Ixtapa & Oaxaca Riviera Beaches, Mexico

Ixtapa beach resorts on Ixtapa Bay near the town of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Ixtapa beach resorts on Ixtapa Bay near the town of Zihuatanejo. Photo by Microstar.

Beach vacation destinations on Mexico’s south Pacific coast

Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero

Playa Linda in Ixtapa, Pacific Coast, Mexico

Ixtapa Playa Linda. Photo by Luidger.

Visitors to the Zihuatanejo region have a choice of more than 20 miles of beaches that are still reasonably uncrowded, laid back and clean, though high-rise resorts are inevitably popping up as the years advance, like concrete acne.

Bahia de Ixtapa, for example, encloses four wide, lengthy beaches with soft sand of a slightly muddy color: La Madera, La Ropa, Principal and Las Gatas.

Outside the bay a more adventurous traveler can find El Palmar’s two miles of white sand along with Playa Linda’s unspoilt curve of tree-lined sand.
North and south of Ixtapa are another eight quiet beaches looking for love (no, not literally! ).

Visitors staying in a non-beach resorts can easily find their way onto the public beaches but can also use hotel beaches if they buy some food/drink. There are a good number of seashore restaurants and bars, large and small.

Ixtapa town

Ixtapa beach and resort hotels, Zihuatanejo, Pacific coast, Mexico

Ixtapa beach photo by Luidger.

Ixtapa is a modern seaside resort with some touches of Mexico viejo carefully maintained. It began life in the early 1970’s as a coconut plantation/fishing village but now it’s a mix of modern high-rise and colonial buildings with both old style and modern Malls interconnected by plazas and gardens, making a pleasant browsing environment. The two miles long main hotel strip is imaginatively called ‘Hotel Zone I’ and it’s main beach is El Palmar.

Getting there

Ixtapa can be reached by air from various Mexican cities as well as flights from Canada and USA to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International. Highways are good too and drive time is about 6h 30m for the 297 miles (475 kms) from Mexico City.


Playa Linda at the weekend, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Pacific coast, Mexico

Playa Linda on a low-surf weekend when locals enjoy it. Photo by Alejandro Linares-Garcia.

Water sports possibilities include water-skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, jet-skis, banana boat rides, board sailing and surfing (see below). Equipment is available on Playa La Ropa, Playa Las Gatas, Playa El Palmar and Playa Linda.

Swimming with dolphins is another possibility with a lot of options ranging from swimming with them to just watching them.

La Marina de Ixtapa has a capacity of about 100 yachts with all the usual services, restaurants, bars and accommodation along the adjacent promenade.

Sport Fishing. Zihuatanejo has a reputation as a sports fishing mecca, especially sailfish. Sport Fishing and American Thunder magazines both rate Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo as the most popular place in the world for sailfish. However, other kinds of fishing are also available, Roosterfish, Grouper, Snapper, Mackerel, Bonito and others are always ready for a battle to the frying pan.

On land there are guided bicycle rides, kayak rentals, horseback rides and climbing/rappelling trips. Alternatively take a city tour (that should occupy all of 5 minutes) or a sunset cruise.
As usual at any self-respecting vacation area designed for Americans there is no shortage of tennis courts and two excellent golf courses: Palma Real Golf Club and Marina Ixtapa Golf Club, both 18 hole courses.

Magic World is a water park offering all the usual suspects – wave pool, slides, pirate ship, but it’s only open in high season, holidays and weekends in low season

Parque Aventura is a forest adventure experience including hanging bridges, zip-lines and more. Again only open during high season and o weekends in low season.


Zihuatanejo doesn’t see massive rollers but rideable waves are frequently on offer at Las Escolleras, Playa Linda and Playa Las Gatas, while bigger and more consistent waves can be found half an hour to an hour’s drive away at Playa Petacalco in the town of the same name, along with Manzanillo Bay and Majahuain near Troncones. Local shops have plenty of rental boards for surfing, kite surfing and wind-surfing.


Best beaches for snorkeling are Playa Las Gatas, Playa Manzanillo and Ixtapa Island.
Snorkel equipment is available for rent at Las Gatas and at the Island. Most shops have a set fee for as long as you want to use it. Of course, you have to return the equipment before the shop closes down for the day. Take an I. D. along, they may ask you for one as a guarantee for the return of the rented equipment.


Underwater lurk thirty world class dive sites (so they say! ). Tours or training for all are available and of course any kit required too.

Oaxaca Riviera/Costa Chica

Hiding in the shadow of their brash brothers on the central Pacific coast – Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta – the laid back Mexican beach dream is still alive (just! ) along Oaxaca’s southwestern coast.

Beaches such as Puerto Escondido, Mazunte and Zipolite are known mainly to middle-class Mexicans and western backpackers and surfers who enjoy the relative tranquility, the rich bio-diversity, the low cost vacations and of course – in season – the brilliant surf.

This string of Costa Chica beaches is still largely unspoilt by high-rise resort developments, partly due to the distance by road from central Mexico, partly local poverty and partly by developers being discouraged from investing due to events such as rioting in Oaxaca City 8 years ago.

Mexico’s federal government also got their fingers burnt by investing nearly a billion dollars into making Huatulco another Cancún but it hasn’t gone according to plan as the distance by road from anywhere is too great.

So the area still maintains a natural beauty with nine golden bays along 26 kilometres of coastline – including 36 white sandy beaches – serviced by just a few thousand rooms.

Every cloud has a silver lining as the Oaxaca Riviera just about avoids the concrete bullet and continues as home to neo-hippies, gap yearists, surfer dudes and foreign drop-outs of all kinds, along with Oaxacan Mexican families in season.

Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido's Playa Principal on a busy summer weekend, Pacific Coast, Mexico

Playa Principal, Puerto Escondido, in high season.

Puerto is no longer escondido (hidden) and these days you can find multicultural foods, loads of budget accommodation and dozens of international singles, surfers and budget-conscious adventurers looking for life in the slow lane.

Half a mile from Playa Principal, giant waves pummel Zicatela’s three-mile stretch of golden sand, regularly reaching 20 feet high (and up to 60ft), snapping surfboards like matchsticks.

Beach boys who are not ready for the Zicatela monsters have other options, from the relaxed and protected bay of Playa Carrizalillo (though it’s a couple of miles from town at the foot of a steep cliff) to Playa Marinero next door. There’s also Playa Principal which offers intermediate surfers and body boarders a less intimidating wave experience.

Puerto Escondido now has more than a dozen surf shops and holds two international competitions annually, and about a third of all visitors are serious surfers.

Mazunte turtles

Mazunte beach, Pacific Coast, Oaxaca Riviera, Mexico

Mazunte beach is a 600m stretch of soft sand eco-tourism but Escobilla beach next door is where hundreds of thousands of turtles call home. Photo by Ospreyvineyard

Mazunte is an eco-tourist village with turtle museum and real live Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles burying their eggs in the half mile long turtle-reserve beach from May for several months.

Mazunte has long been famous for its nesting sea turtles but until the 80’s it was famous for eating them or selling them for food until a rapid fall in the numbers stimulated a rethink that led to a ban on the consumption of turtle meat and eggs in Mexico in 1990. To replace local people’s income an eco tourism industry was successfully launched. Today Mazunte is the location of the Mexican National Turtle Center.

Boat trips to/from popular nearby beach destinations such as Zipolite and Puerto Angel travel here regularly.

Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs on Playa Escobilla, Mazunte, Oaxaca Riviera, Mexico

Olive Ridley turtles (also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle) laying eggs on Playa Escobilla in Mazunte. Photo by Claudio Giovenzana


From May every year over several months (particularly after a full moon) thousands of Olive Ridley turtles (along with some Hawksbills, Green turtles and Leatherbacks) flop ashore on Escobilla beach, dig holes with their rather inefficient flippers and leave a cluster of up to 100 eggs. This is called an arribada and so many turtles lay their eggs at the same time that hundreds of turtles inadvertently dig up the previous turtle’s eggs and prevent any possibility of them hatching.
Volunteers collect eggs for incubation at the Mazunte Center. Incubation takes about two months are when they’re all fired up the hatchlings are released onto from the same beaches they were collected from. Tourists can participate in this Liberation!

What else is there in Mazunte?

Other than turtles visitors to Mazunte may see whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays and other interesting marine life. The main beach and the neighbouring bay both have a small selection of hotels, hostels, bars, cafés and restaurants. Two other pleasant and unspoilt beaches in the area are Playa Mermejita and Playa Escobilla – the famous turtle nesting beach.


Zipolite main beach with accommodation and restaurants, Oaxaca Riviera, Mexico

Zipolite main beach with various accommodation and eating options.

Playa Zipolite is one of Mexico’s few nude beaches, situated between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. It’s popular with foreign tourists – especially backpackers and neo-hippies – who often stay in cabins or camping spaces that line the beach.

Zipolite’s infrastructure has slowly evolved from a few cabanas to small, low-rise concrete hotels and restaurants, but still maintains a budget simplicity of both accommodation and lifestyle. There are now tourist information services and police patrols on the beach day and night during the busy season.

A nudist sector of Zipolite beach, Oaxaca Riviera, Mexico

A nudist sector of Zipolite. Photo by Alejandro Linares-Garcia.

Zipolite offers simplicity and relaxation (except for the overdeveloped west end), with a good selection of low-cost accommodation and eateries beside the sand, wifi too!
Beware of high surf (particularly August – November), strong currents in deep water and do not enter the water where red flags are flying – they indicate rips that are powerful and can be deadly. n. b. this is not much of a surf beach and board rentals are not easy to find. Obviously surfers need to head for Puerto Escondido.

Zipolite's popular Café Maya, Oaxaca Riviera, Mexico

Zipolite’s popular Café Maya. Photo by Alejandro Linares-Garcia.


Zipolite to Puerto Angel: 2 miles (3 kms), 5 minutes

Zipolite to Mazunte: 4 miles (6 kms), 7 minutes

Zipolite to Huatulco: 31 miles (50 kms), 54 minutes

Zipolite to Puerto Escondido: 44 miles (71 kms), 55 minutes

Zipolite to Oaxaca City: 176 miles (284 kms), 5 hours

Zipolite to Acapulco: 290 miles (468 kms), 10 hours