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Hook, line & sinker

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By Joy Hepp

Choosing to spend your vacation in Manzanillo, Mexico, is like a college student opting to stay with a host family while studying abroad. Popular destinations like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta may be convenient and even familiar (like, say, university-sanctioned student housing), they often lack the kind of authenticity that a smaller community like Manzanillo can offer.

A lively portside town located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, about two hours south of Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo is known among Mexicans for its spectacular sail fishing and convenience as a weekend getaway.

In Manzanillo it’s possible to stay at a luxury resort or small posada (inn), to shop at a beachside tianguis (flea market) or at Wal-Mart, take in a game of golf or watch a local soccer match. Since the port brings in money to the town, visitors see less of the vendors and timeshare hawkers who tend to swarm in tourists, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get your hair braided.

Marilyn Short runs Ocean Pacific Adventures along with her husband, Sam. She says visitors and expatriates like herself come to Manzanillo to escape often overpriced and impersonal resort towns.

“I was in Puerto Vallarta for a few days and I couldn’t wait to get back here,” she says. “I mean, they were charging American prices for beer there.” GETTING MORE FOR YOUR MONEY

While a Corona or Indio may run as much as $4 in PV, you’re more likely to be able to imbibe at a local price of around $2 in Manzanillo. In general, if you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, Manzanillo is a good choice. In addition to traditional vacation activities like tennis, golf, and poolside lounging, there are plenty of things to do for the more adventurous souls. Among the more popular activities are ATV riding, canopy tours, and the local favorite: sail fishing. The prime season for anglers is November through January, so if you’re planning on visiting during this time, be sure to book in advance.

Like any good host, Manzanillo offers up fantastic traditional cuisine. There’s probably no better place to experience this firsthand than El Fogon Restaurant. Located in the center of the town’s main drag, Boulevard Miguel de la Madrid, the restaurant looks like a rustic hacienda with an outdoor tortilla kitchen and enclosed patio. Do not pass up the shrimp molcajete. The jumbo shrimp arrive in a traditional lava stone bowl, swimming in a sizzling tomato sauce. The crustaceans are so succulent, you’ll remember them for days.

Although you’re not likely to find any “girls gone wild” in this town, you can have an enjoyable nightlife experience. On Friday and Saturday nights the place to be is  Sunset Lounge, a hip spot where locals enjoy martinis and listen to the waves lap the shore.

CATCH AND EAT

The Shorts offer a five-hour fishing trip aboard a 26-foot boat, including all necessary fishing gear and an English-speaking captain for $245. (A similar trip would run about $100 more up the coast.)They will even arrange to make a meal of your catch at the nearby Colima Bay Café because, Marilyn Short says, “what’s the sense of going out there and catching these fish if you’re not going to enjoy eating them?”

If you’re more of a landlubber, another way of exploring Manzanillo is by all-terrain vehicle, or ATV. Just 20 minutes north of town you will find an area locals Peña Blanca (White Rock), named for the looming formations on the undeveloped beachfront. Visitors can stop at ATV Pena Blanca to arrange for a ride over a dusty mountain trail, through lush vegetation and finally onto a beach where they will be free to zoom around on the sand. Afterwards, adventurers are invited to use the outhouse at the rancho El Indio, where chickens roam and clothes are hung to dry.

Lastly, the 18-hole Las Hadas golf course is one of the best in the world. The vegetation, together with the Moorish-style fantasy architecture, makes a perfect frame for teeing off.

Trip Tips

Getting there:
US Airways (www.usairways.com) offers direct flights from Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta. Prices range from $300 to $400 US depending on the season. From the airport you can either: rent a car and drive four hours south along Highway 200; or take a taxi to the nearby central bus station and board one of the luxury bus lines. Flecha Amarilla costs about $40 USD round trip (http://www.flecha-amarilla.com.mx/). Whether you go by car or by bus, the ride is safe and beautiful. Expect to see coconut and banana plantations and sweeping ocean views.

Where to stay:
Tesoro Manzanillo,
$100-$300 per night
Avenida La Audiencia s/n Lot 1, Península de Santiago, Manzanillo, Colima; phone: 52 314 331 22 00 or visit www.tesororesorts.com

Hotel Marina Puerto Dorado,
$80 – $120 per night
Domicilio: Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas N. 101, Colonia Las Brisas, Manzanillo, Colima; phone: 52 314 33 414 80 or visit www.marinapuertodorado.com

Hotel Colonial, $26 -$35 a night
Located in the center of town on Avenida Mexico; phone 332-1080

For more info on hotels visit www.gomanzanillo.com

What to do:
ATV Peña Blanca is run by Hectours, Boulevard Miguel de la Madrid km.15, Colonia Olas Altas, in front Santiago´s cemetery, Manzanillo
Contact: Héctor Sandoval, hectzlo@bay.net.mx,  www.hectours.com
El Fogón, Boulevard Miguel de la Madrid km. 9.5, Manzanillo, Colima; phone: 52 314 333 30 94
Sunset Lounge, Boulevard Miguel de la Madrid 3161, Manzanillo, Colima; phone: 52 314 333 68 74
Ocean Pacific Adventures, Sam & Marilyn Short, phone/fax: 52 314 335-0605 / cellular: 52 314 357-0717; E-mail: fish@bay.net.mx

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