I’ve visited several resort towns in Mexico. Part of the fun is venturing out of the more polished, sanitized version of the place to experience its authentic side.
In Manzanillo, I felt the closest to getting real in Mexico.
Invest in local guides
It always pays in to hire a local guide to show you around. It provides an added level of comfort to explore a little deeper than you might do on your own in an unfamiliar locale – although that can be fun, too.
We hired two charming and entertaining guides, Memo and Donato, on different days of our trip.
With Memo, we explored downtown Manzanillo, driving by its massive port and coal-fired power plant.
The billowing smoke that filled our view from our villa across the bay now had a source. Thinking it had come from some random fires or geologic abnormality would have been more comforting. Grafitti-covered riprap made this picture-imperfect moment complete and left us ready to quickly move on to our next stop.
We got a real-world feel of the town of 150,000 when Memo parked the car while we strolled around the hustling, bustling downtown area. Among the traffic-jammed streets, there were lots of shops, a historic old hotel, vendors selling fruit and ice-cold drinks from carts, and people settling into their lunchtime meals.
Manzanillo is named after a tree bearing poisonous fruit that no longer exists in the town. Instead, palm trees imported from the Philippines are a more common sight.
Watch your step
One stop on our tour was the Iguanario. Let’s just say these iguanas give bunnies a run for their money in the reproduction department.
The man who ran the iguana farm gets overripe fruit and produce from area vendors to feed the spiky creatures of varying sizes.
They’re on the ground, roofs, walls and trees – so many places you’ll want to watch your step. They’re everywhere. And they’re kind of freaky.
In addition to a roaming rooster, various caged fowl and a pool of turtles, they also had a leashed coatimundi that looked like a cross between an anteater and raccoon. I
n one of the kiosks, an out-of-place furniture repair shop was in full operation. Just a stone’s throw from slithering iguanas were two men at work – one staining a chair and the other sewing the wicker seat of a wooden rocker.
It was a bizarre but memorable experience.
Outside the city limits
For our next adventure with Donato, another driver from Humber Tours, we stepped outside the city limits of Manzanillo to explore banana, mango, lime and papaya groves.
Although not in commission at the time, we stopped by a sea salt extraction operation near Manzanillo’s lagoon. The ground is sectioned off into hundreds of flat areas and covered with plastic sheets. Seawater from the lagoon is pumped onto the sections, leaving the hot sun to make the rest of the magic happen. After the water evaporates, voilà, the salt is ready to be collected and stored.
We ventured out farther to the more modest vacation beach town of Cuyutlan to visit the Centro Ecologico de Cuyutlan, El Tortugario. The primary purpose of the sanctuary is to protect marine turtles nesting on the beach. It also supports conservation efforts of the area’s lagoon and its inhabitants including crocodiles and, yes, more iguanas.
The largest area of the center is dedicated to pools filled with sea turtles at various stages of their lives and reproductive cycles. In one area, you can pet the shells of the turtles and in another you can hold a baby sea turtle.
The incubation house stores stacks of Styrofoam coolers filled with dirt and hundreds of ping-pong-size sea turtle eggs harvested from the nearby black sand beach.
Change of scenery
The best part of getting outside of Manzanillo is watching the changing terrain. It feels like a rain forest in sections, but in others there are wide open fields with rows upon rows of palm trees outlined with a faint, straight line of fog below their branches at certain times of the day.
Tropical, lush, humid and alive – Manzanillo has something for everyone.