Colorful and charming, with miles of soft sand beaches, Mazatlán, or "The Pearl of the Pacific," has something for everyone. It’s a colonial city with a rich history that's home to tropical neoclassical architecture, amazing seafood, friendly locals, and, as it’s easily accessible from the U.S., lots of American and Canadian expats. Here’s how to enjoy it.
1. Hit the beach
What’s a trip to coastal Mexico without a day at the beach? Along the famed Mexican Riviera where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet, Mazatlán has a 12-mile long stretch of sand. The Zona Dorada (or Golden Zone), with its restaurants, shops, and hotels, is the city’s most well-known and crowded span. Head north to Playa Bruja or Playa Los Cerritos for a more secluded sunbathing experience. If you’re a surfer, head south to the "locals beach" at Playa Olas Altas to catch the biggest waves.
2. Take a hike
Trade your sandals for some hiking shoes to enjoy some of the best views of the city and surrounding coast. You can climb just over 500 feet to the peak of Cerro del Creston and the iconic El Faro lighthouse, the highest in the Americas. While challenging, it can be done in under 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Go at sunset or sunrise for a truly amazing experience. The hike is free but you’ll need to take a (fairly inexpensive) taxi to the hike’s starting point.
3. Stroll the Malecón
Stretching 4.5 miles along the sea, Mazatlán’s boardwalk—or Malecón—is considered one of the longest in the world. Connecting the Old Town with the Zone Dorada and beyond, a stroll down its path, day or night, is a must. Along the way, you’ll find some of the city’s most famous statues and monuments, excellent beachside seafood restaurants, and Mazatlán’s famous cliff divers, who plunge nearly 50 feet into the Pacific (for a tip, of course).
4. Sightsee in the open air
A cross between a golf cart and an open-air taxi, pulmonias (Spanish for pneumonia) are unique to Mazatlán and a great way to see the city with a personal guide. Much like a regular taxi, they’ll get you from point A to B, but for around $20 (US), you can have your driver take you on a tour, showing you the sights and sharing some local stories.
5. Step back in time
To see Mazatlán at its most authentic, head to its colorful Centro Historico, or Old Mazatlán. The city was originally settled in the 16th century and the restored colonial buildings are from the 19th century, but the vibe feels like the 1950s. The cobblestone streets are lined with cafés, art studios, galleries, shops, and small museums. Don’t miss the Baroque-Revival style Mazatlán Cathedral, the Ángela Peralta Theater, and people watching at the Plazuela Machado.
6. Shop 'til you drop
Skip the touristy (and overpriced) souvenir shops of the Golden Zone and shop like a local at the Mercado Pino Suárez in the historic district and the city’s other open-air markets. There are lots of great boutique shops selling art and furnishings in Old Mazatlán. If you’re in the Zona Dorado, the Mazatlán Arts and Crafts Center features a wide array of products handmade by local artisans.
7. Hit the water
The Sea of Cortez has some of the best sport fishing around, but with half-day trips costing upwards of $175 per person, it can be pricey. For a less-expensive day on the water, consider renting a kayak, snorkeling gear, or a surfboard from one of the many vendors on the beach or in town.
8. Grab a bite
It’s easy to work up an appetite in Mazatlán and it’s even easier to find a great meal, especially if you love seafood. The city is known for its shrimp—it’s been called the “Shrimp Capital of the World”—but, like we said, they take fishing seriously here and, from ceviches and aguachiles to pescado zarandeado, there are many great fresh seafood dishes to try. If you really want to eat like a local, skip the restaurants and try the cheap eats from a street food vendor. Be sure to wash it all down with a cold, locally brewed Pacifico lager.
9. Take a day trip
Isla de la Piedra (or Stone Island) feels like a world away from busy Mazatlán. Well-known for its unspoiled beaches and coconut groves, it’s not an actual island, but a peninsula to the city’s south. It can be accessed by land but is much easier to access by boat. Several companies offer excursions to Stone Island but skip the tour. The half-mile water taxi ride, which leaves every 20 minutes from the harbor, costs less than $1.50 per person.
10. Catch a festival
If you time your trip just right, you may happen upon some of the best free celebrations on the Mexican Riviera. In the fall, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated with a big parade in the old town. Or you can party with 500,000 friends in the spring at Carnival, the world’s third-largest Mardi Gras celebration.