On the continuum of Mexican destinations, Mazatlan doesn’t get the same love as brand name cities like Cozumel, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas. But the city’s fascinating history, beautiful beaches, and prime, protected location on the Sea of Cortez make it a worthy destination in its own right. Here’s the low-down on some of the best things to do in Mazatlan, along with the best places to eat, drink (and maybe even sleep) in the country’s “Pearl of the Pacific”.
Off the coast of downtown Mazatlan lies three tiny, seemingly uninhabited islands. The largest of the trio, Isla de Venados (Deer Island), is one of the area’s best places to escape the tourist hustle. There isn’t much on the island and that’s exactly the point — just enjoy the silence, hike the island’s rough, western “back side”, or dip into the waters of the Pacific for a snorkel. To get there, just visit the city’s piers where any fisherman will be happy to ferry you to and from the island. More ambitious travelers can even kayak or swim across.
There is no libation more Mexican than tequila. While true tequila must originate in and around the state of Jalisco, blue agave (a.k.a. “raw” tequila) is widely produced throughout the country. Mazatlan’s Los Osuna has been distilling the beverage since the late 19th century and provides tours and tastings of their sprawling plantation just outside of town. Somewhat curiously, a combined zip-line and tasting tour is also available, courtesy of Huana Coa Adventure Tours.
Stateside, Ramada hotels aren’t well-known for their killer, all-night clubs. But the five-star Ramada Mazatlan is unlike any other in the chain. The property’s Joe’s Oyster Bar is one of the most happening joints in the Zona Dorada district. From 11 a.m. until whenever they feel like closing, the beachfront dive bar is a hub for the city’s best live Banda music, Pacifico by the bucket, and dirt cheap margaritas. Here, you’re far more likely to rub elbows with local Mexicans than vacationing Midwesterners. (And the oyster and sopa de mariscos aren’t bad to boot.)
For something a little more chill, Stone Island is a five-minute water taxi ride from Old Mazatlan. The island is a ramshackle collection of coconut plantations, tiny surf bars, and great, authentic restaurants. The family-owned Lety’s has been serving traditional Mexican eats — grilled seafood, brochetas de camarones (Mexican kabobs), and ceviche — for more than thirty years. The palapa-style joint is situated feet from the Pacific Ocean with a laid-back, unpretentious vibe that feels worlds away from anywhere.
The city’s Golden Zone is well-known for its high-rise resorts and sprawling all-inclusives. Instead, head to Viejo Mazatlan (Old Mazatlan) for centuries-old guesthouses and beautifully restored, Colonial-style cathedrals. Melville Boutique Hotel is a tiny, real-deal, traditional Mexican inn tucked into a side street that even local cabbies don’t know about. The mismatched furniture, exposed wood beams, and pet parrots in the open-air garden courtyard all create a vibe that feels like crashing at your abuelita’s house. It’s also just a five-minute walk to the beach and the city’s famous historic square.