Mazatlan more than sandy beaches
Mardi Gras, music and history await visitors
Irene Middleman Thomas, For Postmedia News
Published: Saturday, October 19, 2013
When it comes to making memories, Mexico's Mazatlan has your number.
If it feels familiar, maybe it's because Mazatlan has been catering to tourists for half a century. If it feels comfortable, perhaps it's because it lacks the glitz of other, newer resorts. If the pockets feel full, it's because Mazatlan still pleases its visitors with very reasonable prices, unlike many Mexican resort towns.
Mazatlan doesn't try to compete with the luxury of Cancún, the sexiness of Acapulco or the colonial quaintness of Puerto Vallarta. It doesn't need to. The popular destination, almost 1,300 kilometres south of Tucson, Ariz., on Mexico's Pacific coast, lies at about the same latitude as Hawaii.
Its waters are neither turquoise nor crystal clear, but they are delightfully gentle and warm, and a pretty blue, with beaches stretching for miles.A port city of some 500,000 residents, Mazatlan happily swells to accommodate the 1.5 million vacationers, sport fishermen and snowbirds who arrive each year.
Mazatlan is one of Mexico's oldest tourist resorts and home to one of the world's three major Mardi Gras carnivals, comparable only to those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro.
Boasting the biggest commercial shrimping fleet in Latin America with more than 500 boats, Mazatlan also has one of the largest tuna fishing fleets in the world.
Visitors, however, often feel they are in a small beach village rather than a large city, because of the way Mazatlan separates its commercial and business sectors from its resort areas.
The city's existence doesn't revolve around tourism – it is a thriving metropolis. In fact, thousands of people live and work here without having anything to do with the travel industry.
For tourists, however, Mazatlan offers an abundance of riches:
One of the longest stretches of uninterrupted beaches in Mexico; water temperatures between 18 C and 24 C year-round; nightlife set to music ranging from mariachi to disco to piano bar to salsa; colonial architecture; a wealth of handicrafts; and an endless supply of sidewalk and seaside restaurants.
The city, first settled in 1531 by the Spanish, began to develop quickly in the mid-19th century. To see Mazatlan as the Mazatlecos do, take one of the open-air jitneys (pulmonias). Or stroll the 20-kilometre boardwalk (malecón) between Playa Olas Altas and Playa Norte.
The breezy stretch, studded with impressive statues and monuments, is the pride of Mazatlan, running from one end of the town to the other. Here, visitors will find the hotel zone, fishermen selling their catch at dawn, lovers embracing, locals gossiping and entrepreneurs selling coconuts, shrimp brochettes and mangoes on a stick, dripping with lime juice. The walk takes vacationers past Mazatlan's outstanding aquarium and into Old Mazatlan's Plazuela Machado (Machado Square), the heart of the city.
There's a strip of open-air seafood restaurants on the north side of the plaza. One of the most famous is lively Pedro & Lola's, named after two singers/actors from Mazatlan, Pedro Infante Cruz and Lola Beltrán.
Pedro & Lola's wide variety of shrimp platters is reasonably priced and delectable. Grilled with butter and garlic (camarones al mojo de ajo), downed with a good Mexican beer such as the local Pacifico lager or the heavier Negro Modelo, is heaven after a day on the beach.
Time is also well spent admiring the twin-spired cathedral (built in 1875), the city's main plaza and the beautifully restored Angela Peralta Theatre (built in 1860). The theatre is a neoclassical-style building named after the beloved 19th-century opera diva who died from yellow fever after her only performance in Mazatlan.
Strolling on the way to Playa Olas Altas, travellers pass El Puerto Carranza, an old Spanish fort. The stroll can conclude at High Divers Park, where young men climb to a towering platform and plunge to the sea below. This typically happens in the late afternoons, but it's not an everyday occurrence.
The most famous beaches in Mazatlan are Playa Norte, popular with locals, Playa Sábalo and Las Gaviotas on the resort strip, Playa Olas Altas and Las Brujas for surfing and high waves and Playa los Cerritos, one of the city's finest uncrowded beaches on the north end of the hotel zone.
Lively Sábalo Beach is perfect for jet skiing, windsurfing, parachuting, sailing, sport fishing, etc., while the adjacent Cerritos Beach and Playa Norte are known for clean sand and peaceful sunbathing. Mazatlan's Emerald Beach area to the north is being developed as a tony area with posh shops, hotels and restaurants. There's a beach perfect for every mood – romance, action, peace, adventure and people-watching.
The islands off Mazatlan are a must-see, and are accessible by small boat, kayak or island cruise. Isla de la Piedra, (actually a peninsula), with its 16-kilometre, unspoiled palm-lined beach, is dotted with sand dollars. Hammocks and horses are available for rent here, and thatched-roof cafés sell freshly smoked fish.
Isla del Venado's gorgeous, calm beach, with its superb view of Mazatlan, is just 10 minutes away. Its southern point features many secluded coves filled with soft sand and seashells. Snorkelling, while not quite on the level of the Caribbean, is highly enjoyable in the warm Pacific water. Mazatlan offers several excellent places for shopping, including Galeria Nidart, which carries both modern art and handicrafts; the Mazatlan Arts and Handicrafts Center; and Sea Shell City, a place that specializes in the exhibition and sale of seashells and other materials from the sea.
When to visit Mazatlan? The weather from October through May is delightful. You should have a sweater handy in the evenings, which are cooled by the ocean breezes.