beach. Zihuatanejo sells out completely around these times.