Top 5 Things To Do In Mazatlán

Last Updated on: 19th January 2024, 08:44 am

Sinaloa’s Mazatlán is among Mexico’s most scenic coastal cities – both in terms of its natural surroundings and its colorful architecture. And among Mexico’s many beach towns, it arguably has the widest variety of things to see and do. Below we’ll be covering the top things to do in Mazatlán which should equally appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, history lovers and beach bums.

For specific details on getting around town, how to reach Mazatlán and the best places to stay, be sure to check the end of the article.

But first, it’s important to understand that Mazatlán has two main districts: Centro and the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone). Within Centro, one can find the main historical district, while Zona Dorada is more of a touristy hotel zone.

This list features locations in both areas. While they’re somewhat far apart from each other, you can easily traverse the city via public bus, cab or pulmonia.

Explore the Historical Center

Mazatlán is unique in Mexico for being one of the only well-preserved historical cities situated along the coast. Having traveled across the country, the only other example I can think of is Campeche. (Veracruz also counts, but its historical district is tiny in comparison.)

While the Spanish reached the area in the 16th century during the days of Cortés, a lot of what we see in the historical district was built in the 19th century.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Mazatlán began its conversion from a small fishing village to a significant trading port thanks to the arrival of Filipino merchant Juan Nepomuceno Machado in 1829. 

Shortly afterward, a large number of German immigrants settled in town, helping expand the port to facilitate their thriving import businesses.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

The German community here would have a long-lasting impact on Mazatlán and also Mexico as a whole. 

Today, one of the most popular forms of Mexican music is known as banda. And the state of Sinaloa is considered to be the home of banda music. 

But if you’ve noticed the similarities between banda and German folk music like polka, it’s because banda was directly inspired by the music brought here by Mazatlán’s German community.

(Today, most foreign visitors have a hard time getting into banda due to its loud horns and melodies akin to circus music. I’ve heard it described as one of the world’s most obnoxious musical genres, and frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.)

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Mazatlán would then undergo a lot more development during the Porfiriato (1876-1911), when President Porfirio Díaz implemented massive infrastructure projects throughout the country.

While aimlessly wandering through Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico is a big part of the fun, there are a number of landmarks you shouldn’t miss.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Today, Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico is a major arts hub. The colorful district is full of small galleries, in addition to the Museo de Arte. If gallery hopping is your thing, be sure to base yourself in this area.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

The district contains a few important plazas, among which is the Plaza Principal. And facing it is the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, built in the Romanesque style and completed in 1899. 

In addition to its imposing statues, it’s also known for its ornate stained glass windows.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Arguably the most lively part of the district is Plaza Machado, named after the Filipino merchant mentioned above. It’s lined with restaurants on all sides, while you’ll find a kiosco and well-manicured garden in its center.

Just around the corner, meanwhile, is the Angela Peralta Theater. While the theater was built in 1874, it was later renamed in honor of the legendary performer.

Tragically, the opera singer died of yellow fever in 1883 upon her arrival in the city. The theater was revived in the 1980s and remains in active use.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

As beautiful as the Centro Histórico district is, as you wander around, you’ll surely notice a large number of abandoned buildings. While still beautiful from the outside, you can see trees growing within as you peak through the broken windows.

While one can only speculate, random abandoned properties that should be prime real estate are likely related to Mazatlán’s close association with the Sinaloa Cartel. While we’re not going to get into this complex topic here, rest assured that the city is indeed quite safe.

The Regional Museum

On the topic of history, Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico is appropriately where you’ll find the Museo Arqueológico de Mazatlán. 

While Sinaloa lacks the elaborate stone ruins you’ll find further south in Mexico, there was certainly a lot of activity here before the arrival of the Spanish.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

As the museum covers, before the arrival of the Spanish, this region was inhabited by indigenous groups like the Totorames. And from around 850-1300 AD, a culture known as Aztatlán thrived here, and you’ll find various examples of their pottery on display.

Remarkably, the state of Sinaloa is one of the places where the traditional Mesoamerican ball game has been best preserved, and you’ll also get to see examples of the hard rubber balls that have been used for centuries.

The closest archaeological site to Mazatlán – and probably Sinaloa’s most significant – is known as Las Labradas. As we’ll cover in a future guide, it’s where dozens of mysterious petroglyphs have been carved into the rocks along the beach.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Walk Up To The Lighthouse

Mazatlán’s iconic lighthouse can be seen from all over the city – even from as far away as the Zona Dorada. While the lighthouse itself isn’t particularly large, it’s situated 157 m above the water, making it the world’s highest lighthouse that’s still in active use.

The lighthouse (known locally as the faro) is situated atop the Cerro del Crestón, which was once an island before a causeway was built to connect it to the mainland.

To get there, one option is to simply walk, with the journey from Centro taking about thirty minutes on foot. Otherwise, you could take a taxi or Uber.

Just remember that a vehicle can only take as far as the base of the hill. To reach the top, everyone must walk. While it may be tiring, the views are tremendous, and it’s easily one of the top things to do in Mazatlán.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

At the base of the hill, you’ll find a ticket booth for access to the Miradór de Cristal, a plexiglass viewing platform. At the time of writing, tickets cost $30 MXN. But you can still hike up the hill for free and simply not access the platform.

In any case, you’ll have to make a decision at the bottom, as there are no more ticket vendors once you reach the top.

The well-paved path to the top is relatively steep, but if you’re in decent shape, you should be able to make it up in about 15-20 minutes.

After stopping along the way to enjoy various vantage points, you’ll eventually make it to the lighthouse itself. Constructed in France before being shipped over to Mexico, it began operations back in 1879. But it can only be viewed from the outside, with its interior being off-limits to visitors.

Just next to the lighthouse is the aforementioned Miradór de Cristal. You’ll need to take your shoes off before walking on it, and each group of visitors is allowed a (loosely enforced) two minutes.

From the edge of the platform, you can get some great views of Mazatlán’s surrounding islands. But all in all, it’s rather gimmicky. 

As you’ll observe, rather than use the platform to enjoy the views, most visitors simply want to get social media photos of themselves standing on it, going way over their allotted time limit.

Honestly speaking, the views from the other sides of the hill are more impressive anyway.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

On your way up and down, you’ll surely notice that the hill is home to a large community of cats. Supposedly, they’re descendants of felines that originally gathered here in hopes of feasting on local fishermen’s catches.

Today, the large cat community is taken care of by a group of volunteers. But apparently, locals also frequently abandon unwanted cats here, prompting the city to put up numerous signs warning against it.

Walk Down the Malecón

Stretching out to 8.5 km, Mazatlán’s malecón is generally considered to be one of the longest in the world. It connects the Centro Histórico with the Zona Dorada, meaning you can walk between the two districts if you so desire.

If you were to walk the entire thing it would take about 90 minutes. While I did indeed accomplish this, I can confirm that the most interesting parts are at either end. 

The middle portion of the walk largely takes you past countless construction sites, with few places to stop for a break or buy water along the way.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

The section of the malecón near Centro is home to an abundance of interesting sculptures and monuments.

At the southern end, for example, is the Monument to Pedro Infante (1917-1957), a popular actor and ranchera singer who was born and raised in Mazatlán.

Further north, meanwhile, is the Monument to the Continuity of Life, immediately recognizable for its lifelike dolphins. They’re being overlooked by a nude couple in gold who happen to be standing atop a giant snail shell. Make of the symbolism what you will.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Another iconic landmark here is the Monumento al Pescador. As mentioned, before it became a shipping port and tourism hub, Mazatlán was once a humble fishing village, and this monument pays homage to that era.

Geographically, this monument marks the beginning of the wider Centro district of the city, which encompasses, but is not limited to, the Centro Histórico.

Past this point, the malecón does contain some smaller monuments, but it’s rather unremarkable until you reach the opposite end. 

One landmark of recent historical significance, however, is Condominios Miramar, the hotel where El Chapo got captured.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

At the far end of the malecón (or the beginning, if you’re based in the Zona Dorada), is where you’ll find the fairytale-like Hotel Emporio.

Also around here are the Letras de Mazatlán, though you’ll also find an additional set of letters near the Monumento al Pescador.

Whether you do most of it or just a small portion, walking along the malecón is easily among the top things to do in Mazatlán.

Visit Deer Island

Just off the coast are three main islands: Isla de Pajaros (Island of Birds), Isla de Venados (Island of Deer) and Isla de Lobos (Island of Wolves). But it’s the center one, Isla de Venados, that people can go and visit, which is widely considered one of the top activities in Mazatlán.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

But what’s over there? As an uninhabited island, there’s really not a whole lot, except for some beaches and light hiking. 

Nevertheless, it’s a nice break from the noise and traffic of the mainland, while it’s pretty cool to see the high rises of the Zona Dorada from across the water.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Unfortunately, in contrast to visiting somewhere like Isla Mujeres in Cancún, there’s no organized system for getting across, and you’ll have to haggle with a boat captain on the beach. (But if you’re looking for something more structured, consider this tour.)

The particular beach you want to go to is called Playa Gavioatas, located in the central part of the Zona Dorada, not far from Señor Frog’s. While you may not see them right away, keep walking along the beach until you encounter small boats (lanchas).

The roundtrip cost is typically a couple hundred pesos per person, though the price will depend on various factors, such as your Spanish proficiency, haggling skills or just how busy they are that day. Somehow, I managed to get the price down to $150 MXN.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

You can also pay more to rent an umbrella and chairs that will already be set up at the beach for you when you arrive. But I was content with just relaxing on my own towel.

Aside from lounging on the beach and swimming, one of the few things to do on the island is hike. The Isla de Venados trail on AllTrails, however, is quite misleading.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

While I managed to find the starting point (a feat in its own right), it wasn’t long before the trail ended and I encountered nothing but steep boulders. Despite this being categorized on the app as a ‘moderate’ hike, the only way to proceed was with dangerous Level 3 or 4 scrambling.

I had a good look around to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, but there were definitely no alternative trails in sight.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
The only way up

Not willing to risk my life just for slightly better views, I turned around and relaxed on the beach. To my luck, a couple of curious coatis emerged from the jungle to ‘inspect’ people’s belongings.

It was a nice little treat, as I hadn’t seen these cute Mexican raccoons since my travels in the eastern part of the country.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

When your boat from the mainland drops you off on the island, the captain will tell you which boat to look out for for the return trip. 

As the lanchas make repeated trips back and forth, it may be a while before you see yours. Eventually, though, the return boat should appear and take you back to Playa Gaviotas. Expect the driver to ask for a tip.

Go Beach Hopping

While the last item on this list of top things to do in Mazatlán is pretty obvious, one can’t visit the city and ignore the beach. Mazatlán is entirely lined with beaches for over 20 km (and more if you go beyond the city limits), so there’s no shortage of options to choose from.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán
Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

Generally speaking, the beaches of Mazatlán aren’t the best for swimming. As is common along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, the water can be quite shallow. And if you go out far enough to where it isn’t, the strong waves and undercurrent can be dangerous.

With that being said, let’s cover a few particular beaches that deserve a special mention.

Playa Olas Altas is situated right in the heart of the city’s Centro Histórico district. And it’s this beach that put Mazatlán on the tourism map starting in the 1920s. 

Aside from the the ugly radio towers of Cerro de la Nevería, Olas Altas remains one of the city’s most scenic areas.

What’s more, is that it’s the seawall built behind it that allowed the Centro Histórico to form in the first place, as the area was previously a swampy marsh.

Top Things to Do in Mazatlán

You’ll also find a lot of popular beaches in the Zona Dorada, such as Playa Gaviotas mentioned above. I stayed right near Playa Atún which, while nothing too remarkable, was never too crowded and it was always easy to find a space to relax.

While well outside the city limits, another popular beach in the area is Cerritos to the north of the city. But at the end of the day, as long as you’re staying relatively near the coast, you’re going to have easy access to one beach or another.

Additional Info

Mazatlán has a great bus system that runs up and down the coast. So if you’re staying in the Zona Dorada, you can easily hop on a bus that runs along the main road to take you to Centro, and vice versa.

Otherwise, Uber works very well in the city. In contrast to other Mexican cities like the capital or Mérida, where it’s not uncommon to wait up to 15 minutes for your ride, Ubers in Mazatlán typically show up in a few minutes. Furthermore, it seems to be a bit cheaper here overall.

During your time in the city, you’ll surely notice another type of transport unique to Mazatlán: aurigas and pulmonias. Having lived for a time in northern Thailand, I couldn’t help but notice that aurigas, which are converted red trucks, look exactly like Chiang Mai’s songthaews.

But while the Thai songthaews function just like shared combis or colectivos in Mexico, the aurigas are more akin to private taxis. They’re said to be more expensive than a regular taxi, as they’re intended for groups. Pulmonias work the same way, though they’re converted golf carts and therefore smaller.

While groups do indeed take aurigas and pulmonias to get around town during the day, at night they function as party buses, with the drivers blasting loud banda music regardless of the hour.

While you can typically flag down a driver and discuss a price, it’s also possible to book advance tours like this one.

Mazatlán can be reached in a number of ways. If you’re coming directly from abroad, the General Rafael Buelna International Airport has quite a few direct flights from various cities in the US and Canada.

Coming from within Mexico, if you’re not renting a car, Mazatlán is well-connected by bus. The ride from either Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta takes about six hours, while the ride from Tepic lasts about 4.5. The bus ride from Durango, meanwhile, lasts just three hours.

If you’re coming from the Baja Peninsula, the most common way to reach Mazatlán is by ferry. I did this the other way when I traveled from Mazatlán to La Paz. A lot of people with vehicles use these ferries to take them across, but you can also just ride as a regular passenger, which is cheaper than flying.

Covering the ferry and the booking process in-depth is quite a complex topic that deserves its own article, but you can find a detailed rundown here.

When doing your research, you’ll encounter lots of horror stories about the Baja Ferries company. While I don’t dispute these stories, all I can say is that everything went smoothly from my experience.

As mentioned, I wasn’t traveling with a vehicle, which is the issue many people run into problems with. Furthermore, I was able to purchase my ticket in person well in advance, allowing me to avoid the terribly dysfunctional online and telephone booking procedures.

As mentioned above, Mazatlán has two main districts: Centro and the Zona Dorada. Given the city’s excellent transport options, you’ll have easy access to Mazatlán’s top things to do regardless of where you stay.

Personally, I’d recommend staying in or as close to the Centro Histórico as possible. It’s easily the most interesting and atmospheric part of the city, while you’ll also have easy beach access.

Popular hotels in Centro include Hotel La Siesta, Casa de Leyendas and Hotel Boutique Casa Lulu.

In my case, I actually stayed in the Zona Dorada. I was staying a full month in the city, and despite the Golden Zone’s reputation for being touristy and expensive, the most affordable monthly rentals I came across were in this area.

Pretty much the whole Zona Dorada has very easy beach access, so if that’s a major priority for you, you’ll be set. Popular Zona Dorada hotels include Hotel Ave Inn, Hotel Posada Doña Rubino, and Hotel Margaritas (among the cheapest in town).

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