Insider's Guide: Gabriela Quintero on Zihuatanejo

Gabriela Quintero, one half of guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela, shows us round her home town of Zihuatanejo

The real Mexico

Zihuatanejo and its sister Ixtapa are the antithesis of Acapulco and Cancun, which are not nice any more. Zihuatanejo still has a traditional feel, whereas Cancun is becoming more like Miami every day.

Where to stay

Troncones, 10 minutes away from Zihuatanejo, where there are lovely cheap villas to rent. (See for details.) For a big house that will sleep five you would pay only about £150. It's a surfing beach, very laid back, with an organic market on Sundays. There's a small international community, lots of Scandinavians and Americans, but they're very respectful of the Mexican culture. There are still little Mexican restaurants where they serve food from the ocean and cook it in front of you. But don't go when you're very hungry as they take ages to bring it.

Some like it hot

For good Mexican food I would take you to Las Marghueritas (Vicente Guerrero 5). It's in the centre of town, very close to the main beach and you will eat very well. A traditional breakfast is huevos a la Mexicana, which is fried onion, green chilli and green tomatoes with scrambled eggs. You eat it with refried beans and corn tortilla. You get chilaquiles as well, which is stale tortilla fried into chips and served with green salsa, sour cream, cream cheese and onion. It's delicious and very good if you have a hangover.

Sometimes my foreign friends get a little bit tired of tortillas. So, if you're not into Mexican breakfast there's a new place called the Pancake House (740 C/Guadalupe Sanchez, Puerto Vallarta), where you can get muesli, really good eggs benedict and all that. It's very fresh, local produce.

Cafe culture

My friend Juanita owns a coffee shop called Café Zihuatenejo (170 C/Cuauhetemoc). She has a plantation up in the mountains and it's all organic. There is a lovely boutique hotel in the mountains called La Casa Que Canta ( It's a beautiful spot, you can go and have a drink and see the sunset. The restaurant is very good, but it's a bit pricey for locals, about €20 a dish. I'm a vegetarian and there's a special veggie of the day. There is also a hotel called Tides (Playa La Ropa) that is very good. They do a buffet on a Friday night on the beach and there is a good mariachi band playing.

Out of town

Barra de Potosi is a beautiful lagoon that feels a little bit like the Amazon, where you can hire kayaks. There are different species of birds and it leads to some super virgin beaches. You can eat good fresh fish there as well as l'escargot, the local speciality. Take some sparkling wine with you and you can spend all day there swimming, eating and drinking. I really love this area.

Guitar heaven

There's a guitar festival in March ( It runs for two weeks and a lot of international musicians perform all over Zihuatenejo. There's jazz, classical, singer-songwriters, blues, jazz and reggae. It's all for charity for local kids and schools.

It's a fair shop

The best place to buy traditional Mexican gifts is Casa Marina (Paseo del Pescador 9, Ixtapa), a big, old house that holds lots of shops selling handicrafts from different regions. It's fair trade so everything goes to the community that made it.

Beach babe

I am a beach person so I go to the ocean every day, kayaking and snorkelling. You want to avoid the midday sun because it's very hot so I get up at 7am or 8am and see the sun when it's very fresh, and the ocean is also very calm at that time of the day. In low season, there is no one on the beach and if you love to swim that's the best time to go. I don't surf but if you want to there is good surfing in Troncones.

And what not to do ...

Please don't go on a cruise ship. Ecologically it's a terrible thing to do, and towns like Zihuatenejo will be destroyed. They want to build a big pier in the bay so that they can get five cruise ships there at a time but the bay is just too small to cope and all the people that live there will not be able to see the sunset. There would be too many people and the cruisers are run by corporate companies so they destroy everything. They build their own shops and they're duty free so they damage the local businesses. Their tourists just do whatever they're told - they're told where to shop and where to eat and there's not a sense of the place because it's all been built specially for them. It's terrible for the town and destroys the local economy. If people want to travel they should experience a place for what it is - not to go to Planet Hollywood in Mexico. I find that irritating.

Interview by Jon Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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