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  • Writer's pictureBil

Mazatlán - The Pearl of the Pacific

Paseo Olas Altas & the Malecon
Sunset Over the Pacific

Mazatlán is an amazing city, with an abundance of attractions – and contradictions.

Olas Altas Beach – “Big Waves” – lives up to it’s name with crashing surf every day of the 4 months we have been here.  Mazatlán - “the Place of Deer” - has no deer to be found. Isla de las Piedras – “Stone Island” – does have some rocky cliffs, but is really a peninsula, not an island. Olas Altas Beach features Liverpool Alley, complete with statues of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road - even though the Fab Four never set foot in Mexico!

No matter – “Mazatlán - The Pearl of the Pacific” has captured our hearts with her unique charm and atmosphere, fabulous food and lovely people.

When you first walk out onto the front porch of this beautiful condo, it is impossible to take your eyes away from the expansive vista. Paseo Olas Altas is directly below us, with a constant stream of pulmonias (funky “taxi” hybrids of VW and golf carts), aurigas (small red pickups with seats in back for 6), cars, bikes and ATVs on steroids. Just beyond that is the Malecón de Mazatlán, a lovely concrete walkway bordering the shore for 7 miles, with many overlooks, statues & street vendors.

Rally for Claudia Sheinbaum - presidential candidate
Olas Altas Beach

To our left is Playa Olas Altas, the closest beach to the historical Centro District, with a rocky shoreline directly in front of us and continuing north. Beyond that lies the deep blue Pacific Ocean, and Cabo San Lucas is due west – 223 miles.

Sunsets over the ocean are amazing where you can see all the way to the horizon – limited only by the curvature of the earth. Combine that with fog or clouds over the ocean and we have enjoyed gorgeous displays almost every night, actually seeing the fabled Green Flash not once, but twice! However, as we move on towards summer, the sun’s apparent northerly movement has it setting behind some buildings just to the right of us.

Mazatlán is a popular holiday destination for nationals, and every week is a holiday! Or so it seems. And we have a ringside seat for the festivities. During the gigantic Carnaval celebration the main stage was set up on Olas Altas right below us. 130 dB of Banda music until 3:30 am every night! Semana Santa (holy week), bike week (we fled to Durango this time) and Mexi Log Fest (surfing) all bring crowds from all over Mexico. By now (end of May) all the Canadian snow birds have flown back home. When school lets out for the summer the nationals will flock to the city for beach-side fun.

As I am writing this at 11am, sound check is going on at a stage just set up this morning. Word is that famous Banda musician Max Peraza is performing for a mayoral campaign rally for Estrella Palacios Domínguez.

Lighthouse in the foreground
Looking at Mazatlán from the South

Mazatlán was founded by the Spanish in 1513 on an area of the coast, north of the harbor created by the Presidio River. It was inhabited by local indigenous groups such as the Totorames , Xiximes and Tepehuanes. The location on the Pacific coast with a deep harbor contributed to growth, and the city expanded inland and north up the coast.

Today, El Faro (the lighthouse) guides cruise ships, container ships, vehicle transports, ferries and coastal freighters into the port of Mazatlán every day. The port is home to the largest shrimp and tuna fleet in Mexico, and many more small “panga” fishing boats venture out from shore every day when the seas permit.

Driving between the city and airport we see several huge lots with thousands of vehicles, waiting to be distributed throughout Mexico. Over 150,000 vehicles were imported in 2023, including MG & Changan Ford (China), Nissan & General Motors. 2024 imports have already surpassed monthly records. The peso has been steadily gaining on US and Canadian dollars.

We're having fish tonight!
Couple of Nice Dorado (mahi mahi)

We love to watch the huge ships entering the port, and others steaming off into the distance, en route to the Baja Peninsula, California or Asia. Large shrimp and tuna boats ply the waters just offshore, along with smaller sport fishing boats and tourist sight-seeing boats. Also a few jet skis, kayaks and paddleboards.

Jazz and I did arrange an offshore fishing trip with Tom & Pancho on the Johnny Bravo panga. We boating two nice bull dolphins (dorado or mahi-mahi) and a large sailfish. Several more dorado and one marlin hit and missed. It was a good day, and we had fresh fish for weeks!

Over the last couple of decades Mazatlán has made a concerted effort to clean up the historic Centro district, and it really shows. Most of the shops, restaurants, cafes and residences have dressed up their exteriors with colorful paint, iron work and lighting. The city has installed nice light poles with hanging planters, dramatic up-lights built into the sidewalks, and crisscross strings of overhead bulbs. Colorful bushes, flowers and small trees decorate the sidewalks and medians.

Walking the streets of Centro in the evening is truly a magical experience with the lights illuminating the historical architecture, tantalizing aromas drifting from cafes and music emanating from many locations. Plazuela Machado is especially busy on the weekends when the encircling streets are closed to vehicles and restaurants set tables outside. Live bands perform on every corner and merchants display their jewelry, gifts and souvenirs inside the square.

Lighting and architecture is lovely
Centro District is Magical at Night

Gaia has been our fav eatery here, returning several times for chicken picatta, mushroom risotto and beef stroganoff. Shout out to the great band Los Cryps who regularly perform around the plaza, for letting me play a few tunes with them.

Just around the corner is an art & music conservatory, and the beautifully restored Angela Peralta Theater. We attended a concert here with Alexandre Da Costa (violin) conducting the Camerata Mazatlán orchestra. Great dynamic show of classical Bach & Mozart mixed with Zeppelin and ABBA!

Mary joined us for movie night at Angela Peralta, for a showing of El Clavadista – a documentary about the cliff divers of Mazatlán. Sadly, the supposed English subtitles were nowhere to be seen, and after 20 minutes of interviews and commentary in Espanol, we decided to duck out and get some gelato instead. (sigh)

Photo courtesy of Mexico Daily Post
El Clavadista

But we have witnessed these cliff divers several times diving off the rocky pinnacle along the Malecon. One guy stands at the top waving his arms and posturing whilst his buddies move among the crowd, soliciting donations. Finally, the main guy climbs to the top, and waves his arms for a bit as he studies the waves. When everything is just right, he pushes off into a perfect swan dive, clearing the rocks and cleaving the churning surf 50 feet below. Then he swims through the foaming surge to climb out on the sharp rocks between waves. Looks like a pretty tough act to follow!

Susie did some sleuthing and found several pickleball groups, with one meeting weekday mornings at Parque Ciudades Hermanas, just 15 minutes’ walk from here. We enjoyed several days of games before my plantar fasciatus started flaring up, so I took a hiatus from playing to get some therapy. (it didn’t work ☹)

Thanks to Jorge for setting up pickleball at Vector
Great to see our Friend Eva Again!

I decided I might as well play and put up with a day of pain following. The close games had stopped, so now we took a Didi ride up to the Vector court just north of the marina, where Jorge had organized morning games. Fun mix of locals & ex-pats. (fun fact – the majority of ex-pats here are Canadian). Big bonus of this location was Tacos Capeados, a tiny roadside grill with a few plastic tables and chairs, and the best tacos and quesadillas ever! A real treat after a tough morning of pickleball!

One of the reasons we chose to stay here for so long (compared to the last 5 years of travel), and get a 3-room condo, was that it would enable friends & relatives in the US to come visit. So we have enjoyed sharing this amazing location with our kids and many friends. One of the coolest events was to take a trip to some of the small villages inland – a major contrast to the half-million population of Mazatlán.

A jimador uses a sharp coa to chop the leaves away from the piña
Akino Showing Us a Coa

We were lucky to find Akino Montiel, a local tour guide who speaks fluent Espanol & English, is very knowledgeable about local history and has a great sense of humor. He took us and friends of the “Tequila Tour” several times, and we learned new stuff every time!

Driving out of the city he pointed out how much of the western part is below sea level with the Malecon & shore road built on a raised berm. Major storms bring major flooding  (which was the reason the elevator never worked in our condo, and we had to walk up 4 flights of stairs every time!).

Enclosed buildings for the visitors
Small Cemetery Near Los Limones

Heading east into the country we stop at a small cemetery where the smaller graves have a cross or nice marker, but the larger ones have complete buildings for the visitors to stay of the sun. Farther down the road we drive through the tiny village of Puerta de Canoas where one family makes cheese and another makes candies.

Akino stops at the ranch of Alberto “Tico”, one of the most respected dancing horse trainers, where we learn how he and his sons train young horses to perform for events and parades. They give us a short demonstration of dancing to music on a lead and riding around the area between the stables.

Takes about 2 years to teach the horses
Tico with one of his Dancing Horses

Continuing east we pull up outside the Rancho Osuna rooster farm – a sprawling property with thousands of tiny A-frame chicken huts covering it – each with a fighting cock tethered to their hut to keep them from fighting each other, and flying away too, I guess. Yes, it’s legal here – and a big deal.

Next up is the Los Osuna tequila farm and distillery (no relation to the rooster farm!) Great fun! (Read more here).  Farther down the road is a cute little town of La Noria, featuring a couple of leather shops, two restaurants and a silver shop. If you continue east (not part of the tour) you will come to Lake Picachos where Bob and I went bass fishing in February, catching a dozen small largemouths.

As we drive back west to Hwy 15, Akino explains that this climate is an intersection of three different types: the Sonoran Desert to the north, Selva Baja Caducifolia (low jungle deciduous) and pine-oak forest. The landscape is various shades of tan and brown with some green here and there. Rolling flatland is populated with scrub and large cactus, and some large deciduous trees. The mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental thrust skyward in the east.

Lovely small town
Art & Antique Shop in El Quelite

Driving north on 15 we cross the Tropic of Capricorn and then turn east along the dry Rio Quelite, which turns into a raging torrent during the infrequent summer storms. Groups of colorful bougainvillea decorate the roadside as we approach El Quelite and pass beneath a simple archway into town.

Houses and shops of typical Mexican style are painted in bright colors, and cactus are growing from some of the barrel tiled roofs. Mobile vendors have setup stalls along the main drag selling snacks, jewelry, hats and trinkets, and several men have horses standing by for rides and photos. A steady stream of locals on ATVs and pickup trucks rumble by on the cobblestones, along with the tourist cars and buses.

Streets of El Quelite
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church

Across from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church is the famous Restaurante El Meson De Los Laureanos, one of the best-known restaurants in all of Sinaloa. Dr. Marcos Osuna (no relation to the rooster & tequila Osunas – hehe) started the eatery in 1995 and it has flourished and grown to a sprawling complex of rooms, decorated to the hilt with ancient artifacts, photos, paintings, knick-knacks and sculptures everywhere you look.

Authentic Mexican cuisine
Restaurante El Meson De Los Laureanos

As soon as we are seated the servers bring bowls of corn chips, salsa and white cheese, along with “goblets” of iced horchata (sweet cinnamon rice milk) or Jamaica (hibiscus tea).  Next up are small chorreadas (individual tortillas). Following is the entre of your choice – Susie says the best chilaquiles ever! I hope you’re not full yet (too late!) because now they bring 6 different small desserts! Flan-like custard, fruit bowl, sweet tamale, rice pudding & pumpkin pudding. Yum!

If you come here on a weekend morning – be prepared to wait! Our first time was at 9 am on a Sunday and we only waited 20 minutes, but when we finished, there were a hundred people standing around outside!

Colorful murals and paint
Streets of El Quelite

After dining we walked around the streets inspecting the shops, church and colorful buildings. A few blocks down was the Diseño Bazaar Centro Artesanal, filled with a huge variety of arts & crafts. Some large metal suns hanging on the wall caught my eye, so I finally bought one on our last trip to town. Susie chose 2 table lamps of a similar design. Now – where are we going to put them? In storage, with our other stuff, I guess!

With Ole Sol hanging low in the sky, it’s time to point the van back towards Mazatlán. Everyone is much quieter now than before lunch. Can you say siesta?  Zzzzzzzzzzz….    Akino! Wake up!

Polly definitely wants a cracker!
Susie Has Made a Friend

One attraction in town that we really enjoyed is the Observatorio Mazatlán 1873. Sitting on the top of Cerro del Vigía and 75 meters above sea level, this building was initially built as a military observation post. Walk up some stairs to the ticket room and then watch a short film about the history of Mazatlan. Now board a small funicular and ride to the top where you can stroll the grounds to cages of tropical birds, iguanas, turtles, tortoise and koi.

Enter the large screened-in bird sanctuary to interact with the parrots and scarlet macaws who will perch on your arms & head, looking for treats. Beautiful flamingos and toucans are walking around – no tocar! At the top there is a small bar and café, which is a lovely place to relax when not crowded, with amazing views of the harbor, ocean and city.

If you have ever visited Mexico, you have undoubtedly seen a Señor Frog's resto or gift shop. I remember seeing them in Cozumel when diving there in the ‘70s. It was founded in Mazatlán, in 1971 by Chuy Juarez and Carlos Anderson. Their goal of creating a lively and casual dining atmosphere was a huge success and has expanded across the country and into the US. Their business is a case study in the University in Mazatlán.

¡Hasta luego!
This Place Really Feels Like Home

Well, time to pack up and move along. I was determined to finish this before we left while I still remembered many of the wonderful details. We will surely miss this place and will likely be back again. It is easy to see why many ex-pats live here, and many nationals prefer it as their holiday destination.

¡Hasta luego!



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