Mazatlán, spread along a peninsula at the foot of the Sierra Madre, is the second-largest Mexican port on the Pacific both in terms of population (Acapulco is larger) and shipping (Lazaro Cardenas is busier). Known to Mexicans as the Perla del Pacífico (Pearl of the Pacific), the idyllic setting and warm winters have inevitably turned it into a popular resort. Unfortunately with relentless expansion it has lost some of its appeal, although it is still one of the most beautiful spots along the Mexican Pacific coast.

The area of extensive development, called the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone), stretches for several
kilometres north of the old town and attracts international tourists. However, in the heart of the old town
you can join Mexicans taking their vacations, without the hard sell. The old town overlooks Olas Altas (High Waves) Bay, which has a very strong current. Entering Mazatlán by sea from Baja shows the city at its most impressive - two pyramid-shaped hills, one topped by a lighthouse (150 m above sea level),
the other the 'rock' of Isla Piedra (which can be reached by highway or ferry), guard the harbour entrance.

Mazatlán does have other attractions besides the coast. With some 479 buildings registered as national historic monuments (the most of any Mexican town on the Pacific coast), its Carnival is one of the best in the country. The town boasts an amazing shell museum, has a remarkable 19th-century theatre in pristine condition, and its famous lighthouse - the world's second-tallest after Gibraltar's - is considered one of the world's most beautiful.


The old part of town is centred around
Plaza Machado
, on Carnaval. This is by far the most interesting part of the city. While Mazatlán does not give the same emphasis to its architecture and history as to its recreational side, the baroque (although constructed in the late 19th century)
Basílica de la Purísima Concepción
at the heart of the old town on the plaza is well worth a visit, with its elegant interior and two slender spires.

Half a block from the plaza, on Libertad, is the
Teatro Peralta
, the 19th-century opera house that was restored in 1987 and has been open to the public since 1922. Few interiors merit the sobriquet 'breathtaking', but this one certainly does. The history behind this building is rather interesting.
In 1883, the famous opera singer Angela Peralta (known as 'The Nightingale of Mexico') arrived in Mazatlán to perform for the first time. Upon her arrival, the crowd that gathered to meet her unhitched the horses from her carriage and carried her to her hotel. She was so taken back by their enthusiasm that she performed for her fans from the balcony of the h
otel that same evening. Unfortunately, the boat she arrived on carried yellow fever, and Peralta died before she could perform in the theatre (then named the Rubio). The theatre was renamed after her, and a plaque commemorates her tragic death.

Another interesting stop is the
Machado House Museum
, built in 1846. It originally was the home of the Canobbio family, Italian immigrants who lived on the upper level and used the ground level as a drugstore. Today, it has a collection of antique furniture, decoration, and Carnaval costumes. The
 is the largest and most interesting in the country, with a huge collection of maritime life, including sea lions, sharks and blindfish.
Mazagua Aquatic Park
, is a great family deal. The
Museo Arqueológico de Mazatlán
, is small but recommended, with an interesting collection covering the State of Sinaloa. One street over is the new and very colourful
Mazatlán Art Museum
. The
Mazatlán Arts and Crafts Centre
, has a huge selection of handicrafts from Mazatlán and all over Mexico; good quality, but not cheap.

Zona Dorada

Tourism is concentrated in the Zona Dorada, which includes the beaches of
Las Gaviotas
Los Sábalos
Los Pinos
(the most quiet),
, and
(a rocky area, good for snorkelling). The area is built up and accommodation is expensive. The old town, around
Olas Altas Bay
, has a distinctly more relaxed feel, but gives way to the
, a waterfront walkway, which has the typical beachfront restaurants, discos, nightclubs and hotels that you might expect. The southern end is more tranquil, and Mazatlán's boardwalk is infinitely more pleasant than that of Puerto Vallarta.

A long beach begins at the foot of the
, curves northwards around the bay, first at Paseo Claussen, then Avenida del Mar, which leads to Avenida Camarón Sábalo in the
Zona Dorada. Sunsets are superb from this side of the peninsula and there are plenty of beach bars from which to appreciate them.

Isla de la Piedra

The 30-km beach on the Mazatlán side is littered but you can walk across the peninsula either side of the hill to a clean beach where there is good surfing. There is also a ferry that goes from near the lighthouse to the island). Local
on the beach provide basic accommodation, or ask for permission to camp on the beach. Try smoked fish sold on a stick;
has been recommended. Beware of sandflies.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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