While Mazatlan remains one of Mexico's more authentic beach destinations, with much of its local heritage and culture uninterrupted by tourism, there are other places within the state of Sinaloa that encourage visitors to dig a little deeper. On the outskirts of Mazatlan, up into the surrounding Sierra Madre mountains, visitors can discover two quiet, colonial villages that are still very much off the beaten path but offer cultural treasures that cannot possibly be kept secret for long.
About 26 miles south of Mazatlan is Concordia, which was founded originally under the name Villa de San Sebastian. The city was founded for mining purposes, as were many villages in this part of Mexico, in 1565. Today the population hovers slightly below 10,000 inhabitants, and tourists are few and far between. But the locals are delighted when tourists do stop by, as was evidenced by the group of uniformed schoolchildren who called and waved to us as we passed through.
The focal point of Concordia is its church, which was built in the 1700s. The facade is beautifully decorated in the baroque style, and a series of Stars of David around the windows are the only evidence that much of the funding for the church came from a Jewish benefactor.
The draw for tourists to Concordia, in addition to the church, are its crafts markets and artisan workshops. The village is known for furniture, pottery, jewelry, and is the birthplace of raspado, a Mexican-style snow cone.
At Copala's center is a church dating to 1748. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
Continue south for another 15 miles and visitors will reach Copala. This village is even more remote than Concordia, but packs a punch for lovers of colonial Mexico. The city, constructed also in the 16th century for mining, is an oasis of calm nestled high in the hills, overlooking the lush peaks and valleys of the surrounding Sierra Madres. Stopping in Copala, it feels as though not much has changed in the last 450 years.
In the days of silver mining, Copala was one of the wealthiest towns in Sinaloa, but today it remains by far the sleepiest. Cobblestone streets climb up and down the hills of the town. At the center is a spectacular, and slightly eerie, church from 1748 that sits on a bluff overlooking the valley below.
There isn't much to do in Copala except peruse the small artisan shops and dine at Alejandro's Restaurant, but both activities are worth the trip. At Alejandro's, the signature dish is a combination of stewed beef and potatoes, served with rice, tortillas, avocado and a selection of spicy salsas.
For now both Concordia and Copala remain well off the beaten path, and make memorable day trips from Mazatlan. Both villages are seeking Pueblo Magico status and will almost certainly change and develop once receiving that designation, but for now they remain in-the-know slices to travelers looking for a story to tell.