Mazatlán is a central Pacific port city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa that offers a historic Spanish colonial town, established in 1531, and a ten-mile-long sandy beach. The vibe is laid back and tranquilo, but there’s no lack of things to do and see, making it a must-see for world cruisers.
Mazatlán, meaning “place of deer” in the Nahuatl language, was a sleepy fishing village until the early 19th century, when it became a bustling port receiving vessels from as far away as Asia and Europe. In the 1930s, tourism took hold as a major industry, but it declined as visitors moved on to the planned tourist destinations in Mexico like Cancun, and Ixtapa in the ‘70s. In recent years, this architecturally rich city has undergone a renaissance thanks to a restoration movement that has helped preserve and revamp the beautiful historic district and buildings.
In a world where cruisers and travelers are searching for authenticity, a local experience, and “the real Mexico,” you can’t do much better than Mazatlán. Picture cobblestone streets flanked with vibrantly painted colonial houses and leafy plazas with cafes, gardens, kiosks, and restaurants with tables spilling out into the street. There are beautiful churches, a historic theater, street vendors, and murals. A sprawling malecón (boardwalk), the longest in Mexico, hugs the Pacific shoreline and is lined with beach resorts and palapa bars serving ceviche and cervaza. Pacifico brewery, one of the most popular Mexican beers, is based in Mazatlán.
It’s easy to get around Mazatlán with the ample number of taxis. Besides the normal taxis, the tourist areas also have many small, white, open-topped taxis called pulmonias, which look like golf carts on steroids. They are everywhere and you won’t have to wait long for one, but make sure that you bargain about the price before hopping in.
Open Air Market
Located in the Centro Historico district since 1900, the Mercado Jose Maria Pino Suarez Market is a great shopping experience that has been an attraction for visitors and locals alike. The market is divided in sections by food types. Shoppers find aisles with fresh seafood, chicken, beef, pork, and what seems to be miles of aisles of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Central Mercado also has local cheese vendors featuring some delicious, locally produced cheeses, as well as herb and spice shops. Beyond food, the Mercado has numerous shops and vendors of T-shirts, hats and all sorts of souvenirs.
Take a Stroll
The palm-lined Malecón is a 13-mile long seawall, one of the longest in the world, that runs the length of the bay. Atop the seawall is a wide path that you will see people walking, running, and bicycling on from early morning to late at night. Along the Avenida del Mar portion of the Malecón, there are monuments and statues commemorating family, women, continuation of life, the Pacifico Brewery, pulmonia taxis, and fishermen.
There is plenty of action on this boardwalk. In addition to the public art, there are bars, dance clubs, and restaurants to be discovered along the Malecón. For some high-risk excitement, watch the cliff divers at the Glorieta Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada park. They jump from heights of 20 meters into relatively shallow water. Known as clavadistas, these daring men leap off a small platform high above the crashing waves. They must time their dive very carefully to not hit the rocks.
Time Your Visit
The Carnival in Mazatlán is a late February/early March annual event. The Malecón is the site of all the fun and craziness of the Carnival. It’s reported to be the third largest in the world after Rio De Janeiro and New Orleans. There are big parades down the Malecón, large shows at the baseball stadium, fireworks and a big party at Olas Altas Beach. Since it is Mazatlán and the home of Pacifico brewery, there is plenty of cerveza flowing!
Rest, Eat & Drink
The Plaza Machado is the heart of the Centro Historico, with its many fine restaurants and shops encompassing the square. It is one of the loveliest plazas in all of Mexico and reminds me of the piazzas of Italy. This is a great place to sit and watch people. The plaza was once a marsh area fed by the ocean. A seawall was constructed in 1832, drying out the area and making it suitable for building.
The Plaza was originally constructed in 1837 and is the oldest plaza in Mazatlán. Once referred to as Paseo de las Naranjas (Orange Tree Walk) because of the orange trees that surrounded the space, the plaza quickly became a focal point for the community and is a place where Mazatlán residents of all social classes gathered. The beautiful iron gazebo in the center of the square was built in 1870, serving as a platform for performers and further cementing the plaza as a central public place.
Keep the Faith
No day spent exploring Centro Historico would be complete without visiting the Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion. Construction started under Bishop Pedro Loza y Pardave in 1856, but the cathedral was not completed until 1899 due to Mazatlán’s turbulent history. In 1937, the church was elevated to the status of a basilica, which is a Roman Catholic church or cathedral given special ceremonial privileges by the Pope.
Inside the Basilica, the image of the city’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Purisima Conception (Virgin of the Immaculate Conception) floats over the main altar. Overhead, soaring renaissance domes and golden gothic arches create an airy and spiritual space. The Basilica also features a unique cross-over of religions: each of its 28 stained glass windows incorporates a Star of David which were installed in gratitude for the donation of construction funds by a wealthy Mazatlán Jewish family. The Basilica also has a majestic organ built in Paris by Aristide Cavaille-Coo, who is considered one of the greatest organ builders in the nineteenth century.
Plenty to Do
Once you have completed exploring Old Mazatlán, there is still more to do and see. There are any number of tours that can take you to a 19th-century mansion, spectacular ecosystems, the Baluarte Bridge (certified by Guinness World Record as the world’s highest suspension bridge), and museums.
Spend time snorkeling the islands just offshore. Explore these beautiful islands and discover the amazing creatures that inhabit them or go whale watching. Deep-sea fishing for some of the largest predators of the Pacific and bottom fishing around Mazatlán’s outer reefs, shelves, and dozens of shipwrecks lure many fishermen to these waters. Mazatlán also offers three golf courses. Whether you are an experienced golfer or just learning the game, Mazatlán golf courses will challenge you.
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants in Mazatlán. The origin of today’s Mexican cuisine is a product of the Olmec, Toltec, Aztec and Maya cultures and each region provides its unique spin on this historic cuisine. In Mazatlán, seafood is a mainstay.
For local flavors, it’s hard to beat Ponchos. This oceanfront establishment features seafood and Mexican cuisine. We enjoyed an appetizer of tequila cheese that was prepared tableside. Our meal of coconut shrimp and chicken mole were ever so tasty and large.
We had another excellent dinner at Casa Loma. What can go wrong when your waiter spontaneously breaks into song? He was delightful. Great menu, good drinks, and a wonderful ambience in a Spanish-style courtyard awaits the Casa Loma patron.
Casa 46, located in what was once the city museum, offers interesting and creative dishes with a view over Plaza Machado. It is beautiful at night when the square comes to life with craft stalls and families taking a stroll.