Did you know that the pretty colonial city of Colima in Mexico hosts the prestigious American Capital of Culture for 2014? Dubbed the ‘City of palms’ the ecologically rich region boasts soaring volcanoes, pristine lagoons, regal palaces and fascinating archaeological gems. And along with a packed calendar of cultural events, there are a multitude of things to do in Colima, in 2014 and beyond.
Get to known Colima
Beautiful Colima has something of an old world atmosphere, although frustratingly much of the three thousand years of history has been lost. The city retains its charm within its grand plazas, hidden courtyards and formal gardens, all sporting the city’s shady-giving signature tree – the palm tree – hence the nickname ‘The City of Palms’. The largest city in Colima state is Guadalajara (and indeed the third largest city in Mexico) although Colima city undoubtedly holds more charm and culture.
Learn a little at the Colima City Regional History Museum
The city of Colima is brimming with rich archaeological gems which date back to pre-1522, when the city was officially founded. The History Museum tells of the rise to prosperity with the arrival of Spanish conquistador Gonzalo de Sandoval. Other intriguing museums in the city include the Regional Museum of Western Cultures, Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo University Museum and University Museum of Popular Arts María Teresa Poma.
Tackle the lofty Volcanoes
Colima is an eco-adventurers paradise where two mighty volcanoes dominate the skyline. Head up to the Parque Nacional Volcán Nevado de Colima where you can hike and climb the two bewitching South Coast Range volcanoes. Tackle active Volcán de Colima, aka Volcán de Fuego which rises to 3,860 meters and admire the view from atop the altogether more laidback Nevado de Colima which rises to 4,330 meters. Volcan de Fuego is quieter and not so steep although Nevado de Colima is prettier, clad in oak and fragrant pine trees. And even during the winter snow you can ascend both peaks, with the aid of axes and crampons. No wonder Colima is one of the hottest destinations for 2014!
Admire the Palacio de Gobierno
Located besides the cathedral within the Plaza Principal is the beautiful Palacio de Gobierno which dates back to the 19th century. The highlight is undoubtedly the murals within the staircase which were created by local artist Jorge Chávez Carrillo. The murals depict freedom fighters and celebrate the 200th birthday of Miguel Hidalgo who remains a local hero, instrumental in the independence movement. Don’t miss the on-site museum with pottery exhibits dating back to 1500 BC.
Imbibe Colima Cathedral’s heritage
Shortly after the Spanish arrived, they constructed this pretty Cathedral in the central Plaza Principal. Sadly many of the main features of the original 1527 structure have been lost to various earthquakes, particularly in the major 1941 earthquake. Admire the impressive dome windows.
Experience the Palacio Federal up close
The handsome Federal Place of Colima lies within the heart of the city, close to the atmospheric Jardín Núñe. Dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, don’t miss the first floor murals whose scenes depict Mexico City and portraits of notable people from Mexico’s history.
Chill out on Colima’s Beaches
The coastline of Colima boasts gorgeous tropical beaches that run along Mexico's southern coast. Backing onto the tempestuous Pacific Ocean, this is also a great spot to catch some surf. It’s also a lot quieter and more laidback than its much more famous neighbour, Puerto Vallarta, which graces the pages of mainstream travel brochures.
Explore the San Francisco de Almoloyan Monastery
Get in touch with the local heritage at one of the essential things to do in Colima. Spend some time at the site of this old convent amongst the ruins of the old Franciscan monastery, which dates back to the 16th century.
Discover Colima’s carefully preserved haciendas
Dotted throughout the city are former haciendas, some of which have been faithfully renovated in the style of the period. A hacienda is an estate, which also encompasses plantations, ranches and factories. For example the Nogueras hacienda in Comala dates back to the 19th century and its restored 17th century chapel is today used as a museum. The local haciendas are architecturally important and highlight Colima’s heritage within folklore traditions, traditional handicrafts, authentic music and regional cuisine.
Festivals, holidays and events in Colima
With hosting the American Capital of Culture comes the opportunity to showcase the local culture and traditions, which includes the annual festivals and events; some which date back millennia;
- 2 February - Feast to honour Our Lady of Health
- 5 February - Celebration in honour of San Felipe de Jesus
- 19 March - Celebration in honour of St. Joseph
- 24 May 24 - Celebration of the Virgin Mary Help
- 4 July - Festival of Our Lady of Refuge
- 5 September - Independence Day
- 24 September - Feast of Our Lady of Mercy
- 1 and 2 November - All Saints Fair aka Day of the Dead
- 29 December to January 6 - Feast of the Rancho Villa, to honour Lord of the End
Chill out in La Piedra Lisa
Take a breath in the shady Lisa Stone Park, which has innovative climbing frames, an engaging Planetarium and an interactive science and technology museum.
Cool off at El Salto Waterfalls
The 100 meter high El Salto falls are formed by the meandering Minatitlán Marabasco River and provide the ideal spot to cool off under the beating Mexican sun. The drive there takes about an hour from Colima city through what can only be described as Jurassic Park territory; think dense jungle and tropical rainforest. It’s also a great place for bird spotting. Swimming is generally better in winter.
Experience La Campana
The important archaeological site of La Campana (pictured above) has been identified as the biggest pre-Hispanic settlement in western Mexico. Prepare to be mesmerised by the low structures which somewhat resemble pyramids. The site is believed to date back to 1500 BC and much of the site has been excavated and restored, revealing a small tomb and rather unusually for this part of the world, a ball court.
Browse the Pinacoteca Universitaria Alfonso Michel
This superb little museum is located within a 19th century building and the four halls set around the courtyard yield some fascinating surrealist works of art. Don’t miss the permanent collection from local painter Alfonso Michel, whose artwork has been likened to Picasso and Dali.
Image credits; 1, 2; Jrobertiko, 3; Tatehuari