Manzanillo may be short on style, but it's long on substance. While it doesn't have the glitz of other ports of call on the Mexican Riviera, it offers a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get look at a community that hasn't yet been transformed by a touristy do-over.
Manzanillo -- located between Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta -- is the country's largest commercial port. The port and nearby tuna canneries and seed and grain silos give Manzanillo an industrial, gritty feel.
But, thanks to world-class deep-sea fishing, pleasant beaches, an almost pueblo-style town center and -- of all things -- the Bo Derek movie "10," Manzanillo has gained cachet as a tourist destination. Still, it's relatively untouched; it's refreshing not to see Hooters or Senor Frogs dominating the landscape as you pull into port.
Overall, the town isn't going to win any beauty contests; its appeal lies more in its remarkable hospitality quotient, evidenced by welcoming smiles and friendly faces.
Ships dock at the commercial port during the October through May cruising season.
Manzanillo is located in Colima, said to be the safest (and most highly educated) state in all of Mexico. Here, as in other tourist destinations throughout the coast, there's an obvious police presence. Tourism is the area's third-largest economic contributor, after the commercial port and iron ore production, and officials want to keep it that way by making sure the port is safe. That said, it's always good practice to avoid wearing flashy jewelry or watches or carrying excessive amounts of cash. Also, when you are on shore, it's best to steer clear of tap water or ice and to observe the cardinal rule when it comes to street food: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.
Mexico's currency is the peso. Visit www.oanda.com for current rates and a handy conversion chart that fits neatly into a wallet. ATMs tend to be the least expensive way to acquire pesos, and there are several in the town center. However, there's no need to bulk up on local currency. Most sidewalk vendors, taxis, restaurants and shops accept U.S. dollars; some even take euros. Credit cards are widely accepted, as well. (Note: On our 10-night cruise along Mexico's Pacific coast, we used dollars and a credit card exclusively -- no pesos.)
Spanish is the official language, but at least some English is spoken by vendors, cab drivers, restaurant owners and shopkeepers in the area near the port.
Manzanillo isn't exactly a shopper's paradise, but you'll find beachwear, pottery, T-shirts, baskets and the like in souvenir shops adjoining the waterfront town plaza and more unique items like local honey and coconut oil, handmade soap and organic coffee at a small tented area of vendors that's set up as you leave the port area. A bottle of rompope also makes a great take-home memento. The Miramar Flea Market at Miramar Beach has a lot of souvenir stands, as well. Meanwhile, there are two shopping centers -- Plaza Manzanillo and Salagua, with a Soriana department store -- on Boulevard Miguel de la Madrid.
Tequila is the quintessential alcoholic beverage of Mexico, and margaritas are one of the most common mixed drinks made with it. Another interesting beverage is rompope, an eggnog-like drink that's also used as a dressing for desserts. If alcohol isn't your thing, try agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water); it's made with hibiscus flowers and is basically the Mexican equivalent of iced tea.