My City Pick for 2011 – Mazatlán

By David Simmonds

One of things I like best about Mexico is its diversity, from blazing desert, to nose-bleed high mountains, to dense monkey-dwelling jungles, to thousands of miles of undeveloped, pristine beaches. There is the cosmopolitan, worldly chic of Mexico City and Monterrey sharply contrasting the many hidden indigenous villages that have remained mostly unchanged for centuries. After over 40 years of traveling this great country, I have seen, if not all, a good portion of it.

My first trip to Mazatlán was in an old VW van in the summer of 1970. After driving south for several days through the Sonora desert from San Diego (spending several days in San Carlos north of Guaymas at the Catch-22 movie set) we were ready for the sun and warm-water waves that we had been promised in the early guide books. We limped into the Mar Rosa campground on the Sabalo beach north of town, a place I would return to nearly every summer for the next decade. After camping for days of surfing and Coleman-stove meals it was always time to clean-up for a day. So we would get a room at the Playa Mazatlán Hotel just down the beach from the campground for the then wallet-emptying $50 splurge. Many of my best memories can be traced to that beautiful stretch of beach plotting with my friends how we would stay out of the dreaded “rat-race” that awaited us back home.

I hadn’t been to Mazatlán for about 10 years when I was recently invited on a trip to stay at – The Playa Mazatlán! Anxious to see how the town had changed, and to visit the sanctuary hotel from my van days, I “hell yes, sign me up” accepted. Good choice.

As it always has been, Maz is a very easy town to like. The pace is slow and the locals display a sophisticated, worldly friendliness as a testament to an interesting mix of its native and European roots. Many Germans settled in the area in the early 1800’s, bringing farming skills that turned the region into a major agriculture center. The early German influence is evidenced today in the local music that employs brass instruments and drums, as well as the venerable Pacifico brewery. The growing city also attracted a multi-cultural population of Japanese, Chinese, Greeks and Americans. In the early 1800’s the city had become a major trade center. Today it so remains, hosting a large percentage of the port business in tuna and shrimp from the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez. Once the railroad arrived about a hundred years ago, the city was connected to commerce by land and sea.

Mazatlán continues to evolve. For whatever reason, it has never become a beach tourist-magnet like Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. They have instead focused on developing a more cultural setting, featuring a very impressive “old town” section of centuries-old restored buildings with sidewalk cafés, that tell the story of the town’s rich history, as well as a world-class opera, stage productions, and a symphony orchestra. They relate to San Francisco and Boston more than Miami and Malibu.

But don’t sell the sun ‘n sand scene short – not at all. As I told people on my recent visit, Maz might have my favorite beaches in Mexico. The water is warm, the waves abundant, and the sun frequent. And as a bonus, the hotel options range from basic to fabulous, all for a fraction of the price as the aforementioned destinations.

We strive to keep our posts shorter than magazine articles on this web site, so I will continue to write more about Mazatlán throughout the year, featuring resorts, events, expat news, etc. I am glad to see that I was right about this place 40 years ago. This is a great city that more people should know about.

15 thoughts on “My City Pick for 2011 – Mazatlán”

  1. Glad you enjoyed your recent visit. I live in Mazatlan November through April every year. After checking out Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and other sea-side locations, I settled on Mazatlan because of the cultural and European flavor. As you say, it is a real Mexican city compared with those locations built for tourists.

  2. What a wonderful article about my city. I have lived here full-time for 7 years now and cannot imagine being anywhere else. You have caught the heart and soul that exists here: the people and the culture are warm and friendly. If you make any effort to speak Spanish you will be hugely rewarded and made to feel right at home. The weather, the seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables and the beaches are all first rate!!

  3. We lived there for nine years and wish we were still there but health issues require us to be NOB for Medicare help. If you see a chance to live there you should spring for it.

  4. Very nice read. My wife and I thought that we were “hooked” on Waikiki (Hawaii) after over 35 years of visits. We bought a TS in Cabo over 10 years ago and it competed with Waikiki as a yearly choice. Been to Puerta Vallarata, Ixtapa, Mexico City, and Acupulco, but when we disovered Mazatlan ( 4 years ago),renting a condo in Las Gaviotas Raquets Club for the month of March, we have returned each year since. This time for 4 months (leaving April 1) and planning on 6 months next year next year. We just discovered by email, that a Brazilian family renting our house in Vancouver (Canada) would like to continue renting for a longer undefined time. They have 3 daughters and had feared for their safety re kidnappings for ransom in Brazil. The intend to emigrate to Canada. We feel that we have to return home to complete our income tax return by the end of April but if this can be extended we will stay longer in Mazatlan. The friendly sofisticated Mazatlan people, the regular sunshine, the Malecon, beaches, great variety of restaurants, old market in old town, and learning the Mexican language are our high lights. Fresh fish and shrimp are also appreciated, as well as that Pacifico beer. Maz is also safer re violence than Vancouver.

  5. A beautiful place in Mexico. We visited Mazatlán when we went to spend our holidays in Riviera Nayarit. From the sea to the animal species, it’s a place to visit anytime of the year. The Riviera Nayarit Hotels are gorgeous. And there are many Deals Destinations, so it’s quite easy to find hotel accomodations.

  6. I have been visiting Mazatlan for more than 30 years and hope to visit it for 30 more. A great, great value, a real working Mexican city (un like Cabo), a great value, plenty do do, so near (less than 2 hours by air non stop from L.A. & Phoenix, yet so far, so safe. Sorry, I can’t think of even one half of a bad thing to say about Mazatlan.

  7. eric johannes january 25th 2011
    well i have been coming to mazatlan for 25 years and it gets better every year, great food and service for low price its safe and economical

  8. Thanks to all you guys talking about my city that way,we need more of that because we want more visitors like you,and we espect to make feel like you are at home,you are all welcome to Mazatlan,come and live this experience,you will always comeback,good luck.

    Victor Suarez

  9. We agree. Have been spending about 2 months in Mazatlan now for about 12 years and we love the city and the people. Just the place to kick back and relax with the laid back atmosphere and our local friends. My daughter just bought me a sweatshirt for my Birthday that says: “Mazatlan, the only therapy I need”

  10. it´s one of the greatest beach resorts in mexico. has been conservated in a familiar style. you can take a vacation in mazatlan for half of the price of other tourist resorts like acapulco, can-cun, puerto vallarta and so on. it´s a great fishing place with summertime all year round.

  11. Thank you for this article. Definitely what Mazatlan needs right now. People who talk about the wonderful experiences they’ve had while being here.

  12. We spend as much time as possible in this beautiful city where the people are so warm and friendly and you have a wonderful diversity of rich culture, fantastic beaches and the best seafood you can get anywhere.

    We recently spent 6 wonderful weeks at our casa in Quintas del Mar and as usual it was heartbreaking to have to pack up and leave. We start planning our next visit in the taxi on the way to the airport. Viva Mazatlan. We are proud to be Mazatlecas!

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