This Central Pacific Coast port city offers the best of both worlds: a meticulously restored colonial old town and a ten mile-long crescent of sandy beach. One of the closest Mexican beach resort destinations to the United States, Mazatlán is a well-established tourist destination that still maintains its Mexican traditions and atmosphere. The vibe is laid back and tranquilo, but there’s no lack of fun thanks to the host of water sports and wildlife watching activities available.
Location of Mazatlán:
Mazatlán is located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Sinaloa, parallel to the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Just next door is the state of Nayarit, with its lively beach towns and glamorous coastal communities like Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita.
Mazatlán, meaning ‘place of deer’ in the Nahuatl language, was a sleepy fishing village until the early 19th century, when it began its transformation into a bustling port receiving vessels from as far away as Asia and Europe. The 1930s saw tourism take hold as a major industry, and by the 1970s the sprawling, tourist-tacky Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) was in full swing, finally declining as visitors moved on to other Mexican resort towns like Acapulco. In recent years, the city has undergone a renaissance thanks to a sensitive restoration movement that has helped preserve and revamp the old town’s beautiful colonial district and historic buildings.
What to See and Do in Mazatlán:
- Stroll the Centro Histórico and admire the many restored historic homes and significant buildings, like the 19th century cathedral on Plaza Principal
- Soak up more recent history on the Playa Olas Altas, Mazatlán’s first tourist beach, where a stylish crowd used to gather in the 1950s. If you squint, you can imagine John Wayne or Gary Cooper striding out of the lobby of one of the faded ‘50s hotels along the waterfront on their way to a sports fishing expedition
- Climb up to the famous lighthouse, El Faro, situated on top of a craggy outcrop, then watch the daredevil cliff divers throw themselves into the waves
- Take a day trip to one of Mazatlán’s three picturesque islands. The most popular is Isla de Venados (Deer Island), which can be explored on foot or by kayak.
- Hit one of the world-famous links, like the 18 hole championship course Estrella del Mar Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
- Learn to surf at the Mazatlan Surf Center ($65 for a two hour lesson), whose instructors are renowned for their friendly and informative style
- Go bird watching in Isla de la Piedra, a beautiful secluded island southeast of Mazatlán, where you’ll discover protected mangroves and jungle filled with birdlife
Where to Stay in Mazatlán:
For colonial atmosphere in the Centro Historico, you can’t beat The Melville, a 20-suite boutique hotel housed in a neoclassical former post office on Constitución. The leafy courtyard and hand-picked antiques in each room lend the place an air of Old World romance. (get rates)
Casa Lucila is an eight-room boutique hotel on the beachfront that marries traditional Mexican style with contemporary comforts like flat screen TVs, espresso makers and a small spa offering a range of massages and body treatments. (get rates)
Hotel La Siesta might not have the most inspiring décor around, but it’s great value and many of the rooms have spectacular views of the sea. (get rates)
Getting There and Around:
Rafael Buelna International Airport is 17 miles from the Zona Dorada. Several US domestic carriers serve the route, including Continental and US Airways. Search for flights to Mazatlan.
While there’s no public bus service between the airport and the city, taxis are plentiful and affordable. There’s a ferry service, Baja Ferries, between La Paz in Baja California Sur and Mazatlán: it’s a 17-hour ride though and waters can be rough.
To get around Mazatlán, you can rent bicycles or hop in the local version of cabs, pulmonias, open-air golf cart-like vehicles that can whizz you between attractions for a pre-negotiated handful of pesos.
More Reading on Mazatlán and Sinaloa:
While Mazatlán is generally considered safe for tourists, drug cartel-related violence has been reported in Sinaloa and surrounding states. Read more about government travel warnings for the state of Sinaloa.
As in much of Mexico, the weather can get uncomfortably hot between the months of May and October. The high/tourist season falls between late November and April when days are pleasantly warm. September and October are the prime hurricane season months. Read more about travel to Mexico during hurricane season.
One of Mexico’s largest and oldest breweries, Pacifico, has its headquarters in Mazatlan. Read more about Mexican beer.