The Catalina Beach Resort
Zihuatanejo, Guerrero Mexico
October 28th - November 7th, 2004
You are here!
This report will refer to the hotel as the “Catalina” throughout the report, assuming that everyone knows its name has been changed to “The Catalina Beach Resort.”
The Catalina, from the beach.
The Catalina is on the hillside, above Playa La Ropa, on Zihuatanejo Bay. La Ropa is arguably one of the finest beaches to be found in Mexico, and one can certainly do worse than to stay in just about any of the fine hotels and bungalows along its entirety.
My wife and I chose the Catalina this year on the suggestion of some friends, and a tour of the hotel a few years ago. We had been to the Sunset Bar a few times, seen the pool and palapa areas, and had visited one of the rooms, where our friends were lodged. We knew what we were in for and anticipated it eagerly. Let me say from the start that we were not let down.
The Catalina might not work well for everyone. My wife and I are not the types that want to spend our time in a resort type environment, living large. That’s not to say that we don’t like to have our fun, but dancing all night to the bump of the disco beat, partying hearty, doing tequila shooters and swimming naked in the moonlight are things that no longer interest us…. as much. The Catalina is a more laid back sort of a place, it’s older and it’s funkier. We like that… not everyone will.
Looking up to the Sunset Bar.
You can read the history of the Catalina on their website, so I’ll not get heavy into it here, except to say that it was built in 1952. Back when Harry S. Truman was president of the United States, television was a radio, and air conditioning was a luxury, even in the U.S. In other words, the Catalina has been around for a long time. (You can find an image of their first brochure here.)
Its age is apparent in many ways, some small, some not so small. A few rooms have air conditioning, but most have screened windows with richly designed wrought iron security bars and overhead fans. To step into one of these rooms is to step back in time, back when things were simpler, and in their own way more elegant.
A step back in time.
The Catalina cannot be thought of so much as a building, as it is a compound. There are many buildings connected by “the stairs” and pathways. Each has its own uniqueness. It appears that the facility has progressed over the years, with more rooms being added from time to time. This tradition continues today with four more units are being added as I write this. This setup allows for a wonderful feeling of seclusion and privacy not obtainable from a high-rise type of hotel.
Four more rooms going in.
The stairs are there and you might as well know that there are a lot of them. If you are limited in your ability to use stairs, stay somewhere else. There are any number of hotels along La Ropa that are at beach level and would be better advised for someone with physical challenges, related to climbing stairs.
On the other hand, I am plenty overweight and have arthritis in both my knees. Some days are worse than others, but at the time of our stay, I was in a period of pretty serious right knee pain. With care and the occasional painkiller, the stairs presented no problem. As long as I remembered to practice safe stepping, everything was fine.
The stairs aren't so bad... really.
We were lodged in room number twenty-five. That level, and the level just above it, seems to be about perfect to my way of thinking. You are more or less centered for everything you will need, be it the beach, pool, bar or restaurant. The only killer is a trip up to the main office to check email or to catch a taxi to town. But the view is so wonderful that most any step offers a good resting place, should you need a brief respite.
(The Beach Bar)
to here, can be quite a wheezer!
The rooms at the Catalina vary somewhat, but for the most part are all very similar. The bungalows and deluxe bungalows are bigger than the casitas, all of which are smaller than the honeymoon suite, though I’ve not seen it. Each room has its own patio.
Our wonderful patio.
The interior of the rooms is delightful. The tile is all hand made and hand painted. The combination of the tile, stucco and well-worn wood comes together to leave you with no doubt that you are in Mexico. It whisks one back to times gone by and is such a lovely setting that you can’t help but feel good, just to be there.
What more do you need?
As I stated before, most rooms are sans air conditioning. They have overhead and standing fans to help keep the air moving throughout the room. The windows are covered with screen and security bars that look more like an architectural feature than they do security, though security they are. With the door to the patio open, the afternoon breeze blowing off of Zihuatanejo Bay, and the overhead fan lazily spinning above, rarely did I miss air conditioning.
The beds are “Zihuatanejo style,” which means a hard mattress on a cement slab. The Catalina is the third hotel I’ve stayed at, in Zihuatanejo, and all of the beds have been exactly the same. A friend of mine took a tour of a room at the Villa Del Sol, the most expensive hotel on Playa La Ropa, and reported that the beds were the same there as well. After a night or two, you get used to it, though by my 10th night, I found myself already thinking ahead to the next night, when I’d be at home in my own comfy bed. I choose to look at it this way; the beds at the Catalina are the best to be found in Zihuatanejo. That seems to put a “glass half full” sort of a spin on it.
The beds are Zihuatanejo, standard issue.
I’ve heard comments about plumbing problems at the Catalina, but experienced none. The bathroom was always in good operating order and kept clean daily by the wonderful maids who make up the rooms. There was always hot water available, though it did take a long time to reach our showerhead. That was perfectly all right with me, as I was usually so hot that I went with just the cold water when showering anyway. Clean towels, face cloths and bath mats were set in the room daily and greatly appreciated.
There is a small refrigerator in the room for keeping cold things cold. It worked great the whole ten days we were there, though freezing anything was a bit of a challenge. It’s a nice touch to have the availability of the fridge. There were always cold cervezas and tequila within reach, along with cheese, rolls, fruit and candy. In years past, in other hotels, we had to forgo such things or provide our own cooler which needed ice daily. I vote for the fridge.
My old friend, Señor Fridge!
The patio is a nice touch too. Ours was semi-private and neighbors never presented the least bit of a bother. I noticed that some of the other rooms actually had a shade that could be let down for more privacy, but ours did not. The view from just about all of the patios is wonderful. I would have my coffee each morning (I brought my own coffee maker but understand that one may be available from the desk) while gazing out over beautiful Zihuatanejo Bay, enjoying the relative cool of the morning and the fresh ocean air.
Another view of the patio.
On our patio there were two chairs for sitting, two lounges for lounging, two hammocks for siesta time, and a table. The front edge of the deck was comprised of planters with bougainvillea and other native fauna to help frame the view. Many happy hours were spent on the deck, and to me, they are one of the main attractions of the Catalina. Our room was close to one of the walkways and it was nice to be able to yak it up a little bit with friends and recent acquaintances alike, as they would stroll by. Though it was easy to go unnoticed, if so desired. Some of the rooms above our level have a patio much like ours, but also share a larger, more sunny, patio for getting a tan without having to stray far from the room. You can see it in the picture above.
The beach area at the Catalina is to die for. Many palapas (large thatched umbrella type affairs) dot the area in front of the hotel to provide shade from the hot Zihuatanejo sun. Under them are lounge chairs with thick, comfortable mats. These are not the plastic lounge chairs either, but strong wooden pieces of furniture that give a certain sense of security to us portly types. The area is roped off and used only by the guests of the hotel. In my ten-day stay, never did I have to go without a palapa and seating. Though we did get creative a time or two, dragging an unused lounge or chair from a distance… nothing wrong with that except that they are a bit heavy.
The palapa area.
The beach bar is close at hand, with cold drinks of all varieties. It’s a grand affair, though not many people usually hang there. Mostly it’s used to grab a cold one and head back down to the palapa. This is also the area where you can pick up a beach towel to use for the day. Don’t lose them though.
There are many restaurants along Playa La Ropa, each and every one of which is highly accessible from the Catalina. Head south and take your pick. There’s no way that I can remember them all, but the one’s I like are Elvira’s, Paty’s, Rossie’s, and La Perla. I eat most often at Elvira’s, and wouldn’t you know it… it’s right next door to the Catalina palapa area.
Elvira's is just down there at the end.
(Best Chiliquiles in Zihuatanejo)
The surf in Zihuatanejo Bay and on Playa La Ropa is nice and easy. You can certainly do a little body surfing, but it’s gentler than the open ocean beaches of the area such as Ixtapa. We spent many hours in the surf out front of the Catalina.
The pool at the Catalina is a wonderful thing. Many more hours were spent in the fresh (non sea) water of the pool. It was usually mornings in the ocean and afternoons in the pool. It is large enough to accommodate many people, without everyone bumping into each other and is one depth throughout (I’d guess about four and a half feet). The pool bar was not open while we were there, in the low season, but there are built in stools for sitting and sipping your tropical beverage, while remaining in the pool… sounds like a hoot. There are women and men’s restroom/changing rooms at the back of the covered area and many lounge chairs available to sun yourself.
The pool shuts down around nine or ten, so late night swimming is not available except in the bay, which is a most excellent alternative.
Two places we spent a lot of time.
(The pool and the beach, from our patio)
The Sunset Bar… Oh my! This is without a doubt my favorite bar in all of Zihuatanejo. There are many fine others and I wouldn’t limit myself to only one, but many a happy hour (dos por uno) were spent at the Sunset Bar. From six to eight, in the evening, there is no better place to be. The bartender, Jose Luis, is a master at mixing the fruity, festive drinks one tends to order up in such a location. I was continually amazed at his ability to stay up with the crowd, after it got rolling.
Jose Luis is just phenomenal!
The bar is aptly named, The Sunset Bar. It offers fantastic views of each and every sunset. Nestled high above the beach (remember those stairs?), just below the restaurant, there is nothing between you and the setting sun. The breeze coming off of the bay helps to keep things cool and the music in the background sets the foot to tapping. Just remember, during dos por uno, if you order a drink, you get two. More than a few people have been surprised by the four drinks sitting in front of them, when what they thought they had ordered was a “dos por uno” to split. It’s not malicious, but when you say, “We’d each like a margarita,” you’re going to each get two. If you must each only have one, only order one and forget about explaining your desire to split a dos por uno. You’ve been warned.
Need you ask why they named it the Sunset Bar?
The restaurant at the Catalina, the “Linda Vista,” is a very good eatery. Our hotel package included breakfast on all but two days. Being Mr. Cheap Guy, I ate there on all of the “free” mornings, but it was not a problem. Blanca, our waitress, was most attentive and the food was excellent. A plate of fresh fruit, a basket of bread with butter and jam, and whatever we ordered for breakfast was always top notch. Coffee is self-serve, good, and the pot is always full.
Sweet, wonderful Blanca.
We only ate one dinner at the Catalina, as I have many other places to try when I’m in town, some favorites, some new. But the night we dined in the Linda Vista the food was good, though the service was a trifle slow, even by Mexico time standards. It was very late however; as we had taken a sunset panga (boat) ride to Ixtapa and back, and I’m sure that a lot of the staff had already been relieved of their duties for the night.
A beautiful view - "Linda Vista"
As with the Sunset Bar, the view is fantastic. It is so nice to sip your morning coffee and eat your meal, while looking out over Zihuatanejo Bay. The pace is relaxed, as it should be, the food good and the wait help excellent. The restaurant cat has fleas though, so you might refrain from getting too friendly with it.
I’ve mentioned some of the staff of the hotel before. There are others, of course, and each one of them is most excellent in their duties, and greatly concerned about their guests. From Eva (the owner), to Celso and Javier (the boys at the front desk), to Modesto (our maid) and to the many others that I didn’t manage to get names for, I want to thank them for the outstanding service, care and friendship. During our ten day stay, there was always a smile and an “Hola” whenever we’d encounter a member of the staff. If service and care is what you’re after, the Catalina is your place, trust me.
I hope that I have given some insight to this most marvelous hotel. The Catalina Beach Resort earned my wife's and my highest recommendations. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and will probably not bother trying anywhere else, in the future. As indicated, it is not a five star hotel, in the usual sense of the phrase, but it is a ten on our scale. If you have any further questions feel free to email me. I love to talk about Zihuatanejo!
I need to give a special thanks a few people, for making my trip so delightful. First is that guy on the right, Celso. Celso made the reservation process so painless that I never once worried that things might have gone awry. He's a good man. Thank you Celso.
Next is Roberto! y Wynn. I met these fine folks on my very first trip to Zihuatanejo and they have become fast friends. They are the ones that turned us on to the Catalina, showed us their room, and a few of the pictures (the ones I just seemed to forget to take) in this report were taken by Roberto! Thank you my friends.
And then there is Zihu@Rob. His website and message board are a vital link to Zihuatanejo and its treasures. Check it out, and if you see him, tell him I said hello.