The languid resort of MAZATLÁN is far less dominated by tourism than Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta, its direct rivals, though hotels still flank its 30km of enticing sandy beaches, and activities such as horseriding and zip lines have enhanced its appeal in recent years. Yet Mazatlán’s greatest pull remains its old-fashioned seaside resort atmosphere and the museums, cafés and galleries of its resurgent centro histórico, where much of its nineteenth-century core has been sensitively restored. Most tourists stay in the Zona Dorada, the “Golden Zone” along the beach, and penetrate the centro histórico only on brief forays, but the latter has far more character. Mazatlán actually peaked in the 1980s, and today much of the seafront looks decidedly tired, despite the steady flow of visitors.
Few Mexican cities seem to celebrate their (albeit tenuous) literary connections with such pride as Mazatlán, with special plaques nailed up throughout the old town. Herman Melville stayed in Mazatlán for nineteen days in 1844, as a humble sailor aboard the frigate United States, no doubt gathering material for Moby Dick and his other subsequent novels. In 1951 beat poet Allen Ginsberg passed through, while Anaïs Nin stayed at the Hotel Belmar when she visited Mazatlán the same year. In her diary, Nin admires the “pink and turquoise houses, the green shutters”. The following year Jack Kerouac spent a night and day drinking and dossing on the beach in Mazatlán, writing about his brief time here in Lonesome Traveler (1960): “At Mazatlan at dusk we stopped for awhile for a swim in our underwear in that magnificent surf…”
Opened in 2009, the ultra-modern Mazatlán International Center, Avenida del Delfín 6303, is best known for exhibitions and conferences, but it is also home to the world’s largest mural. Sinaloa-born local artist Ernesto Ríos created the mesmerizing 25m-high three-dimensional ceramic mosaic dubbed “Sea of Cortés”, which covers the whole north wall of the building and explodes with colour. The centre is studded with modern artwork inside and out, further justifying the taxi ride up here.
Remember to book accommodation well ahead if you are planning to be here around Semana Santa, when Mexicans descend on the city for massive celebrations (or July and Aug, when families pack the hotels and beaches).
You should also plan around the massive carnival held here in February, which involves a massive firework display known as the Combate Naval and is one of the world’s largest, dating back to the 1840s.
The centro histórico has become a magnet for Mexican and international artists in recent years; you can get a taster of the scene on the First Friday Art Walks (Nov–May 3–8pm), held every first Friday of the month, when 21 galleries and over 35 artists open their doors for self-guided tours (pick up maps at hotels or at the website).