Remember the late-1970s movie 10, starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek? You’ve seen Manzanillo if you do. The beach scenes were all filmed here in what is arguably the Mexican Pacific Coast's most unusual resort city. The Bahías Gemelas (twin bays)—separated by a huge burl of craggy rocks and lush foliage—provide beaches of black-and-gold volcanic sand, so it ought to be a tourist's dream come true, times two. There's certainly no denying the fantastic quality of its fanciest resorts, nor the quirky cool that permeates some of its out-of-the-way places. But Manzanillo is mostly preoccupied with its other job—that of a working port, Mexico’s largest—so shopping is less eventful, cultural sights are few, and tourism-related building seems to only happen in fits and starts.
Thanks to its geography, Manzanillo feels more like three towns than one. The breathtaking Península de Santiago is covered by wealthy enclaves, epitomized by the anachronistic Moorish mini-city of Las Hadas resort. Most of Manzanillo’s properties are laid-back, more functional than elegant. But even its toniest hotels are easier on the pocketbook than comparable lodgings in higher-powered Mexican beach resorts. The Santiago Peninsula is worlds away from the tightly packed, bustling downtown where there's nary a gringo in sight. The connective thread between the two is one long stretch of gold sand paralleled by a traffic-clogged road that is, in sections, too built-up (if you need an Office Max or Home Depot or Walmart, have no fear) and could be the sprawl of any Mexican (or North American) city.
With some lovely beaches and a minimum of faux-Mexicana, Manzanillo certainly does have its appeal. Its many fans, primarily Mexican families and North American snowbirds, know that the place will never be another Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, or Los Cabos, and that’s fine with them, thank you very much. But perhaps the best way to enjoy the city is to not be too tied down to it. Along Highway 200 heading north are dozens of low-key beaches easily toured using the city as a base.