surfing the Ola Verde in Cuyutlan, Colima

Cuyutlán Colima: Sea Salt, Sea Turtles, and Surfing La Ola Verde

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Cuyutlán, Colima is a sleepy little village with a long history that is known for thundering surf called la Ola Verde, gourmet sea salt, and a sea turtle rescue center. The village is set on a sand bar between the Cuyutlan Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. The area is spectacularly beautiful and kind of a throwback to a Mexico that most people have forgotten.

My father-in-law had a house here for many years and this was my base camp for exploring the State of Colima. I absolutely love this part of Mexico and think you should check it out. It is not fancy but still classic Mexico.

I highly recommend spending some time going through Chef Nico Mejía’s Instagram account or even buying one of his travel/cookbooks. There is some spectacular seafood in the region if you know where to look.

Caution: The surf is dangerous along this stretch of coast. During the summer the waves are frighteningly large and the currents are vicious. Please exercise caution while swimming and know your limits. If in doubt, don’t go out.

Coconuts piled in front of a house in Cuyutlan

A Brief History of Cuyutlán, Colima

The name Cuyutlan comes from the náhuatl word cóyotl (which means coyote) and the suffix -tlan (which means place of). The coyotes would come down to the beach to dig up turtle eggs. There is still a lot of wildlife in this part of Mexico.

Sea Turtles at the Tortugario de Cuyutlán
Sea Turtles at the Tortugario de Cuyutlán

People in these parts had been making sea salt for centuries before the Spanish arrived. There is evidence that salt from Colima was traded all the way to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital.

Before the era of refrigeration, salt was an important ingredient for curing and preserving food. During the early Spanish era, massive amounts of salt were used to process and refine silver in the mines. Salt has been an important part of the economy for close to a thousand years.

This little pueblo was the capital of Mexico for two nights in 1858 while President Benito Juárez was locked in a struggle for control of Mexico during the Reform Wars. Juárez was exiled from Mexico City by conservative forces opposed to the liberal constitution. He traveled the country to build support for the new constitution and where he slept was considered the capital of Mexico. He stayed here on the way to the important port city of Manzanillo.

Tacos in the plaza of Cuyutlán, Colima

During the administration of Porfirio Díaz, a railway was built from the port of Manzanillo to Guadalajara. Cuyutlán instantly became a major tourist destination. The train still runs from Manzanillo to Guadalajara but only takes cargo and no longer stops in Cuyutlan.

Where is Cuyutlán?

Cuyutlán, Colima is located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico 40 km southeast of the Manzanillo Bays, 65 km southwest of Colima City, and 250 km south of Guadalajara making it one of the closest beaches to the capitals of both Jalisco and Colima.

I always recommend that people traveling from Guadalajara to Manzanillo stop in Cuyutlán to eat and watch the surf for a little while.

The beaches of both El Paraiso and Cuyutlan are a part of the Armería Municipality and are popular weekend and holiday destinations for locals. Boca de Pascuales is located in the Tecomán Municipality about 30 minutes to the south.

Barra de Navidad, on the Jalisco border, is located 100 km to the northwest. It is an easy drive along a magnificent stretch of coast that leads to the Costa Alegre and eventually Puerto Vallarta.

Map of Cuyutlán

When is the best time to visit Cuyutlán?

The best time to visit Cuyutlán is in the winter season from September to April when the temperatures are mild and the humidity tolerable. The summer months are the rainy season when it is really hot and humid.

Another important consideration is the surf. During the winter season, the surf is moderate. During the summer season, the surf is deadly. The waves can easily reach 20 feet tall and the rip currents flow like a river. Experienced surfers will love the barrels and novice swimmers will not.

The Best Things To Do In Cuyutlán, Colima

Chairs and umbrellas line the beach in Cuyutlán, Colima

Relaxing on the beach, drinking beer, and eating fresh seafood at enramadas (simple thatched-roof restaurants with beach chairs and umbrellas) are some of the favorite activities of local families from this part of Mexico. The tourism is primarily Mexican with few lucky foreigners finding their way to the black sand beaches.

1. Surf the Green Wave (La Ola Verde) of Cuyutlán, Colima

All over Mexico, people know Cuyutlán for the green wave or la ola verde. However, internationally, Cuyutlán isn’t usually included in the surf guides about Mexico.

The black sand beach break is a wave magnet picking up swell from just about every direction.

During the summer months, the surf can reach up to 20 feet on a decent swell. The color of the water, the black sand beach, and the backlit sunsets create a green tone to the breaking waves. Drinking a beer while watching the surf at sunset is a particularly popular pastime in these parts.

The wave at Cuyutlán is a heavy beach break barrel. There are a lot of close-outs but when the sandbars are set up correctly there are also some gems to be found.

Bodysurfing Cuyutlán, Colima
Bodysurfing Cuyutlán, Colima

Bodysurfing in Cuyutlá is particularly good.

The water temperature rarely drops below 80 degrees Fahrenheit attracting snowbirds from the northern latitudes, as well as a few from Guadalajara.

2. Tour the Tortugario Turtle Sanctuary

Sea Turtle at the Cuyutlan Tortugario

Avenida Lopez Mateo, Cuyutlán, Colima // Facebook

El Tortugario de Cuyutlan, or more formally known as, el Centro Ecológico de Cuyutlán is an education and community center that is dedicated to the protection of the three different turtle species found in the area and the incubation of their eggs until they can be released into the ocean.

The mission of the Tortugario has grown to include the preservation of the Palo Verde Estuary and the abundant wildlife that is found therein.

3. Palo Verde Estuary Boat Ride

The estuary tour is particularly enjoyable and gives you the opportunity to see the birds, crocodiles, iguanas, and more animals in their natural habitat. The Tortugario is located about two miles south of Cuyutlan.

4. Visit the Cuyutlan Salt Museum

Salt museum in Cuyutlán, Colima
Museo de la Sal

If you read Spanish the Salt Museum is an interesting way to spend 45 minutes. The production of salt was an important source of income for the region going back hundreds of years and built a thriving middle class in the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the houses in the center of the Pueblo were once owned by workers at the salt plantation. While there is still active salt production the price for salt has continued to drop and the industry is not what it once was.

The museum has some great pictures of old-time Cuyutlan and stories about how a couple of tsunamis reshaped the village. It is interesting to think about what it was like to ride the train to the beach, eat some seafood and drink some beers a hundred years ago.

A few miles down the free road towards Manzanillo, you can see how they make salt. Saltwater is left to dry on plastic sheets in the scorching sun until the water evaporates and the salt crystals are brushed into large piles. The midday sun makes the work excruciating but also produces the finest grains called flor de sal.

Where To Eat In Cuyutlán, Colima

Tacos in the main plaza of Cuyutlán, Colima

The tacos in front of the Benito Juarez head in the main plaza are amazing. Make sure to put a few grains of that gourmet salt on your tacos.

The Hotel Morelos has a great breakfast that includes a candied banana and fresh fruit like papaya. The coffee is from Colima and the milk is from a local ranch.

Banana and papaya breakfast in Cuyutlán, Colima

5. The tortilla shop on calle puerto vallarta

The local tortilla shop in Cuyutlán, Colima

The tortilla shop makes simple breakfasts and is always stocked with beans and tortillas. Nothing like waking up to the smell of freshly cooked tortillas!

6. Mariscos Mario

Mariscos Mario on the boardwalk in Cuyutlán, Colima

Enramada Mario has all the classic seafood dishes and a few specials depending on what the catch of the day happens to be. We always order coconut water, ceviche, and a plate of octopus and shrimp ‘para picar’.

Mario rets lounge chairs and umbrellas but if you order food and drinks the price of the rental is usually negotiable.

7. Fried bananas in front of the church

Fried bananas in front of the church in Cuyutlán, Colima

The fried banana dessert in Cuyutlan, Colima is an absolute delicacy. There are several varieties of bananas grown locally that you may not have tasted before. There is something about a tree-ripened banana that tastes different from the ones that are picked green, weeks before they are ripe and shipped to the United States.

Fried bananas

Where to Stay in Cuyutlan, Colima

The accommodations in Cuyutlan are somewhat rustic. The salt air rusts metal at an astonishing rate and the beachfront hotels are always in need of some more maintenance than is budgeted. Most of the year there is very little traffic coming through Cuyutlan during the week. The weekends see lots of families from the neighboring pueblos make their way down to the beach. Semana Santa and New Year’s is a mob scene.

Hotel Morelos

Calle Hidalgo 185, Cuyutlán, Colima

The Hotel Morelos is my favorite place to stay in Cuyutlan. The rooms are rustic yet clean. There is a small pool and the restaurant is good. It is a block away from the beach which is actually better than being right on the beach.

Hotel Morelos Cuyutlán, Colima

Transportation to and from Cuyutlán

The best way to travel to and from Cuyutlán is with private transportation like a rental car or with a driver. It is one of the closest beaches to Guadalajara with a very easy and beautiful drive. Some people like to stop and eat in Comala at the base of the Volcano which is still quite active.

Volcán de Colima
Volcán de Colima

There are a number of second-class buses that serve Cuyutlán but the direct buses do not. Sur de Jalisco runs from Cuyutlán to Guadalajara twice a day. However, these are local buses and make four or five stops along the way.

Cuyutlán Bus Stop

There is no bus station in Cuyutlan. The buses stop in front of a sales office on the main road into town on the west side of the main plaza.

There are more local buses that can get you to Manzanillo or Colima City where long-distance transportation is more frequent.

Which Airports Serve Cuyutlán?

There are three different airports that could possibly serve travelers to Cuyutlán each with different advantages and disadvantages.

The Manzanillo Airport is located 75 km northwest of Cuyutlán on the other side of Manzanillo. This is a smaller airport that doesn’t have a lot of international traffic or direct flights. Some of the most popular routes only leave a few days a week.

The Colima Airport is located 85 km away on the far side of Colima City. Again, Colima City has a population of about 300,000 people and doesn’t require a lot of international air traffic. Many flights are routed through Mexico City or Tijuana.

The Guadalajara Airport is located 250 km away but has a significantly larger flight schedule. There are many international flights arriving every day. I know a lot of surfers who fly into Guadalajara because of the direct flights and rent a car or take a bus to get to the coast.

If you enjoyed this article you will love the blog entry on my favorite beaches within a couple of hours of Guadalajara and my Guadalajara guide

Coconut palm in Cuyutlán, Colima

Colima Sea Salt

If you are still using iodized table salt, I am about to change your world. Once you start using a gourmet salt like the pink Himalayan or the Cuyutlan sea salt you will never go back to using the standard table salt.

Colima sea salt from the Cuyutlán Lagoon

A lot of salts are mined but the Colima sea salt is processed in a traditional manner from a saltwater lagoon next to the Pacific Ocean. Saltwater is filtered through sand and laid on a drying table. The summertime sun is intense in Colima and the water quickly evaporates. The remaining salt is swept and shoveled into huge piles to be packaged and marketed later.

Colima sea salt has a larger granular size than standard table salt. Rather than using a salt shaker, you will need a wooden spice box with a cover.

This salt that is made in Colima has a significantly lower level of sodium than industrial table salt making it a better choice for human consumption, specifically for diabetics and people with high blood pressure.

The Colima sea salt has a unique mineral content that makes it taste better than standard table salt. The grains melt into your tacos and add little pockets of flavor. Once you start using gourmet Colima sea salt you won’t go back to using iodized table salt.

Some Final Thoughts on Cuyutlán, Colima

You may think that you know what coconuts, bananas, and salt taste like but you probably haven’t tasted them like they are in Cuyutlán.

Coconut water out of a cardboard container in a Whole Foods tastes different than the coconut water that you will try in Cuyutlán.

The same thing goes for sea salt. After eating some tacos in the plaza and dressing those tacos with a few grains of natural sea salt, you will not look at iodized table salt in the same way again.

Cuyutlán is not a fancy destination with luxury hotels but if you are looking to get away from it all and find yourself, Cuyutlán might be the place to do that.

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