We had never been to Mazatlan, Mexico before and weren’t sure what to expect — except beautiful beaches and luxury resorts, perhaps. We found those and so much more, including history, culture and adventure. Mazatlan is a charming Mexican city with a distinctive character and even a little mystery. In Mazatlan, traditions have continued for many years allowing it to maintain an authenticity that one doesn’t find in many resort areas. The people are proud of their heritage, hard-working and friendly — quick to offer a smile or some help. They also embrace their culture and put it front and center as much as the natural beauty that led to the area becoming a major travel destination.
During our recent long weekend there, we were escorted by Mazatlan tourism guides to key attractions, recreational activities, quaint towns and wonderful restaurants. Although we had only 2-1/2 days to explore the area, we saw major attractions and found several under-the-radar gems. It was easy to see how Mazatlan has earned the nickname “Pearl of the Pacific”, derived from the natural beauty of sandy beaches, clear water and mountain views. Some feel that the name also has historic origins from when Spanish galleons came here for Baja pearls and local gold.
On the Mexican Riviera
We stayed three nights at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay in what is known as Nuevo Mazatlan (New Mazatlan) where condo and hotel developments dot the beach north of the busier and concentrated hotel area, the Golden Zone. The sprawling resort has lush gardens with fountains and tree-lined pathways between the buildings of guest suites, restaurants, pool and lobby giving it an elegant ambiance and feeling of going back in time. Our balcony overlooked the large pool area and the beach beyond and the outlying mountains were also visible in the distance. Because we had busy itineraries, we weren’t able to spend much time there, but the room was spacious, light and well-appointed. Pueblo Bonito also has a state-of-the-art spa and fitness center.
Sunday Brunch at Pueblo Bonito provided an amazing number of diverse selections including many local dishes, seafood, sushi, made-to-order omelettes, pastries, desserts and champagne.
A Day Trip of Culture and Adventure
But there’s more to enjoy beyond the resorts and ocean. On our first day, we traveled through rural areas into the jungles of Sinaloa about 45 minutes outside of Mazatlan to visit Huana Coa Adventure Park for zip-lining fun. Our friendly and knowledgeable guides gave us instructions and kept us entertained as we flew through the trees on a course consisting of nine runs totaling 1 mile between 10 platforms. As a first-timer, I was initially apprehensive, but ended up loving the experience and wanting to zip through the course again.
Located nearby is the Los Osuna tequila distillery where we took a tour of the facility and learned many surprising facts about making tequila. The process of making 100% pure blue agave tequila was described by our guide and the tour was topped off with a sampling of the delicious Los Osuna spirits at a lovely outside bar. The hosts are very generous with their pours and it would be easy to spend an afternoon enjoying the samples. But there was much more to see!
From there we were off to visit El Quelite, a small town with colorfully painted houses, beautiful flowers and a lovely old church. We went directly to El Meson de los Laureanos restaurant for lunch; it seemed more like a museum as we walked through several rooms filled with displays of artifacts and items representing the history of the area.
The restaurant’s owner, Dr. Marcos Osuna, is a strong proponent of rural and small town tourism in the Mazatlan area and has been instrumental in getting funding for improvements in El Quelite and attracting tourism. Outside in the courtyard, we were served hearty portions of Mexican specialties, such as lamb, pork, beef and quail dishes served with fresh hot tortillas.
After lunch, a small stage was set up near our table to provide entertainment that was a big hit with our group. We watched numerous performances that included traditional folk dances, native dances (including a ritual fire dance and an eagle dance), and a particularly adept gentleman who performed lasso tricks.
In El Quelite they still play Ulama, a sport with roots dating back to 1600 BC that was played by the Aztecs. It involves 2 teams dressed only in loin cloths, hitting a 7-pound rubber ball back and forth, using only their hips to score points on a short and narrow dirt court. On our way out of town, we passed this statue commemorating Ulama.
The Golden Zone and the Malecón
Back in the city of Mazatlan, the Golden Zone is the bustling center of tourist hotels, nightclubs, restaurants and businesses. The Malecón promenade runs along the waterfront about four miles through the Golden Zone to Old Town.
There are several monuments representing Mazatlan’s heritage, culture and economy along the way. The Fisherman’s Monument (Monumento al Pescador) symbolizes the city’s roots as a fishing village — a man with fishing net and a woman representing the Tropic of Cancer. Fishing (including commercial shrimping) is one of the top three industries of the Mazatlan economy along with tourism and agriculture (78% of Mexico’s tomatoes come from the state of Sinaloa where Mazatlan in located).
Among other monuments and sculptures we saw on the promenade was the La Continuidad de la Vida (Continuity of Life), depicting a naked couple standing on a giant snail’s shell above leaping dolphins and symbolizes life in harmony with nature.
Something that will have to wait for our next visit to Mazatlan is a ride on one of Mazatlan’s pulmonia (pneumonia in English) taxis, so named because the joke was that the open air would give you a cold. One of the monuments on the Malecón gives honor to these iconic vehicles that run through the Golden Zone to Old Town.
Mazatlan’s Carnival, its annual week long international festival for the celebration of Mardi Gras cited by some as the 3rd largest after Rio and New Orleans. Our visit was within a month of the 2013 Mazatlan Carnival (Feb. 7-12). The only observable preparations were the tall papier-mâché statues over 20 feet high strung along the Malecón, which is also the site for the Carnival Parade. Statues are created each year to represent characters consistent with the theme for each year’s Carnival. This year, the 115th, has a movie theme and represented in the statues are important celebrities from the world of cinema. Mazatlan seems like an ideal place for celebrating Carnival and it’s a bit more family-oriented than other locales such as New Orleans.
Our day trips outside of the resort area of Mazatlan and took us on winding roads through rural areas with small farmhouses and rooster farms. Occasionally, we saw bicyclists as this area of Mexico is very popular for cyclists who come here from around the world.
Cockfighting is a tradition in Mexico and one that involves great sums of money. Cockfighting is of course illegal in the United States and is considered cruel by many, including me. But it is part of Mexican heritage and an important part of Mexican culture today. At this rooster farm, not the largest in the area, there were about 900 roosters, each kept in its own small shelter.
Mystery of the Petroglyphs
Las Labrades is an isolated beach outside of Mazatlan that is home to Mexican history and hidden treasures — ancient petroglyphs (300 carvings of shapes and faces) that were discovered on rocks on the beach. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours climbing the rocks and searching for the petroglyphs. Who carved them? What were their purposes? When were they carved? These are mysteries that have not been completely solved. There is some agreement that they were carved between 1000 and 1500 years ago, based on estimated dates of a nearby archeological find but another nearby find appears to be from several millennia earlier. There is still doubt about who created them and their purpose. Were they religious or art? Las Labradas is recognized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History as an “archaeological monument zone,” and there is a museum under construction at the location. Currently, a small building with a twig thatched roof houses replicas of the petroglyphs, artwork depicting ancient civilization, and educational information.
Traditions and Heritage in Old Town
Shrimping is a major industry in Mazatlan and restaurants serve enormous portions prepared in many different styles as well as many other fresh seafoods. At the Shrimp Market in Old Town, vendors have plentiful supplies of shrimp to offer.
At the nearby enclosed market where the locals also shop, vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat as well as other common items such as colorful hand-woven clothing.
Although similar in some ways to markets that one can find in cities in the United States with booths filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and items you might find at department or grocery stores, there are things we don’t see and we were warned about by our guide. In Mexico, the entire flesh of animals, such as cows, is eaten. Nothing is wasted. So at the market we saw carved cow heads, pig snouts and more.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Cathedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion), built between 1875 and 1899, is a beautiful and stately structure in Old Mazatlan. It was quite a surprise to learn that each of its 28 stained glass windows feature a Star of David to commemorate the significant funding that came from Jewish families for the church’s construction.
A Bounty of Traditional Food
We were treated to wonderful full-course meals with heaping plates of fresh shrimp, octopus, scallops and other seafood along with other specialty items at Pedro and Lola’s, Los Arcos, La Costa Marinera and La Puntilla (where another member of our group had this steaming hot pot of tasty shrimp).
While dining on delicious fresh seafood and local dishes at La Costa Marinera, we were serenaded by Ernesto who is also a waiter at the restaurant, which was in a marvelous beachfront location with white sand. I’d like to share this clip of Ernesto evoking the romance, mystery and history of Mazatlan with his song.
Wait, There’s More
This is just a sampling of things about Mazatlan that make it unique as a beach resort and Mexican city. Mazatlan is a Nahuatl (language spoken by the Aztecs) word meaning “land of deer” probably because deer were prevalent in the area centuries ago (there are none now). Mazatlan was founded in 1531 by the Spanish to use the natural harbor to ship gold, however, much of its history begins in the early nineteenth century with investors that helped develop the harbor and established trade relationships with other areas of the globe. Germany in particular was important because it led to a significant German immigration during the 1800’s that provided investment for the development of the commercial harbor and other industries. In addition to enabling Mazatlan to become what it is today, there was a significant impact on culture, probably best noted in the local music, Banda, which sounds like traditional Mexican music with an Oompah vibe. German entrepreneurs also developed the Pacifico brewery, the beer Mr. TWS drank while in Mazatlan and one of Mexico’s beers exported to the US. Finally, a Mazatlan icon, its El Faro lighthouse is the second highest still-operational lighthouse in the world (about 523 feet above sea level).
There are many other places to go and things to do in Mazatlan that will await our next trip, such as whale watching cruises, long strolls along the Malecon, and lazy afternoons sipping Margaritas on the beach.
For more information, start here: Mazatlan Tourism Trust
Disclosure: We were guests of the Mazatlan Tourism Board and Pueblo Bonito Resorts at Emerald Bay, but our opinions and perspectives are our own, as always.
Looks like you had a great visit. Wow, you had a jam-packed weekend of fun and culture. I was only in Mazatlan for a day during a cruise port stop a few years ago and we enjoyed it a lot. We rode one of those pulmonia with a toddler 🙂 Love all the pictures here and they’re so enticing. It’s a shame they discontinued cruise port stops here. I want to be relaxing in that first picture right now.
It is a shame about the cruise ships. I hope that they’ll come back. It would definitely be good for Mazatlan, but I also think that it’s such an interesting and fun place to visit.
Mazatlan sounds much like Puerto Vallarta — where we spent our honeymoon. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 🙂
Gosh, I haven’t been to Puerto Vallarta in many, many years. Perhaps a trip to PV is in order.
You sure covered a lot during 2 1/2 days! I’ve never been to Mazatlan but I know people who vacation there every year and love it. I have to admit, it does sound like a wonderful place to visit. Shrimp and tequila, what could be better?
Ha! Shrimp and tequila is quite a nice combination and there’s plenty of both to enjoy in Mazatlan.
I have to get back to some of those markets and do some culinary shopping 🙂
The food is amazing. I was especially impressed with the shrimp market.
That looks simply gorgeous, the Mexican Riviera. Would certainly love to go there.
Really is a beautiful area. Easy to see why they call it the Mexican Riviera.
Wow, what an extensive report! How much time do you think is needed to really visit Mazatlan?
I think you can see a lot as we did in a very short time. But I’d really like to spend a few days just relaxing on the beach next time, too. 🙂
Really? The third biggest Mardi Gras? I would never have guessed Mazatlan for that title, but I can certainly imagine it being a more family friendly destination than both the Rio and New Orleans celebrations. I guess when you’ve got that much shrimp and tequila any excuse for a party will do.
That is surprising, isn’t it? I had no idea until our visit. I’d love to visit during Mardi Gras (with or without the tequila).
What a comprehensive post. I almost feel as if I was there. Great photos! I’m so glad you tried zip lining. It inspires me to maybe take the leap one day.
Do it, Billie! I never thought I’d zip-line either, but once I told everyone about it, I was committed.
Now this is a thorough blog. I remember seeing some of the oceanside sculptures but mostly we just sped through Mazatlan on our bikes – ultimately heading for Colima. I will say that the area really is excellent for bike riding. Drivers are courteous and there are loads of back roads to enjoy the peace of the area. I can’t believe how much you learned and how much you packed in, in a short period of time. Looks like there is enough to merit a return visit on my part.
We saw cyclists on the road and I thought about how much fun that would be. The terrain seems perfect for it.
Looks like a fabulous long weekend of culture, food and fun. Enjoyed your photos – they brought back memories of our time in Mexico and a longing to return.
It was a super mix of all the things I like to do when I travel. Glad the photos brought back some good memories. 🙂
I’ve never really considered visiting Mazatlan before. Hm…
I really hadn’t thought of it either. So glad an opportunity came up to take me in that direction. 😉 Definitely think about it, Sophie.
Outdoor dining, goats and the swirling dresses of the dancers – these would be my highlights.
The dancers are so much fun to watch. Wish I could dance like that. 🙂
What a busy weekend…you’d need a holiday when you get home! I’m not one for lying on the beaches so I’d love that there is so much to see and do. Hope you had some time to relax!
Lying on the beach was probably the thing that I previously pictured when I thought about Mazatlan. Beach lovers would have much fun there, but I now know that there’s much more to see and do.
Wow – you certainly had quite the busy weekend!! Love that taxi monument! I have never been to Mazatlan although I have always wanted to visit both there and Puerto Vallarta from watching too many episodes of Love Boat as a kid. Looks like a beautiful place to visit!
Yeah wow, like others have said what a huge post and busy couple of days. I’ve never been to Mexico period, must change that. This city and surrounds sounds very interesting and inviting, but I’ll pass on the cow flesh and pigs snouts 🙂
It was kind of shocking to see that aspect of the market, but very interesting to learn about the culture.
This looks delightful! I’m so intrigued about Mexico as a destination – I’ve only ever been to Cozumel for a day on a cruise. Looks like there is so much more to see and experience around the country. The food is a huge draw for me as well!
The food we were served was amazing. If you like shrimp, this is definitely the place for you!
Looks like a beautiful, vibrant place, I can’t wait to visit Mexico!
Mazatlan surprised me in so many ways as you can see in the post. I highly recommend a visit, Angela!
Wow, you did and saw A LOT in 2 1/2 days. And all that food looks delicious!
What a beautiful place, Cathy. It looks like you filled every moment. That hot shrimp dish looks amazing!
I’d only been to Mazatlan on a cruise stopover (waaaay back when I was in high school) but have always wanted to go back. It looks like it’s still a very nice place to visit!
What a great post! Thank you – Mazatlan is now high on the must see list! We are in Mexico in March so I think we will now squeeze Mazatlan into our schedule. Thank you for such detail!
I enjoyed reading your post, Cathy. I’ve always heard great things about Mazatlan, now you’ve confirmed it as a place to add to my list. I’ll sign up for whale watching.
Guess you had fun?
There’s so much more to Mazataln than the beaches (although those are also pretty incredible) and your post really shows that. I love Mexico!
What a lot to see and do, Cathy. It looks so inviting.
Rooster farm looks really unique. Never seen anything quite like it. The food too looks delicious. Everything taste better in Mexico I guess. The monuments and statues are really nice too. Great read, Cathy!
Wow! You experienced a lot of Mazatlan in a short amount of time. Great pictures!
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Your food shots are amazing! Would love to try that Steaming Hot Shrimp dish.