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Manzanillo, A charmer on Mexico's Pacific Coast

Manzanillo, Mexico - Charming Village on Pacific Coast of Mexico
by Renee Huang

Manzanillo, Mexico
View of Karmina Palace, from Puerto Las Hadas. Photo courtesy Mexican Pacific Marketing

The fishing line had been in the water for an hour when it gave a jerk and the reel started whirring.

We were aboard a tiny 30-foot sailboat on a pleasure cruise to admire Manzanillo's undulating coastline.

Already, we had come upon a pod of dolphins just offshore in the deep blue Pacific as they cruised around hunting fish. A few approached and swam alongside the hull for a moment before turning abruptly and moving off. For us, fishing was an afterthought. But the rapidly spinning reel instantly called our attention. The guys leaped into action and fought to reel the thrashing fish toward us. As it neared our boat, struggling fiercely and whipping its tail out of the water, we were excited to see we had snared a dorado, one of the tastiest fish in the sea.

Manzanillo, Mexico
The colorful Dorado. Photo by Renee Huang.

Dorado can weigh more than 50 pounds and are stunning to see. This one was about three feet long, with an iridescent yellow head and tail and a bright blue and lime green body. The closer the dorado got, the more fiercely it battled until at the last second it gave one final leap. The hook snagged on the boat, dislodged and the dorado slipped away like a mirage to the groans of disappointment from everyone on the boat.

Such pure encounters with nature are common along this stretch of Mexico's Pacific Coast. Despite weathering a 7.8 earthquake in late January, Manzanillo's tourist zone reported no major damage. The wide sand beaches and hotels in the curved bays of Manzanillo -- located between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco -- remain a gateway for adventurous folk looking for untamed beauty and a plethora of activities.

In contrast to more developed resort playgrounds, the pueblitos north of Manzanillo port are pleasantly laid back and quaintly small-townish and offer a wide selection of accommodations, from humble hotels to luxury resorts.

Due to the region's diverse topography and subtropical climate, vegetation ranges from an arid, cactus-strewn landscape during the dry months to lush, green jungles during the rainy season, which runs from June to October.Nowhere else in Mexico does such a concentrated area shift from desert to mountains, beaches to jungles, and volcanoes to wetlands.

Our encounter with the dorado was nothing new in these parts. For years Manzanillo has hosted an annual deep-sea fishing tournament in November. But that's not all the area has to offer.
Snorkeling in the clear water reveals an abundance of marine life including clown fish, puffers of all sizes, moray eels, octopus, starfish, damsel fish and enormous manta rays. Giant sea turtles come ashore in the fall to lay eggs, which are often eaten by gulls or poached for sale in markets. At Cuyutlán Turtle Aquarium, guests learn about preservation efforts and help return newborns to the ocean.

Turtles are not Manzanillo's only recurrent visitors. We were on another fishing expedition, fingers crossed for a close encounter with a marlin or sailfish, when our captain excitedly pointed out to sea, shouting, "Look! Whales!"

Whales at Manzanillo, Mexico
Whales near Manzanillo.
Photo courtesy Mexican Pacific Marketing

No more than 20 yards from our boat, we saw a plume of cascading water and the distinct popping sound of a blow hole releasing. The glistening backs of two enormous California gray whales, fresh from their annual journey down the Pacific Coast, broke the water. They disappeared in a shallow dive and resurfaced 100 yards away, backs rising again before submerging completely, one flipping us a wide tail in a farewell gesture.

Each winter, California gray whales travel 5,000 miles, the longest migration route of any mammal, from Alaska to Mexico's Pacific where their calves are born. Here, the mothers teach their young to dive and to feed in the warm water. The calves grow protective layers of blubber for their return migration to Arctic waters which begins in late January.

The best time to see the marine giants, which can measure 45 feet long, is in February and March, when they are just off shore. Lucky boaters often spot them breaching with thunderous splashes or poking their heads out of the water and turning slowly around to take a look, called "spy hopping."

Manzanillo offers a variety of other outdoor adventures. On any given day, you can traipse from ocean to off-road, snorkeling, peeking at birds in lagoons or hitting the paths that wind through the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. We visited a 100-foot cascade called El Salto, and floated downstream into an enchanting grotto with rocky ledges to leap off and a smaller waterfall perfect for frolicking under.

We also spent an afternoon on a kayak tour of the Centinela, a fresh-water lagoon near Manzanillo's international airport amid creaking coconut groves and lush banana plantations reminiscent of the South Pacific. Our guide was Polo Ramirez, a local restaurateur who also runs biking and kayaking tours. As waves crashed on the beach on the other side of the sand spit, we paddled in the lily-pad-covered lagoon under the watchful eye of pelicans, who sat motionless in the trees.

On another cloudless day, Polo took us and some mountain bikes to the dusty trails in Jalipa, a tiny town 15 minutes inland from Manzanillo. It took a few minutes to grow accustomed to the trails, which were covered with rocks and potholes. Once I did, I was able to notice the amazing scenery: towering palms wrapped in vines, gorgeous tropical flowers, multicolored butterflies floating on the breeze. We were in the heart of Mexico's coastal jungle.

The terrain was pleasantly challenging, covering several manageable hills. We also discovered the joy of splashing through a couple of shallow streams.

At one point, Polo stopped to pick up a wild, red-footed tarantula the size of his palm, much to the horror of several in our group.

"I like tarantulas. I'm not scared of them. They're my friends," he said, placing it on his bike helmet before letting it scurry into the foliage.

We breathed a sigh of relief. That was one new friend we were happy not to make.

IF YOU GO...

PLACES TO STAY

  • Kármina Palace is a Mayan-style all-inclusive resort in the Bay of Buena Esperanza with suites ranging from $130-$425. Call toll-free for reservations from the U.S at 1-877-KÁRMINA or visit www.karminapalace.com.

  • Las Hadas is a mini-kingdom of white Moorish buildings and cobblestone plazas brought to fame by the Bo Derek movie "10". Rooms rates start at $150. Call toll-free for reservations at 1-888-559-4329 or visit www.lasbrisas.com.mx/English/manzanillo.

ECOTOURS AND ADVENTURE

  • Mountain biking, birdwatching and kayaking tours are run by Polo Ramirez Rentaria (who owns El Fogon steak house on the main boulevard). Prices start at $50 per person for transportation, equipment and snacks. Call (011) (52) (314) 334-1166 or (011) (52) (314) 333-1953 and ask for Polo or Beinardo.

  • Snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing tours, whale watching can be arranged through Hector Jimenez, who has a watersports hut on the Las Hadas beach.
    Prices range from $40 for snorkeling and $150 for a boat tour for the entire family to $350 for a deep sea fishing tour. Call his cell phone at (011) (52) (314) 335 743 87 or (011) (52) (314) 333-1848 to book a tour.

WEB SITES

www.mexicanpacific.com
www.gomanzanillo.com

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