Travel guide to Mazatlán, Mexico

Mar 11, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. ET

On the surface, Mazatlán looks like your average Mexican city. After a bit of digging, though, you'll find that this passionate town on Mexico's Gold Coast is filled with unique culture and food, spectacular sights and some of the most proud (and beautiful) people in the world.

Despite having the third-largest Carnival celebration in the world, Mazatlán is still considered a bit of a hidden gem in Mexico. Tainted by news of drug lords and danger, tourists tend to avoid this practically untouched part of the country. We were lucky enough to spend a week in Mazatlán with our toes in the sand, exploring the sights, eating the food and seeing the incredible culture first-hand, and we never felt safer or more relaxed in our lives.

Where to stay

If you prefer modern amenities and an all-inclusive meal plan, stay at the Riu on Emerald Bay. This five-star, 726-room resort has everything you need to enjoy your stay, including a private beach, three swimming pools, four restaurants and a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and Stone Island. The downside is the location, which is over 20 minutes away from the city. Rooms start at $173 and include all meals and drinks.

If you'd prefer something in the hustle and bustle of the Plaza Machado, or Old Town Mazatlán, stay at The Jonathon. This brand new hotel, opened in 2011, was built into an old mansion where Pacific College used to stand. The inside is stunning, with spiral staircases and an open courtyard. Possibly the most impressive part of the property is the rooftop deck. With aerial views of the city and comfy seating, you'll really have no reason to leave. Rooms start at $130 a night.


We recommend you take a day trip out to the Las Labradas Petroglyphs. Located about 40 minutes from downtown, Las Labradas is home to ancient writings and drawings that date back 1500 years. In addition to historical sketchings, the view at Las Labradas is gorgeous, with dark slate rocks and icy blue water.

Another 60 minutes away lies the quaint and stunning town of Copala, founded in 1565. Copala has a charming square, cobblestone streets, friendly locals with their pets (donkeys) and an amazing colonial church. You'll only find one restaurant with mediocre food, so pack a lunch or eat when you're back in town.

You can't miss the Malecón, which is the largest promenade in the world. The 14-mile boardwalk is situated right along the Pacific Ocean, offering views of Stone Island and Goat Island on the right and the bustling city hub of Mazatlán with gazebos and shops on the left. A few miles inward is the Teatro Angela Peralta, or opera house, in the center of the Plazuela Machado. The building was constructed in 1869 and was completely restored in 1992. Just a step from the opera house is the Plazuela Machado, which is home to some of the city's top restaurants, like Pedro and Lola and ll Mosto. During Carnival, this square is bustling with live music and thousands of locals.


where to eat

Mazatlán is home to some of the best seafood in the country, thanks to its location right on the Pacific Ocean. Start your seafood sampling at Los Arcos on Camaron Sabalo. They are known for their shrimp, but their raw scallops, seviche platters and charbroiled octopus are big hits with the locals.

Another hot spot is El Shrimp Bucket on Olas Altas. During carnaval, the parade festivities and coronations take place on the street in front of the restaurant, giving you front row seats to the events. Order the shrimp buckets, either the beer battered or boiled, for the table (one will serve at least 2 - 3 people). Pair your food with a Pacifico beer, which is brewed right in Mazatlán.

For those craving something heartier, head to La Casa Country on Camarón Sabalo S/N. Start your meal with their queso and chorizo, which is spicy and decadently cheesy. Then order their steak, which is cooked to perfection and served with a cheese quesadilla. For dessert, order the Mexican coffee, which is made in front of you with tequila, Bailey's and ice cream. The waiters actually stand on chairs and pour burning liquid directly into your coffee, so bring your camera to capture the spectacle.

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