La Costa Incognita: Pacific Mexico

Playa las Gatas

Aug 30, 2001
Outside Magazine

The people who stay at Owen Lee's Las Gatas Beach Club, out on the fringe of Zihuatanejo Bay, are usually repeaters—and always foreigners. "When Mexicans come by," says Owen, "they take one look and say, 'Qué pobre!' How poor it is!" Compare Las Gatas to the multistory bungalows across the bay in Zihuatanejo and it does seem that time has stopped here. It's pre-package-tour Mexico, the Zihuatanejo that existed when Lee sailed into the bay 28 years ago on a Tahiti-bound yacht. Then there were only 2,500 people living in the fishing village, and most of the bay was lined with mangroves. Now the population is 70,000-plus, and the only bit of mangrove that remains is right in front of the tiny dock of Lee's property at the southern tip of the beach, which consists of six bungalows hidden in a cocount stand (doubles, $40-$50; 755-4-8307). The electricity may fail, the shower water may smell a little salty, and the restaurants on Las Gatas beach close down shortly after the last launches return for the evening at 5 p.m. But there's also no TV, no discos, and no city sounds.
A short boat ride can take you to dozens of good diving spots, but Las Rocas is one of Lee's favorites, about an hour away in the Bay of Potosé. It doesn't have the Caribbean's variety of coral, but you may see giant manta rays, groupers, dolphins, and turtles. Most of the diving is between 40 and 60 feet. Rent your gear at Carlo Scuba, midway down the beach. Owner Jean Claude Durandt's PADI dive center (phone 753-4-3570, fax 753-4-2764 ), the first in Zihuatanejo and the only one on the beach, has been here for 35 years. The possibilities range from resort dives off the beach and around the reef ($50) to one- and two-tank dives ($45-$65), night dives ($55), and certification courses ($400). Make reservations the day before you plan to dive.

Out here on the edge of the bay, the water is far cleaner, and the King's Reef—supposedly built by a Tarascan king centuries ago to keep man-eaters away from the beach—offers the only protected water in the entire bay. Ask Lee for sailboards and kayaks so you can poke around the perimeter. Las Gatas (The Cats) is named after harmless nurse sharks, notable for their long whiskers. The sharks are long gone, but on a trip around the reef you're still likely to spot some large fish, especially if you go with Lee, the first American underwater cameraman to work with Jacques Cousteau back in the sixties and author of a series of scuba-related books.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!