Ixtapa may not be on your radar when it comes to taking a Mexican vacation, since it’s a lot smaller than the more well-known resort getaways of Cancun, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta. But smaller translates to better if you’re looking for a more authentic travel experience.

Situated on the Pacific coast, Ixtapa offers more of a resort feel while its sister city of Zihuatanejo, a laid-back fishing village, is just ten minutes away. Unlike other popular Mexican tourist destinations where souvenirs and “local handicrafts” are actually made in China, the ceramics, paintings, and colorful tapestries on display in the Mercado de Artesanias in Ixtapa and the Mercado Central in Zihuatanejo, as well as small specialty shops, are made by hand by local villagers.

Traveling the Mayan Riviera

Besides being a low-key place to spend your vacation, Ixtapa is one of the best places in the world for saltwater sportfishing. Scuba divers and snorkelers also love the region for the diversity of underwater attractions, from easily-accessible coral reefs and turtles to sunken ships.  But if a beach is more your speed, Playa la Ropa is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Mexican Pacific coast, and it’s about as authentic as you get. At one of several open-air restaurants right on the beach, you’ll dine on freshly-caught grilled fish served up on paper plates while your feet dig into the sand.

Eco-Friendly Travel in Latin America

And don’t miss El Refugio de Potosi elrefugiodepotosi.org, a center for wildlife conservation where you can visit with a variety of owls, iguanas, and other critters.

While Ixtapa will never grow to be as large as Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, it’s safe to say that this fact suits both locals and visitors-in-the-know just fine.

Lisa Rogak is a freelance writer and New York Times Bestselling author. Her latest book is "And Nothing But The Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert."

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