There's really not much to do in Manzanillo, except enjoy the long clean beach of light brown sand and swim in the sea... clear clean water, and a very low-key atmosphere. it's best to go at weekends, since some (very few, actually) Cartagena residents head there, which means that the beach restaurants will be open.
I was on Sunday, and there was hardly anyone, except a few local kids playing in the sea. Unlike beaches in cartagena you can actually enjoy the beach, asthere are no aggressive sellers around. Very relaxing, although not a paradise beach with white sand... there's none in or near Cartagena anyway, unless you boat out to the Rosario islands or Playa Blanca, which are very crowded.
We had lunch at one of the few open-air beach restaurants in manzanillo del mar... all are very simple and similar... some tables, plastic chairs and not much else... but the staff is firendly and the food is good. You can leave your things in the restaurant while you head out to the sea to swim...
Favorite Dish: We tried the chicken and the fish, both came with a side salad, some yummy coconut rice and plantain arepas... the reason we chose two different meals was to try and avoid fried-anything... none of them was fried, actually, so we were lucky. The third alternative on the menu is a vegetarian meal, which I never found out in what it consisted.
While you can get to manzanillo by bus or by taxi, to get to the manglares (mangroves) you obviously need a boat... local fisherman are used to taking people out through the mangrove channels.
Because these channels are very shallow, they use small wooden boats that they "push" using a long wooden stick while standing, instead of rows. Even the salmaster lakes are very shallow - they are about 1 metre 50 at their deepest.
It takes quite some effort and balance to row these boats (I tried), so at the end of the trip it's nice to give an extra tip to the man who took you out... he certainly deserves it.
In Manzanillo, for a smal fee (I think about 20000 COP) you can ask a fisherman to take you out on a small boat to see the mangroves. The one who took us around called himself "the papa" and he was very nice - explained the five types of mangroves that live in the manglares and rowed us though channels and cienagas (salmaster lakes) to the next village, la Boquilla. He also pointed out many birds ad types of fish and crabs.
Half way there he landed on an island (Isla del Cascajo), where there's a so-caled pre-colombian park (Ecológico y Museo Precolombino), where you can see replicas of statues and idols of 12 different pre-colombian populations. We were the only visitors tere, so it did not quite feel like a tourist trap (it would have been, if only other tourists had been there at the same time).
On the whole we really enjoyed the trip, the landscape and the silence. "The papa" turned out to be a perfect guide and a very fun man. It has to be noted, however, that - like ll other fishermen - he did nto speak any English, just Spanish. To fully appreciate the mantgroves trip you need to be able to speak some Spanish, or you would miss the very interesting explanations.
Manzanillo del Mar is a quiet fishing village about 20 minutes from Cartagena, by road... between Punta Canoa and La Boquilla. Manzanillo owes its name to a variety of trees popular in the region, the manzanillos. It is also the place where people in the past took the stones that were used to build the Cartagena old walls.
Fondest memory: There are two main beaches, Playa de Oro and Playa Rica - where the only people you'll encounter are curious local kids that will splash in the waves with you. While I enjoyed that immensely, I enjoyed even more walking around the village and discovering that there are just as many pigs as people... cute pigs everywhere, instead of the usual packs of dogs. Refreshing.