Authenticity intact amid Mazatlan renaissance

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Cliff divers in Mazatlan.
Cliff divers in Mazatlan. Photo Credit: Kris Fronzak

Mazatlan has been working hard to live up to its nickname as the Colonial City on a Beach.

Six hotels were under construction, with seven more in the works, and strips of the historical district were being revitalized when I visited at the invitation of the Mazatlan Tourism Board.

Visitors return year after year for the excellent seafood, sprawling resorts and a 13-mile oceanfront promenade dotted with bronze statues and steaming food carts. Mazatlan also has three public golf courses and one of Mexico's biggest fishing fleets, for those who want to try their hand at some deep-sea fishing.

Nowhere is the region's renaissance more evident than on the Durango-Mazatlan Highway, which links Mazatlan to the historically isolated state of Durango.

The trip used to be a seven-hour drive on a jagged road called the Devil's Backbone, but a years-long effort totaling about $1.71 billion reduced travel time to about three hours. The new highway stretches for 140 miles across the Sierra Madre Occidental range and has 63 tunnels and the world's highest suspension bridge.

My experience on the highway came as a stark contrast to what we'd done the day before, when we navigated the flooded streets of Mazatlan in a 12-passenger van without seat belts, as our guide shouted unsettling comments from the driver's seat ("Sometimes when it rains so hard, cars get stuck in the road!").

Mazatlan's Golden Zone is increasingly offering a slower-paced, all-inclusive resort experience. The 247-room Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan, where we stayed, offers both all-inclusive packages and a la carte stays.

Poolside, there were organized bingo games, spectacular views, ceramic items to paint and an assortment of restaurants, although the rooms could use renovating. One night, the electronic lock on the door to my suite malfunctioned; a hotel worker had to clamber onto the third-floor balcony to open it from the inside. WiFi at Pueblo Bonito is $14 per day, but staying connected to the network for more than 20 minutes at a time was difficult.

It's hard to resist the city's zest, which is untamed and memorable. We saw rows of fighting cocks up the street from the picturesque Los Osuna distillery, which produces a liquor from the blue agave plant (essentially tequila but for the region of origin).

We watched local daredevils make a living from tips by diving off a cliff into the crashing waves of the Pacific. Downtown, vendors selling the region's world-famous shrimp mingled with panhandlers.

That was Mazatlan: lively and messy but undeniably authentic.

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