A deserted stretch of sand just a few decades ago, the Golden Zone of Mazatlan is now the area where package tourists spend most of their time. Lined with hotels, restaurants, and bars, it pulses with activity from the morning until the wee hours. All the usual watersports are on offer and sailing trips depart to nearby islands.
Playa Los Sabalos is the center of the zone and is the best area for swimming, with a surf that is calm most of the time. There are plenty of choices for toes-in-sand dining and drinking, as well as discos that are pumping at night.
Playa las Gaviotas offers more of the same, but has rougher waters and can be more crowded because of the size of the hotels fronting it. You can walk from one to the other along miles of golden sand or catch an open-air taxi called a pulmonia.
While this area of Mazatlan has gone through several periods of ascent and decline, a government focus on restoration incentives and sensible zoning laws has resulted in spruced-up buildings that are also functional. The exteriors remain historic, but inside the owners have flexibility in making the (often deteriorated) space work for current needs. So there's a good range of nightclubs, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and residences. Many buildings in the Old Mazatlan area date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the bustling port city was wealthy from shrimp, fish, minerals, and an iron foundry.
The historic sights of Old Mazatlan are concentrated in a rather limited area near the Plazuela Machado, a small, tree-filled square with a wrought-iron kiosk in the center. Nearby is the ornate, neoclassical Teatro Angela Peralta, which opened in the 1860s and was later renamed for the singer: she died of yellow fever a few days before she was to perform here.
On the edge of the historic district are several other spots worth the walk. The late 1800s church here is an oddity in several respects, including Moorish touches and even Stars of David by the door. The main zocolo is not nearly as attractive as Plazuela Machado, but is a good spot for watching how the locals bide their time.
This pride and joy of the historic district of Mazatlan has been through a tumultuous history. Built in the late 1800s, it was named after a famous singer who contracted yellow fever upon traveling here to perform and died. After a period of glory the building served as a movie theater, boxing arena, and eventually an abandoned ruin. Renovated and restored to its former glory, it reopened in 1992. You can tour the neoclassical structure for a nominal fee with a guide or catch a performance at night. Except for big-name concerts, the ticket charges are nearly always a bargain and this is a center for student performances of dance, music, or theater.
An art gallery near the entrance shows off temporary exhibitions by local and international artists. Tours also visit a museum upstairs shows the building in ruins and at different stages of restoration.
Address: Carnival 1024, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico
Hours: Tours: Mon-Sun 9am-6pm
Admission: $1.25 for tours, performance prices vary
The heart of the historic district is this leafy rectangular plaza, with leafy trees and palm trees both in place, many buildings painted bright colors. It is lined by restaurants, shops, and museums, plus the Angela Perlata theater is nearby, making this a good place to linger from lunch time onward. Built in 1837 by the wealthy businessman it was named after, in the center is a wrought iron gazebo from 1870.
It’s a hub of activity, especially at night when there’s frequently live music coming from stages on the plaza or performers outside the restaurant tables on the sidewalks. By day there are a few small museums worth a visit. It’s easy to walk from here to other central Mazatlan attractions that are on the edge of the historic district, such as the main square, basilica, and central market.
This offshore island is a popular excursion stop for cruise ship passengers docking in Mazatlan, but most of the visitors are locals on weekends and it’s not very crowded on non-cruise weekdays. The main reason to visit is to lie on the beach, swim, and eat grilled seafood at a thatched-roof restaurant, but you can also explore the island by horseback or on walking trails. The beach here is a good spot for seashell collecting.
There are two ways to get to Isla de Piedra as it’s known locally. The independent route is to take a pulmonia to the cruise ship port and take the public launch, running every 15 to 30 minutes. Another option is to sign up for a tour that includes some time at Stone Island. Most of them also visit mangrove swamps in a jungle area to spot birds.
The Lighthouse of port city Mazatlan has been shining since 1879, guiding ships coming up the Sea of Cortez. It can be seen 30 nautical miles away. For tourists, the main reason to come here is to see the divers. From a high platform, young men sometimes make daring high dives for assembled crowds for tips.
You can hike up to the lighthouse itself though to take in the view of the port and entering ships—mostly shrimp boats, plus an occasional cruise ship. Because it sits on a high hill, it’s reportedly the highest lighthouse in the Americas, as 523 feet above the high tide line.