When beach resort meets historic port, the combination of cultures makes for a memorable vacation destination. In Mazatlan, one can play in the surf by day, dress for dinner and the symphony, then end the evening strolling historic streets where warm light and laughter spills from sidewalk cafes.
1 Welcome Amigos
As one of Mexico’s most significant port cities, dating back to Spanish Colonial times, Mazatlan has a long tradition of welcoming new arrivals with genuine hospitality. This open and accommodating attitude has earned the city the tile of “Pearl of the Pacific.” Many residents have at least some basic understanding of English and will reward polite questions with helpful answers. Most are equally willing to tutor your faltering Spanish to create a mutually satisfactory conversation.
2 The Weather is Here
There’s a good chance the day’s weather forecast will be “warm and sunny,” and little chance you’ll need to carry an umbrella. Though Mazatlan is located on the Tropic of Cancer, the effects of the warm sun are tempered by the cooling waters of the Pacific. Humidity is also lower than in coastal destinations to the south, as the terrain is somewhat more arid. The result is a year-round climate with lows in the 60s, highs in the 80s and only occasional sporadic rain showers.
3 The Downtown Scene
In addition to beachfront resorts, Mazatlan has a historic side and a life beyond the tourism zone. The heart of the city is the Historic Zone, which has roots going back to the Spanish Colonial days of the mid-1500s. After experiencing several cycles of decline and revival over the centuries, the old streets are once more alive with activity, and centuries old structures have been restored and occupied by cafes, galleries and artist’s enclaves. The streets near Plazuela Machado are animated by street performers and musicians, and the crowds at the restaurants and bars spill from open fronts onto sidewalk tables. The action continues well into the night.
4 Don’t Stop the Carnival
Mazatlan is a town that knows how to throw a party. Its annual carnival, staged the week before Lent, is billed as the third largest in the world, behind only New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro in terms of size. In addition to the costume parades and carnival queens, Mazatlan’s version of the celebration offers more opportunities for participation and is decidedly family friendly. There are themed street parties where all are welcome, live music and food festivals. Downtown streets are closed, holidays taken from work, and the waterfront along the Malecón fills with laughter and the sounds of banda, grupera and mariachi music.
5 Vacation Central
Sun, sand and fun will always rank high on most vacation wish lists, and Mazatlan certainly has those bases covered. Fronting a prime section of beach several miles north of the port is the Golden Zone, aka Zona Dorada. Here, a collection of two- to four-star beachfront hotels accommodate all budgets. The area is also home to more than 100 restaurants and an extensive collection of shops, nightclubs and entertainment venues. Also nearby are marinas, golf, a baseball stadium, botanical gardens and one of Mexico’s best aquariums.
6 The Aquatic Playground
Water-sports lovers will find plenty to like in Mazatlan. The mixing of warmer waters flowing down from the Sea of Cortez with the cool, rich waters of the Pacific Ocean create fertile fishing grounds, where anglers do battle with billfish and reel in tasty table fare. Reefs and rock ledges scattered around a trio of offshore islands tempt divers to submerge and explore, while a number of left shore breaks reward skilled wave riders. On calmer days, there’s plenty of action to be had with a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or personal watercraft from launch points all along the beach, while afternoon sea breezes give sailors, kiteboarders and windsurfers a lift.
7 Performance Art
The crown jewel of Mazatlan’s cultural scene is the Angela Peralta Theater. Dating from 1874, this once-grand opera house was restored to its former glory in 1992, and now hosts a busy schedule of events that takes in everything from the state symphony to children’s choirs. Today, Mazatlan fields an impressive array of exhibitions and festivals of international merit, including the State Festival of Arts, the International Dance Festival, the Mazatlan International Film Festival, the Mazatlan Book and Arts Fair and the International Guitar Festival. A highlight of the year is the Mazatlan Cultural Festival, which stretches from early November to mid-December, and includes a range of music, ballet and theatrical performances, along with motion picture screenings and comedy events.
8 On the Waterfront
Mazatlan’s seaside promenade, the Malecón, stretches more than seven miles along the coast, connecting Olas Altas Beach and the historic district to the Zona Dorado. Various sections of this sculpted pathway offer everything from seaside solitude to chances for convivial people watching. Walkers, joggers, riders and rollerbladers share the lanes, and there are benches and small parks for those seeking to just sit and relax. An impressive collection of original sculptures and non-traditional monuments provide points of interest. Vendors and food carts line the more popular sections, and local families join tourists each evening to take in the sunset and the sea air.
9 Fresh Catch
Local fishing skiffs launch from beaches early each morning, crossing paths with shrimp trawlers returning to port with bountiful hauls. By the end of the day, these ocean harvests will make their way to kiosks and kitchens across the city. Mazatlan is famous for the large, succulent shrimp, and these crustaceans are grilled, sautéed and fried into a delicious range of offerings. Finned fare is also on the menu, and whether it’s a fish and cabbage taco purchased from a cart on the Malecón, or the catch of the day at an upscale table in the Zona Dorada, there’s a good chance tonight’s meal was swimming yesterday.
10 Island Time
Stone Island, one of Mazatlan’s most popular day trip destinations, is a short water taxi ride from the downtown waterfront. This former coconut farm is now a waterfront playground, offering up a smorgasbord of beach activities that include horseback rides, kayaking, snorkeling, shore cruises and cookouts. To the north, and less than a mile off the beaches of the Golden Zone, a trio of uninhabited islands—Deer, Goat and Bird—provides a wilder backdrop for kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and scuba diving adventures.