Santa rides a Hammerhead Shark.
Christmas tables set out on Las Gatas Beach.
Santa in a Mexican
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Las Gatas Beach on Christmas Day.
A Christmas serenade on Las Gatas Beach.
Cool bongo players.
Driveway leading to the Parthenon's gate.
The center of this mammoth gate housed vicious guard dogs.
Elegant parking area outside the gate.
Durazo loved ancient ornamentation.
The columned facade pokes out between the weeds.
Wow - we get to go in!
The cage for the guard dogs...
The cage for the tigers.
Approaching the Parthenon.
Statues fill the yard.
The Parthenon's entrance.
Looking through the front door.
Lifesize sculptures line the foyer.
The view from the foyer.
Staircase to the second floor.
Looking down at the open-air party room from the balcony.
Views of Zihuatanejo Bay.
Mirrors on the walls and ceiling of an upstairs bedroom.
Bat guano covers the jacuzzi tub in the master suite.
Marble-topped bar outside the library downstairs.
Marble dining table, murals and columns outside the kitchen.
View from the top steps of the Parthenon.
Looking back up at the mansion.
The pool bar.
Would you like a cerveza or a Margarita?
Arturo Durazo's Parthenon.
Arturo Durazo's "Parthenon" of Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Christmas, 2011 - After an easy overnight passage from Manzanillo Bay we
arrived at Isla de Ixtapa (Isla Grande) outside Zihuatanejo where we were quickly
swept up in the wild pre-Christmas beach scene. The island's three tiny beaches
were packed to overflowing with vacationers whooping it up.
A few days later, around the
corner in Zihuatanejo, we
found Christmas festivities
were revving up with just as
much enthusiasm. All the
waterfront restaurants were
decked out for the holidays,
and Christmas movies were
playing at the little cinema.
Zihuatanejo Bay is a mile-
wide bay surrounded by four beaches with lots
of options for anchoring. Last year we stayed
right next to the town, but Groovy's hull got
such a thick layer of barnacles in just 10 days' time that this year
we decided to anchor on the far side of the bay by Playa Las
Gatas where the water is cleaner.
In past years we've dreamed of a having white Christmas,
but this year our Christmas came in lovely shades of blue
water, blue sky and green palm trees. We
kayaked through throngs of people playing in
the ocean, and as we swam it felt much more
like July than December.
We hung out on Las Gatas beach all day
long on Christmas day and watched families
playing on the beach. Musicians wandered
by to offer entertainment for a "propina" (tip).
These guys hike over a challenging rock path
from the larger La Ropa beach half a mile
away. They carry whatever it is they play,
from guitars to drums to huge double
basses, as they walk on the precarious
rocks. Two of the most intriguing musicians
were a couple banging on bongos and
singing Caribbean sounding tunes. They
were from the nearest major inland city, Morelia.
Back on Groovy the following day we kept staring at a very strange
building that was perched high above the condos on the point that
juts out between two of the bay's beaches, Playa La Ropa and
Playa Madera. The building looks like a miniature Lincoln Memorial,
and last year we found out it was called "The Parthenon" and was
cloaked in a dark, mysterious history.
Built in the early 1980's by Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police,
Arturo Durazo Moreno, it stands today as a striking monument to
his excesses and wickedness. We had heard rumors that he had
ordered it built with hidden doors leading to secret tunnels that
snaked down to the sea, just in case he ever needed to escape.
Totally tantalized, we decided to go check it out.
There's no sign saying "This way to the Parthenon," but we knew
we were on the right path when we trudged up a very steep winding
road of crumbling concrete lined with ornate streetlights buried in
overgrown weeds. It was obvious the road had once been carefully landscaped and very
Suddenly the heavy canopy of trees above us opened up and
the road approached an enormous gate. I was dwarfed by the
gate when I stood next to it, and I mused on the rumor that the
gate had been stolen from the Chapultepec castle in Mexico
City. That would have been quite a theft, but Durazo was an
impressive man fully capable of such things.
When his boyhood friend José López Portillo became
president of Mexico in 1976, Durazo's fortunes soared.
Portillo was one of Mexico's most corrupt presidents, and he
turned to loyal Durazo for his own personal security. He
appointed Durazo to be Chief of Police in Mexico City, despite
knowing that he had been under investigation in the US for
almost a year for drug trafficking. Portillo set him up to report
directly to himself rather than to the Mayor of Mexico City.
During his six year tenure Durazo turned the police force into
a racketeering empire.
What remains of the empire was buried in weeds all around us. Ornate
greco-roman architecture surrounded us, but the overgrowth was so thick
and the beauty so faded that it seemed like some cursed castle in a
We peered around the
edge of the huge gate and
could just glimpse part of
the mansion's columned
facade. Until recently, this
property was owned by the
city of Zihuatanejo. Unlike
the city leaders of El
Ajusco, home to Durazo's
other outrageous mansion
that was built at the same
time outside Mexico City--a country estate complete with artificial
lakes, a dog racing track, a clone of New York's Studio 54 club, and a
23-car garage--the city of Zihuatanejo did not turn the Parthenon into
a museum. Instead, they recently donated it to the Universidad
Autonóma de Guerrero. It was private property, but we thought it
would be so cool if we could somehow get inside to take a peek…
Suddenly the guy who had been sweeping the stone flooring
outside the gate invited us in to have a look inside -- for a
fee. We negotiated the fee to something reasonable, and lo
and behold he opened the door and let us in. I doubt he
has any kind of official relationship with the abandoned
property, but he seems to have appointed himself the
gatekeeper, for profit, and he does have a key to the
padlock. He gave us a lively tour -- in Spanish. Fortunately
a large Mexican family arrived shortly after us, and their
visiting cousin from San Diego provided us with
translations when we couldn't grasp the nuances of what
our guide said.
Just inside the gate we had a close-up
look at the cage that housed Durazo's
ferocious guard dogs. Durazo built his
empire on intimidation, and large
growling dogs were just the first stage of
welcome he offered to his arriving guests.
Next to the dog cage was the tiger cage.
We stepped inside. In its now decrepit
state fantastic roots have crept under the
walls to cover the floor, looking like a
snarled tangle of snakes. On the far side
of the yard was the crocodile pit.
A driveway leads up to the mansion, passing
several Romanesque stone sculptures on the
way. When the statues were set in beautifully
landscaped grounds, this must have been a
dramatic entrance, but now the brown
vegetation and decaying sculptures give the
place an eerie air.
Much of Durazo's fortune was made from
bribes paid by the rank-and-file police officers
under his command. He also used them as
his personal construction labor force to build
both the Parthenon and his country estate
outside of Mexico City.
He was admired worldwide for lowering
the crime rate in Mexico City and was
even honored with a prestigious award
in the Soviet Union for doing so. But his
methods were discovered to be beyond
brutal when the tortured bodies of 12
twelve Columbians suspected of bank
robbery turned up in a river.
An investigation into his practices began which ultimately
revealed his elaborate pyramid scheme of bribes and payoffs.
Entering this palatial building is like stepping into another world.
As I passed through the foyer I was so drawn to the view in front
of me that I almost missed the six recessed marble sculptures
lining the walls on either side of us.
The architecture is fantastic for a cliff-top seaside palace in a
temperate climate. Two rows of massive columns soar upwards
to a height of two tall stories to support the ceiling above,
creating a vast breezy Italian marble "patio" with stunning views
of Zihuatanejo Bay beyond.
The view is spectacular
from the ground floor,
but we knew it would be
even better from the
Looking down at this wide marble "porch" it was
easy to imagine sumptuous parties filling the
immense, breezy, open-air room. A huge marble
dining table stands to one side, backed by yet
more columns and an expansive mural.
All the bedrooms are upstairs, and each one has
windows onto this porch that could be left open to
the fresh air or closed during bad weather. At
one time the bedroom ceilings were lined with
ornate mirrors, and the walls were covered with
painted murals and more mirrors.
This design gives each bedroom either privacy or
an open window to the lovely columned sea-
breeze room below. Now, however, groups of
bats hang from the ceilings in the corners of every
and closet in the
house. As we
entered each room
we heard a flurry of
bat wings as they
woke up and flew
off. Bat guano
covered every floor
and smelled terrible. At first all of Durazo's furnishing were
sold, but now it seems the building was eventually stripped
by looters. Toilets are gone, leaving gaping holes in the
floors. Electrical outlets are missing, chandeliers have
disappeared, and all that remains in the kitchen is some
broken wooden lower cabinets. Anything that could be pried
off, detached, unscrewed or removed has been taken.
Back downstairs a large marble topped bar is tucked up against the shelf-
lined, once elegant library.
You have to use your imagination a bit to picture what
life might have been like here during Durazo's reign.
From 1976 to 1982 Durazo held his police chief post
and built his empire of corruption. He extorted money
at every turn and lived a lavish lifestyle. However, upon
the arrival of a new presidential administration whose
campaign theme was Moral Renewal, Durazo fled.
An international manhunt ensued, and after charging him
in absentia with racketeering, Mexican and US authorities
tracked him down to Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him
back to trial in Mexico. Long referred to as "El Negro" or
"The Black One," Durazo was sentenced to a long prison
term (I've seen it reported as 11, 16 and 25 years) on
charges ranging from corruption to extortion, tax evasion,
smuggling, drug kickbacks and possession of illegal
weapons. He was released after less than eight years in
1992 due to ill health and good conduct. He lived out his
final days in Acapulco, redeeming himself a bit by working
with recovering alcoholics. He died of cancer in 2000.
In the mid-1980's
bodyguard José González wrote a
runaway bestseller about his evil
boss entitled "Lo Negro del 'Negro'
Durazo" or "The Black of 'the Black
One,' Durazo." A movie quickly
followed. Never allowing himself to
be out maneuvered, Durazo won a
defamation lawsuit against his
former aide from behind prison
Stepping out from the vast patio I
stood at the top of a grand stone
staircase that leads down to a
swimming pool and spacious pool bar.
The stagnant brown water in the pool
had been there for years, but it was
easy to imagine delicious days of
relaxing poolside next to the
ornately columned rotunda bar as
all of Zihuatanejo Bay stretched
towards the horizon in the
Returning to the main building our
guide led us down into the
basement where he thumped on a
large section of the floor to show
that it was hollow. He pointed to
irregularities in the flooring where it
had been sealed and explained that this was the entrance to the secret
tunnels that go down to the sea. Durazo had indeed built himself an
escape route, but he had been caught while abroad and had never
We left the Parthenon with our heads spinning. We had had no idea that the intriguing looking building on
the hill harbored such secrets. The enthusiasm of the Mexican family who toured with us also made us
realize that the legacy of Arturo Durazo is well known here. "Haven't you read the book or seen the
movie?" they asked. We had never even heard of the book or the movie, but within a few days we had the
movie in our possession from one of the bootleg DVD sellers at the Mercado Publico. The book may be
harder to find at a reasonable price because it is out of print.
Besides this cool, mysterious palace, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa has many other charms that kept us in town
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!