Colima in Mexico may just be one of Mexico’s best spots for off the beaten path cultural, culinary and adventure travel.
Mexico has always been a special place to me. It was the first country I visited in 2010 when I left my career, boyfriend, apartment and friends indefinitely. I cried through most of it but locals were so kind.
ALSO READ: The Year I Walked Away from Love
Mexico is my happy place.
There’s something so special about Mexico and its people. I can never say no to a trip.
This time I was invited to attend the ATMEX in Colima in Mexico – now before you keel over laughing because I hate hiking and pretty much all adventure travel, I should say there is also a culture component to the event.
And food is at the heart of culture.
I arranged to arrive a few days before the conference, so I could explore on my own. The state of Colima is one of the most underrated culinary regions and I needed to have a few days to my own, undistracted, just to walk and eat…and walk and eat…and then stop for a drink.
Why Don’t You Know About Colima in Mexico?
Colima in Mexico is both a city and a state. Colima city is the capital in central Mexico on the Pacific coast with over 150,000 people. Yet while I’ve been to Baja California before I hadn’t heard of Colima.
But that’s not surprising.
It’s one of the smallest states in Mexico and I think it’s overshadowed by some of the heavyweights on the Pacific coast in Mexico like Oaxaca, Jalisco and Puerto Vallarta.
But that’s what makes it the most appealing to me. This city of palm trees is still lesser known and not overrun by tourists. In fact, most tourists are from neighbouring Guadalajara and so it’s a very different kind of tourism here and I prefer it.
A Beginner’s Guide to Colima in Mexico
Colima isn’t a city jam packed with things to do within city walls, instead it’s best to explore for a day and then use it as a base for day trips.
It’s not only a city between two volcanoes, but it’s also not far from great beaches, lagoons, mangroves and turtle sanctuaries.
But as a base there are some great things to see if you’d just like to spend a day wandering. It’s a living city, not a place just built for tourism with restaurants and shops only gringos visit. You can visit Colima and really get a sense of the city and it’s culture.
Where to Eat in Colima City Mexico
The capital city of Colima in Mexico. This is the home to an interesting food culture because it is wedged in between so many great food states. As well, it has fantastic tropical fruits and access to fresh seafood like sea bass, snapper and octopus.
A few things to look out for is the Colima style ceviche, pozole seco and sopitos. For a full food hunters list check out:
There’s not a lot written about the best restaurants in Colima and I think there’s a few reasons why
- There is a lot of international food, which Mexicans love. But I didn’t travel to Mexico to eat pizza.
- There are so many great tiny street stalls, market fondas and neighbourhood joints selling traditional food that you can’t go wrong.
I did make the mistake of following the advice of a famous guidebook when I first arrived.
Why do I do this?
Guidebooks are great but they rarely are written by people who would eat where I want to eat and instead provide mediocre options.
I didn’t have time to eat at enough restaurants in Colima but I do have some recommendations.
A typical Mexican market, it has household goods like traditional Mexican pots and plateware as well as produce, meats, great juice stands and small places to eat called “fondas.”
I think eating in the market is the closest you can get to eating in someone’s home. The market here is great for trying traditional food in Colima at a bargain price. I had tatemado at fonda El Mason, just to the side of the main vendors and loved it.
Another great central spot during the day. There are two floors, the first has produce but you can head upstairs to the second floor to eat.
Like at the Mercado Obregon you can expect to pay between 50 and 80 pesos for a full meal.
Coffee Shops in Colima
Downtown Colima has lots of bars and restaurants that serve coffee but only a few cafes or coffee shops.
The most popular is Café Larabica on the main drag of Constitution with the handicraft shops. Although it looks like a modern coffee shop with lots of options, including a “Mexican Americano” with a shot of tequila, this café doesn’t have wifi and didn’t have a working bathroom when I was there.
Also if you need to charge your phone you need to pay 5-8 pesos – a minor cost that is worth it. And the staff are very lovely and the iced coffee is only 25 pesos.
Where to Shop in Colima in Mexico
Colima is a modern city with well known Mexican shops like Copel to international retailers like Sears. However, if you’re looking for traditional Colimense gifts the best spot is to head downtown.
An offshoot above the main square, there is a pedestrian only section featuring local handicrafts from ceramics to leather and traditional dress.
Mercado Constitucion + Mercado Obregon
Great spots for local kitchen and household goods traditional to Colima in Mexico.
Located on Constitucion, this is your one-stop shop for local product. It’s a government run program to support local artisans so you know you’re getting authentic items.
This shop was recommended by several locals to find the best quality products. It also is home to an impressive selection of local food items to take home for souvenirs.
Andador Constitución esq. Zaragoza, Col. Centro
Open Monday-Friday 8:30am-8pm, Saturday 9am-3pm, 4pm-8pm, Sunday 10am-2pm
Parks and Green Spaces in Colima City Mexico
Jardin Torres Quintero and Jardín Libertad
These sister gardens are on each side of the Cathedral and her side of the Government Palace and the Cathedral. Libertad is the garden of the main square with a beautiful gazebo that often hosts bands, lots off local activity and frequently someone exercising their right to protest.
On the other side in Jardin Torres Quintero you’ll find lots of artists selling their works as well as local food vendors. Late afternoon it’s also home to great merienda snacks of traditional food and drink.
Parque de la Piedra Lisa
A park popular with families at night on the weekends, it is named after a volcanic rock called La Piedra Lisa that you can slide down. Locals tell you that once you slide down you are guaranteed you’ll always return. It’s a large park complete with a playground and a science centre, perfect for entertaining children.
Parque Griselda Álvarez
Named for the first female governor of Mexico and is home to a museum in her name as well.
This is one of the newer parks in Colima and was opened in 2009. There is also a zoo, and man-made lake large enough for small boat rentals.
Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm
Just a few blocks from the main square, Jardin Nuñez is a popular spot for locals. It is anchored by a fountain and filled with lots of seating and palm trees. It is often used for special events and festivals.
At night, one end of the garden is lined is street vendors, selling everything from hamburgers to esquites (Mexican corn salad).
Colima in Mexico: Best Day Trips
Only twenty minutes away , historic Comala is known as the White City of America and is one of Mexico’s designated Pueblo Magicos, similar to Valladolid. It’s only twenty minutes away by bus, simply go to the old bus terminal in the southwest part of Colima.
The city is quaint and worth a day’s trip. If you can make it on Sunday or Monday there is a great handicraft market. Also do not miss the little bakery “El Mejor” which is tiny but famous for its bread, especially the picon.
Also, if you feel like a beer, Colama is home to botanas, like in Merida and Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Botanas are similar to tapas, you order a round of beer and they bring you free plates of food, order another round and you get more food, usually a step up, and it continues with each round.
The largest city in Colima state, Manzanillo is only 90 minutes from Colima but has a very different vibe.
The city flourished as a beach destination in the 70s and 80s but then the government decided to focus its attention on developing it further as a major port in Mexico.
The main tourist beach area in the city, La Brisas, has a nostalgic feel. You can sense that many people likely vacationed here as a child and not much has changed since then. It feels like a beach area from the 80s.
If I return I’ll stay in the historic centre, which is a charming city with great seafood spots, food stalls and market. I’ve heard the best beaches are north and south of the city, and not far by bus or car.
Okay I’m cheating a bit with this one as it’s part of Manzanillo, but I also think it’s the prettiest part of Manzanillo. There’s a well known look out spot where you can watch the sunset (or shoot the video above). It’s a beautiful view of Manzanillo but make sure you bring some bug spray as the mosquitos are vicious at dusk.
Below Santiago Bay is well known as having the best beach in the city and it’s also the spot where Bo Derek and Dudley Moore shot the movie 10.
It’s also home to the most luxurious hotel in Manzanillo Mexico – Las Hadas, which means the Fairies. Lydia from Mexico City Streets describes the hotel as vintage luxury, which I think is appropriate.
Colima Volcano of Fire – Volcan de Fuego de Colima
Colima is tucked in between two volcanoes, one of which is active. There are hiking and photography safari tours to this active volcano. The best time to visit is November to March. In your area it is ideal for camping, hiking or rural light photography.
Only thirty minutes from Colima, La Campana is the largest prehistoric site in western Mexico. It dates back to 1500 BC and you can visit the bell-shaped structures that are similar to shallow pyramids.
The archaeological site is restored and it’s available to visit. It’s easy to combine with a visit to Volcan de Fuego.
The site features a number of pyramid structures, although not like the well maintained structures at Chichen Itza. Yet they do have are impressive petroglyphs of plants, animals and gods. There are also a number of patios, a ball court and area to collect rainwater.
Its name refers to the people who lived near the streams, although no one is entirely sure what civilization inhabited this structure.
Turtle Sanctuary and Mangrove Tour
El Tortugario Centro Ecologico de Cuyutlan is a turtle sanctuary in partnership with the federal government, and protects the local turtle population. The center rescues local turtle eggs that they take care of and eventually release into the wild.
They release 70,000 turtles a year but unfortunately the odds are against these little guys as only 2% survive.
Plan ahead and call to let them know you’re going. If turtles have hatched the night before you may be able to release them into the ocean. You cannot help them into the ocean as they need to remember where they came from, only then will they return. It’s a magical experience.
If you have a bit of time you can also take a tour of the mangroves for only 50 pesos. Bring lots of sunscreen and water!
Playa Peña Blanca
Just outside Manzanillo is a remote beach that few tourists ever see. It’s only 4 miles away on a road farmers built to transport produce and lumber. However, it’s a public road anyone can use, if they have a truck or 4×4 to navigate the rough dirt road.
I visited with Rancho Peña Blanca Tours as part of the ATMEX conference and can highly recommend it. Our guide Hector spent time showing us flora and fauna throughout.
It’s common for locals to visit the beach and camp, especially on weekends. It’s called Peña Blanca because of the gigantic white rock that sits in the ocean. The rock has no vegetation and is white because of the bird feces, or as the locals call it – bird artwork.
But a little farther down the beach is a sight I thought was a bit more impressive. Panocha rock is a triangle shaped rock named about the triangle solid blocks of local molasses in the markets. Here the river meets the ocean and in April there is more water which creates a lagoon and attracts alligators to nest.
Suchitlán is a small village nearby that is famous for its artisan masks and other art. There are many workshops and stores close to the main plaza where you can meet local artists, watch them working and buy authentic masks for a great price.
Museums in Colima City
I am not an expert in the best museums. In fact, I only go when it’s raining or I’m biding time until my next meal. I prefer smaller museums that require less than an hour to visit and I learn something new. It turns out there are some amazing museums in Colima meeting this criteria.
Regional Museum of Colima in Mexico
Just off the main square it’s a few dollars to enter and you only need 30-45 minutes to view the exhibits. The museum follows the path of the city from ancient times and while the descriptions are in Spanish the museum provides an English translation.
The history is explained in a candid way. For example, in Mesoamerican cultures your afterlife isn’t decided by how you lived but by how you died. So warriors who die in battle go to the good place first, as do women who die in childbirth as they are also considered warriors.
For the rest of us it’s a journey. But you need a dog to guide you through the valley of death to make it to the good place. Many dogs were sacrificed and buried with the dead (later on hreplaced by ceramic dogs).
But you needed this dog.
So, if you were a good person all your life and your family forgot the dog you likely weren’t going to make it, but if you were horrific and evil but you were buried with a dog you made it to the good place.
PRO TIP: Don’t miss the balcony on the top floor overlooking the square.
Colima City Regional History Museum
Portal Morelos 1, Centro Histórico
Open 9am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
More often simply called the Cathedral, it is the tallest building in Colima and located in the main square known as Plaza Principal. Although it was completed in 1540, it’s been rebuilt several times in different locations due to earthquake damage.
It’s not a museum but there’s lots to see and learn here.
Museo Universitario de Artes Populares
Dedicated to Mexican folk art and handicrafts, it is part of the university but open to the public. It has one of the largest collections of artesania in Mexico with a focus on local pieces.
This year’s special exhibit focuses on marionettes but you’ll also find ceramics, pottery and even the traditional giant puppets known as mojigangas.
Museo Universitario de Artes Populares
28000, Manuel Gallardo 399, Centro
Open 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-1pm on Sunday
Pinacoteca Universitaria Alfonso Michel
Most people miss the art gallery just a few blocks from the main square, likely because it’s somewhat difficult to find. Simply ask for El Beaterio church and you’ll find it in front.
Part of the University of Colima in Mexico, there’s a modern entrance to a series of colonial homes which feature over 1000 pieces of various artwork including sculptures, photography and engraving.
If you’re a fan of surrealist artwork, Colima’s most famous painter Alfonso Michel is often likened to Picasso and Salvador Dali. There are also work from a number of other well known Mexican artists. Guided tours are available.
Pinacoteca Universitaria Alfonso Michel
Universidad de Colima, Vicente Guerrero 35, Centro
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 2pm, 5pm-8pm, Sunday10am-1pm Sunday
Palacio de Gobierno of Colima in Mexico
The Government Palace is home to murals from local artist Jorge Chavez Carrillo, which pay tribute to Miguel Hidalgo, who is widely considered to be the father of Mexico. Once a priest in Colima, he was one of the heroes of independence against the Spanish colonization.
It’s a working government building but guests are welcome to come in and view the murals and small museum.
Palacio de Gobierno
Reforma 37, Centro
Open 8:30am-4pm, Monday to Friday
Museo de las Culturas de Occidente María Ahumada de Gómez
This museum if archeology is just outside central Colima but worth the drive as it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the city, close to
Parque de la Piedra Lisa.
Museo de las Culturas de Occidente María Ahumada de Gómez
Ejército Nacional, Centro, 28000 Colima, Col., Mexico
Colima Mexico Hotels
With many national tourists there are lots of hospedajes and budget hotels in Colima that are no frills but also very economical. There are no luxury hotels in Colima.
Hospedaje del Rey
I stayed here three nights and can recommend it. Just a few blocks from the main square it was small but clean and only $550 pesos a night. There is wifi, television and a pool around the corner for use.
What I liked the most was that they had coolers of water in the hallways and an empty pitcher in your room so you never needed to worry about water.
Read Reviews on TripAdvisor or Book on Expedia
El Rincon de Los Ángeles
I didn’t stay here but this hotel was recommended as one of the best budget hotels in Colima. I was told it was better than where I was staying.
As I was here for ATMEX, the organizers placed me in this hotel for three nights. The sheets were great, wifi was ok and the staff is very friendly. But I did not enjoy it.
My room was the floor below the lobby not far from the gym, it had a patio door that could not be opened and looked directly into an 8-foot hedge. It felt like I was in a basement.
I asked to be moved but they couldn’t move me as I was in the cheapest room, which wasn’t surprising.
The hotel is also a one-hour walk (10-minute drive) to downtown and while I enjoyed walking through the city to explore more, I wouldn’t stay there again.
A Best Western hotel downtown in the center of it all. Some conference attendees stayed there and I was very jealous. Rooms are typical colonial-style and some have balconies that look out onto the main square. Although that can be noisy at night if there is a fiesta in the main square.
Even if you don’t stay here there’s a great rooftop terrace that overlooks the square and opens at 7pm.
Colima Mexico Crime: Is Colima Safe?
So, if you pay attention to US Travel Advisories (I do not) then you may know that the state of Colima in Mexico is on the Do Not Travel list. I’m not going to pretend that Mexico doesn’t have issues with drugs cartels.
But in all the time I’ve spent in Mexico I have found that if I don’t partake in drugs and other questionable activity, I never see any of what contributes to the crime rate in Mexico. I apply the same safety precautions in my home city of Toronto and any other city I visit.
Colima is one of the smallest states in Mexico and while I know Colima has had its share of issues I didn’t feel unsafe walking the streets.
During Mexico’s Independence Day the city was flooded with local and state police on every corner and everyone walked through a metal detector. When the female police officer was checking my backpack I told her I was visiting alone and asked if there was a time it was advisable for me to go back to my hotel. She told me that I shouldn’t worry as police were all over and that I should feel safe.
And I really did.
I hung out eating pozole seco and listening to music. In fact, the one thing I noticed was that it was really a family celebration and I didn’t see people with open alcohol. That said, I went home at 10pm before the party could turn.
How to Get to Colima in Mexico
From Manzanillo Airport
To reach Colima from Manzanillo airport you must first take a taxi and then a bus.
The Manzanillo airport is less than an hour from Mexico City but it’s quite a distance from downtown Manzanillo. The small airport is not serviced by bus, only taxis. There is a stand to buy your taxi fare, determined by zone.The Manzanillo bus station costs a hefty 590 pesos for a 45 minute ride.
Like many buses in Mexico, the bus from Manzanillo to Colima is very comfortable. It costs 150 pesos for a 90 minute bus ride. The fare includes some food and a drink of your choice. The seats are similar to a plane, with a television you can watch with earphones.
The Colima bus station is only ten minute from city centre. At the station there is a kiosk to buy the fare. Simply provide your address to calculate the fare. To city centre is only 35 pesos.
From Colima City Airport
The airport is only a 20 minute cab ride away from the city centre. There is also a taxi stand inside the airport where you pay by zone and receive a ticket to give to the driver. The most expensive fare into Colima is Zone C and currently 360 pesos.
How to Get Around Colima City Mexico
Although there is a local bus system, buses in Colima are very affordable and often only cost a few dollars even when you ask your hotel to call one.
Colima City Mexico Map
Have you been in Colima in Mexico? What are your favourite things to do? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll revise the post to add them!