Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
MANZANILLO: It's safe to say, we loved it
Mexican state boasts of low crime, but that's far from its only attraction
MANZANILLO — Minutes after the bus taking us to our Manzanillo resort leaves the airport, our facilitator informs us we are in the state of Colima and that it’s the safest in all Mexico.
The next morning, our Transat Holidays on-site co-ordinator at the Karmino Palace tells us: "You are safe here. With only a five per cent unemployment rate, no one has a need for violence or crime."
We hire a taxi driver/guide for a day trip around the region and one of the first points he makes is the same:
"You can walk the streets or on the beach at night and no one will bother you."
Perhaps it’s no wonder the people of this state feel so strongly about communicating this information. The negative publicity about drug-gang violence and other incidents has had an effect on Mexican tourism, particularly on American visitors, who have stayed away in greater numbers than Canadians.
In Canada, although tour operators last year reported some negative effect due to adverse publicity, most flights to Mexican destinations were not only full, but with few major discounts required to fill them.
Nevertheless, the state of Colima, proud of its high employment and low crime figures, boast of them to add extra comfort to those who choose to visit the region.
This is our first trip to Manzanillo, one of the newer destinations available from Winnipeg non-stop.
It took us only a day to realize that although the locals love to promote Colima state as having the lowest crime rate in Mexico, there is a lot more to experience here beyond security, which, as tourists, we normally expect as a given.
There is an unusual beauty in the bays, beaches and hills that form the geography of this area.
Many buildings on the hillside are painted a clean, bright white. One early evening, as I overlooked the harbour from the edge of the cliffs near our resort, the sailboats in the setting sun resting in the shadows of these stark white properties made me wonder if I was in Santorini, Greece, instead of Mexico.
My wife and I both fell in love with the daily temperature ranges. The days were hot, but not so much that we felt the need to escape the heat or fear overexposure. The nights were consistently exceptional, with the temperature cooling just enough for us to be relaxed in short sleeves.
As a golfer, I appreciated the cooler mornings, which allowed us to complete our games before the real heat of the day took over.
From November to April, the days are almost always sunny, with day temperatures that around 24 C to 28 C and nighttime ranges from 17 C to 24 C.
As recommended by friends, we decide to hire Savino Ayala, a local taxi driver-cum-tour guide, to take us on a day trip of the region.
Savino, having spent four years working in Seattle, is conversant in English. Fairly early into the journey, we conclude he is an intelligent, articulate man.
At a banana plantation, he demonstrates how heat is formed inside the loosely plastic-wrapped bunches, enabling them to ripen faster and more uniformly.
He shows how the bananas indicate their near-ripeness by reaching up to the sky as though trying touching the sun.
We learn about the parts of the cactus that are used to cure heartburn, and the Yaka fruit that supposedly controls blood pressure and diabetes.
"Taste this," Savino says as he breaks off a piece of a cactus plant for us. "In Mexico, we have many good uses for cactus, especially in cooking."
Visiting cemeteries is not often a stop promoted in many tour books, but Savino takes us to one near Barra De Navidad to prove a point — that "in death, many Mexicans have more wealth than they had all of their lives."
Many of the monuments are extremely expensive, and mausoleums are often built at great expense to house entire families in their afterlife.
These coloured marble structures are supposed to serve as testament, in the Mexican culture, to the respect felt towards the deceased during his or her lifetime.
Called Christ of the Hurricane, the church in Barra De Navidad is one of the most visited religious shrines in the entire region.
Many congregated in the church in the midst of the devastating winds of 1971’s Hurricane Lilly to pray for protection and safety.
According to the written record, as these witnesses prayed, "When the hurricane hit with all its fury, Christ dropped his arms."
Although the crucifix was made of plaster, it was not damaged by the winds or water, and the arms still hang down today, testifying to the miracle.
Local people believe the town was reborn as a result of this miracle, when Christ answered their prayers for salvation.
The highlight of our private excursion was the short boat ride to Isla Navidad. Though accessible by car, the views from the water reminded us of the Lake of the Woods, with islands and channels along the way. The island houses a number of popular waterside restaurants and one of the largest luxury hotels in the region.
The Wyndham Grand Bay hotel hosts the wealthy yacht owners who use the bay for docking their big vessels while they enjoy the pampering the hotel offers.
Marvelling at the yachts moored on the waters in front of the luxury hotel, we could be forgiven for believing we were magically transported to Monte Carlo in Monaco.
Row on row of these huge, expensive floating resorts were evidence the attraction of Manzanillo is equally strong for the rich and not so wealthy alike.
Savino gives us an overview of some of the restaurant options on the island. We choose the Colema and are treated to one of the best fresh seafood meals either of us has had in a long time.
We spent a good part of the week lounging around the six pools at the Barcelo resort, but took time out to go to the Saturday market.
The usual crafts and resort-wear stands dot the market square, but it is locals who fill most of the aisles, looking for used tools, children’s clothing and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Even though the resort’s food and beverages were excellent and part of the all-inclusive Barcelo plan, we still took a 20-minute walk to visit the nearby Wal-Mart and stop for a Starbucks coffee and carrot cake — just a little touch of home, even though both brands are clearly international in scope.
At the end of the week, we wonder why it took so long to include this destination in the Manitoba sun-season brochures.
The destination was very popular in its first season, so we can only hope it continues to be a choice for safety-seeking vacationers who love what Mexico has to offer.
IF YOU GO
How to get there: Currently, Transat Holidays is the exclusive tour operator serving all of Canada. We stayed at the five-star Barcelo Karmina Palace, but they also offer a wide choice of properties in various star categories.
What to do: Deep-sea fishing is a popular excursion, as are trips to the city of Colima, the capital of the state, and to the Isla Navidad and Barra de Navidad area.
Our driver/guide charged $100 for the day trip for up to four people. Savino Ayala can be reached by email at email@example.com.
One of the most popular beach areas in the region, used by locals and tourists, is Playa Miramar, only a short taxi ride away. There are plenty of local fast-food selections to choose from nearby.