Right now, Mexico is the #1 destination for all travel; whether you think that’s a good idea or not, that’s what’s happening. So if you’re headed to Mazatlan, relaxing on the beach goes without saying, no?
1. Experience Centro Historico
Cobblestone streets, beautiful turn-of-the-century colonial buildings (renovated and in ruins), quiet plazas and a lively mix of restaurants, shops and bars make Mazatlán’s Centro Historico a must-see. Don’t miss Presidio, a contemporary restaurant/bar set in Casa Garcia, an old hacienda; Casa Etnika, selling upscale artisan crafts, art, clothing and more from all over Mexico and Legado Zapoteco, a lovely shop full of hand-made Oaxacan rugs, bedspreads and traditional crafts, run by a young Oaxacan couple. If you can, go to a show—any show—in the Angela Peralta Theater, a gorgeous renovated 1800s building with a year-round calendar of performances.
2. Watch a sunset (or two or three…)
There’s a reason so many people say sunsets here are some of the best in the world—because it’s true! Is it because Mazatlán’s on the Tropic of Cancer, or because of the three islands offshore framing the sun as it disappears in a riot of colors? (See #6.) Whatever the case, make a point to catch the sunset. In Centro, the top of the Freeman Hotel in Olas Altas offers an amazing bird’s eye view; in the Golden Zone and Cerritos, any beach will put you front-and-center for a spectacular sunset panorama.
3. Eat at a taco stand
Mazatlán is home to a plethora of restaurants catering to every style, taste and budget. But do save one night for dinner at a taco stand! How to find a good one? Ask at your hotel or better yet, get a recommendation (and maybe a ride!) from a taxi driver. Most set up around 7 p.m., and the best ones will be crowded with locals. Carne asada tacos and papas locas – fire-baked potatoes split and stuffed with grilled meat, sour cream, butter, salsa and guacamole, eaten with fresh-made corn tortillas—are local specialties.
4. Relax on Stone Island
Looking for a quiet, peaceful beach with no high-rise towers or traffic noise? Head to Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra)—not really an island, just the southern coast of Mazatlán. No need to book an expensive excursion; a water taxi from either of two docks in Playa Sur ($1.50 round-trip) gets you there, and after a 1-minute walk you’ll see the beach stretching ahead of you for miles. Choose any of the 20 or so simple restaurants lining the beach, settle in under a palapa and relax. The ocean here is calm and great for swimming, seafood is fresh as can be and beer is cold and plentiful.
5. Take a city tour in a pulmonilla
Mazatlán’s signature taxis are pulmonillas, sort of souped-up golf carts, often with huge sound systems, that happily transport you anywhere you want to go. After your first few days on the beach—when your sunburn needs a break—a city tour is a great option. You’ll learn about Mazatlán, see every part of town and have a delirious fun time too. Most drivers speak English (some better than others); flag one down on any street, and be sure to negotiate a price before you get in.
6. Go to the three islands
Just offshore, three small islands dot the horizon. The environmentally protected Deer, Wolf and Bird islands are blessedly undeveloped, with natural flora and fauna. The center, biggest island has a spacious beach and rustic “facilities;” bring your own water, food and anything else you might need. Relax on the beach, swim in the calm, clear water or hike the hills. How to get there? Hire a Jetski to take you out and pick you up, rent a kayak or paddleboard and make your own way, or take a day tour on a catamaran.
7. Eat more shrimp than you’ve ever imagined
Mazatlán is one of the biggest shrimping ports in the world; it behooves you to take advantage of that while you’re visiting. You’ll find shrimp in everything from omelets, burgers and pastas to sushi, burritos and crepes, as well as Mazatlan’s duo of classics, aguachile and ceviche. And they’re inexpensive, so go for it! If you want to cook ‘em yourself, head to las changueras, Mazatlan’s iconic “shrimp ladies,” in Centro Historico. A dozen or so stands crowd the street selling all sizes and kinds of shrimp. (Best to go early in the morning before it gets too hot.) Frozen Sinaloa shrimp is also available in the airport, packaged to take home.
8. Get some exercise
Need to burn off those vacation calories? Mazatlán has lots of ways to do that. Walk to the top of El Faro, the world’s tallest lighthouse, and get a breathtaking view of the city as well as a great workout. (Hint: In late afternoon, the sun is on the opposite side of the hill from the walking path.) The city’s six-mile malecon, or beachfront boardwalk, is perfect for running, skating or bicycling, and full of interesting sites along the way, like cliff divers, more than a dozen statues and enough coconut vendors to keep you well hydrated. In Cerritos, a new bike path runs to the end of the road in the center shady, tree-lined median.
9. Shop at the mercado
No visit to Mexico is complete without a trip to the local market, or mercado. There are several in Mazatlán, but the Pino Suarez Market is the biggest and oldest, operating since 1900. The two-story building is open on the sides with stands crowding the aisles all the way to the busy sidewalk. Almost 100 vendors sell everything you can imagine in a cacophony of sights, smells and sounds. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and dried fruits, cheeses, meats, seafood, baked goods, bulk beans, grains, spices and chiles, paper goods and cleaning supplies, plus souvenirs of every kind: toys, T-shirts, beachwear, etc. Upstairs, cafés ring the perimeter, affording a bird’s eye view of the surrounding streets and hustle-bustle below.
10. Get outta town
After a few days of lazing on the beach, you might want to take an excursion. El Quelite is a Pueblo Magico—“Magical Town”— about an hour north of Mazatlán known for its colorful houses, vibrant bougainvillea and delicious traditional foods. Locals go for leisurely brunch at El Mesón de Los Laureanos, specializing in regional dishes from Sinaloa. Then, take a walk or donkey ride through the cobbled streets of the tiny town.
Los Osuna Tequila Farm, also north of town, is a 100+ year old family-run tequila farm, and tours include (ahem) samples. Nearby are the Huana Coa zip lines, running through the treetops in the mountain forest.