Cuyutlan: A more affordable alternative to living in Manzanillo
By Susan Dearing

With real estate prices on the rise in the Manzanillo area, and the population hitting a new high of 130,000 residents (5,000 more than Puerto Vallarta), consider going south to the sleepy little town of Cuyutlan.

Though there are still a few bargains to be found in Manzanillo, the once-quiet town has seen its population almost double in the last 10 years, and in the last two years the cost of real estate has increased by 30-40% per year.

If your dream is a beachfront home for under $300,000, it's time to look at other options.

Visitors to the quaint town of Cuyutlan pass under an archway with the motto "Welcome to the Ola Verde," or Green Wave.

Please  click on photos to enlarge.

Just 30 minutes to the south is Cuyutlan, the traditional bathing beach preferred by tourists of the region since the last century. The small resort town reached its heyday in the '40s. Nothing has changed much. The main street is only a few blocks long, and the only business is tourism.

There's a malecon (boardwalk), with rows of restaurants, hotels, and cafes lining both sides. Wooden walkways across the beach lead to the ocean, which stretches on endlessly. This beach, of fine black sand flecked with gold, came from volcanic rock which has eroded over centuries.

On the same latitude as Hawaii, Cuyutlan and the state of Colima share many geographical features, including a volcano and lush, tropical flora and fauna. Coconut and banana plantations surround this picturesque seaside village, and bougainvillea and hibiscus grow wild everywhere.

Life slows down as soon as you get off the main road (Coastal Highway 200) and enter this laid-back town with a population (depending on whom you talk to) of between 400 to 800 residents.

On a typical weekday, you'll see a few old vehicles, a delivery truck or two, and old dogs sleeping in the street who can't seem to get up enough energy to move out of your way.

Most restaurants and hotels are empty, except for the small swallows nesting in almost every corner of the ceiling.

But Cuyutlan is not without its claim to fame. Almost every tourist guidebook talks about the "ola verde" or giant "Green Wave." Depending on how much tequila the storyteller has consumed, accounts of giant waves vary. Heights of 20-30 feet are common, so they say, especially during the months of May and June. A nearby surfing beach, Los Pascuales, enjoys 8-15 footers on a regular basis, and many times waves even taller.
The waves in Cuyutlan look green at that time of the year because of the algae and plankton in the water. If you sit under one of the delightful beach umbrellas in Cuyutlan and enjoy a fresh shrimp cocktail, wait until the sun is low enough for its rays to shine through the wave, and you'll see what is meant by "ola verde."
Cuyutlan's other claim to fame is its salt. Spanish explorers knew of the lagoon and the value of salt because it was used in mining silver. Though it was also used in preservation and flavoring, salt is the main ingredient in processing silver.

It takes one million tons of salt to produce 14,250 tons of silver (the amount of silver obtained from the beginning of the colony in 1521 through the year 1800). Given its importance, the struggle to control the salt flats continued over 200 years. Even the Cuyutlan town council attempted to control the salt workings. Its interest was purely financial: taxes on salt accounted for almost a quarter of the municipal revenue in 1881. In 1887, the Terrero family sold Cuyutlan and the salt rights to the Colima state governor. (The Terrero family has a pueblo named after them: El Terrero, at 9,000 ft. in the Manantlan Biosphere Reserve.)

Today, several hundred seasonal workers harvest salt, and on the highway near the flats, vendors sell unprocessed sea salt for 10 pesos a bag. On the road to Cuyutlan, you'll see the worker's shanties on the west (sea side) of the road, lit only by oil lamps.

In Cuyutlan, the Museo de Sal, or Salt Museum, which is housed in a 100-year-old salt storage barn, is made from hand-hewn boards from palm trees. Open daily from 8-6:30, you'll see a diorama of how salt is mined, whale bones, framed photos from the movie, "Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," filmed in Cuyutlan in 1951, old tools, even a train schedule from 1883. Not really exciting, but for the 20 peso entrance fee, it's at least something to talk about.

Salt is still a viable business enterprise, and as you take a walk around the century-old storage barns (still being used) on a weekday , you'll see men loading tons of bagged salt onto semi-trailer trucks to be distributed all over the world.

What else does Cuyutlan have to offer a new resident? 
  • Total and complete peace and quiet (except for a few roosters determined to strut their stuff and crow at street lamps).
  • The constant sound of the surf lulling you to sleep; the sea breezes enhancing your afternoon siesta.
  • Whales and dolphins frolicking near the shore.
  •  Sea turtles coming up to lay their eggs in the fine, black sand.
  • Colorful birds and amazing wetland creatures
  • Quaint cobblestone streets, and old dogs who sleep in them.
  • Hammocks in seaside restaurants; perhaps you'll have one on your back porch.
  • Children, playing naked in the surf.
  • Incredible sunsets, and a chance every day to see the "green flash."
  • Old folks sitting on their porches, reminiscing about "the good ol' days."
  • Beaches that stretch on forever
  • A tranquil, affordable, crime-free village to live or retire.

Not only are residents able to view sea turtles returning to the beach of their birth (an event that takes place during the months of July through October), they are also able to enjoy baby turtles of all sizes and species at the Turtle Sanctuary.

Regular excursions to the Sanctuary offer the visitor a chance to learn about endangered sea turtles, their habitat and lifestyle, and how to protect them. El Tortugario, as the sanctuary is called, also protects crocodiles and iguanas, who reside within the sanctuary's walls.

On Saturday afternoon, sea turtles are dolled out to visiting children, to be released in the sea as part of an ongoing educational program.

Additionally, the Tortugario rescues green iguanas and crocodiles, two other endangered species.

Behind the sanctuary is part of Cuyutlan's 31-mile-long lagoon. The fascinating boat tour offers visitors a chance to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of water birds, eagles, hawks, caciques, crakes, rails, and many other species.

Incredibly beautiful flowering water lilies and marsh grasses that are used to make hats and baskets are a photographer's dream.

An occasional croc or turtle can be also seen, though they are usually quite shy and disappear at the first sound of a motor. If you are a kayaker, and visit the lagoon early in the morning, expect to see a lot more.

The boat guides have cut the mangroves to form a tunnel, barely tall and wide enough to allow the boat to pass. In branches, night birds such as potoos and owls can be observed, as well as blue and gray herons and snowy egrets, who delicately pick for food in the lagoon's shallow waters.

Besides the obvious attractions of nature, the English-speaking residents have a book club that meets the first Monday of every month, and an English book and DVD library.

Everything in town is within walking distance, and busses run frequently to other, larger commercial centers, such as Tecoman and Colima.

Hotel San Rafael

A women's group meets every Wednesday evening for "killer" dominoes, and everyone enjoys a social hour at the Hotel San Rafael every Saturday at 5 p.m. After drinks and dinner, the domino games begin in earnest.

The Hotel Fenix (left), centrally located (almost on the beach and where the main highway dead-ends at the beach), is another popular gathering spot. Probably because the food is so good and the owners are friendly. Great atmosphere at the Hotel Morelos (right).

Meet at any of the many seaside restaurants at sunset and watch for the "green flash."

If you're looking for high-tech groceries, and other important "can't-do-without" items, Tecoman is 15 minutes away. In Tecoman, a major metropolitan city, you can find everything you need, from supermarkets and automotive centers, to hospitals and private medical clinics. Cuyutlan is also only 30 minutes from Manzanillo, and, in the opposite direction, 30 minutes from Colima City, the state capital. Colima has a plethora of chains: Sam's Club, City Club, Office Depot, Domino's Pizza, KFC, McDonald's, Burger King and the indomitable Wal-Mart! Most U.S. and Canadian residents drive longer than that just to get to work each day. But, in your countries, you don't get to come home to the beach.

What tops peace and tranquility, dolphins, turtles and whales, an incredible wildlife habitat, spectacular vegetation, friendly people, modern conveniences, such as high speed internet, and an ecologically correct attitude?

The most incredible sunsets! It is hard to describe a sunset--the perfect end to a sublime day. Not only are sunsets endless and awe-inspiring in Cuyutlan--they are affordable. Wouldn't you like to be part of this community before others discover what those of us who live here have known for years?

For information on Cuyutlan properties, contact

For a great map of Colima state, showing Manzanillo, Cuyutlan, Colima City and Tecoman, click here.