While at first there may not seem like many things to do in Manzanillo Mexico, there are lots of little hidden gems to keep you busy in this popular Mexican beach town.
After basing myself in Barra de Navidad for the summer, I fell in love with day trips and even a few overnight trips to Manzanillo, especially for the food.
But I also loved the huge sweeping bays, the long beaches for walking, the calm bays for swimming, and the beach bars where you can sit with a cold beer and your toes in the sand.
Getting to Manzanillo Mexico
Getting to Manzanillo is incredibly easy to do.
There is an international airport in Manzanillo called Playa de Oro International Airport (airport code ZLO). You can fly directly here from LAX as well as from Mexico City, making it an easy place to get connecting flights to.
You can also get direct buses with ETN Buses from Barra de Navidad, Guadalajara, Guadalajara Airport, and Colima.
If you fly into Puerto Vallarta, a slightly better-connected airport, you can take a Primera Plus bus from downtown Puerto Vallarta to Manzanillo.
If you’ve never taken a bus before in Mexico, be sure to check out my article that breaks down everything you need to know about taking the bus in Mexico.
Of course, renting a car in Mexico is always an option and a good one if you are only spending a short time in Manzanillo and want to enjoy all of the best things to do in Manzanillo while you’re there!
Both the Manzanillo Airport and the Puerto Vallarta Airport have major car rental counters like Hertz, National, and Enterprise.
Getting Around Manzanillo
While having a car for the long-term is a great option, if you are only going to be based in the city of Manzanillo, there’s no real need for it.
The bus network in Manzanillo is utterly spectacular. I raved about it in the YouTube video that I made after my first trip to the city.
This website shows you all of the bus routes, what numbers each bus is and approximately how much each of those buses costs (none are more than 10 Pesos).
You can literally get from one end of the city to the other, to any beach, to the Centro, to the bus terminal, to your hotel, or to a far off neighborhood using the bus network. I can’t rave about it enough.
My First Impressions of Manzanillo in 2020
Where to Stay in Manzanillo
There are so many wonderful hotels in Manzanillo, including stunning resorts, funky hostels, and budget hotel options.
- Barceló Karmina: Barceló is a popular luxury chain here in Mexico and they don’t disappoint here. The prices are all-inclusive and the views from their private beach are utter perfection. There are several different pools to choose from and the restaurant on the cliff edge is the perfect place to start the day with a coffee and finish it with a cocktail. Rooms start at $220 per night. Book a stay at Barceló Karmina here.
- Las Hadas by Brisas: Breakfast by the pool, a private beach with calm waters, boats to use to explore the different coves, and absolutely stunning balconies that face the sea, this is one of my favorite hotels in Manzanillo. Rooms start as low as $180 per night. Book a stay at Las Hadas by Brisas here.
- Palette Gran Festivall Resort: This is a great place for families and couples who want to have plenty of things to do in Manzanillo without even having to leave the resort. There is a tennis court, several pools, a zipline, and a waterpark area for kids. They have shows in the evenings and a few restaurants all serving delicious food. Rooms start at $180 per night. Book a stay at Palette Gran Festivall Resort here.
- El Hotelito Boutique & Galeria: This is one of the cutest mid-range hotels in Manzanillo and this was my top choice when we spent the night a few times in Manzanillo. It has a small pool that overlooks the beach, some of the rooms have sea views, and the rooms themselves are simple yet stylishly decorated. Rooms start at $70 per night. Book a stay at El Hotelito Boutique & Galeria here.
- Best Western PLUS Luna del Mar: This is a great mid-range hotel in Manzanillo because for about $60 a night you can be right next to the beach and in a comfortable and clean room with plenty of free parking. The complex has several pools that face the ocean and plenty of beach chairs to relax on during the day. Book a stay at Luna del Mar here.
Budget Hotels and Hostels
- Hotel Costa Brava: I spent a night at this hotel during one of my stays in Manzanillo because I simply couldn’t pass up the deal. They have rooms with pool views that cost less than $20 depending on when you are booking. Average rooms tend to be just under $30 per night. There is a pool, a restaurant where you can have an affordable and filling breakfast, and it’s close to the buses so you can hop on and get to where you want to go in Manzanillo. It’s not glamorous, but the rooms are clean and the staff were incredibly friendly. Book a stay at Costa Brava here.
- Hostal Olas Altas: This is without a doubt the most popular hostel in Manzanillo. It’s the place to come if you want to meet other travelers. In addition to being a nice, beach-front hostel, it’s also one of the most popular bar for expats and travelers to head for a night out.
Top Things to Do in Manzanillo Mexico
1. Visit All of the Different Beaches
Manzanillo is split into two large bays which are home to tons of fantastic beaches. Some are great for surfers and others for swimming. These are my absolute favorites
- La Boquita is my favorite beach for bringing a towel and snacks and drinks and spending the day lounging. The waves are, for the most part, pretty mellow. There is so much beach to lay on here and only a few vendors come past throughout the day selling food, coconuts, or souvenirs. During busier seasons like November-February, there are people who are offering boat trips or parasailing rides around here, too. Check the Google location here.
- Playa La Audiencia is popular for families and people who prefer very calm waters for swimming. This is also a great place to go snorkeling from. There are a few places to grab food as well as plenty of vendors offering water sport activities. See the Google location here.
- Playa Las Brisas is the beach you find in the next bay over from La Boquita. I’m not an avid surfer, but I believe this is the better beach for surfing, skimboarding, and bodyboarding for those that want the bigger waves (but still not really enormous). This is also where lots of beachfront restaurants can be found. See the Google location here.
2. Hike to the Mirador del Cerro de La Cruz Lookout Point
If you want to enjoy sweeping 360-degree views of Manzanillo, then I highly recommend this 15-minute hike that takes you to a beautiful lookout. It’s sort of difficult to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This is the Google location of the entrance to the hike.
We had a rental car, so we parked just outside of the entrance to the hike. However, you can also take a taxi here or take the bus to the Centro and then walk up to the entrance (the road that leads to it is quite steep).
The path is pretty clearly marked as you climb up, with a few rocks spray-painted. For the most part, it’s obvious which part is the path and which isn’t. It splits off as you work your way up, but all of the paths lead to the lookout point. Definitely wear sneakers (we did it in flip flops not realizing how rocky it would be).
3. Walk along the Malecon
The Malecon, or boardwalk, is a recently redone part of the Centro area that takes you along the shore near the port of Manzanillo. It has several different statues and different pieces of art along the way. It’s home to the colorful Manzanillo sign as well as the enormous blue sailfish, one of the iconic symbols of Manzanillo.
If you are staying in the hotel zone, I recommend taking the #1 bus down the main strip of Manzanillo and hopping off right here. Grab a to-go coffe from the truly lovely people at Coffee Cafe (or sit down and enjoy a cup for a few minutes).
From here you can walk towards the water (it looks like the end of the road) and then turn left and follow the path to a small lighthouse. You can get a really nice view of the Centro from here.
Then retrace your steps until you see a paved road about 100 yards from the lighthouse. Walk down this path which eventually turns into the Malecon. You’ll pass a cute little beach with beach soccer games and volleyball nets that are busy with locals on the weekends.
4. Go Surfing
Surfing is one of the most popular things to do in Manzanillo, especially for beginner-intermediate surfers.
There are tons of surf schools in Manzanillo to choose from, but several friends spoke highly of Colima Surfing Academy. They help people of all levels to improve their surf skills and will take you out in the mornings to get the best waves.
They also offer board rentals if you want to surf, but aren’t too interested in having lessons. They also have stand up paddleboards that you can rent or lessons that you can take in some of the calmer waters around Manzanillo.
5. Visit Laguna de Las Garzas
Laguna de Las Garzas is one of the most beautiful and tranquil things to do in Manzanillo in my opinion. It’s really just a lookout point where you can watch birds and the sunrise in the mornings or try to spot crocodiles in the heat of the afternoon sun.
While you’re in this neighborhood, don’t miss lunch at Doña Concha. There are several locations, but this one was my personal favorite (the menu varies slightly in each location).
6. Try the Different Seafood Restaurants
While we’re talking about the amazing Doña Concha, there are so many great seafood spots in Manzanillo.
A few of my favorites are:
- Doña Concha – all the locations, but the one at Damián Ochoa 4 is the best
- Mariscos el Cuñado del Tajo – next to the train tracks in Centro is the best little street stall making amazing ceviche and fish tacos
- Mariscos La Huerta – located along the main strip and facing the beach, this is a great place for good quality grilled whole fish, lobster, and shrimp in housemade sauces. They make nice cocktails, too
- Playa Azul – This is a classic Mexican seafood spot where you’ll find tons of great ceviche and cooked fish dishes. Very affordable, nice beachfront location, and delicious
7. Take a Day Trip to Barra de Navidad
While I was actually based in Barra de Navidad and taking day trips to Manzanillo, it’s easily done in reverse, too.
If you are staying in Manzanillo, one of the best day trips is to rent a car or take the ACP bus to Barra de Navidad and Melaque. They are twin towns in the same bay (Bahia Navidad).
You can read my full guide to Barra de Navidad here with tips on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay if you want to stay a night or two in this sleepy little Mexican beach town.
8. Visit the Iguana Sanctuary
The Iguana Sanctuary is one of the best things to do in Manzanillo if you want to see some beautiful, endangered iguanas as well as a few other animals that have been rescued over the years.
It’s called Iguanario Archundia and you can find the location on Google here. It’s easy to get to by taxi or if you have a rental car. If you are taking the bus, get off at the Malecon and it’s about a 15-minute flat walk to the sanctuary.
9. Go to El Tortugario Ecologico
If you enjoy supporting organizations that are helping preserve the local wildlife, you’ll love what they are doing at El Tortugario Ecologico.
This nature reserve is located about 20 minutes south of Manzanillo in the town of Cuyutlan (which is also worth visiting for a half-day trip). The best option is to rent a car or hire a driver for the day so that you don’t have to worry about the bus timetable.
You can learn more about what the sanctuary are doing to help the turtles in this area to survive and thrive as well as learn about how you can visit (and support!) on their website here.
10. Go Fishing
One of the most popular things to do in Manzanillo and indeed one of the main reasons many people travel to this region of Mexico is to go deep-sea fishing.
Sailfish is the most common fish that you’ll find in these waters (they look like marlin, which are also found in these waters). In fact, that big blue fish that you see on the Malecon is actually a sailfish!
If you are interested in deep-sea fishing or even just going out for a bit of fun fishing closer to the shore, every person I have met has recommended Lanchas Albatros. You can contact them through their Facebook page or via Whatsapp 314-133-2670 OR 314-124-2602.
11. Hang out at one the Beach Clubs
If you are staying at a hotel or Airbnb that doesn’t have beachfront access or you want to head to the beach for a day of ice cold drinks, good music, and other people to meet, these are great places to enjoy.
The number one beach club in Manzanillo is the Oasis Ocean Beach Club. They have a seriously great restaurant and they make killer cocktails.
While you’re here, you can check out their jetski rentals, use their snorkeling equipment, take a yoga class, have a massage, or simply relax on one of their beach chairs and chill for the day.
The other popular beach club is Hostal Olas Altas. Yes, it’s a hostel, but it’s also one of the best beach bars and activity hubs in Manzanillo. They host monthly events, they have live music and DJs throughout the week. They have beachfront access and ice cold beers.
It’s a really fun place to hang out, especially if you are traveling solo or with some friends and you want to meet more people while you’re in Manzanillo.
12. Go Snorkeling
Snorkeling is an easy and affordable thing to do in Manzanillo. Simply rent yourself a snorkel (or bring your own!) and wade out into the water.
There are several areas where you can simply swim off the shore and almost immediately see colorful fish.
Head to Playa Audiencia where you can either rent gear there or bring some from your hotel if they offer that service. This is a very mellow place to swim and float around to see lots of colorful fish.
For even better snorkeling, head to Playa Boquita, where just off the shore is a shipwreck called San Luciano teeming with sealife. Nearby here is also a snorkel area called the Aquarium.
If you’re a diver, these are popular dive spots in Manzanillo.
For those that would prefer a guide, nice equipment and life jackets (always recommended when you’re swimming out that far in the ocean!), then be sure to take a tour with a local dive company.
Octopus Garden Dive Center is one of the best in Manzanillo, so be sure to get in touch with them if you want to dive while visiting.
13. Hike to the Abandoned La Cumbre Condominiums
Another really fun hike to do in Manzanillo is up to the abandoned condominiums in the Club Santiago area. It’s a really nice hike in general, but once you get to the abandoned building, you can climb to the top and take in the views of the bay.
The longer, but more straight forward route starts on the road along the lagoon. If you keep following that road, you’ll see a sign that says El Eisco. From here you go left and up the hill. When you see the sign for Condominios Asturias you’ll go left again. This path will take you straight to the abandoned building.
Alternatively, you can go to the end of Playa la Boquita at the end of the Santiago Peninsula. You’ll see a pedestrian bridge that leads to a paved road. Keep following the path until it turns into a dirt path (stay sort of to the left of the paved road).
This path will also take you to the abandoned building.
14. Go Golfing
The area between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta is home to tons of great golf courses and for those that love to take in a game on vacation, it’s one of the best things to do in Manzanillo.
Contact the clubs directly to make a tee-time and check availability. Their websites also offer some insight into what the courses are like.
15. Check out the Local Markets
For me, the best thing to do in any town or city in Mexico is to explore the local markets. It’s no different here in Manzanillo, especially if you haven’t been to many Mexican markets before.
The best one in Manzanillo, in my opinion, is the weekly Saturday Tianguis in Santiago.
Tianguis is comes from an Aztec word (from the Nahuatl language), tiyānquiztli, which means open-air market.
In Mexico, a tianguis is a market that usually comes once or twice a week to a certain area and it is completely outside. Some vendors put tarps above their stalls to keep the sun from making them and their produce too hot.
They have everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to meat and fish. They have a few stalls that also cater to tourists with some souvenirs and artisans, but it’s really more of a place for locals and residents to buy the best quality produce for the week.
If you are more interested in artisan crafts, then be sure to check out the Emiliano Zapata craft market which is near the hotel zone and open everyday from 8:30am-9:30pm.