by Karla Erovick
Mexico is one of my favorite beach destinations and Mazatlán was chosen for its maximum authenticity and lack of tourists. There are many words to describe Mazatlán but my favorite is “essencia” meaning the essence; which in Mazatlan’s case is beauty, warmth and hospitality. I only have to close my eyes to conjure up the tropical climate, beautiful beaches, enticing food, and welcoming music. Mazatlán is nestled along Mexico’s Pacific Coast offering glimpses of the azure sea and gracious beaches. The “Malecón”, ocean-front walkway stretches along the length of Mazatlan’s coastline, lined with fountains and statues and enjoyed by people promenading along the beach-front.
Mazatlán, appropriately named Pearl of the Pacific, boasts a comfortable tropical climate year-round, perfect for the open-air taxis called Pulmonías to experience the charms of this Port City. Beautiful vistas abound, the locals are friendly, hospitable and anxious for visitors to experience its many charms. This is one of the easiest Mexican cities to enjoy while being relatively free from the “hustlers”. Breathing the sea air and admiring beautiful ocean views from the Pulmonías transforms transportation into a daily highlight.
This was my first visit to Mazatlán and I anticipated an authentic Mexico, free from the over abundance of American tourists. The fact that Mazatlán isn’t promoted by the Mexican government like the the famous sisters — Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Cancún — made me eager to experience its pleasures.
While other cities in Mexico are better known and more tourist friendly, Mazatlán offers an authentic glimpse into Latin America’s charm. Old Mazatlán boasts beautiful restored large homes with ocean views and lovely shops, while New Mazatlán, known as the Golden Zone, provides sparkling beach-front resorts and shopping galore. The Colonial District offers thriving restaurants and bars in painstakingly renovated colonial architecture surrounding picturesque plazas. Luxury is easy to find but so are the deals if you know where to look.
One morning I visited old Mazatlán to take in colonial architecture with rich colors and textures in tree shaded plazas. Strolling around The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, I saw vendors selling snow cones, barbeque meats and locals enjoying the beautiful weather. My primary destination is the mercado which overloaded my visual and olfactory senses with every type of produce, meats, fish and dry goods. I wandered around mesmerized by the colors, textures, smells and sounds in the busy marketplace. Traditional clothing, leather sandals in many hues, belts, handbags, fresh juices, fresh tamales, and limes and tequila for margaritas caught my attention.
After the vast array of local handicrafts I craved air conditioning. I wandered into a local department store where the wealthy shop. I did not expect to find a Mexican style Macy’s, but that’s exactly what it was. I found I was drawn to stores selling authentic clothing and handicrafts. Although I was determined to find some silver earrings which should’ve been reasonably priced since Mexico is known for silver production.
One evening’s dinner was interrupted by the crowds dissipating from the striking, Angela Peralta Theatre which frames the ever lively Machado Square. They stay to enjoy the vitality of the plaza at night filling the air with voices calling out in Spanish and footsteps echoing from the cobblestones. The locals have a love of life which is manifested in their appreciation of food, music and beauty. Music is everywhere and competing to be heard: traditional mariachi strains, pop and disco music echo in the plaza. The locals are dressed more formally while the visitors are more relaxed in their clothing choices. The night was heavy with warmth and humidity, aromas of spicy food, perfume, laughter and music.
Fresh seafood is in abundance since Mazatlán is a port city. It isn’t hard to find fresh fish caught that afternoon on the menus. At the beach-front palapas, the fish vendor delivers the goods to the restaurant. You can order fish prepared any number of ways in a matter of minutes. And if you know where to go, you can feast on lobster, drink margaritas and soup or salad for less than a take-out meal back home. Mexican wines are delicious so do not be afraid to try them.
How could you go to Mazatlán without participating in the Corona/Pacifico Brewery Tour? This is the only brewery tour that I have attended that is not confined to the sanitized viewing rooms of the operations. We are led through the bottling plant, distribution operations and even through the quality control labs all while in operating mode. The day I visited was hot and much of the plant was sweltering. My reward came at the tasting room, with unlimited beer and gorgeous views from the top of the brewery for 360 degrees. I could almost see my hotel, the cathedral square, the two islands and the malecon. Mazatlan is truly breathtaking!
One morning I asked my taxi driver for a recommendation for a jewelry store. He delivered me to Joyeria Jewelry Yolerstore, near the wealthy part of town in Olas Altas. The store was huge and I got lost looking at the beautifully crafted stones and metal work. The owner greeted me with a Pacifico beer and provided a basket for my jewelry acquisition. The prices were negotiated depending on how much I purchased. My driver was also treated to beverages while he waited. There was no pressure to buy but I could hardly choose among so many beautiful original pieces of jewelry with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, coral, turquoise, topaz, opals and diamonds. I was overwhelmed.
After much searching I narrowed it down. After careful bargaining and convinced I was not being taken advantage of, I was guaranteed everything will have certificates of authenticity and if I am to visit any of the company stores next time in Mexico, they will buy back any pieces that I may not love anymore. How could you beat that ?! I left the store with a distinctive silver chocker with a topaz stone the size of a large grape, a bracelet of Mexican opals and blue topaz and silver earrings. I was delighted to have beautiful reminders of my holiday. If I wanted a custom designed piece the workshop above the store was happy to oblige.
Most people I encountered spoke English, but speaking Spanish endears one to the locals and really helps you get around and ask for what you want. A quick history lesson reveals that Mazatlán was settled by German immigrants with Italian influences thrown in. Mazatlán shares a strong connection with San Francisco, having provided a staging point for overland transportation during the Gold Rush to Panama where sea voyages commenced. This has resulted in a Latin American city with a cultural richness.
Evening promenading along the 12-mile oceanfront walk, called the malecón, is the best way to experience the city. Local’s flank the malecón lined with graceful statues and fountains to meet and greet, and enjoy the wonderful beaches. If dancing is more your style visit Valentinos, a series of restaurants and nightclubs conveniently located in one complex built to resemble a sand castle.
I found more activities to partake in than I had time to enjoy in an eight day visit. Two nearby islands, Stone Island and Deer Island, can be reached by ferry or a catamaran trip and provide ample water sport adventures as well as horseback riding. The Pacifico and Corona Brewery and Tequila Distillery tours are a fun way to enjoy Mexico’s finest beverages and learn something at the same time.
Many of the resorts would take days to explore all of the restaurants, pools and beach clubs available. Staying at El Cid properties allows the use of all four resort properties with a continuous shuttle between. Should you tire of one pool or one dining option, there are enough others to satisfy even the adventurous.
One of the highlights of my trip was the opportunity to visit Mazatlan’s newest boutique hotel as it was finishing construction. Casa Lucila is located above the Malecón in the Olas Altas zone and is a short walk to classic old-world shops and restaurants. The hotel features eight rooms with hand-crafted furniture, imported fixtures and fabulous linens. A sun deck with an infinity pool overlooks the turquoise ocean. This is the perfect place to stay for luxurious pampering.
With so many activities to choose from I know that I will return often to Mazatlán for sunshine, beaches, adventure and the cheerful, welcoming locals.
Check out Alaska Air Vacations for great flight and hotel packages.
Pueblo Bonito is a great choice for an all inclusive stay – they have everything you could ever want including a beautiful pool and beach access in a picturesque setting.
El Cid has four resorts to choose from that are all linked by a free shuttle. I preferred the El Cid Marina, the newest property which had two pools — with poolside bars — and beach access. Many of the rooms have balconies.
Casa Lucila is a luxurious boutique hotel with eight unique guestrooms, located in heart of old Mazatlán. The hotel is complete with a sundeck and infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Pedro y Lola is located in Old Mazatlán, with outdoor tables overlooking the plaza. This was one of my favorite restaurants. Delicious food, generous portions and great people watching.
Located at one of the El Cid properties, Villa Italia features authentic Italian cuisine and great wine selection. The Mexican wines are very good.
El Paraje offers the best lobster deal in town. The dinner includes all you can drink margaritas, a baked potato, salad or soup and large lobster tails that are nearly impossible to finish. If you are expecting ambiance and beach front location, go elsewhere but expect to pay twice as much.
Antonio’s, located in Pueblo Bonita, is a fancy Italian restaurant. Though pricey, it is well worth it. The restaurant has entertainment most evenings.
Mazatlán Aquarium has an amazing collection of coral, an interesting sea lion show and aviary garden.
If you’re interested in going on the Pacifico and Corona Brewery Tour, be sure to make reservations in advance. Tours are not offered every day, and visitors must wear pants and close-toed shoes.
If you’re interested in Stone Island & Deer Island Tours, most hotels can arrange an excursion, varying in lengths. Some feature sunset or all day tours.
Fishing Expeditions are offered through all of the major resorts.
About the author:
Karla Erovick is regular Tango Diva writer; she loves to travel to undiscovered destinations and is always planning her next exotic trip. She has traveled to Mexican beach destinations of Zihuatenejo, Ixtapa, Cabo San Lucas Tulum, and Cancún. She is the author of a dating guide for women entitled Love to Date—Date to Love: Unlocking the Secrets of Dating.
1 thought on “Culture: Magical Mazatlán: Mexico’s Best Kept Secret”
There are many words to describe Mazatlán…and you choose “palabra” that literally means “word” just because you went there doesn’t mean you have to start using random Spanish words. If you must essence = esencia. Cool article, just that was a bit cringe.