Our venture inland to Guadalajara was a nice back from our consistent life of beach camping. I know it sounds soooo difficult, but like anything else, you always need to change it up a bit. But also like anything else you love, you can’t stay away for too long. After we spent a couple days regaining our strength from that Mexican flu in the hot spring water park of Villa Corona, we set coarse west again, back to the Pacific coast.
- For accuracy and honesty, La Manzanillo is located just outside of Colima in the state of Jalisco, but for continuity of this blog, I am grouping it in with our travels through the State of Colima.
We weren’t sure exactly what our destination would be, we just wanted to be back on a beach. It was about a five-hour ride through the twisting, steep mountainous roads from Villa Corona to the Pacific. Based on our guidebook and the iOverlander app, we figured we would run into a handful of beach camping locations and have our pick of the litter.
La Manzanilla is a tiny Mexican fishing village, not to be confused with Manzanillo, the larger port city an hour or so south. Its tucked in the south end of cove that faces south by south west into the Pacific. The village stretches only a kilometer or two, and then the beach runs north for another 4 or 5km’s, with only a handful of abandoned hotels and half build RV parks along the edge. This might sound a bit unappealing aesthetically, but actually makes for an amazing secluded, beautiful section of pacific beach. Besides, the majority of Mexico consists of half build properties, so you get used to aesthetic look if it.
Either way, this beach was just what the doctor ordered. We landed Poppins in a great little beach front plot of land built for campers. This spot, like 3 or 4 others along this beach, consisted of some outdoor showers and toilets screened by hand woven bamboo curtains, coconut palms for shade, and beach front palapas complete with hammocks. The beach itself was carpeted with light golden-brown sand that lead to the calm greenish-blue sea. 25 feet off shore was a small reef about 3-6 feet below the surface that was perfect for some snorkeling. Lindsey even worked up her courage and braved the reef for the first time on the trip. The reef was filled with blow fish and puffer fish, along with an array of smaller colorful ones and some of those weird looking needle nosed ones. Not bad for some random offshore snorkeling.
The town also had a crocodile sanctuary which I persuaded Lindsey to explore with me. It was only a few pesos to enter, and was fairly impressive. The Mexicans somehow built a maze of rickety bridges and walkways throughout the swampland and mangroves. I couldn’t believe how many crocs where swimming around and how huge they were! I mean huge, like 900 pounds. The creaking, swaying bridges only kept you 5-10 feet away from most of these monsters at times. What I found most interesting was that the fencing for this sanctuary was only put up between the town and the swap. It wasn’t fully enclosed, so the crocs could go wherever they pleased just so long as they went inland away from the village. Interesting that they hang out where they do, I imagine its because they are fed, but a little scary as well…
We spent a few days enjoying quite beach life before we were back to 100% health. We needed to be back in shape, because out next stop demanded more of our bodies. Our plan was to head into the mountains of Colima for some hiking at Nevado de Colima National Park.
Nevado de Colima National Park
The details of our ascent up the jagged mountainous peak of Nevado de Colima I will leave for Lindsey’s story of triumph. I will say that it’s a wonderful thing to have such a diverse terrain to be traveling through. Mexico is a massive and amazing place. We spend time on secluded beaches, then explore historically significant small villages, then get our kicks in the big city life, and can still find ourselves camped out a few days later at 11,000+ feet staring at the summit of a volcano.
This volcano is within a national park, so we had a nice experience camping out. I love being up among the 200’ pines, starting fires at 4pm to stay warm. Granted, base camp being at 11,500 ft. doesn’t come without its challenges. Almost every time I stood up after crouching or sitting for a period I would have extended head rushes. Luckily, I love a good head rush so it was all good. Beyond that, it was absolutely freezing at night, our coldest night yet. The condensation that forms inside the truck when we sleep on the metal frames was actually frozen in the morning. On top of that, our wash bins for dishes was icy, making it painful to clean up.
The hike up to the top, as Lindsey explains in her blog, put our bodies to the test. All we wanted to do that night was pass the heck out and sleep through the night, but the frigid cold made it extremely difficult. Honestly, we may have stayed up in the trees a bit longer had we been more prepared for the weather, but we were excited to get back to the warmth after our adventure, so we got an early start and made our way across central Mexico, heading westbound into the state of Michoacán.
Our original plan was to head to the coast and take our time exploring the Michoacán Coast. This stretch of land is known for its fabulous secluded beaches and coastline drives. Unfortunately, constant headlines describing the horrid acts of drug cartel related violence in the region deterred us from that plan and reset our coarse inland.
As it turns out, Michoacán is a massive state, and to avoid it completely would have taken us way to far out of our way. On top of that, there is a small town called Patzcuaro that I had been told to visit by three different people I had met along the way. So, we heeded the warnings and continued through the state towards Patzcuaro.
From Colima, the drive to Patzcuaro was too much for one day, so we looked at the iOverlander app to see what we could find along the way for the evening. Being that I love a good waterfall, I decided to route us to Uruapan where there was a spot we could camp and hike to a waterfall just outside of the city. The location was a reserve area so we were able pay the entrance fee and camp out for the night within the gates of the park. The people who ran it were friendly and provided night security, which was comforting for us, being in the middle of the state that the US government issued a severe travel warning for just prior.
We finally got our warm comfy sleep conditions and slept like babies. The next morning, we got up put our hiking shoes on one more time. This time it was a little less intense, but did come with its fair share of stairs. It was about a 30-min hike to the falls, and they were fantastic. Instead of one river finding its way to the edge of land as you would typically expect out of a waterfall, this river seeped into the ground as it approached the lands end and found its way out of the earth in many places. There was one central cascade, and then on either side, stretching about 100 meters in either direction, water would just burst out of cracks in the side of the cliff as if it were a big damn ready to break. Thus far, I would rank this one within the top ten of waterfalls I have seen, but I think I will save that top ten list for the end of this adventure.
Patzcuaro is a small to mid sized town in the middle of Michoacán set in the corner of a decent size lake. The lake had many smaller villages along its shoreline, and a couple small islands with their own little communities. The town of Patzcuaro itself was unique compared to most other towns we had seen thus far. All the buildings in the downtown area were painted a deep red, almost brown, with white trim around all the entry ways and such. In fact, most blocks were just one large square building, and each doorway into the building lead into different stores and shops.
It was the tail end of the Christmas season while we were there, so the main plaza was being deconstructed, but seemed like they really went all out with their decorations and celebrations. The plaza was very nice, and larger than most we had seen. It even had jazz playing from random speakers throughout the area as you walked around. The smaller plaza, not far from the main one, was more like your typically square, filled with vendors and what not. In one corner there was a fantastic food market where there must have been 15+ different stands whipping up all sorts of Mexican street food. We pigged out on some Birria, which is delicious spiced and stewed meat served up in a bowl with tortillas like a nice soup, and finished it up with a mango covered in that Mexican syrupy spicy stuff you see on everything down there. I could have spent all day going stand to stand sampling the different dishes.
Beyond checking out the shops and enjoying the market and food stands, a big focal point for the town is the venture out to one of the islands I had previously mentioned. Its 50 pesos or so and you hop on boat for a 30-minute ride out to the island. The island they take you to is small, taking only 20 minutes or so to walk a circle around it, but it’s a big hill and rises a few hundred feet above lake level. At the top of the hill sits a big statue of a man with his hand straight up like the Statue of Liberty that can be seen from all around the lake. When you get to the top of the hill you can enter the statue and climb up to the hand for a cool 360-degree view around the lake. Inside the statue was painted with murals of solders, depicting battles that had taken place leading up to the independence of Mexico from Spain. (at least I am pretty sure that’s what was going on…)
At this point we were beginning to get excited for our visit to Mexico City. Since we enjoyed Guadalajara so much but were a bit cut short, we were really looking forward to getting back into the city. We spent two days seeing what Patzcuaro had to offer and then geared up towards the big city.