Zen in Zihuatanejo: Relaxation and Rejuvenation Await

by Selena Swartzfager on June 18, 2024 in Travels,

“I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.” -Red from Shawshank Redemption.  

A lesser known location for luxury travel in Mexico, located on the lower west coast in the state of Guerrero you will find Zihuatanejo, the place of dreams. Most that have heard of this place usually know it as the final location of Andy and Red in Shawshank Redemption. What began as a small fishing village is now a beautiful place that welcomes visitors where Mexican culture is lush and the pace of life is slower.  

Get Your Zen at the Thompson

Thompson Zihuatanejo is the resort of choice. It is a boutique hotel in the Hyatt family with only 56 units. While family friendly, the slow pace and lack of hustle and bustle makes it the ideal couples getaway. This trip was a much deserved couples getaway for my husband and I. Spending the last 30 years raising two amazing sons, we were due for a week-long trip to reconnect.

Upon arrival at the Thompson, we were greeted by friendly staff and a refreshing fruit drink in one of the hippest outdoor lobby’s you have ever seen. It is non-alcoholic making it appropriate for anyone in your party. The property is the only one of this quality located on the beach in Zihua, making it the best choice for your vacation. The size of the property makes everything extremely convenient. I have stayed at resorts where you had a trek from one place to the other.  The Thompson is not that place, making it the perfect location.

The Types of Rooms to Choose From are Plentiful

View of the swim up suite
The swim up suite has all the best stuff from a private balcony to easy pool access to view of the beach and crashing waves. Photo courtesy Eleven Six PR.

There are many room choices at Thompson, from the traditional hotel room to a room on the lagoon, but my recommendation is a stay in the swim up suites. Step off a private balcony and directly into an adults-only pool, just a few feet from your back door. There are only 11 of these suites making the use of the pool exclusive. My favorite part of this room was the ability to easily go for an early morning swim before breakfast on the balcony.

Immediately on the other side of the pool is Playa Ropa allowing you to savor beachfront views from the outdoor sitting area. An indoor-and-outdoor rainfall shower provides the ultimate luxurious touch to your suite experience. I would guess not many people have an outdoor rain shower at your homes, making this super special.  

Bedroom in the ocean view room
The bedding in all the rooms is elegant, making the rooms simply dreamy. Photo courtesy Eleven Six PR.

The bedding in this suite is a lucious king size bed. Put away your white noise maker and go to sleep at night with nature’s white noise of waves crashing on the beach. Each night, turn down service is offered where housekeeping will leave you delicious cookies for an evening snack.

A Day in Your Life at the Thompson

Don’t set an alarm unless you plan to make it to one of the complimentary activities at 9 a.m.  Various activities are on the calendar, such as yoga on the beach, zumba or pilates. There are also kayaks and stand up paddle boards you can check out. If you are in a swim up suite you can take a leisurely swim in the pool to get your day started right. Tennis courts are on site and you can take this opportunity to hone your skills by hiring the tennis pro for lessons.  

If you are not the exercise type of person, that is okay. The balcony on the swim up suite has a couch perfect for reading a book, taking a nap or simply doing nothing. Other opportunities for learning and entertainment are available for a fee. Reservations are strongly encouraged.  There is something for everyone.  

Chef preparing ingredients for cooking class
Schedule a private cooking class where you will learn to make elegant Mexican dishes with local spices and ingredients. Photo Selena Swartzfager.

Meet the Chef by the sea for a guided cooking class. The class takes place at noon each day with limited spaces for an intimate experience. While most choices include seafood, land lovers can make a request for an alternate ingredient such as pork. My husband does not eat fish and they very quickly made a switch to pork for him. We learned to cook in banana leaves with local Mexican spices. One of the special spices was sea salt flavored with the rind of an orange and now we know how to make this at home.

Many Texans have made their own guacamole but you have never made it like this before. Use of local spices and olive oil bumps this tasting experience up a notch. Learn all the secrets behind the region’s most popular dishes, followed by drinks and a two-course lunch. Reservations are required.

Because the Thompson is one of the most relaxing places on earth, help the process along by booking a spa experience. This onsite luxury offers massages, facials and body treatments.  Arrive a little early to enjoy sitting in the relaxation room decorated with Moroccan style lanterns, and plush seating. Treatment rooms are equipped with showers should you choose to rinse off afterwards. The massage I enjoyed was just the right pressure to relax while also working out the knots in my shoulders from sitting at a desk most days.  

By special request, a tequila tasting can be scheduled for an individual or group. The bartender will walk the attendees through where and how tequila, mezcal and ricella are made. Enjoy a freshly cut coconut sprinkled with Mexican spices to enhance the culinary experience. This was the first time I enjoyed sipping tequila out of wine glasses. I learned that I am not a fan of mezcal’s smoky flavor. Ricella is likely to be something you have never tried before as it is a craft liquor found mostly in Mexico. Afterwards, you can request a drink of the bartender’s choice.

Adult pool at night
The adult only pool is located right on the beach and allows for time to relax. Photo courtesy Eleven Six PR.

Stationary beach chairs and umbrellas are perfect for lounging at any time during the day.  Simply walk up and the beach attendants will outfit your chairs with cushions and towels. Very attentive servers will bring you any drink you desire and there is a menu for food choices. Tell the attendant if you want a mocktail and you will receive one of the best fruit smoothies you have ever tried. Mangos grow locally so be sure to try something with this super fresh fruit.  

The property has three swimming pools. In addition to the private adults only swim up suite pool, there is one beachfront infinity pool (adults only) and one family friendly pool. The onsite workout room is available 24/7 for anyone wanting to keep your fitness in check while on vacation.  

Dining Choices for All Moods

There are multiple dining choices on site to satisfy all the many moods you may have and the menus are all different. Two onsite restaurants, themed dinner dining, a beach/poolside menu and room service will provide the variety you desire without having to leave the property.

If you select a room with a private patio it is the perfect location for room service breakfast. Dial the number from the room phone and order from the menu in English or Spanish. For the week we were there, we ate breakfast in the room all but one day. My favorite dish was the chilaquiles, which you can mix up each day by choosing a different sauce with eggs, chicken or seafood. This was my choice every morning except for the one I had the French toast, which was also delicious. Don’t skip the fresh squeezed orange juice.

Espresso machines are in each room, making morning coffee delicious and convenient. Room service makes sure that you are generously stocked with bottled water. Room service is an option for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Surf and turf at Hao
For the couple that enjoys land and sea food, the surf and turf at Hao is the way to go. Photo Selena Swartzfager.

Hao is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is different from room service. Enjoy seasonal ingredients prepared in modern Mexican style at this all-day oceanfront bar. Tables are al fresco right on the beach where the breeze is always blowing. Join them for happy hour each day between 5-6 p.m. My favorite pre-dinner drink is the Toronja Spritz. A cocktail of aperol, grapefruit juice and sparkling wine, it is a light drink to enjoy in this al fresco setting.

I found the best menu choices to be any seafood dish. The fish of the day comes straight out of the Pacific Ocean. When ordering ceviche, they made me one that was not on the menu, so don’t hesitate to ask. Individualized service is one of the highlights of this property.

Beef Carpaccio at Cenizo
The tasting menu at Ceniza offers the opportunity to try many different special dishes such as this beef carpaccio. Photo Selena Swartzfager.

Ceniza is the other onsite restaurant, open for dinner only. Named for the Spanish word for ash, Ceniza puts a spin on traditional wood-fired cooking techniques in this beachfront setting. Under a palm-thatched palapa or directly on the beach, you’ll enjoy its open-air ambiance. Choices on the menu are sustainably-sourced Mexican surf and turf dishes. The possibilities are virtually limitless at the onsite Playa la Ropa restaurant.

The tasting menu is a great way to try dishes you may have never experienced. Show up hungry because the six courses will leave you completely stuffed. A wine pairing is an option and the wines are likely to be Mexican that you are not able to get at home. The menu changes several times a year. The current tasting menu includes: Smoke trout tartar, a grilled oyster, applewood oven brie salad, beef carpaccio, sea bass with pipian sauce and coconut tapioca and seasonal fruit.  All of the menu items are prepared as a work of art making the dishes beautiful to look at and taste.

Night time view from Ceniza
The view at night from your table at Ceniza is that of the bay and the lights of El Centro. Photo Selena Swartzfager.

While having dinner at Ceniza one evening, we saw a commotion of people at the beach’s edge.  Upon joining them, I saw a large sea turtle coming out of the water. She quickly made her way up onto the sand near some of the dining tables and began to dig a hole. Her flippers were strong and the sand was flying.  

It was obvious that she then began laying eggs in the hole. Once she built her strength back up by taking a nap, her flippers began to move sand back into the hole, covering the eggs.  

Her task complete, she took off back into the water leaving her buried eggs to fend for themselves. This was an amazing observation of nature doing its thing. While the locals told me May is a little early for this behavior, these eggs will mature for a couple of months and then burst open with baby turtles digging their way to the surface and scurrying to find their way to the ocean.

Off property fun to be had

While you will not need to leave the property during your stay, if your vacation is long enough, catch a taxi from the property to El Centro for shopping and dining. The fare is approximately 100 pesos or $6 each way.  The pier is where you can catch a water taxi to La Playa de Gato.

Getting to Zihuatanejo

traveler standing outside the ZIH airport
The airport in Zihuatanejo is tiny and feels like you are arriving at Fantasy Island. Photo Selena Swartzfager.

A quick flight from most Texas locations will land you at a tiny airport where you will disembark the aircraft by roll-up stairs and a short walk inside the airport. Upon arrival the vibe is that of fantasy island. Our trip from the airport (ZIH) via pre-arranged transportation to the Thompson Zihuatanejo took about 20 minutes up and over the mountains to the bay. The number of flights in and out of this airport are not as frequent as other highly traveled resort towns.

When is the Best Time to Visit Zihua?

The temperature is pretty pleasant year round. The hottest months of the year are May and June, which is when we were there, but Texans likely live in areas warmer and more humid. I was told that the water in the Pacific is most clear and calm from December through March. There really is no wrong time to visit, but avoiding the rainy month of September might be a good idea.

Selena with Thompson team members
Making friends with the PR rep and Chef at the Thompson is one of the best parts of staying at this boutique hotel. They will make you feel like you are family. Photo Glenn Swartzfager.



Cover photo Selena Swartzfager

Selena Swartzfager is a travel writer, nonprofit president, an amateur photographer, lover of adventures and life. Her favorite type of travel allows her to learn about history while enjoying things for the first time. Follow her on Instagram.