Let's talk about beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico. Manzanillo is in the Mexican state of Colima. Colima is one of the smallest Mexican states. Manzanillo is the largest beach city in the state. The city is located right on the Pacific ocean and contains Mexico's biggest and busiest port. The city has a population of about 140,000 people, give or take. The city is well known for each deep-sea fishing competitions as well as warm water and swimmable beaches. There are many beach clubs that are friendly to locals as well as tourists.
There are several golf courses in Manzanillo, so if you enjoy golf, you’ll have more than one course to choose from. The Las Hadas Golf Resort and Marina is the “ritziest” by far, in the area. It is an award-winning, 18-hole course with ocean views. We drove by Las Hadas and took several pictures, the course itself looks well-maintained with lots of amenities, including golf carts, caddies, etc.
Some expats prefer Manzanillo to other popular tourist areas like Cabo San Lucas, because Manzanillo has many swimmable beaches as well as excellent fishing. Manzanillo is known as the “sailfish capital of the world” boasts several annual fishing competitions that attract thousands of tourists every year.
The cost of a “beachfront” condo tends to be cheaper in Manzanillo than in many other Pacific coast cities, for example, a moderately-sized condo near the beach with two bedrooms can be purchased for as little as $100,000 USD. Compared to other resort-style areas like Puerto Vallarta or Zihuantanejo/Ixtapa, the price of real estate in Manzanillo is a bargain.
A retiree on a budget of $800-$1,000 per month could live comfortably (although not lavishly) in Manzanillo.
Manzanillo is generally safe for tourists and expats, the crime rate is lower than most major US cities, but there is still a fair amount of crime, especially property crime, like petty theft. Locals and expats are generally advised to stay away from the Colima-Michoacán border, where there is reportedly drug trafficking.
Manzanillo is an important Mexican port city, as well as a popular tourist destination, so the local police try hard to make the city as safe as possible for tourists. Tourism accounts for a large portion of the city’s revenues so the local government makes it a priority to try to keep tourists safe in order to avoid bad press.
That’s not to say that if you visit Manzanillo as a tourist that you shouldn’t be sensible. You should never flash money around, and you should be careful with your wallet, purse, camera or any other expensive belongings. Don’t wear expensive jewelry, watches, or rings. Keep those items at home.
Try to avoid becoming inebriated in a public place. Try to avoid walking very late at night, or in areas that have poor lighting or are not main streets. Being distracted can make you an easy target for thieves. Be watchful of their surroundings. Most crimes that occur in tourist areas are crimes of opportunity.
Thieves look for tourists who are already drunk, or not paying attention to their belongings. If you avoid making yourself an easy victim, it’s unlikely that you will be targeted.
There are a number of all-inclusive resorts in the city, and those resorts try to keep tourists there at night, but I have ventured out with my family several times in the evening in Manzanillo and did not feel unsafe. As long as you stick to the main streets, and practice basic common sense, you should be fine.
The city itself is not very “walkable,” in other words, it’s more of an industrialized city, so you really do need a car to get around if you want to explore. As I said there are resorts that are all-inclusive, but I’m not the type that wants to spend my entire vacation locked-down inside a single resort. Unlike other popular tourist zones (like Cabo San Lucas or Cancun), don’t expect to find a lot of English speakers in the local population. Most of the locals speak Spanish and you should at least understand some Spanish if you want to explore.
GETTING THERE: We drove! Now, Manzanillo does have an international airport which is officially called the "Playa de Oro International Airport". This airport is the largest international Airport in Colima and an important gateway for tourism and state. The official airport code is ZLO. The airport offers international and national flights.
Rather than taking a flight, however, we decided to drive. We wanted to avoid the expense of renting a car as well as the expense and hassle of flying with three children! So, we packed the kids in our truck, filled our suitcases with beach supplies, and also brought along a large cooler filled with sandwiches, snacks, and bottled water.
There are actually two highways along the Highway 54 route to Manzanillo for part of the way, a toll road and a non-toll road. We stuck to the main highways and toll road the entire way, which we were told was safer. The toll roads have numerous gas stations and small restaurants along the way, as well as bathrooms and other amenities if you need to stop.
The general consensus is that the toll roads are faster, safer, and easier. But they are not cheap, and you will have to stop and pay tolls several times. We ended up paying around 1,500 pesos (about $125-$150 at the current exchange rate) in tolls on the way there as well as the return trip.
Now, you can choose to take the non-toll roads. These roads are free, but they will make your trip quite a bit longer, and the general consensus is that the toll roads are safer. There is a benefit to taking the free roads, and that is that there are some interesting towns and beautiful scenery that might be worth seeing, especially if you have the time to stop. The toll road and the free road run parallel to each other for the majority of the trip. Depending on your starting point, taking the free road will probably add additional hours to your trip.
Many people also choose to travel to Manzanillo by way of first-class bus. The Primera Plus bus line is one of the more popular bus lines. The buses offer free Wi-Fi, they have movies on board, and many of them also offer meals and drinks. The buses have air conditioning and bathrooms, just like a plane, but are generally much cheaper than flying. The price by bus from Guadalajara to Manzanillo is about 500 pesos per person (about $30 US dollars at the current exchange rate).
Traffic was slow in some areas, especially once we got closer to the main city of Manzanillo. The drive took about 8 hours total from where we were currently staying in Guanajuato, although the “Google Maps” estimate was 5 hours. We encountered no problems on the road except a few construction delays. Traffic never stopped completely, although there were a few areas on the highway once we reached Colima where we were moving along at a snail’s pace.
LODGING: Using Airbnb, we rented a house on La Punta (Colonia), which was a gated community with 24-hour security staff. The views were breathtaking and the house itself was very nice, with a first-floor dip/swimming pool that we enjoyed with the kids. The community was safe to walk around, even in the evening. We saw security guards walking about at night. The beach club and private beach were beautiful and the beach was safe to swim.
The drawback of La Punta is its odd location to the beach. The closest beach club is private and it is close by, but only by going down some very steep hills. It’s basically impossible to visit the beach without a car or truck if you:
• Want to take any supplies with you, such as towels, food, or an ice chest or cooler; or
• If you have any difficulty walking or have some other type of physical impairment.
We felt that the Airbnb listing, frankly, was misleading at best. The photos showed a beautiful private beach club (which, admittedly, were part of the amenities at La Punta), except the owner never mentioned that the beach club was easily half a mile away, down a very steep and winding hillside. Our advice is to verify with the owners of the property if the house or condo you are renting is actually beachfront or not.
Note: We've noticed that this is a chronic problem with Airbnb where many hosts will post misleading photographs and Airbnb does not permit searches by zip code or exact address, and their map is grossly inaccurate. I understand that many hosts would prefer that their address not be listed publicly, but at least a “beachfront” filter would be extremely helpful. A listing might be 5 kilometers away from the beach and show up on the map as “beachfront”. Always confirm directly with the host if you desire a specific location (for example, if you want to be close to a certain landmark or right on the beach).
FOOD: In general, we stayed away from expensive restaurants and enjoyed mostly cheap street food, which was excellent. Our rental had a full kitchen so we went to the grocery store and bought cereal as well as some breakfast items so we could have breakfast before going out and exploring.
There are a number of stores where you can readily purchase groceries, as well as anything else you may have forgotten to bring with you, like sunglasses, towels, a bathing suit, etc. Stores like: Soriana, Wal-Mart, and La Comer all mega-stores that carry groceries, meat, dairy goods, as well as large sections for clothing, baby items, etc. There is currently a small mall called “Plaza Manzanillo” with several dozen stores. We visited it and saw that it was mostly clothing being sold there. There is also a Sam’s Club and Home Depot in the city if you need those types of supplies.
Anything you might need is there, and they are all located in the center of the city. Smaller items such as milk, cold medicine, bottled water, etc. can be picked up at smaller drugstores located throughout the city (almost on every corner, it seems!).
We did go out with the family two evenings and ate at two different restaurants which were considered “upscale” according to TripAdvisor.
THE WEATHER: The weather was beautiful every day we were there. Manzanillo is not very hot or humid, and temperatures tended to be mild, although warm enough to swim every single day. The skies were blue and gorgeous throughout our visit.
Some of the beaches have been very crowded, although there are private beaches that are available to those who stay in exclusive areas. There are many beaches worth exploring, and you can find crowded beaches as well as secluded ones if that is what you prefer.
With regards to whether throughout the year Manzanillo has dry periods in February, March, April, and May. The best time to visit Manzanillo tends to be the summertime, from May until early July. Temperatures throughout the year run from the low 70’s F (around 21 Celsius) to highs of 91° (around 25° C) in August, which tends to be the hottest month of the year.
Perfect weather while we were there!
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Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
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