By John Chalmers from the February 2019 Edition
There are so many ways to enjoy México in the Manzanillo area! Day trips by car to locations in the area or an afternoon at the beach to swim, snorkel and soak up the sun are hard to beat. Looking for a restaurant to experience a new taste sensation is a common pursuit! Purchasing silver jewelry, colorful pottery and selecting fresh produce at a market are also high on the list for folks that escape winter at home in the United States or Canada.
For many of us, one of the best ways to enjoy the diversity and beauty of the area is by hiking different routes in the Manzanillo area. Travel by foot provides opportunity to see things up close that are totally missed when driving. With appropriate clothing, a good hat, a hiking pole, a bottle of water and proper footwear, anyone is equipped to take a hike and enjoy its rewards!
A hike not only provides good exercise but, in a group, it provides a chance to meet new friends and share a worthwhile experience. For some of us, a group hike during the season, from December to April, is a weekly experience we all enjoy. Routes travelled range from walking through urban areas to unpopulated areas past cattle and crops and to golden beaches.
Californians Rich Taylor and his wife, Chris Lundgren, have led us on hikes from two to four hours to see routes we might otherwise never know. Their ability to speak Spanish is a bonus when we are joined by local Mexican men, women and children. In groups from 10 to 50 we have explored farmlands, abandoned buildings, jungle trails, small towns and remote locations in the hills and mountains of the area.
The ultimate challenge each year is a hike up the road to the communications towers atop the twin peaks of Cerro del Toro, one of the biggest mountains in the area. It is a test of fitness and endurance, taking about two hours or more to reach the top from our starting point. It takes just as long to come down!
The reward when reaching the peak at 790 meters above sea level, or about 2600 feet, is a vast view of the sea, and from Manzanillo to towns along the coast.
A less challenging hike, but one still providing a good workout, is up the trail to the abandoned La Cumbre condo development above Palma Real on the Juluapan Peninsula. It was built in 1975 but never inhabited. The popular route takes trekkers about an hour from the Palma Real or Vida del Mar developments or from the beach at La Boquita. Then, from the top of the structure, hikers have one of the best views of the area.
A 180-degree panorama is seen from the bay at Vida del Mar, from a view of the jungle to a huge lagoon behind the beach, and beyond to the La Boquita beach and all the way around to see ships at sea and the Manzanillo port.
As another worthwhile pursuit, at least three markets in Manzanillo or environs offer must-see displays of merchandise to tempt the visitor. The big market that appears like magic on Saturday mornings in Santiago beside the Boulevard de la Madrid offers fresh produce, all manner of clothing, woven goods and carpets, colorful pottery, appliance parts and even used tools! It is a regular stop for us each week.
The big Mercado Central building in downtown Manzanillo offers a huge display of produce as well as fresh poultry, bakery products, fresh meat and seafood at the indoor stalls on the first floor. Street level shops on the outside of the big building include a popular stall where we purchase fresh roasted coffee that is ground to order. On the second level, shops abound, including juice stalls and eateries that can satisfy your thirst or hunger.
From the rooftop parking area, you have a fine view of La Cruz – the illuminated cross atop a small mountain, from where hikers have a fine view of the city, the downtown area and the port. La Cruz is the destination for one of our group hikes, a long sloping route from where we park roadside at sea level and ends with 225 stone steps up to the Cross. They feel like they are straight up, and indeed in some places they almost are. By the time we reach the top, we do feel like we are a little closer to heaven!
A favorite stop for me after a hike to the Cross is to visit the Iguanario on the drive home. Visitors can get a close look at many iguanas, large and small, green and orange, within the facility, as well as seeing other critters of interest such as birds, including a crested caracara, and four-legged residents such as the coati mundi.
But even parking on the street provides access to a great show! Huge orange and black iguanas, several feet long, watch visitors from their perches in the trees at the Iguanario and pose for cameras.
A three-in-one experience includes a hike to La Cruz, a stop to see the iguanas, and then rooftop parking for four pesos at the Mercado Central where fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice is prepared to order. Within walking distance of the huge sailfish monument in central Manzanillo are several shops offering merchandise, jewelry and fabric. Restaurants abound and a favorite place for us at lunch is the Hotel Colonial.
A seasonal market not to be missed is the Oaxaca artisan market, set up in January each year in the parking lot in front of the Soriana supermarket and sometimes in other locations. Located in a huge tent structure, dozens of stalls offer goods from Mexico and South America. Clothing, leather goods, woven products, ceramic items, toys, regional liqueurs, pottery, and items made of wood or pewter all offer unique merchandise in a tempting barrage of color and variety.
Close to Manzanillo is the huge and popular beach at Santiago Bay, which extends around to the La Boquita area. Restaurants and markets line the road along the beach and at one end the beautiful and recently renovated Punta Sur restaurant (formerly Margarita’s) provides fine dining under its huge and lovely seaside palapa.
The beach is especially popular at Christmas and Easter, but good for swimming and snorkeling anytime. At the beach, several rustic ramadas provide food service and more conventional facilities include the popular Santiago Beach Club and the Oasis Beach Club restaurants.
Finding something new always adds to the pleasure of spending time in the Manzanillo area. Whether it be a panadería for bread straight from the oven, a pescadería for fresh seafood, a restaurant that serves pozole or paella, or a florería that produces dazzling flower arrangements, there are always discoveries to be found!
Further afield, some of our favorite places are within an hour or two of driving time. Barra de Navidad has charms of its own when we walk the streets, but each time we go there, we take the free boat ride to Mary’s Restaurant for a seafood lunch of camarón.
A little further away is Cuastecomates, where we like to arrive late morning and stay till mid afternoon. There we enjoy cerveza fría and piña coladas in lounge chairs under a sombrilla at the lovely beach, order a fine lunch from a restaurante along the boardwalk, enjoy a swim and take in the view of the sea and the charming bahía.
Author’s wife, Linda, checks out woven products at the Oaxaca artisan market.
A seasonal market not to be missed is the Oaxaca artisan market, set up in January each year in the parking lot in front of The beach is especially popular at Christmas and Easter, but good for swimming and snorkeling anytime. At the beach, several rustic ramadas provide food service and more conventional facilities include the popular Santiago Beach Club and the Oasis Beach Club restaurants.
Another rewarding drive has been to enjoy the spectacle of the El Salto waterfall. It is a trip worth doing, capped off with lunch in the area before returning home. Of course, within easy driving distance is the state’s capital city of Colima with its many charms but that’s another story!
So much to do, and enjoy it all. Viva Manzanillo!