Side-by-side beach resorts, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo share geography, but they couldn't be more different in character. Ixtapa is a preplanned resort development, opened in 1971, with modern infrastructure, high-rise hotels, and tourist services, while Zihuatanejo (See-wah-tah-neh-hoh) -- "Zihua" to the locals -- is an authentic yet increasingly tourist-savvy Mexican beach town that has changed slowly with time. The pair offers the intriguing possibility of two vacations in one. Those looking for a package vacation or all-inclusive resort can opt for Ixtapa (Eex-tah-pah) and easily make the quick 6.5km (4-mile) trip to Zihuatanejo to sample the simple life in a pueblo by the sea. Those seeking a low-key retreat with Mexican personality should settle in Zihuatanejo, home to simple inns close to the beach as well as some ultraluxury boutique hotels.

The area, with the backdrop of the Sierra Madre and foreground of the Pacific Ocean, provides a broad range of outdoor activities and sun-drenched diversions. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, bay cruises to remote beaches, and golf are among the favorites. Nightlife in both towns borders on the subdued, although Ixtapa is livelier during holiday periods.

This dual destination appeals to the traveler looking for a little of everything, from resort-style indulgence to unpretentious simplicity. The two resorts are more welcoming to couples and adults than to families, with a number of places that are off-limits to children 15 and younger -- something of a rarity in Mexico.