We Were Blessed by Visiting Manzanillo, South of Puerto Vallarta, and the Hidden Vida del Mar

I had some serious doubts about whether my first trip to Mexico would be a success. Now I can report that my first trip to Mexico was fantastic because I found a slice of heaven at Vida del Mar in Manzanillo (Mon-zah-knee-oh).

There are apparently some very famous places to vacation in Mexico, not the least of which are Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Acapulco and Cancun. Most of these destinations, to my knowledge, are resort areas with high traffic. Vida del Mar in Manzanillo is not.

Manzanillo, like Puerto Vallarta, is on the Pacific Coast, perhaps 150 miles south of Puerto Vallarta as the crow flies.

My first impression on landing at Manzanillo’s airport was that it was the smallest airport I have ever been in and also the cleanest. Vida del Mar is not a huge tourist area crawling with young adults looking for drinking holes and social action, but a perfect place for senior citizens to enjoy the beauty of the area in a quiet setting.

Vida del Mar is a gated, guarded, closed community of condo owners whose residences sit halfway up a mountainside looking onto a gorgeous bay. There is exactly one road in with a guard on duty 24/7. I felt safer there than in any major metro area in the United States.

We were staying with my son’s family in a condo owned by a couple whose children go to the same private Catholic school as my grandson does in Lacey, Washington. Their unit was on the corner of the second floor in 1 of the 13 condo buildings with 3 swimming pools in the development. The units faced south in the middle of well-manicured lawns and lush tropical gardens.

I thought sleeping at night might be a problem as the clear, sunny days were hot and there was no air conditioning. Imagine my surprise when night arrived, and we felt the cool breezes off of the Pacific Ocean by leaving our screened in patio doors open.

The coastline in Manzanillo lies more east to west than north to south, you can even get sea breezes during the day. Because the condos face south, the air rises up into the neighboring Sierra Madre Mountains, cools off at 14,000 feet, and at night comes gently floating back down to the sea, producing excellent sleeping conditions as the condos are above sea level.

Apparently condos at sea level in that area get what most resorts get, very little breeze at night and insects. Sitting high up the mountain is a distinct advantage to the condo owners.

Only a few minutes away from Vida del Mar is Club Santiago with the “Beach Club” that most condo owners join. Club Santiago is the most exclusive housing area in Manzanillo, with homes starting at $12 million pesos ($1 million in United States dollars). The beach at Club Santiago reminded me of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The architecture in Mexico is excellent. There are no wood-frame homes, everything is built in cement, even the cushions for the furniture in the condo had a cement base. The doors have archways that are far superior to our rectangular American construction. The floors are all in tile, again, far superior to our American rugs and laminate wood floors.

The Hispanic architectural influence is also efficient, effective and downright utilitarian. Condos are space sensitive and creative use of the space available is a premium. I saw a washer and dryer in a single unit that fit to the inch in the space available within the designated laundry area. It was impressive use of space to say the least.

In the United States, everything that is bigger is supposed to be better. Careless and useless wasted space is not nearly as neat and tidy, not to mention just plain more ostentatious. The judicious use of built-ins for storage areas was also efficient, effective and helpful.

Vida del Mar also has one of the most romantic restaurants, La Recief, which is located on a cliff high above the Pacific Coast. Looking out to the Pacific Ocean, a halogen light at night beams light out to the waves as they come cascading into the shoreline below. The food is top notch and the servers are performance servers, preparing dishes at your table.

Given the choice of any romantic setting at a restaurant that I could find to impress my date, I would take her to La Recief.

Outside of the Vida del Mar complex, the local Manzanillo citizens are rarely bilingual, except for some restaurant owners downtown and a few of their servers.

On the second floor balcony of the unit, looking out to the surrounding bay, I thought that this is EXACTLY the sort of place that Ernest Hemingway would have retreated to when writing his next novel—low key, secluded, quiet and beautiful.

I almost selfishly thought about not writing about my trip to Manzanillo and Vida del Mar as word may get around and then everything that makes it a little slice of heaven might be less so in the coming years. Because Vida del Mar is what it is, I could not restrain myself.

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