Exploring Mexico’s Pearl of the Pacific.
Did you know Mazatlán has the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the world?
The Carnival festivities hosted by this colonial resort city on the Pacific coast rank behind Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans in terms of size, popularity, and sheer extravagance.
Mardi Gras has been celebrated in Mazatlán since the early 19th century, and each year the festivities grow, drawing more visitors from Mexico, the United States, and around the world. The week-long celebration includes multiple parades, pageants, the coronation of the kings and queens of Mardi Gras, and fireworks galore. Mazatlecos really love their fireworks!
The most breath-taking of these pyrotechnic displays is a re-enactment of a naval battle between the French frigate La Cordeliere and the British vessel Charybdis during the French Colonial invasion of 1864. The sky along the malecón—the longest beachfront boardwalk in not just Mexico, but all of Latin America—lights up with colorful fireworks bursting all over the Bay of Olas Altas. This truly spectacular sight is just one of many things that sets Mazatlán apart from the rest of Mexico.
Founded in 1531, Mazatlán has a unique multicultural history with strong connections to its indigenous roots. (Mazatlán is Nahuatl for “the place of the deer.”) Thanks to the Germans who emigrated to the region in the 19th century to work in the gold and silver mines, Mazatlán is the birthplace of Banda music and Pacifico beer. And it is one of the few cities in Mexico where baseball is more popular than football.
Mazatlán shares a special connection to the sea. The city sits across from the tip of Baja at the mouth of the Gulf of California where the waters of the gulf meet the ocean. For many years, it was a hub of commercial fishing and aquaculture, and massive schools of swordfish and sailfish brought sport-fishing enthusiasts like Ernest Hemingway to Mazatlán to muscle the marlin out of the deep. Today, it remains one of the top destinations for deep sea, inshore, and big game anglers. You can coordinate a tour with your concierge or reserve a boat in advance through Fishing Booker.
If your idea of maritime adventure is cruising the harbor while sipping a cocktail as you lounge on the fantail in your swimsuit, you can rent your own luxury yacht from Aries Sportfishing & Bay Tours. Mazatlán also boasts Mexico’s largest aquarium, and a lighthouse, El Faro, that is the second tallest in the world.
Chief among this abundance of blessings is a bounty of gastronomical delights. From fresh aquachile and ceviche to smoked marlin tacos and tamales stuffed with shrimp, mariscos is a mainstay of the Mazatlán table. So it should come as no surprise that Mazatlán’s chefs excel at preparing dishes from the sea that range from the simple to the sublime.
Located on the second floor of a restored 19th-century museum, Casa 46 has gorgeous interiors with three themed salons, the largest wine cellar in Sinaloa, and seating that overlooks Plaza Machado in the Centro Histórico. On weekends the plaza is filled with music and dancing, and dining at Casa 46 provides a front-row seat to the festivities. The menu features local delicacies such as grilled octopus, slow-cooked sea bass, and black risotto made with squid ink.
What would a trip to the Pearl of the Pacific be without sampling the region’s oysters? Mazatlan’s many beachside restaurants, like Diego’s Casa de Playa and Joe’s Oyster Bar, offer the opportunity to do just that. After a night of revelry, you can kick off your shoes and dine with your toes in the sand.
For a truly one-of-a-kind culinary experience, venture to Cardon Resort, a small fishing village north of Mazatlán, where Drew Deckman has established a pop-up restaurant on the beach. If that name rings a bell, Deckman was featured in our culinary issue last summer. His restaurant, Deckman’s en el Mogor, has quickly become one of the most lauded restaurants in Valle de Guadalupe in Ensenada.
At Cardon Resort, Deckman pairs local ingredients with varietals from Mexico’s wine-making region for an exceptional outdoor dining adventure. This unique collaboration only operates from November through March and reservations are required. so be sure to inquire well in advance.
Travelers to Mazatlán have multiple options for selecting a hotel, but the first choice you have to make is whether to stay in the Old Town or the Golden Zone. Casa Lucila Hotel Boutique and The Jonathon Boutique Hotel offer the energy and excitement of being in the heart of the city.
In the Golden Zone, you’ll find a cluster of luxury beachfront hotels and resorts. The newly renovated El Cid Resorts in Mazatlán offer an all-inclusive elite package with access to four properties, 12 restaurants, nine pools, private beaches, and endless amenities. Did we mention the 27-hole golf course and 120-slip marina?
With its tropical beaches and vibrant celebrations, Mazatlán can feel like a world away. But for Southern California residents, Mazatlán is closer and more convenient than New Orleans with direct flights from Los Angeles and Tijuana. Or, if you prefer traveling by sea, over 100 cruise ships visit Mazatlán each year.
No matter how you get here or what time of year you come, there’s a party waiting for you in Mazatlán.
By Jim Ruland
A Navy veteran, Jim Ruland has a passion for exploring hidden places and underground scenes. He is the author of the novel, “Forest of Fortune,” named best contemporary fiction in the 2015 San Diego Book Awards, and the short story collection “Big Lonesome.” He is the co-author of “My Damage” with Keith Morris — who’s a founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Off — plus “Giving the Finger” with Scott Campbell Jr. of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” His work has appeared in publications including Esquire, Granta, the Los Angeles Times and Oxford American, and has received awards from Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts. He runs the reading series Vermin on the Mount in Los Angeles and San Diego and is a member of the Golondrina arts collective in San Diego. Ruland’s interests include punk rock, tattoo culture, stories of nautical adventure and strong coffee. He is currently working on a book with the Los Angeles punk rock band, Bad Religion. Follow him on Instagram, @jimvermin.
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