Category Archives: City Profiles

Five Fun Things To Do In Mazatlán

By Lola

Ay, Mazatlán, you stole my heart once more… It’s been three years since I last visited this city by the sea, and much has changed. High-rises have sprouted along the endless malecón and the Nuevo Mazatlán area is bustling with construction crews and cranes, as well as brand new hotels (stay tuned for more on what’s new in Mazatlán in a subsequent “newsy” blog). To top it all off, the convention center that was once a gleam in planner’s eyes is now a reality. It’s pretty awesome—I’ll be giving that some space of its own later this week, too.

What hasn’t changed is what makes Mazatlán so beloved to so many: that wonderfully exuberant joie de vivre that welcomes you and you and you and everyone else who sets foot in this charming city. The smiles, hugs, saludos, afternoons spent around tables laden with tostadas de marlin ahumado and ice-cold Pacífico beer or my own personal favorite dude, don Julio, haven’t missed a beat. Nights in the old quarter, listening to plaintive guitars or rousing mariachi tunes, still kept me up way past my bedtime. Don’t get me wrong: everyone works hard to make a living around here, but what everyone doesn’t forget is how to make a life. Dancing, baseball (el beis), coffee klatches, outdoor concerts… Every week there’s something going on in Mazatán, and everybody is a part of it.

I miss it already.

Five Fun Things To Do In Mazatlán (In No Particular Order)

Vendor at el béis
Vendor at el béis

Catch a Venados de Mazatlán baseball game. This isn’t your typical USA game. Oh no. We’re talking action, excitement and lots going on—not just on the field, but in the stands as well. The gorgeous mazatlecas head out to see and be seen (no tennis shoes and cut-offs here: high heels, cool jeans, full makeup, earrings and bangles are de rigeur). Vendors offer beer, soda, the Mazatlán version of hotdogs (cut up on a plate with salsa, lime and toothpicks), Styrofoam cups brimming with elote (corn), and every light-up, noise-making toy you can imagine. You might find a live band oompah-loompahing away—or at the very least, a raucous combination of American stadium tunes and Mexican favorites to punctuate the plays. It’s Mexican Pro Baseball at its best. Check it out from October through January at the Teodoro Mariscal Stadium.

The view from La Puntilla
The view from La Puntilla

Spend an afternoon eating your way through the full spectrum of Mazatlán’s seafood at La Puntilla Restaurant in Punta Sur. It’s near the Isla de Piedras ferries and the views are fantastic. Service is excellent no matter how crowded the place gets—and it’s usually filled with a varied mix of visitors and plenty of locals, which is always an indication of good food and better ambiance. The aguachile (shrimp, lime, onions and green chile) is to die for.


Playa Las Brujas
Playa Las Brujas

Browse the Mercado shops at Playa Las Brujas and settle into one of the seaside restaurants for a cold Pacífico beer. The view is awesome (you can see a few mansions off into the distance on a more “private” shore) and the beach dogs are friendly. Not much to do here, but that’s the idea.


Gonzalo @ Lorna
Gonzalo @ Lorna

Indulge in the pleasure of an evening at Lorna Restaurant in the historic center (Constitución 1500). I was privileged enough to be there on a Thursday night when Gonzalo and his amazing guitar were headlining. If you have any idea what nueva trova music is and have any affiliation to it at all (think Puerto Rico, Cuba, protest, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Roy Brown…) this guy will bring tears to your eyes. He also does a mean rock and roll. The atmosphere is eclectic (there’s a mannequin dressed up as a chic prostitute—I’m guessing Lorna—up on the second story) with a video screen, gold upholstered chairs and plush banquettes, plus a fantastic menu of—you guessed it—seafood. The palomas (tequila with grapefruit juice, soda and lime) are delightful. Come back during the day with your camera: the old city is just as charming in the sunlight.

Monument to a pulmonía taxi
Monument to a pulmonía taxi

Spend some pesos at the Pino Suárez market in Viejo Mazatlán. There’s not much between you and the cuts of meat here, so be prepared—it doesn’t get any fresher than this. It’s worlds away from your shrink-wrapped, ultra-sanitized, pasteurized and homogenized neighborhood supermarket, but it is a SUPER market. Here you can purchase anything from clothing to shoes to love potions to school supplies to go along with your shrimp, fish, beef, chicken, vegetables, fruits, spices and more. To get here, take the über-cheap city bus, or jump on a pulomonía (open air taxi).

¡Hasta pronto, Mazatlán!
¡Hasta pronto, Mazatlán!

See you on the Metrobus — a new way to get around Mexico City

By John Mitchell

Metrobus at a station on Avenida Insurgentes
Metrobus at a station on Avenida Insurgentes


Mexico City is an endlessly fascinating place to explore, but getting around one of the world’s largest metropolises can be exhausting and frustrating to say the least. I usually take the speedy Metro (subway) whenever I can. If it gets overcrowded, as it often does, I can always resurface for air and hail a taxi. However, on a recent trip to La Capital, I also rode the Metrobus, a new rapid transit system running north-south along the entire length of Avenida Insurgentes, which is said to be the longest urban avenue in the world.

The bright red, serpent-like, articulated Metrobuses have their own dedicated lanes, and they stop at 45 modern stations on Avenida Insurgentes. I found the buses to be quite comfortable. Most of the time, I was able to find a seat right away or after standing for a stop two, not bad in a city with millions of potential passengers. The fare is paid electronically with a rechargeable “smartcard,” and at five pesos (less than 50 cents) per ride, it’s a real bargain.

The Metrobus system also qualifies as sustainable, relatively green public transportation. It has replaced hundreds of conventional buses and reportedly has reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 35,000 tons. Another environmentally friendly feature is that cyclists are allowed to bring their bikes on board during non-peak hours.

In early 2009, a newly completed second Metrobus line with 36 stations started operating east-west along Eje 4 Sur. I haven’t traveled this route yet, but I’m looking forward to using it to explore more of “El Monstro” (The Monster), as the locals sometimes call their hometown.

For more information and route maps, visit the Metrobus (in Spanish) website.

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Mexico City Landmarks – Images by John Mitchell

Pedaling Paseo de la Reforma

By John Mitchell

Sunday cyclists on the Paseo de la Reforma
Sunday cyclists on the Paseo de la Reforma
Mexico City doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a pedestrian or bicycle-friendly city. In fact, most of the time, crossing the teeming boulevards of La Capital makes me feel like a lone matador being charged by a herd of enraged, snorting bulls. Consequently, I was amazed one recent Sunday morning to find the eight-lane Paseo de la Reforma completely closed to traffic and awash in a sea of happy bicyclists, rollerbladers, walkers, and joggers.

Every Sunday from 9am until 2pm, the city now bans motorized vehicles on the Paseo de La Reforma, one of Mexico City’s busiest arteries, and on several streets in the Centro Historico (Historical Center). This allows cyclists to go all the way from Chapultepec Park to the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square. On the third Sunday of every month, more streets are closed to create a 30 km circuit (19 miles) called the Cicloton. The city rents bikes and hands them out free to people, so it’s no surprise that these outings attract thousands of participants. I saw pedalers of all ages, including entire families and even punk rockers whizzing down the usually traffic-clogged Paseo de la Reforma.

This project is part of an ongoing plan to make Mexico City’s transportation infrastructure greener and more sustainable. Bicycles are now allowed on the Metro (subway) and on the new Metrobus system that traverses the city along Avenida Insurgentes. Other initiatives include increased parking for bicycles and the establishment of additional centers where people can borrow bikes.

On my visit, I was also heartened to see leaf-green, environmentally friendly pedicabs gliding through the smoggy downtown streets. These new hybrid taxis, powered by both leg power and electric motors, take sightseers and regular passengers along predetermined routes in the city center. Kudos to Mexico City for improving the livability of one of the world’s largest and most polluted metropolises, and for setting an example for the rest of the planet to follow.

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Mexico City goes Green – Images by John Mitchell

San Miguel de Allende Revisited

By John Mitchell

Sightseeing Trolley Bus in San Miguel de Allende
Sightseeing Trolley Bus in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende has always been one of my favorite places in Mexico. I first visited this charming colonial town about 25 years ago. Back then it was a bit like falling off the map. There were no cell phones or Internet cafés, and to make a telephone call home, you had to line up at a casita de larga distancia with the locals. San Miguel did get a bit raucous on weekends, but most of the time it was a peaceful Mexican provincial town. The loudest noises to be heard were the crowing of roosters and the clanging of church bells.

Last month I returned to San Miguel after a six-year hiatus. Although I had watched the town grow steadily over the years, I was not prepared for some of the changes that I encountered. The first signs that things were not what they used to be were the sterile shopping malls, movie theater complexes, and American-style fast food restaurants that had sprouted on the outskirts of town. From the bus window, I could also see new housing projects marching like the armies of progress across the sun-browned hills.

The historical city center was also full of surprises. Sightseeing trolley buses made to look like old-fashioned trams prowled the cobblestones. All Terrain Vehicles had replaced burros, and the narrow streets were jammed with cars and pedestrians. Strolling at night had been made hazardous by blinding spotlights embedded in the sidewalks to light up building facades. However, the biggest shocker was the sight of a Starbucks Coffee shop on a busy corner next to the main square, a sure sign that urban hipness had arrived in San Miguel.

San Miguel de Allende was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, an honor it thoroughly deserved. San Miguel is still a lovely town, and I will continue to go back there whenever I can. But I’m afraid that some of the magic has disappeared for me. Frankly, I miss the old, more bohemian San Miguel, and I preferred to get my Starbucks fixes at home.

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San Miguel de Allende – Images by John Mitchell

UNESCO World Heritage Status Likely for San Luis Potosi

By John Mitchell

The Plaza de Armas in San Luis Potosi
The Plaza de Armas in San Luis Potosi

San Luis Potosi has never received as much attention as its famous neighbors, Guanajuato and Zacatecas, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. But this situation could change in 2010, when it is likely that San Luis Potosi will also be added to the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

True, San Luis Potosi doesn’t overwhelm your senses with spectacular architecture the way some of Mexico’s Spanish colonial cities do, rather its beauty lies in the details: ornate iron balconies, neoclassical doorways, and understated facades decorated with intricate crests and scrollwork reveal themselves as you wander its orderly grid of streets.

The Spanish founded San Luis Potosi in 1592 after they discovered gold and silver at Cerro de San Pedro in the nearby mountains. San Luis soon became one of the most important and wealthiest cities in New Spain and a major stop on the Camino Real or Royal Road, along which silver and gold were transported from Zacatecas south to coffers in Mexico City.

San Luis Potosi is organized around six plazas, each with its own personality and unique blend of architectural styles representing four centuries of building sprees. At the heart of the historical center lies the sprawling Plaza de Armas with its 17th-century baroque cathedral, and somber-looking Palacio Municipal and Palacio de Gobierno, both dating back to the 19th century.

The 17th-century Edifico de la Antigua Caja Real or Old Royal Treasury Building near the Plaza de Armas is currently being restored to help meet part of the requirements outlined by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee during its 33rd session that was held in Seville, Spain, in June 2009. It is now anticipated that the UNESCO committee will inscribe San Luis Potosi on the World Heritage list during its 34th session in 2010.

For more details, visit the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s website

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San Luis Potosi – Images by John Mitchell

Can tourism help save Cerro de San Pedro?

By John Mitchell

Cerro de San Pedro – It’s obvious that Marcos Rangel Mendoza loves the place where he was born. This unassuming, middle-aged man becomes passionate when he talks about the history of Cerro de San Pedro, an old mining town clinging to a rocky hillside in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.

The mining ghost town of Cerro de San Pedro
The mining ghost town of Cerro de San Pedro

Señor Mendoza explains that the Spanish founded Cerro de San Pedro in 1592 after they discovered gold and silver in the area. The conquistadors established a royal mine in the nearby mountains, and Cerro de San Pedro flourished until severe water shortages forced most of the town’s population to move to the present site of the city of San Luis Potosí. As a result, Cerro de San Pedro became a virtual ghost town.

Today, Cerro de San Pedro is home to about 100 people. Many of them cater to a trickle of tourists who make the 20 km (13 mile) trip from San Luis Potosí in order to wander San Pedro’s deserted streets and soak up its colonial ambiance. There are also two 17th-century churches to explore plus a museum displaying historical photographs, antique mining paraphernalia, and work by local artists. The town’s other main attraction is a small store owned by Señor Mendoza. Named “El Huachichil” after the local indigenous people, this cave-like shop is crammed with handicrafts, photographs, minerals, and mining souvenirs.

Marcos Rangel Mendoza outside his shop
Marcos Rangel Mendoza outside his shop in Cerro de San Pedro

On the surface, Cerro de San Pedro appears to be an idyllic spot. But all is not what it seems. High above the town looms a huge “open-sky” gold mine owned by a Canadian company called Metallica Resources and its Mexican subsidiary Minera San Xavier. This rapacious open pit mining operation is threatening to destroy Cerro de San Pedro and poison its inhabitants.

While we stand and chat in front of his store, Señor Mendoza points to ominous cracks in nearby walls, which he claims are being damaged by daily dynamite explosions in the mine. He also shows me nasty sores on his arm that he says he got from bathing in water contaminated by chemicals from the mine. Señor Mendoza’s greatest fear is that his hometown’s fragile buildings will totally collapse if the mine isn’t closed.

Señor Mendoza belongs to an organization that has been fighting Minera San Xavier and corrupt government officials for over a decade, but little has been accomplished. He now realizes that Cerro de San Pedro’s last chance for survival may be tourism. Increasing the number of foreign visitors will hopefully bring more awareness of the town’s historical significance, especially since neighboring San Luis Potosí, which was once one of the most important cities in New Spain, is being considered for inclusion in UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage List.

A typical street in Cerro de San Pedro
A typical street in Cerro de San Pedro

GETTING THERE: Cerro de San Pedro is about a 30-minute drive from San Luis Potosí on good, mostly gravel roads. There is also a public bus that leaves on Saturday and Sundays at 9:00 A.M. from the Temple San José church on the Alameda Park in San Luis Potosí. This same bus makes the return journey at 6:00 P.M. Cerro de San Pedro has a few basic eateries that are open on weekends only. There are currently no places to stay in Cerro de San Pedro, but it is possible to set up a tent and camp. For more information, visit the San Luis Potosí Secretariat of Tourism website.

Please click HERE to see more of my Cerro de San Pedro photos.

Third Night Free in Mexico City

By John Mitchell

Since I am planning to visit Mexico City in July, and because I’m a frugal traveler, this promotion caught my eye. According to the Tourism Secretary of Mexico City, many hotels in the capital will be offering the third night free to their guests up until August 31, 2009.

A list of participating hotels located in different parts of the city is given on the secretariat’s official Web site. Other package deals are advertised on the site as well. It’s too bad that the information is in Spanish only. But then a good deal is the same in any language.

Flag-lowering ceremony in the Zocalo
Flag-lowering ceremony in the Zocalo