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All About Manzanillo – Mexico

manzanillo Bay - MexicoAll About Manzanillo – Mexico

Manzanillo Bay is situated on Mexico’s Pacific coast about 200 km / south of famous Puerto Vallarta, a 3-4 hour drive or 6-hour bus trip from PV. The huge circular, nearly enclosed bay is surrounded by mountains and is extremely well-protected from weather and the often dangerous Pacific Ocean due to its topography.

As a result, the bay makes a superb ship anchorage, easily accommodating huge cargo ships. The bay is so huge that if you’re standing on shore, the massive steel cargo ships actually look small!

It’s not surprising then that since the 1800s Manzanillo has been an important shipping port. Over the years it has grown in status and importance to become the major port for imports and exports in Mexico. In fact, I’ve been told by several people that it’s the most important port not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America!

cargo cranes at ManzanilloThe cargo industry is centered at the far southern end of the bay, where huge cranes are continuously on-loading and off-loading containers onto/off ships. Nearby hundreds of transport trucks are constantly arriving and departing.

Huge truck parking lots, container holding areas, hotels & restaurants & bars, and many supporting businesses have developed around the import/export cargo trade. Big industrial factories are located there as well. The Mexican government has poured vast sums of money into Manzanillo to help support the industries.

The small city of Manzanillo is also situated at this end of the bay. Not surprisingly, it’s primarily an industrial / export / import town. There’s not much in the way of tourist interest, aside from gawking at the stunningly huge cranes, massive cargo ships and the procedures of unloading / loading the ships.

ship at ManzanilloIn great contrast to the bustling industrial happenings at the south end of Manzanillo Bay, 10 miles north, the far north end of the bay has developed a small luxury resort industry. Up on the steep rocky headland that encloses the bay, two large long-standing resorts and several smaller luxury hotels have been welcoming wealthy vacationers since the 1970s. Las Hadas golf course adds greenery.

In addition, a ‘colony’ of gleaming white square houses crowd the rest of the steep hillside over-looking the bay. I’m told that this is the ‘Canadian Colony’, where hundreds of Canadians live part of the year, some permanently. Apparently some of the bleached white houses are owned by Mexicans too.

Barcelo Karmina Resort - ManzanilloStretching between the huge industrial cranes and ships at the southern end and the petite tourist enclave at the far north end, a long, long swath of golden sand lines the bay.

It sounds like it could be a great and beautiful place, right?

Quite unfortunately, it’s not. At all. In fact, Manzanillo is one of the worst places I visited during my entire 1 year + of travels around Mexico.

One huge problem is that the huge main coastal highway runs inland a mere one block from the beach! This roaring highway is lined entirely by shopping plazas and every conceivable chain restaurant, bar and store available to mankind. There’s Domino’s Pizza, Dairy Queen, Office Depot, Walmart, McDonalds, Burger King…need I go on? Simply stated, it’s a huge, over developed modern mess.

ugly highway near beach

An even worse problem for Manzanillo is that the Mexican drug cartels moved in, long ago. That should be no surprise for Mexico’s biggest, most important shipping port. On top of the fact that the government pours so much money into the place, it’s an obvious magnet for drug lords.

As a result, Manzanillo does not feel safe. It’s got a seedy, dark ‘hmm, something is wrong here’ feeling to it. Police officers guard the public beach access points. After dark, you can hear cars racing much too fast on local streets, all blasting dark ghetto music. And apparently there’s an ongoing gang war between the two most prominent cartels in Manzanillo, both vying to control the comings and goings of the important port.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the sea at Manzanillo Bay isn’t safe either! The steep beach and deep ocean water creates strong undertows just off shore. Huge signs, accented in red and exclamation points, warn people to never enter the water.

So unless you’re enamored of noisy highways with shopping plazas, drug gang wars and the cargo industry, you’d probably be better to skip visiting Manzanillo during your wanderings around Mexico!

Personally, I vote Manzanillo as one of the worst cities in all of Mexico. (Though I haven’t visited Tijuana or other border towns that have drug and immigration problems.( But of the more than 50 destinations I’ve visited around Mexico thus far, Manzanillo is by far the worst. It’s the only place where I actually felt danger.

Mayan style hallway of Barcelo Karmina Resort - ManzanilloOn the other hand, if you were to vacation at one of the two unique grand luxury resorts at the bay’s north end – Morroocan-styled Las Hadas, built by a Bolivian mining tycoon – or Mayan pyramid-styled Barcelo Karmina, built by a US oil tycoon – You could probably have an excellent experience at Manzanillo, assuming you simply stayed at your resort the entire vacation.

Unique furnishings, excellent food & service, and stunning views of vast Manzanillo Bay backed by long mountain ranges. Even I have to admit that Manzanillo Bay looks gorgeous from those vantage points, even with the cargo ships and massive cranes.

But for budget travelers or anyone else, I highly recommend skipping Manzanillo.

Instead, you might enjoy the following Pacific Coast destinations:

Punta Mita Cape

Cuyutlan

San Blas

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