COLIMA, capital of the state and 98km inland from Manzanillo, is a distinctly colonial city, and a very beautiful one too, overlooked by the perfectly conical Volcán de Colima and, in the distance, the Nevado de Colima. With a handful of sights inside the city limits and interesting excursions nearby, it’s a pleasant place to stop over for a night or two. Colima’s Old World ambience, favourable climate – cooler than the coast, but never as cold as in the high mountains – and several good-value hotels and restaurants add to its appeal.
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The city’s prettiest features are its chain of shady formal plazas or jardínes – Colima is known as the “City of Palms” – and a number of attractive courtyards, many of which are now used as restaurants and cafés and make wonderfully cool places to relax. The central Plaza Principal (known as Jardín Libertad) is where you’ll find the government offices and the unimpressive Neoclassical cathedral, which dates from 1941.
The Colima coast
The relatively tiny state of Colima has just 139km of coastline, stretching from the Boca de Apiza to the Cerro de San Francisco in Jalisco, but there’s plenty to tempt you off Hwy-200. The southern section boasts several laidback villages worth exploring, from the surf magnet of Boca de Pascuales to Cuyutlán, with a long beach lined with palapa restaurants. In stark contrast, Manzanillo is a major resort and another Mexican fishing port claiming the title “sailfish capital of the world”.
You can get a closer look at the regal volcanoes north of Colima by spending an afternoon at COMALA, a tidy, picture-perfect Pueblo Mágico 10km north of the state capital. Here, in the central plaza or Jardín Principal, admire the church of San Miguel del Espíritu Santo, completed in 1832, or just sip a beer or margarita while enjoying a stellar view of the mountains and listening to mariachi bands. Friday and Saturday are the liveliest times, when you can mingle with day-tripping, predominantly middle-class Mexicans from Guadalajara; on Sundays and Mondays there are craft markets in the square.
Climbing the Nevado de Colima
The Parque Nacional Volcán Nevado de Colima comprises two spellbinding volcanoes rising north of Colima. The Volcán de Colima (3860m), also known as Volcán de Fuego, is officially still active and smokes from time to time, though there seems little imminent danger. It is far less frequently climbed than its larger and more passive brother, the Nevado de Colima (4330m), which, with its pine- and oak-forested slopes, is popular with local mountaineers during the clear, dry winter months. Unless there’s a lot of snow – in December and January crampons and an ice axe are essential – and provided you are fit and can get transport high enough, it’s a relatively easy hike up to the summit. Joining an organized tour is the hassle-free alternative and recommended for less experienced hikers.
Independently, you’ll need to set three days aside for the climb, take a sleeping bag and waterproofs, pack enough food and water for the trip and walk from the village of El Fresnito. First, take a bus from Terminal Foránea in Colima to Ciudad Guzmán (about 1hr 30min) and from there catch a bus from stall #21 to El Fresnito, where there are very limited supplies. Ask for the road to La Joya – take this and keep right until the route becomes obvious. This rough service road for the radio antennae leads up through cow pastures and goes right past the cabin at La Joya (3500m), about six to eight hours’ walking (35km). You pay the entry fee and can tank up from the supply of running water here, but don’t expect to stay in the hut, which is often locked, and even if open may be full, as it only sleeps six – bring camping equipment. The usual route from here is via a steep climb to the radio antennae (“Las Antenas”), from where it’s another stiff but non-technical walk to the summit. Plan on a day from La Joya to the summit and back, then another to get back to Colima, though a very fit walker starting before dawn could make the trip back to Colima, or at least Ciudad Guzmán, in a day. Note that hitching isn’t an option as the logging roads up here are rough, requiring high clearance or 4WD vehicles, and see very little traffic.