Manzanillo has a dual personality. Yes, it is a Mexican resort town but it is also a major port for container ships, cruise ships, the navy, and sportfishing vessels. The beaches of Manzanillo are diverse with both urban and rural experiences. In the historic downtown, kids will be jumping off the boardwalk into the bay but if you head north you can still find some space to spread out. It is easy to find and access some great beaches for all types of beach enthusiasts.
The beaches of Manzanillo are spread along the shores of two large bays which protect them from open ocean swells. The north bay is called Santiago Bay and the south bay is called Manzanillo Bay. The uninitiated observer may be reprimanded for thinking that there is one big bay with a small peninsula in the middle but I was assured that there are in fact two separate bays.
The ocean is wild in these parts and the waves outside the bays, at Cuyutlán and Pascuales, regularly reach 20 feet tall. Visitors need to be very careful when choosing a beach in Manzanillo and Colima because of the big summertime swells.
The port is historically significant not just for Manzanillo but for Mexico bringing first the railroad and later a modern freeway. Today, the majority of trade done with China moves through this port. In 2022 there still is no freeway to Puerto Vallarta which is a significantly larger resort town.
The beaches of Manzanillo are a treasure and easily accessible from Guadalajara. Drivers can easily reach Manzanillo from Guadalajara in less than three hours.
Driving from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta will take upwards of five hours and includes some sinuous back-country roads. The drive from Guadalajara to Manzanillo is much quicker and easier than the drive to Puerto Vallarta. You will notice a high volume of tractor-trailers heading to and from the Port of Manzanillo but there is a passing lane for almost the entire route. There is one 25 km section of road with only one lane in each direction which can back up in high-traffic seasons.
In this article, the beaches of Manzanillo are organized from north to south starting with La Boquita and going all the way south to Cuyutlán. Even though Cuyutlán is 45 minutes south of Manzanillo, that Cuyutlan estuary system helps define the geography of the area.
Table of Contents: The Beaches of Manzanillo
La Boquita and Club Santiago
On the northern edge of Santiago Bay (the north bay) are Club Santiago and La Boquita. Club Santiago is a suburban beach community with a golf course. La Boquita is nothing more than a sandbar and a small stretch of beach that sits adjacent to the peninsula. The river mouth forms a natural harbor for small panga fishing boats. And wherever there are fishermen there will be enremadas, or simple restaurants with thatched rooves selling the fresh catch of the day.
Club Santiago is a favorite destination for families from Guadalajara because the waves are very small even when there is a massive swell in the water outside of the bay. It is safe to let the kids play in the water. During the summer, it is not safe to swim at the beaches south of Manzanillo because the waves are so big.
On the biggest swells of the year, waves will break in front of the Boquita. It is a very fun and playful right that can run for 150 meters or more. Just keep an eye out for the pangas punching out of the harbor river mouth and through the surf. They move faster than a surfer can paddle.
There are a bunch of tour operators offering banana boat rides and snorkeling trips. Less than 500 meters off the shore of La Boquita is a shipwreck reef that offers good snorkeling and diving. Check out this link to the google maps satelite view.
This is the farthest beach in Manzanillo if you are coming from Guadalajara. The Boquita river mouth is actually the Manzanillo city limit. It can take up to three and a half or four hours to make it to this side of Manzanillo from Guadalajara. Though the drive is much easier than the road to Puerto Vallarta.
Playa Miramar and Olas Altas
La Boquita is located on the north side of Santiago Bay while Playa Miramar and Olas Altas are located on the east side of the bay. The east side of the bay gets some more waves than the north does and Playa Miramar and Olas Altas are known as the surfing beaches in Manzanillo. That might be because you can see the surfers from the road.
Playa Miramar and Olas Altas are only 500 meters apart. Playa Miramar doesn’t have any beachfront buildings so Blvd. Miguel de la Madrid has a beautiful view of the ocean. The waves break relatively close to shore so a car driving by can easily see people riding waves.
There are lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent and beach vendors will be selling other snacks.
The section of beach called Olas Altas does have beachfront development but there are public beach access points just about every block. It’s easy to come and surf here even if you are staying elsewhere. There are some condos and vacation rentals mixed in with medium-sized hotels.
Playa La Audiencia is my pick for the best beach in Manzanillo. It is located on the Santiago Peninsula which divides Santiago Bay from Manzanillo Bay. The topography of the Santiago Peninsula is different from the rest of the coastal region because it rises and falls abruptly creating a dramatic green landscape. The tip of the peninsula is where the nicest beachfront mansions are located. There is a private beach club on the far side of the Las Hadas property that I really want to see.
There is a full array of beach activities for rent on the beach. The chairs and umbrellas are in good enough condition but the snorkeling equipment could be better.
The water is clear and there is decent scuba diving accessible from shore.
La Audiencia is easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Manzanillo.
There is a massive all-inclusive resort on the southern end of the beach. We haven’t stayed there yet because we love Las Hadas which is one minute down the road.
There is ample parking at Playa La Audiencia but it fills up quickly. This is no secret spot and local families flock here on the weekend. Get here early or expect to walk a really long way.
Playa Las Hadas
Las Hadas is a large property designed in a whimsically Moorish, fairytale sort of way. Today it is owned by Grupo Las Brisas who operates some of the finest beach resorts in Mexico.
The private beach has almost no waves at all but just a little bit of surge moving back and forth. It is a perfect place to teach little kids how to swim and how to access the ocean. The pool is large and fun to explore.
I love this place. My wife and I have been coming here since before we were married but it is a million times better with kids. You kids are going to love it. The food is good, the service is good, and many of the employees have been here for decades.
Las Brisas Manzanillo
The Las Brisas neighborhood is a sandbar that separates Manzanillo Bay from the port district. This is an older part of town but it isn’t the old town. The Historic City Center is on the other side of the port.
There are a lot of family-owned properties on this side of Manzanillo. The area reminds me of Mission Beach in San Diego. The tip of the peninsula houses a navy base. You can watch the massive cargo ships come in and out of the harbor just meters away from the jetty.
There are a bunch of good seafood restaurants along Playa Las Brisas like Bigotes and La Roca del Mar but La Sal is extra special. Chef Nico Mejía literally wrote the book (three actually) on the cuisine of Colima. He built a nationally regarded restaurant in his parent’s house on a back street of Manzanillo. This is the country where people drag their table and chairs into the street to gossip with the neighbors and keep cool in the evenings underneath an almond tree. The food and the experience are very Colima. Make sure to try the pozole seco.
Historic Downtown and Playa San Pedrito
The beaches in Downtown Manzanillo are not exactly a tropical paradise. It is urban and the port creates a run-down industrial feeling. Manzanillo also has a cruise ship terminal and the docks connect to the main plaza in downtown Manzanillo.
It is fun to watch the local kids jump off the docks into the water down by the Mexican navy ships.
There is an actual beach and resort in downtown Manzanillo but it isn’t as nice as the suburban properties further to the north. Playa San Pedrito is located less than one kilometer from the cruise ship terminal but I wouldn’t make the trip all the way down to Manzanillo to visit this beach.
El eden and Playa Tepalcates
On the southern edge of Manzanillo is a large estuary where the native people have been harvesting sea salt for hundreds of years. El Eden is the tidal inlet that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Cuyutlán lagoon. Liquified natural gas cargo ships also pass through the inlet to deliver their product. The thermoelectric plant is just a few kilometers up the beach.
This is a favorite fishing spot because the tidal swings bring massive amounts of water in and out of the lagoon.
There are always a few guys fishing off the jetty and from the shore. The jetty is a popular place to surf and very photogenic. The cement blocks that were used to construct the jetty create a very dramatic and easily identifiable backdrop for local surf photographers.
All over Mexico, Cuyutlán is known for the green wave or la ola verde. Black sand beaches receive swell from just about every direction. During the summer, the waves can reach up to 20 feet on a decent swell and create some pretty heavy rip currents. In the winter, the ocean is much more relaxed, picking up the smaller north swells. The temperature rarely drops below 80 degrees Fahrenheit attracting snowbirds from the northern latitudes, as well as a few from Jalisco.
The wave at Cuyutlán is heavy, barreling, beach break. There are a lot of close-outs but there are some gems to be found when the swell direction is just right.
In addition to surfing, Cuyutlán is famous for sea turtle rescue center that also gives tours of the estuary system. They guides are educated and will point out the local wildlife.
The bodysurfing in Cuyutlán is particularly good.
Conclusion: The Beaches of Manzanillo
Manzanillo is not nearly as popular with international travelers as the nearby beach resorts of Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlán. That laid-back and local vibe is what makes it so appealing. Most of the touristic infrastructure is geared towards tourists who arrive in a car from the Bajío region of Mexico. If you happen to be in the Bajío, then Manzanillo is going to be a much easier drive than Puerto Vallarta will be.
If you have already been to Puerto Vallarta a few times you should check out the coast of Colima.