Fun in the Sun

Manzanillo is another great place to have fun in the sun. Its golden sandy beaches and warm waters are perfect for sunning and water sports.

Beach It

Beyond these resort enclaves, miles upon miles of palm trees line the land just inside the coastal shores. Jungle-covered mountains plunge into the Pacific or fall short to reveal golden sandy beaches, begging to be discovered and walked upon by tired feet. Ten miles of white-and black-sand beaches attract ocean lovers.

Alongside the five-mile-long Playa Azul (Blue Beach) stand open-air seafood restaurants within a stone's throw of the Pacific Ocean. The aroma of grilled shrimp fills the air as huge waves pound the shore along the length of Bahía de Manzanillo. The surf is calmer from December through May.

TRAVEL TIP

Stop at an open-air restaurant for a tropical seafood lunch of ceviche, fresh oysters and clams, shrimp, filet of dorado, red snapper, or lobster, all caught that morning by local fishermen. Strolling musicians play while you drink ice cold Mexican beer under the shady palapas.

At the southeastern end of Playa Azul lies Playa Las Brisas, one of the cleanest and safest in Manzanillo. From here, you can watch the ocean-going ships as they enter or leave the harbor. South of town, you'll find spectacular Playa Las Ventanas (Windows Beach) where you can experience the spouting bufadora (blowhole), with its vertical column of spray and terrific roar. Stand back, you might get a shower! Beyond this lies Playa de Campos de Coco (Coconut Plantation Beach).

The better beaches lie further north on Bahía de Santiago. Playa Santiago comes first, followed by Playa Olas Altas (High Wave Beach), the top surfing spot in the area, and Playa Miramar (Seaview Beach), which is good for body surfing. Here, you can rent boogie boards and inner tubes, or perhaps an umbrella for $3 a day to provide some shade from the midday sun.

For seclusion, wild Playa de Oro (Beach of Gold), windswept, with fine grey sand, can't be beat. It weaves for miles backed by dramatic cliffs and rock formations and low dunes. It got its name not from the color of its sand but rather from the wreck of the Golden Gate, a steamship that sailed from San Francisco loaded with $1.4 million in gold and 337 passengers, in July of 1862. Only eighty of the passengers survived, and the gold was lost. In the 1960s, an American expatriate recovered much of it, but who knows what treasures lie just offshore. If you prefer to feel the thrill of excitement as you ride horseback through the surf, manes flying in the wind, you'll love the dark sand of Playa Santiago.

Beyond Playa de Oro lies Playa La Boquita (The Little Mouth Beach), appropriately named as it's located at the mouth of the Laguna de Juluapan, a wildlife-filled lagoon. Here, little seafood ramadas (thatched palapa food stands) — selling fresh oysters and clams, grilled shrimp, and lobster — and fishing boats cluster on the sand. With its mild surf, it's perfect for families with small children. Plus you can choose from a variety of activities, including boogie-boarding, banana boat rides, snorkeling, diving, and horseback riding. And between activities, you can relax under your own personal sombrilla (palm-thatched umbrella) while drinking a coco, a coconut with its top hacked off. First you drink the milk of the coconut, after which you can eat the meat with hot sauce, salt, and lime.

About thirty minutes south of Manzanillo lies Playa Cuyutlán, the best black-sand beach in Mexico. This long beach faces open sea and the town of Cuyutlán, home of the amazing La Ola Verde (Green Wave). During the full moon in April or May, monstrous thirty-footers, full of phosphorescent colors, roll in. A giant sixty-five-foot tsunami destroyed the town in 1932.

FAST FACT

Cortés's first lieutenant, Gonzalo de Sandoval, is said to have met with a local Indian chief in 1522 on Playa Audiencia, thus its name.

The best beach for swimming is Playa Audiencia (Audience Beach), a gold-and-gray sand arc nestled in a protective inlet between two rocky outcroppings on the north side of the Península de Santiago. It was here that Dudley Moore wooed Bo Derek on the beach in the movie 10. The waves are gentler here than elsewhere. Because of this, it's a favorite destination of excursion boats. You can rent lounge chairs, tables, and umbrellas right on the beach. If the women or girls in your family want to get trensitas (minibraids), they should check the vendors at the beach's entrance. You can also climb the El Faro (lighthouse) for a panoramic view.

Boat It

Take a crucero de atardecer (sunset cruise) on the Explorer, departing at 4:15 P.M. on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from the marina at Las Hadas Resort. For $36 per person, you'll get drinks and snacks and a front row seat for a fantastic Manzanillo sunset, while viewing dramatic rock formations with names like the Three Kings, the Elephant, and the Rhinoceros (314-331-0101, ext. 3210).

Snorkel, Scuba, Fish

Water sports — windsurfing, waterskiing, sailing, diving, and snorkeling — are king in Manzanillo.

With its beautiful bays and coves teeming with fish and coral, Manzanillo is a natural if you love to snorkel. The rocky shores of Playa La Boquita and Playa Las Brisas, plus the shoals on either side of Playa Audiencia, offer the best snorkeling.

Although Manzanillo isn't known for diving, you'll find several sites to interest you. Because of Manzanillo's volcanic origin, you'll discover archways to swim through, crevices and cracks, visible lava flows, and fissures. You can either explore the remains of a cargo ship that sank in 1959 off Playa La Boquita or feed octopuses and eels off Playa Audiencia. Visibility ranges from thirty to fifty feet close to shore and up to over eighty feet south of Elephant Rock, with water temperatures ranging from 76 to 86ºF. A two-tank dive will cost you about $80 dollars, including equipment. You can also purchase special two-or three-day dive packages for $70 to $80 per day. Underworld Scuba offers beginners classes in their pool, followed by an hour's dive in a quiet cove. They also offer a Bubblemaker program for kids ages eight to eleven for $35. This teaches youngsters to breathe underwater using a series of games (Plaza Pacifico on Av. Audiencia, Península de Santiago, 314-333-0642, www.divemanzanillo.com).

Considered one of the best deep-sea fishing spots in the world, the waters of Manzanillo are teeming with marlin and tuna from November to March. You can also catch snapper, sea bass, dolphin, and yellowtail in abundance during the same time period. Sailfish and dorado, however, are plentiful year round. The largest fleet of charter boats belongs to Flota Amarilla (Yellow Fleet) of the Sociedad Cooperativa de Prestación de Servicios Turísticos Manzanillo (314-332-1031). Charters, departing from the La Perlita (Little Pearl) pier and near the harbor, cost about $300 per day for up to eight persons and with three fishing lines. Larger boats for up to a dozen persons and six fishing lines cost about $400. Even if you don't catch any fish, which is doubtful, you'll see plenty of seabirds and perhaps even some whales from January to March.

Kayak and PWC rentals

The calm waters off Playa Audiencia offer the best opportunity for kayaking. You can rent kayaks for $16 dollars per hour, and also boogie boards, banana boats, and sailboards on Playas Audiencia, Miramar, and Olas Altas.

Surfing

Of all of Mexico's beach resorts, Manzanillo is the best for surfing. Powerful rollers crash onto Playas Olas Altas and Miramar. You can rent a board at Miramar.

Ecotourism

If you love adventure, then you'll want to take a volcano trek through the tropical forest to explore lava-tube caves, perhaps visit a coffee plantation, and swim under a waterfall. Or if you're even more adventurous, you can hike the slopes of Volcán de Fuego. For an even more breath-taking adventure, try rapelling down volcanic cliffs (Asociación de Guias de Manzanillo, 314-332-1185).

You could also take a thrilling three-hour ride on an ATV to Montaña de la Voca (La Voca Mountain) and along the uninhabited expanse of Playa Peña Blanca (White Rock Beach) further up the coast. You can rent equipment from Rancho Peña Blanca. Be aware that the beach may be closed during September and October when sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

You can also ride horseback along a trail by Laguna de Juluapan to see iguanas and exotic birds and then make your way back to Playa La Boquita. Or you can see the lagoon from a kayak. Rentals are available from Trinidad Torres at Marina Punta Santiago (314-334-1313).

If you would rather do your exploring on two wheels, you can rent a mountain bike from Bicicletas Norco (314-333-2067) and travel a variety of routes from the beach inland to the ecological park at Sierra Manantlán.

Tennis

The only hotel that rents tennis courts to nonguests is the Hotel Gran Costa Real. You play on one of six courts in the early morning or evening for $8 per hour during the day and $10 at night (314-333-2000). Or you can play on the courts of Club de Golf Santiago for $6 per hour (314-335-0370).

Golf

Two championship courses and one resort course will provide you with endless rounds of challenging golf:

Club Las Hadas: An eighteen-hole championship course, designed by Roy Dye, renowned as one of the most scenic and challenging courses in the world and rated as one of the top five courses in Mexico (314-331-0101, ext. 3703)

Club de Golf Santiago: A good nine-hole course with palm-lined fairways that's good for a quick round (314-335-0370)

Club de Golf Isla de Navidad: A championship twenty-seven hole course, designed by Robert Von Hagge, made up of three sets of nine — lagoon, mountain, and ocean layouts, with brick cart paths (314-341-8283)

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