The last time I was in Manzanillo, I was working on a project for Barcelo Hotels and never got to leave the resort. I remember departing town last year, heading back to Puerto Vallarta, and thinking how insane it was that I had spent four days in a place without ever truly stepping foot into it.
I’ve learned lessons from that trip that have helped me grow as a travel writer, and I sure as hell put them to use when I found myself once again staying at the Barcelo over Thanksgiving. Manzanillo is Mexico’s largest port, very industrial in certain parts (from the Barcelo last year, we had a constant view of a pillar of smoke coming from the plants across the bay). There are the all-inclusive resorts, and yes, there are direct flights from the western territories of Canada, but so what? What was there beyond that?
Getting off the bus (7 pesos for a 15 km ride from the hotel to el centro) and walking through the center of town, I was greeted by a huge monument. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out, to confirm something that I had read the previous day. Manzanillo is referred to as “the Sailfish Capital of the World,” and the huge statue in the center of town screamed at the top of its lungs: Fishing, fishing, and more fishing (see photo).
Manzanillo holds fishing tournaments every year in the fall and spring (usually November and February) and is a deep-sea fishing destination. I ended up passing on an excursion due to budget concerns – which I sort of regret – but it did leave me with extra time to explore the city.
There are two or three streets of interest that really hit you with local culture – I think I saw one other group of tourists the whole afternoon (we lucked out and there were no cruise ships). We continued our taco tour and tasted a few different carts, but mostly strolled along, taking in the town. One of the things that stood out to me was not only the simplicity of life, but the reality of the conditions. I walked by hospital rooms at street level with the windows open, the musty smell spilling out onto the street. I saw doctors offices that were essentially pharmacies with a small, narrow waiting room connected, a half dozen chairs sitting outside a closed wooden door. Many of the buildings looked more on the way up than the way down, although I realize there are parts of the United States and Canada that I could say the same thing about (Detroit the past decade, for example).
I wouldn’t say there was much to do in town except to people watch and eat street tacos, but on the bus back to the resort, I felt pensive and happy for the experience. It’s not always about sipping margaritas. Sometimes, it’s all about gaining a little perspective, about recognizing the things you take for granted. That day, I felt like I learned something.
Those staying in the hotel zone without the motivation to make the trek all the way downtown might be interested in checking out Salagua, a small community at the north end of the bay (right across the street from the Barcelo). We found a multi-block, extremely authentic farmer’s market (it was a Sunday) selling everything from batteries to blueberries, and vendors were serving tacos, quesadillas, fried pork skin, and fresh juices. Midweek, taco stands set up along Gral Lazaro Cardenas (street name), and there are many different local businesses to visit, including pastry, tortilla, seafood, smoked meat, and ice cream shops.
From what I understand, there are more outdoor and adventure travel opportunities near Colima (85 km from Manzanillo), but the schedule did not allow me to check it out firsthand. There is a public bus that will get you there from Manzanillo, and here’s a little bit of information should you have the chance to swing through.