Mazatlan Travel Guide

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Mazatlan Travel Guide

Mazatlan Local History

In pre-Hispanic times Mazatlan (which means 'place of deer' in Nahuatl) was populated by Totorames, who lived by hunting, gathering, fishing and agriculture. A group of 25 Spaniards led by Nuno de Guzman officially founded a settlement here on Easter Sunday in 1531, but almost three centuries went by before a permanent colony was established in the early 1820s.

The port was blockaded by US forces in 1847, and by the French in 1864, but, after that excitement, Mazatlan stayed a quiet little more than a fishing village for the next 80 years. 'Old' Mazatlan, the traditional town center, dates from the 19th century. Tourists started coming in the 1930s, mainly for fishing and hunting, and some hotels began to appear along the Playa Olas Altas, Mazatlan's first tourist beach, in the 1950s. The town continued to grow steadily through the 1960s. From the 1970s onward, a long strip of modern hotels and tourist facilities has spread north along the coast.

With a population that increases annually, Mazatlan continues to get bigger and bigger. Still, part of Mazatlan's charm is that it is not just one big tourist resort, despite the number of hotel crammed together at its northern end. The municipal government, dominated in recent times by the centre-right PAN, has come up with a civic beautification program in an attempt to make the tourist industry less harmful to the environment.

Mazatlan Attractions

Mazatlan Shopping

Shopping in Mazatlan - Mazatlan shopping runs the gamut from precious stones to seashells, with plenty of T-shirts in between. Most stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9 or 10am to 6 or 8pm. Very few close for lunch, and many stores are open on Sunday afternoon.

La Zona Dorada - This is the best area for shopping. For a huge selection of handicrafts from all over Mexico, visit the Mazatlan Arts and Crafts Center. (Calle Gaviotas and Avenida Rodolfo T. Loaiza. Tel: 669/913-5022). These places accept cash only. Nearby Sea Shell City (Avenida Rodolfo T. Loaiza between Las Garzas and Avenida del Mar. Tel: 669/913-1301), is exactly what the name implies, and offers more shell-covered decorative items than you ever dreamed could exist, from the tacky to the sublime.

Gallery Michael (Avenida Las Garzas 18, off Avenida Camaron Sabalo) has an excellent selection of Tlaquepaque crafts and fine silver jewelry. It is near the Dairy Queen and does not accept credit cards. For fine jewelry, seek out Pardo Jewelers (Avenida Rodolfo T. Loaiza 411. Tel: 669/914-3354), and Rubio Jewelers (in the Costa de Oro Hotel, Avenida Camaron Sabalo. Tel: 669/914-3167). Shops throughout the Gold Zone carry a good selection of clothing, fabrics, silver jewelry, leather, art, and crafts.

The Centro Mercado - Located in the Old Mazatlan is another kind of shopping experience. Here visitors will find women selling fresh shrimp under colourful umbrellas; open-air food stalls; and indoor shops stacked with pottery, clothing, and crafts. Small galleries and shops are beginning to appear in Old Mazatlan, one of the nicest is NidArt Galeria (Avenida Libertad and Carnaval, next to the Angela Peralta Theater. Tel: 669/981-0002). It features changing exhibits of contemporary art. Open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

La Gran Plaza - This is a large shopping mall, 3 blocks from the waterfront on Avenida de los Deportes. The plaza has a large supermarket, department stores, and specialty shops. It is a good place for buying basic items, and it is open daily from 10am to 9pm.

Mazatlan Activities

Rodeos - Rodeos, or charreadas, take place at the Lienzo Charro (bullring) of the Asociacion de Charros de Mazatlan on Saturdays or Sundays, beginning at 4pm. This is a wonderful activity for children and adults alike, and younger visitors will get the opportunity to experience some real southern entertainment. Tickets are around $4.50, and are available through local travel agents and hotel concierge desks. Tel: 669/986-3510.

Mazatlan has more than 100 tennis courts. Try the El Cid resort, on Camaron Sabalo (tel. 669/913-3333), although hotel guests have priority, or the Racquet Club Gaviotas, Ibis, and Rio Bravo in the Golden Zone (tel. 669/913-5939). Many larger hotels in Mazatlan also have courts. Some offer hire services for racquets and balls, but mostly you should bring your own. It is a good way for children to get rid of all that excess vacation energy.

Acuario Mazatlan - Children and adults interested in the sea will love the Mazatlan Aquarium. With over 200 species of fish, including sharks, eels, and sea horses, it is one of the largest and best in Mexico. Next to the aquarium are a playground and a botanical garden, with an aviary and a small crocodile exhibit. Staff members feed the sea lions, birds, and fish at shows almost hourly. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable about the different species on exhibit. Open daily from 9:30am to 6pm, and admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for children 3 - 11. The Aquarium is located on Av. de los Deportes 111, 1/2 block off Av. del Mar. Tel: 669/981-7815, or 669/981-7817.

Mazatlan Parks & Gardens

Isla de Venados - Three rocky islands can be seen from Mazatlan's beaches. Isla de Chivos (Goat Island) is on the left, and Isla de Pajaros (Bird Island) is on the right. In the middle, Isla de Venados (Deer Island) has been designated a natural reserve for protection of native flora and fauna; petroglyphs have also been found on the island.

Secluded beaches on the island are wonderful for a day trip, and the clear waters offer great snorkelling. Boats depart daily from El Cid Mega Resort, and a day trip to any of these natural wonderlands is definitely worthwhile.

Mazatlan Beaches

Isla de la Piedra - Stone Island is a short boat ride from town, east of the Mazatlan peninsula. Though it is not really an island anymore, landfill from the airport construction has joined it to the mainland, it is still referred to as an island. The wide, sandy beach here is lined with coconut groves and open-sided, palm-thatched palapas restaurants, some of which have music and dancing on Sunday afternoons and holidays. Good surf breaks and some very cheap accommodations make it popular with surfers.

Playa Olas Altas - This main beach is where Mazatlan's tourism began in the 1950s. The seafront road has a few faded '50s hotels facing the water, but erosion and construction have reduced the beach to a small crescent at the northern end of the cove. To the north, the coast road passes Cerro de la Neveria, where cliff divers plunge into the ocean below. It is a lovely stretch of pounding surf, but not suitable for swimming. Further along, Playa Norte is a sunset fishing spot for pelicans and other birds. It offers several kilometers of good sand beach.

Playa Sabalo - This spot is farther north, and is perhaps the best beach in Mazatlan. Here you will find a bridge over a channel that flows in and out of a lagoon. Beyond the marina, more beaches stretch all the way to Los Cerritos. Remember that all beaches in Mexico are public property, so you have the right to enjoy the beach of your choice. Mazatlan is one of only a few resorts in Mexico where surfing is common on central town beaches. The waves are best here, as it is at Los Pinos and at Playa Los Gaviotas.

Mazatlan Restaurants and Bars

Mazatlan claims to be the billfish and shrimp capital of the world, and whether or not it is a valid claim, deep-sea fishing in Mazatlan is generally less expensive than in other parts of Mexico.

Seafood cuisine plays a significant role in this part of Mexico and visitors will surely not be disappointed by any seafood dish ordered from a menu. Being Mexico, one can expect food to be tasty and tangy, full of flavour and spice.

Mazatlan Restaurants

Copa de Leche - This shaded sidewalk cafe on the waterfront at Playa Olas Altas feels the way Mazatlan must have in the 1930s, and the food is consistently as good as the ocean view. The menu includes pechugas en nogada (chicken breast in pecan-and-pomegranate sauce), shrimp in tamarind sauce, traditional alambre barbecue (beef cooked with onion, peppers, mushrooms, ham, and bacon), wonderful seafood soup loaded with squid, shrimp, and chunks of fish, and great shrimp with chipotle sauce. Inside, the decor is updated Mexican, the bar is an old wooden boat, and the dining tables are covered with linen cloths. Expect prices from $4-$8 for breakfast, and $5.50-$17 for main courses. The restaurant is located at Av. Olas Altas 1220 A Sur, Downtown & Playa Norte. Tel: 669/982-5753.

No Name Cafe - One of the main attractions of this restaurant and sports bar is the 30 TVs. This is the best place in town to watch sports. Memorabilia, including pennants, posters, team photos, and baseball card collections, covers every square inch of the place. Between games, rousing rock 'n' roll and country music will lure you onto the dance floor. Renowned for having the best barbecue ribs in town, the cafe also has seating on a tree-covered courtyard surrounded by palapas. The menu is as oriented to the good old USA as the setting, with outdoor-grilled steaks, spare ribs, pork chops, thick hamburgers, and barbecued chicken, plus grilled shrimp, a touch of Mazatlan. For dessert, the homemade banana-coconut cream pie is sumptuous. Main courses are $5.50-$20. The spot is located on Rodolfo T. Loaiza 4178, Zona Dorada, The Zona Dorada. Tel: 669/913-2031.

Pura Vida I - The cafe is nearly hidden behind thick plants, and has several small seating sections with wood picnic tables and white canvas umbrellas. It specializes in juices and smoothies, from kelp to papaya and makes a perfect morning spot. The energetic staff serves omelets and whole-wheat pancakes for breakfast, and burgers, purified salads, soups, and Mexican specialties for lunch. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes, like soy burgers. The veggie and white-chicken sandwiches served on whole-wheat rolls are fabulous. Expect to pay $2-$6for main courses. Pura Vida is located on Bugambilia 100, 1 block down onto Laguna. Tel: 669/916-5815.

Senor Pepper's - This restaurant is known for serving the best steaks in Mazatlan, and manages to be both elegant and comfortable. Potted plants, candlelight, and lots of polished crystal, silver, and brass give the dining room a romantic feeling. Some nights it seems as if all the diners are old friends. The enormous Sonoran beef steaks are grilled over mesquite, and the lobster and shrimp are also big hits. The nightly special includes appetizer, steak or seafood, vegetables, and soup or salad; those having only drinks at the bar receive a complimentary appetizer. Main courses are $20-$39. The restaurant is located on Av. Camaron Sabalo s/n, across from the Camino Real Hotel. Tel: 669/914-0101.

Bahia Mariscos - A historic town house in Olas Altas has been transformed into a charming restaurant specializing in bountiful seafood lunches. The campechana bahia is a delicious medley of shrimp, octopus, oysters, and calamari, and the fried whole fish is one of the best in the city. It is the bright spot on an avenue of deserted houses, and the owner also offers tours of the house, which dates to the turn of the 20th century. Main courses are $9-$22. Located on Mariano Escobedo 203. Tel: 669/981-2645.

Mazatlan Bars & Clubs

Joe's Oyster Bar - Beer, burgers, fresh oysters, and high-volume dance music are the house specialties at this casual, palapa-topped, open-air disco. It is open daily from 11am to 2am. There is no cover charge and the bar is located on Av. Rodolfo T. Loaiza 100, n the beachfront at Los Sabalos Hotel. Tel: 669/983-5333.

Valentino's - This all-white, Moorish-looking building houses one of the area's most popular discos, and is dramatically perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the sea. There is a good high-tech light show complete with green laser beams. For a break from the pulsating dance floor, there are pool tables in another room, and some (relatively) quiet areas for talking. Part of this disco complex is the Bora Bora, a pub-style bar complete with volleyball court and surfing simulator. There is a cover of $5-$10, and Valentino's is open daily from 9pm to 4am. Located in Punta Camaron, near the Camaron Sabalo traffic circle. Tel: 669/984-1666.

Mazatlan children's activities

Rodeos - Rodeos, or charreadas, take place at the Lienzo Charro (bullring) of the Asociacion de Charros de Mazatlan on Saturdays or Sundays, beginning at 4pm. This is a wonderful activity for children and adults alike, and younger visitors will get the opportunity to experience some real southern entertainment. Tickets are around $4.50, and are available through local travel agents and hotel concierge desks. Tel: 669/986-3510.

Mazatlan has more than 100 tennis courts. Try the El Cid resort, on Camaron Sabalo (tel. 669/913-3333), although hotel guests have priority, or the Racquet Club Gaviotas, Ibis, and Rio Bravo in the Golden Zone (tel. 669/913-5939). Many larger hotels in Mazatlan also have courts. Some offer hire services for racquets and balls, but mostly you should bring your own. It is a good way for children to get rid of all that excess vacation energy.

Acuario Mazatlan - Children and adults interested in the sea will love the Mazatlan Aquarium. With over 200 species of fish, including sharks, eels, and sea horses, it is one of the largest and best in Mexico. Next to the aquarium are a playground and a botanical garden, with an aviary and a small crocodile exhibit. Staff members feed the sea lions, birds, and fish at shows almost hourly. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable about the different species on exhibit. Open daily from 9:30am to 6pm, and admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for children 3 - 11. The Aquarium is located on Av. de los Deportes 111, 1/2 block off Av. del Mar. Tel: 669/981-7815, or 669/981-7817.

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