Manzanillo, in the state of Jalisco, and on the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, combines busy commercial port activity with more conventional tourist beach destinations. The most renowned of these, Las Hadas, still enjoys the publicity it gained from the 1979 movie, 10. Many tourists also use the city as a base to visit the numerous, and more peaceful, beaches and beach communities outside the city.
La Manzanilla, which lies about 50 miles north of Manzanillo, is a small bayside village with particular appeal to birders.
Nestled on Tenacatita Bay, fifteen kilometers north of Melaque, La Manzanilla is largely unknown. There are no references to La Manzanilla in most of the popular tourist guides to Mexico, and it doesn't even appear in Guia Roji, the 150 page atlas of Mexican road maps. In spite of this, many North Americans have discovered La Manzanilla, and there are many excellent accommodations, including mountain-side rental homes.
There are also many good places to eat, including the beachfront palapa restaurants that specialize in fresh fish.
The combination of Pacific Ocean shoreline, an extensive adjacent mangrove marsh and the steeply rising forested hillside provides a wide range of birding opportunities.
Birding the Beach and Shoreline
Birding can be combined with a delicious seafood lunch along the beach. Many typical winter shorebirds can be seen here, including Brown and Blue-footed Booby, Magnificent frigatebird, Laughing and Franklin's gull, Elegant and Caspian tern and Brown pelican.
Birding the Mangrove Marsh
More interesting are the mangrove pools and marshes on the north side of town, just a block from the main road to the beach, and easily walked. Many birds can be observed through the fence that borders the marsh, including Green heron, Snowy and Great egret, Great kiskadee, Yellow-winged cacique and Groove-billed ani.
In addition to the birds found in the marsh trees, there are many photogenic crocodiles close to the trail (but on the other side of the fence). At least one of these is reputed to be twelve feet long, and they all like to bare their teeth for the camera.
Birding the Hills Above Town
By far the most productive birding of all three options is found in the treed hillsides and brushy canyons ranging one to three hundred feet above the town. It's difficult to find parking on the roads, but much of this area can be reached by foot from the town. Renting one of the homes in the hills above town is a better way to reach more birds, however, and some of these can be found on the Internet.
More than one hundred species are likely to be found in a few days of birding this area, many of which will simply arrive and move on past a patiently waiting birder. Winter birds recently observed this way include Citreoline trogon, Scrub euphonia, West-Mexican chachalaca, Golden-cheeked and Pale-billed woodpecker, Bullock's and Hooded oriole, Tropical parula, Dusky-capped flycatcher, Mexican wood nymph and Orange-fronted parakeet.
Getting to La Manzanilla
Driving north on coastal highway 200 from Manzanillo, pass Barra de Navidad and Melaque. From Melaque, the clearly signed turnoff to La Manzanilla is just before kilometer 15. It is an easy and short drive from here into the town. From Puerto Vallarta, the exit to La Manzanilla is approximately 100 miles south on highway 200.
Good beach communities and good birding can be found all along Mexico's west coast. A little extra research and effort sometimes will uncover a gem like La Manzanilla.