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Stretching 15 miles along a beach-studded coastline, Mazatlán is one of Mexico’s most established and alluring tourist destinations.
It’s also the country’s largest Pacific port and a popular retirement spot for Americans and Canadians.
There’s something for every day-tripper at this stop along the Mexican Riviera, from art galleries and colonial architecture to thatched-roof beach restaurants, golf and sport fishing. And, of course, beaches, beaches and more beaches.
Before or after you hit the beach, take a few minutes and stroll down Mazatlán’s impressive waterfront promenade, the Malecon, one of the longest in the world, or head to the historic district (Centro Historico) in Old Mazatlán, which dates all the way back to the 1500s.
There's no shortage of beaches in Mazatlan, especially in the so-called “Zona Dorada,” or Golden Zone hotel district north of downtown. Two of the prettiest strands: Playa Sábalos, notable for its silky sand, and Playa Cerritos, a quiet strand with palm trees and palapa restaurants. Also popular with day trippers is Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island), actually a peninsula reached via a short boat ride. The surf is gentle, umbrella restaurants serve excellent seafood and many diversions — boat tours, horseback riding, ATV excursions — are available on the spot to round out your day.
The historic district (Centro Historico) at the heart of Old Mazatlán dates to the 1500s and has blossomed in recent years into an engaging restaurant, shopping, arts and entertainment area. Its nucleus is the Plazuela Machado, a colorful, leafy square lined with patio restaurants and other inviting venues. Download a self-guided walking-tour map here or pick one up at the tourist office.
Matzatlán’s waterfront walkway, the Malecon, stretches an impressive 13 miles. Let serendipity be your guide as you stroll all or part of this scrupulously clean promenade, preferably in early morning or late afternoon, when the light is golden. Stunning views, authentic mom-and-pop eateries, posh resorts and great people-watching can easily consume hours of your day.
If your ship happens to be in port the first Friday of the month between November and May, don't miss the Mazatlan Artwalk, which runs from 4 to 8 pm and includes dozens of artists, galleries and studios.
Sailing and motor-craft tours can be booked as shore excursions or on your own. Most visit or pass by a trio of off-shore islands, Chivos, Venados and Pájaros, as well as the peninsula known as Isla de la Piedra. Each has its own set of attractions, from kayaking to surfing, scuba-diving, parasailing and banana-boat rides.
You’ll find all manner of boutiques selling clothing, souvenirs, jewelry and more in the vicinity of Plazuela Machado and the Olas Altas tourist area. For a taste of authenticity, head to the Mercado Pino Suárez, or Central Market, to ogle mountains of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, spices and baked goods, all packed into a block-square iron building dating to 1899 and inspired by the Eiffel Tower.
Top courses in Mazatlan include the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Estrella del Mar; the two courses at El Cid Country Club (including the new Marina Nine designed by Lee Trevino); the David Fleming-designed Marina Mazatlan and the nine-hole Club de Golf Campestre.
Sport fishing: Reserve in advance to join a sportfishing charter to prime angling areas just off the coast, where sailfish, marlin, swordfish, snapper, tripper, snook and tuna abound. Freshwater bass fishing in nearby Lago El Salto and Lago Mateos is another possibility. The billfishing season runs October to May.
Scrumptious seafood: Fishing fleets go out daily and come back loaded with flopping bounty that goes directly to restaurants without ever seeing a freezer. Whether you enjoy simple fish tacos at a palapa restaurant on the beach or a gourmet meal in a white-tablecloth restaurant, don’t miss out. A specialty is zarandeado, a stuffed and grilled whole-fish preparation.
An important tip for travelers: Avoid eating street food and drinking tap water — choose bottled water instead.
High season: November–April
Shoulder season: May–June
Rainy season (also hurricane season): July–September
The climate is temperate, with July through early October the most hot and humid time of year.
Cruise ships dock at the commercial port, which is walking distance (about 20 minutes) to the Historic District. A blue line painted down the middle of the route leads straight to the Plazuela Machado, but you’ll have to elbow your way through a phalanx of taxi drivers and time-share salesmen who will try to convince you to ride, rather than walk. The Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) is about four miles away.
Traditional taxis, “eco-taxis,” pulmonias (see above) or public buses will get you where you need to go.
Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.
Language: Spanish, although English is spoken and understood in establishments that cater to tourists.
Currency: Dollars are welcome almost everywhere, but it’s more polite to pay in pesos (you’ll get a better rate, too.)
Safety: The U.S. Department of State issues travel warnings for many areas of Mexico, mostly where crime and violence related to drug cartels have increased. Mazatlan itself is not typically one of those places and, like most tourist areas in Mexico, is generally considered safe. That said, it's wise to leave jewelry, most cash and most credit cards on the ship, limiting what you take with you into port. Use ATMs only during the day and when accompanied by friends or family. In restaurants, remain aware of your belongings and don't hang purses over chairs. To learn more about safety in specific areas, log onto the State Department's web page on Mexico travel warnings.
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“Besides its golden beaches, Mazatlán still boasts the inexpensive digs, fresh seafood, stellar sportfishing and Mexican day-to-day culture that has appealed to travelers since the 1940s.”
“Having outgrown its image as a chintzy mid-20th-century resort town, today’s Mazatlán is one of Mexico’s most alluring and inviting beach destinations.”
“This was our favorite port of call on the Mexican Riviera itinerary, a nice sample of the ‘real Mexico.’”