The city of Mazatlan is approximately 15 miles long, located on a peninsula that is bathed in sunlight for most days of the year. It reaches southward, beyond the Tropic of Cancer, marking one of Mexico’s entries into the tropics. For many travelers, its warm, perpetually sunny weather makes it an ideal winter escape for an increasing number of travelers.
Map of Mazatlan
Mazatlan is known around the world for its breathtaking beauty both on the mainland, and among its sprinkling of tropical islands. Its golden sandy beaches and vibrant blue lagoons have earned it the nickname “Pearl of the Pacific”. That said, the city’s name actually means “land of the deer” in Nahuatl, an ancient local language. Along its coastlines, 10 miles make up the gorgeous beaches that are visited by over a million tourists every year.
The heart of the tourism industry is known as the “Golden Zone”, where the majority of hotels and restaurants are located, though much of the city itself remains relatively untainted by international influences and continues onward in the traditional Mexican way, with its churches, plazas, markets, and neighborhood architecture.
Though the Golden Zone (Zona Dorada) is a lot of fun and offers unlimited play, to truly understand this destination, you will need to leave its boundaries. In the city, there are lots of boutiques, authentic cuisine restaurants, and many other surprises that cannot be seen from the tourist playground. The city is working hard to restore many of its historic gems along cobblestone streets, offering many delightful new discoveries in the old town (pueblo Viejo) part of the city.
The most common ways to get to Mazatlan are by air, car, or bus. Flights are typically inexpensive and arrive daily from Europe, as well as several times per day from major American and Canadian cities. European flights will typically connect in Los Angeles, from which there are many non-stop flights available every day.
For those living in the Southwest, driving and bus travel is also an appealing option, as Mazatlan is located only a 750 mile drive along the toll-way from Nogales. The road is a busy one, but it is well maintained and in excellent condition. Though busses remain a popular way to go, driving has become less common as the road tolls and gas can add up, and will generally mean that the cost is more expensive than bus fare or even airfare.
Busses are inexpensive, but they include a minimum of 6 stops if a direct non-stop service is unavailable, meaning that the journey will be an average of 16 hours long. The cheap flights to Mazatlan have made air travel the most appealing way to go.
As a sea port, many people also choose to take the ferry to get to their Mazatlan destination. Though it is not the fastest or cheapest way to travel (with Baja Ferries, for example, costing $800 per adult and $400 per child for a 17 hour ride), it does provide an experience that is different from the conventional way to arrive. Keep in mind that strong winds can cause significant delays, so if your travels are highly time sensitive, this may not be the ideal choice for you.
Once you’re there, the city offers many different ways to get around town. During the high season, the average daily cost of a car rental is about $40 (US), with several different car rental companies in town, including Hertz, Budget, and Alamo.
Unique to Mazatlan are the open-air Pulmonias, which are taxis that resemble golf carts in their appearance. They’re easy to find all over the city, but prices should always be negotiated before getting started if you want don’t want to over-pay. Drivers expect you to bargain. Alternately, you can find a cheaper form of cab in the eco-taxis, which are green striped or red. It is still a good idea to confirm your price from the start.
The city also has an extensive public bus system that can bring you virtually anywhere. Though there are some marked bus stops, you can usually simply flag down a bus by waving your arm (observe the locals for the “official” method) from wherever you are, if you see the one you want.