PEARL OF THE PACIFIC
Mazatlán (Mah-Saht-LAHN) is a destination with a split personality. Despite the importance of its visitor industry, Mazatlan remains very much its own city. It nicely balances its double indentity as México's largest commercial port while being one of the country's most popular beach resorts.
Mazatlan has many events and festivities during the year. Carnival, in February, brings the cities colorful lifestyle to the forefront as thousands of costumed celebrants throng the resort's streets & beaches making Mazatlan's mardi gras the third largest in the world. Fishing and other sporting tournaments, as well as cultural events and various Mexican holidays fill out the year.
Mazatlan means "place of the deer"
Mazatlan is Mexico's second largest coastal city (after Acapulco), with nearly 600,000 inhabitants. It has the largest port facility between Los Angeles and the Panama Canal, and is home to Latin America's biggest fleet of commercial shrimp vessels (over 800 boats). Nearly 40 tons of shrimp are processed each year, making Mazatlan "the shrimp capital of the world".
Mazatlan has three distinct zones. The port and downtown area, Old Mazatlan, are at the southern end of a peninsula that separates the Pacific from an enormous saltwater estuary. To the north some four miles is the Zona Dorada (the golden zone), home to nearly all of Mazatlan's visitor attractions beach hotels. Between the two is a long curved stretch of mostly underveloped beach that serves as a sort of buffer between the port and resort zone.This separation allows the resort community to co-exist nicely with one of Mexico's busiest commercial ports.
Since the 1950's Mazatlan has been a major cog in Mexico's visitor industry. Cancun and Ixtapa were deserted sandbars when Mazatlan began earning a reputation for affordable and friendly fun-in-the-sun. The resort grew up hosting weary American motorists who found it a welcome oasis on their journey south. As air service improved, the resort became a mainstay of Mexico's burgeoning tourism industry. In fact, Mazatlan has probably introduced more Americans and Canadians to Mexico than any other resort.
Mazatlan boasts miles of sandy beaches
One of the best things going for Mazatlan is its combination of affordable comfort and laid-back seaside charm. Its long, wide sandy beaches with rolling surf (quite similar to the beaches of Southern California) are lined with fun, open-air bistros and bars. While there's plenty of elbowroom, the sunny beaches clamor with activity. Strolling vendors hawk their wares, parasails float upward, and sunbathers of all ages frolick in the blue Pacific.
There are some 8,000 units for lodging. Many properties date to the 1960's and 70's since recent construction has been limited, but have been renovated. While not as glitzy as its cousins to the south, Mazatlan is one of the few resorts in Mexico that offers ultramodern deluxe resorts alongside budget beachfront hotels.
Recent declines in air service and fierce competition from Mexico's other Riviera playgrounds, have made the resort work harder to compete. Despite losing some of its popularity, Mazatlan remains a favorite of many West Coast vacationers. While the new kids on the block (Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Cancun) lure visitors with dazzling mega-resorts and the latest in leisure time gadgetry, Mazatlan has stuck to its roots: sun, sea and service.
Mazatlan's colonial-style church
|Dining (especially for seafood) and nightlife are excellent. Shopping is also first rate, with several fine art galleries and handicraft markets. Sightseeing combines a few colonial era sites with more contemporary attractions. For the sports enthusiast, Mazatlan offers the usual assortment of watersports along with some of the world's finest deep sea fishing. Surfing is excellent as is hunting for waterfowl.
Mazatlan has an international airport. Flights arrive at Rafael Buelna International Airport (MAZ) daily. The airport is 14 miles southeast of the hotel and resort area. The terminal has recently undergone an expansion and improvement project. Several shops are open, plus a restaurant, bar, and several rental car agencies.
From the airport, taxis are available at around $23 USD. Most major rental car companies have airport counters. Some hotels have free shuttles, or may charge a small fee ($5 shared), inquire with your hotel. Buses also run between the airport & downtown. The cost is in the range of $1-$2, but it will take much more time.
See Custom's Requirements for entering Mexico before arriving.
Mazatlan can be reached by driving the toll road (Hwy. 15) from Nogales. Tolls are in the $35-$40 range for the entire trip. You can also take the free road which will add some hours onto your trip. Coming from the east through Durango is another option on Hwy. 40, but remember you are crossing the Sierra Madre Occidental and you'll need to be cautious and drive slow in some areas.
One of Mazatlan's modern gas stations
If you do drive your vehicle to Mazatlan, you must have Mexican auto insurance, it's the law. Please see our Insurance link below for a list of available companies.
The Mazatlan Train Station is located on the eastern edge of town in Colonia Emiliano Zapata. At this time, the train is not running passenger service, but it used to serve Mexicali and Nogales to the north and Guadalajara to the south, as well as points in between. Hours vary, but the ticket office is usually open at 8am - 12pm Mon-Sun. Remember, trains in Mexico can be slow and not on time. Although a great way to see the countryside, please allow time for breakdowns, unscheduled stops, and late starting times.
Central de Autobuses (Tel: 669-982-8321) can be found just east of Playa Norte on Calle Rio Chachalacas. Most major bus companies serve the resort and head out to many cities in Mexico. First class from the U.S. border (Nogales, AZ) is around $40 and from Mexico City is about $45.
Mazatlan has the biggest marina grouping in all of Mexico and is vary popular with the yachting set or the casual boater. Marina Mazatlan is the larger of the two main marina's in the resort with over 1,200 slips upon completion of construction. It is being built in phases. All amenities are offered from boat yard and fuel dock to a golf course, plus 24 hr. security, and yacht club (Tel: 669-916-3614). Marina El Cid offers a little over 100 slips and also features a fuel dock, security, accommodations and a beach club (Tel: 669-913-0525). You'll also find the Capitan of the Port offices here for check-in, which is required by the Mexican government.
The Mazatlan Ferry can provide vehicle and passenger transport to and from La Paz in Baja California Sur. The trip takes 17 plus hours and advance tickets can be purchased during the week at Paseo Clausen 310 in Olas Atlas (Tel: 669-981-7020). The actual ferry boards at end of Av. Carnaval from the Muelle Transbordador at the harbor and you can also purchase tickets here. Please see the actual SEMATUR Ferry website under Useful Links.
The Peso presently values beween 9-10 Pesos to 1 US dollar. Banks generally have the best exchange rates & open at 9am (M-F), make sure you check what hours they do money exchanges. Lines may be longer at banks, but rates are probably slightly better than exchange houses.
Money exchange houses or Casa de Cambios are found throughout Mazatlan and will exchange money throughout the day and into the early evening. Check with your hotel also as they may exchange money alhtough they usually don't give the best rates. Both of these options may be a little higher than the banks, but are probably more convenient.
Most of the larger establishments - from restaurants to shops, will readily accept US currency. The issue in that case will be the exchange rate that they offer; it is advisable to ask first in order to avoid any disappointments. Also, whether paying in Dollars or in Pesos, it is a good idea to carry small bills with you, as it is often difficult for small shops or stands to make change for large bills.
Some of the hotels, shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, with some or no surcharge, but not all of them. However, you have to keep in mind that many other establishments - especially smaller ones with lower prices, do not accept credit cards. While you are planning your trip, make sure that you carry - or have access to, enough cash or traveler's checks.
Time & Pace
Mazatlan is in the Mountain Time Zone and does observe daylight savings time.
During the summer months, most businesses are open. Since Mazatlan doesn't really have slow season, siesta isn't usually observed except in some of the small towns outside the resort. Siesta or the mid-day break is a tradition that reflects not only the necessity of avoiding heat-related fatigue, but is also a traditional time to spend with family. It coincides with the hottest time of day when people retreat to their homes to eat and rest in the shade.
You can call (direct dialing) and fax to anywhere in the world from Mazatlan, using the facilities at your hotel or a telephone calling place or Larga Distancia shop. You can also purchase pre-paid long distance cards before you leave or you can buy then throughout town.
Internet access is now available throughout Mazatlan in "cyber cafes", some hotels may also offer the service.
Getting Out & About
You can always find taxis or be a little adventurous and hop a pulmonia up and down the resort area. Pulmonia's are 3 to 5 person, open-air taxis, a cross between a carriage and golf cart (literally meaning "pneumonia"). Each vehicle carries its own unique name, which might give you a clue as to the driver's roadside manners.
Mazatlan also has public bus service (cheap) which runs from the tourist area all the way to downtown (Centro) and old Mazatlan. These buses run from 6am to 11pm most of the time. You'll find the drive along the ocean-side boulevard wonderfully scenic. Mopeds & scooters are popular and can be rented at several locations.