I would tell you to go to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo for a ton of reasons.
Perfect weather. Outstanding beaches. Great hotels. Good food. Snorkeling. Deep-sea fishing.
Plus, it’s just the right size. Big enough to have a couple of towns for strolling, dining, hanging out.
Small enough that you can get around and enjoy.
I wouldn’t tell you to go to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo for the golf.
What I would say, though, if you go to this lovely area on the west coast of Mexico, bring your sticks. Or rent some.
Because the golf is pretty fun.
Ixtapa has two courses, Palma Real and Marina Ixtapa.
Palma Real is a 1976 Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout that has hosted Canadian Tour events. It has a lot of good testing holes—and a gorgeous four-hole stretch on the back nine that leads down to the Pacific, which is the backdrop for No. 15.
Marina Ixtapa, which opened in 1994, is a Robert von Hagge layout that features a bunch of fun holes, especially if you keep the ball in play.
The downside is, conditioning could be better, especially at Marina Ixtapa, which is downright scruffy in places. But even that fits in with all the wonderful wildlife and beautiful vegetation to be seen.
On the bright side, the greens at both courses are very good, all things considered, for rolling the ball.
And because these courses aren’t main-event deals, they are good values—approximately $70 to $100 for greens fees—by resort standards.
Best of all, because this isn’t really a golf destination, the courses tend to be uncrowded. My wife, Liz, and I played at our own pace, finishing in 3 to 3-1/2 hours—including the occasional vacation mulligan.
We especially like the beverage cart at Palma Real. A Japanese import has replaced our favorite, the doors-removed Ford 150 that formerly dispensed cerveza. But they’re either is a welcome sight on a tropical afternoon.
Marina Ixtapa (6,774 yards from the tips, 6,319 from the regular men’s tees) has a series of holes that wend their way between water hazards and lush native vegetation.
The two toughest holes, No. 8 and and No. 18, are a pair of challenging par-fives that require target-like accuracy from tee to green.
Palma Real (6,898 from the tips, 6,408 from the men’s tees) has many forgiving holes. But it also has many holes that require a good plan and good execution.
After the short but tight par fifth hole, No. 6 is a beautiful 170-yard par three. From its elevated tee, there’s a huge bunker left and a pond right—and not much else besides the green. Beware of alligators if your ball is wet.
The best stretch at Palma Real, though, begins with another par three, No. 13, which features an elevated tee and a sloping elevated green. Anything short will scream down the hill unless it catches a bunker.
No. 14 is a delightful short par four. If you can hit a hard draw around the corner. you’ll have a wedge left—or less.
If No. 15 isn’t the signature hole from a playing standpoint, it certainly is the one to photograph. Another short par-four, its elevated tee overlooks a narrow fairway and the beach and ocean beyond the green. The palm trees that dot the right rough are spread far enough apart to leave approaches to the large green. But they may require punching rather than pitching.
Enough about the golf, though.
We have returned to Ixtapa regularly for a couple of decades for many reasons.
Las Brisas, built into the side of a hill, is an incredibly peaceful hotel in which every room has its own private balcony for watching the sunset and dreaming about the tiny fishing boats that light up the sea every night.
Its large peaceful beach, which is reached by elevator, is surrounded by craggy rocks that quickly rise up to form a natural seclusion. We have enjoyed excellent snorkeling among those rocks on calm days, but those tend to be infrequent. Las Brisas also has excellent, quiet swimming-pool areas that feature spectacular views of the rugged Pacific coast.
We aren’t deep-sea fishing people. But our friends who are rave about the charters out of Zihuatanejo.
For more snorkeling, a quick cab ride to the dock at Playa Linda, and a brief water-taxi ride in a small fishing boat will transport you to Ixtapa Island. The snorkeling at the coral beach there can be delightful, and the hospitality never fails. Fresh seafood and cold beverages combine with a splendid view for a memorable day. This largely unimproved island is like a step back in time.
There are many all-inclusive hotels in Ixtapa. There are also dazzling high-end boutique hotels along Zihuatanego Bay, which is as peaceful as can be, especially compared to the surf-pounding Pacific found in Itxapa, a 10-minute cab ride away. Zihuatanejo itself also has many inexpensive in-town hotels for those on a budget.
Another appeal of this trip is that Apple Vacations, for one, has an affordable package on a nonstop charter from Chicago. For frozen Midwesterners, the flight isn’t much longer than going to L.A. or Seattle. We met many tourists from around the United States and Canada who found similarly attractive arrangements to Zihuat/Ixtapa, which is about 150 miles up the coast from Acapulco.
Rather than going all-inclusive, we prefer to enjoy our evening meals in Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo Centro. Both have great options, but Zihuat, because its along a picturesque bay, is especially enchanting.
Some restaurants have tables set right on the beach, where diners can look out at the lights along the bay and up in the hills above town.
I’m sure there are many nice places to take a winter break in the world. I’m not sure any that are nicer than Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
And while we don’t always play golf there, the golf tends to be like most things there—easy and relaxing.
There may be better places to go in Mexico than Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
I have no idea. Because the only place that I’ve ever gone to in Mexico is Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
(except for border towns and Ensenada)