Often, planning a vacation means having to decide whether you want to stick to the beach, or have a more culturally rich experience. But, there’s one destination in Mexico, one that remains somewhat of a hidden gem, that offers both.
Mazatlán is Mexico’s second largest coastal city, situated at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains in the state of Sinaloa.
This is Mexico’s only beach destination with a historic centre, meaning that in addition to numerous beautiful stretches of sand and natural attractions, Mazatlán is in a unique position to also offer an enticing blend of history and culture.
Getting your bearings
The city is divided into three distinct zones: The Golden Zone (Zona Dorada) in the north, where most hotels and restaurants are located; Old Mazatlán (Centro Histórico), the historically rich downtown area; and New Mazatlán (Nuevo Mazatlán), home to many of the newer major resorts, as well as two marinas.
Getting around is easily done on foot, especially in the historical centre. You can also rent a bicycle or take an open-air pulmonia, a golf-cart-like vehicle unique to the area.
The official word for Mazatlán locals is, Mazatlecos, and you’re sure to encounter more than a few during your visit who are happy to share stories and offer insight on where to spend your time in the city. In the meantime, read on for some of the best ways to experience Mazatlán.
Culture and local life in the Centro Histórico
Unlike the Golden Zone, where you’ll find the majority of beachfront resorts, Mazatlán’s historic centre offers a more local experience. Spanning 180 blocks, the area recently underwent a massive renovation to revitalize the numerous 19th-century buildings and historic landmarks.
Start your exploration in the heart of Mazatlán’s historic centre at Plaza Machado, a leafy public square surrounded by colourful colonial-era buildings and open-air cafés. In the evening, the square really comes to life, with musicians serenading passersby and diners enjoying drinks overlooking the square.
You’ll also want to stop by Angela Peralta Theater, a restored 19th-century theatre named after the famed Mexican opera singer Angela Peralta. The renowned performance space stages a variety of performances, but you can also tour the theatre to learn more about its history.
In addition to the many art galleries, museums and beautiful buildings in the historic centre, another must-see is Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion Cathedral, with its Gothic arches and 28 sparkling stained glass windows.
A feast for the eyes
There is a thriving art scene in Mazatlán, beginning with the many galleries located within the historic centre.
You can get a sense of all of them if you happen to be visiting on the first Friday of the month, when a public art walk is hosted between November and May. This allows you to meet the artists, whose mediums range from painting and sculpture to printmaking, mosaics and stained glass.
Another way to explore Mazatlán’s art scene is with a stop at Museo de Arte Mazatlán, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary Mexican art.
It’s also well worth keeping your eyes peeled in the historic centre, where you’re likely to come across swaths of colourful street art just waiting to be posted on Instagram.
Cool culinary experiences
It’s not hard to eat like a local in Mazatlán.
Foodies will want to make a beeline for Pino Suarez Municipal Market (also known as the Central Market) in the historic district. It’s filled with hundreds of stalls selling local fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, fish, meat, spices and more. The best part about the market is that it’s just as popular with locals as it is with visitors. When you get hungry (which you will from gazing at all that food), make your way to the restaurants on the market’s upper floor and snack on traditional Mexican dishes.
A recent addition to Mazatlán’s culinary scene is the city’s farmers’ market, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon in Zaragoza Park from November to April. Browse and buy locally grown, straight-from-the-farm produce, dairy products, meats, cheeses, eggs, fruits, flowers, herbs and much more.
Where to stay
Your options for where to rest your head in Mazatlán range from beachfront resorts, to intimate boutique properties closer to the historic centre.
If you’re you’re looking to stay closer to the beach, The Zona Dorada, known as The Golden Zone, is a good bet. There are a lot of great choices ranging from independently owned properties to bigger hotels belonging to well-recognized chains.
For a more serene experience mixed with a cultural scene, choose a boutique hotel right in the historic centre. Many of these hotels have an interesting past and will be within an easy walk to the main square and a number of charming restaurants.
Easily accessible from Mazatlán’s Golden Zone are Goat, Deer and Bird Islands. They’re protected from development and offer the chance to experience some eco-focused fun.
A range of tour operators offer day trips to the islands for activities including hiking, swimming, snorkelling and kayaking.
Of the islands, Deer Island (Isla de Venados) is the most visited, but it does also have some secluded beaches.
Bird Island (Isla de Pajaros) is known for the array of bird species found there, making it a great spot for birdwatching.
Goat Island (Isla de Chivos) is the least visited, but transportation can still be arranged.
Depending on how long you’re staying in Mazatlán, there are many options for day trips outside the city.
El Quelite is only 30 minutes north of Mazatlán. Here you’ll find narrow, cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and a pretty central square. Homes here, with their red-tiled roofs and vibrant porch gardens, date back to the 19th century.
Located about an hour from Mazatlán is Concordia, home to many artisan workshops turning out handcrafted furniture, pottery and jewellery. Concordia is also known for the rocking chairs that line the streets as a nod to the town’s furniture-making history. This is also one of the best places to sample respade, a snow-cone-like treat flavoured with fruit juice.
If you’re looking for a beach vacation that offers more than just the chance to sit on the sand, put Mazatlán on your must-visit list.
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