When Angela Peralta, a world-famous 19th
century opera singer known as the "Mexican nightingale," arrived in
Mazatlan in 1883 to perform at the Rubio Theater, little did she
know she would become one of the city's eternal legends.
But when she
succumbed to yellow fever before her performance, her tragic death
was forever etched in the city's history.
elegant venue where she was to perform, now beautifully restored
and renamed the Angela Peralta Theater, is a centerpiece of old
Mazatlan, the historic city center that is increasingly becoming a
major selling point for this Pacific beach destination.
offers plenty of sand and sun, a bustling hotel zone -- called the
Zona Dorada, or Golden Zone -- and loads of outdoor activities and
nightlife. But few resort destinations in Mexico can compete when
it comes to Mazatlan's history and culture. And that's what tourism
officials and locals hope to parlay into even more interest in, and
preservation of, old Mazatlan.
historic city centers, old Mazatlan went through rough
years when buildings fell into disrepair and the tourism industry
focused on developing beachfront hotels in the Zona
But today, old
Mazatlan's precious post-colonial, neoclassical architecture, which
dates mostly to the 19th century, has been increasingly restored to
pristine condition, which locals say is a big selling point for the
"When we started
our business in 1992, they were still renovating the theater," said
Rak Garcia, who runs Nidart, a gallery collective in old Mazatlan.
"We realized that when they started to restore the theater, that
would change the neighborhood; it would blossom."
Blossom it has,
especially in the blocks around Plazuela Machado, a small town
square dotted with restaurants, outdoor cafes and shops. Within the
past two years, the city of Mazatlan has posted bilingual
Spanish-English signs with information about historic sites
throughout old Mazatlan.
A variety of
tourism-focused businesses have opened their doors in recent years.
One of the newest is the Hotel Machado, a six-room boutique
property on the second floor of a historic building overlooking the
plaza. It has high ceilings, Internet access and renovated rooms
"We have another
hotel [the Hotel Melville], which opened two years ago nearby, and
we decided now is the time to open a hotel here," said owner
Ernesto Gomez, who plans to expand the Hotel Machado to 25 rooms by
the end of this year by renovating an adjoining
Gomez said old
Mazatlan has not yet reached its potential for
"In the Zona
Dorada, the prices and values were rising in the 1970s, but now the
historic zone is rising, and the tourist zone has stopped. At the
Freeman hotel in the Zona Dorada, you pay $160 a night. At the
Freeman in Olas Altas, you pay $90 for the same hotel, same
service. There is still a large margin for growth in this part of
property is slated to open in a converted building across the
street from the Angela Peralta Theater, and new restaurants and
shops are now a common site. Even long-running Zona Dorada
businesses, like handicraft chain Michael Gallery, have decided
that it's a good idea to open a branch in old Mazatlan.
Much of this
rising popularity is just a return to the way things used to be,
according to Rebeca Flores, co-owner of Mariscos Bahia, a
restaurant her father opened in 1950.
"In the 1950s,
old Mazatlan was like the Zona Dorada," Flores said. "Then it died.
Now, in the past 10, 15 years, it has changed. I knew it would come
back. Old Mazatlan, for us, is tradition. That's what we sell:
Tradition, a cultural getaway, a gastronomic getaway."
during a recent visit, I took a table in front of Pedro y Lola, one
of the longest-running restaurants on the Plazuela Machado. As I
enjoyed shrimp ranchero, Alfredo Gomez Rubio, the restaurant's
owner, spoke about old Mazatlan's comeback.
and rebirth of the city center hasn't always been a smooth path,
Gomez Rubio explained. He drew a graph on the paper tablecloth and
marked it with the years 1990 through 2010. One line peaked in
1997, representing the original business growth planned for the
historic center. "But things didn't happen as planned, and lack of
official support affected that," he said. "The market wasn't
"There was a
negative perception and people didn't send tourists to old
Mazatlan," Gomez Rubio added. "They kept them in the Zona Dorada.
They thought we were crazy. Now they understand, and they support
Lizarraga, a spokeswoman for the Mazatlan Hotel Association, said
that old Mazatlan is key to the destination's success in the
tourism industry. "It's so important that there is a committee that
deals just with old Mazatlan," she said.
now, according to Gomez Rubio, is to maintain the growth and
capitalize on what makes Mazatlan different from other beach
resorts -- namely, its historic center.
"We now need new
products so the market expands and grows. But the most important
strategy for Mazatlan is to reclaim its identity. It's important
that we're recognized as one of the historic ports of the Pacific.
Other destinations are great beach resorts, but the beach isn't
information about Mazatlan, visit www.gomazatlan.com.
To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].