Our trip to Mazatlán was short but very sweet. We only had two nights in the city and one full day but we really made the most of it. There is an abundance of things to see and do in this city so we have come up with a list of 10 things to do in Mazatlán for free that will help you get the most out of your time in the city.
Malin and I had heard plenty of horror stories about Mazatlán and the region of Sinaloa. Considered to be one of Mexico’s most dangerous regions we were a little apprehensive. According to the US Travel advisory page Sinaloa is a level 4 region. They state “Do not travel due to crime” and “Violent crime is widespread. Criminal organisations are based and operating in Sinaloa state.”
Seeing this doesn’t really make you feel any better. However we decided to do a little more research and this time on YouTube and we found plenty of videos of travellers exploring the city of Mazatlán and not having any problems at all.
During our short time in the city we ventured out after dark both nights on smaller roads and streets and actually felt pretty safe on the whole. Maybe Malin and I were just lucky and maybe we unwittingly managed to stay in the ‘safe’ area of town.
Want to see what we got up to in Mazatlán? Watch our video here.
10 things to do in Mazatlán for free
There are so many things to do in Mazatlán so Malin and I have put together a list of the top 10 things to do in Mazatlán in no particular order. By the way number 9 was a favourite of ours and we would have loved to have spent more time there watching the majestic pelicans so close up!
1. Watch the cliff divers
Watching the cliff divers has to be on your list of things to do in Mazatlán. Granted, it is a little touristy and they have got a pretty good setup to make sure they get some money out of the people desperately waiting to see them jump.
While this isn’t technically a free thing to do, it is donation based so you can decide if you feel like giving a little to help them out. If you think about it they are kind of risking their lives every time they jump so help the guys out if you can.
So who are these crazy guys that jump into the perilous thrashing waters below? They are locals who perform these dives for tourists (usually bus loads from cruise ships) and tips are their only pay for performing this dangerous act. Apparently the water is only 6 feet deep so they have to time it perfectly with the waves.
Apparently the tradition of the cliff divers or ‘Clavadistas’, as they are known locally, dates back to the mid 1900’s when a man called Mario Gonzales Aguilar performed the first dive because of a bet!
There is no specific time to when they will take the leap of faith and I think Malin and I were pretty lucky to have been able to capture it on camera. We arrived around midday and we have read that they continue until sunset. It also appeared to us that they didn’t jump until they had reached a certain amount in tips (they collect before the jump) and they get the go ahead from ‘el Jefe’ or the boss. So, if you are looking for what to do in Mazatlán, don’t miss out on these brave cliff jumpers.
You will find the cliff divers or El Clavadista on the Malecón (boardwalk) by Glorieta Rodolfo Sanchez Taboada Plaza.
2. Visit the historic centre
One of the top things to do in Mazatlán is of course going to be visiting the Historic Centre. Old Mazatlán is a very special part of this historic city. You can find beautifully restored buildings to others in complete disarray. Malin and I often feel that being able to see the rougher side or less glitzy side of the city gives you a glimpse into the local life and can allow you to get a better feel for a city.
Walking around the historic centre you will stumble upon some truly incredible buildings and for anyone who is a bit of a history freak about anything to do with Spain and colonial architecture you will be in love here! Every corner you turn has something to look at. The city of Mazatlán has 500 buildings that have been listed national historic monuments.
For us one thing that really stood out, and up until that point we hadn’t really seen in Mexico, were the coloured colonial buildings that you expect to see everywhere in Mexico. There is one specific little road with an elevated path that really caught our attention. You can find it leading off the main road by Carpa Olivera Saltwater Swimming Pool.
Another really nice place to hang out with really quaint little cafés and restaurants is Plazuela Machado. When we passed through they were setting up a stage for some live music and it would probably have been pretty lively there during the evening. The surrounding buildings have been restored to perfection and there are a lot of little art galleries and handi-craft shops around the area. Don’t miss out on this spot in Mazatlán.
3. Walk up to the viewpoint (lighthouse)
One thing that we highly recommend doing in Mazatlán is walking up to the viewpoint by the lighthouse. The views of the Pearl of the Pacific are far reaching and you will enjoy them without any doubt. It is also a great place to watch the sun go down after a day of exploring this underrated city.
The walk itself up the hill isn’t too strenuous and you will meet plenty of locals on the way up if you are going in the afternoon or early evening.
Once you get to the top you will be able to see the lighthouse as well as a sky-walk that only costs 10 pesos (0.40-0.50$ USD depending on the exchange rate). We decided not to go on it as it wasn’t overly impressive and we have been on one before in Thailand.
From the bottom of the hill it is possible to get a bus back into the historic centre or, if like us, you enjoy walking you can make it to the historic centre in 20-30 minutes. There are a few different routes you can take and we suggest that you follow the coastal road back to El Malecón for stunning views of the cliffs.
4. Talk to a shoe shiner
Malin and I had the pleasure of talking to a lovely guy called Valente who told us lots about the local area and a little about the history of the historic centre. It turned out that Valente had been working in the square for 18 years and he also lived on the little island just off the mainland called ‘Stone Island‘ or ‘Isla de las Piedras‘.
The shoe shiners are not soulely (see what I did there!) in Mazatlán, you will see them all over Mexico, however the stands that they use are really beautiful in this city. Just looking at the expressive faces of the men working you can tell they have some really interesting stories. We would have loved to have spent more time chatting with Valente but we were in the middle of filming a vlog and had other places to get to.
5. Go to Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra)
In just five minutes you can be across the bay and landing on Stone Island or Isla de la Piedra away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a great place to kick back and just take a day off. There are plenty of restaurants and bars serving traditional local cuisine and of course, very cold beers.
If you don’t want to sit back and enjoy the beach under a parasol with a few cold drinks there are plenty of activities that you can do. You can go horse-riding on the beach, snorkelling in the Pacific Ocean, you could even go on a banana boat ride and of course you can hire a kayak and explore the area by sea.
6. Visit the Golden Zone of Mazatlán
Mazatlán’s Malecón is one of the longest beach promenades in the world and it stretches for over 1.5 kilometres along the Golden Zone of the city. In this part of Mazatlán you will find beach-front high-rise condos and hotels and it the most popular area for tourists to stay. You will find a luxury marina with yachts of all sizes.
If you are looking for a good night out then the Golden Zone (Zona Dorada) is the place to go. You will find plenty of choice or bars and clubs and a great atmosphere. Everything in the Golden Zone is within walking distance but if you don’t feel like it you can jump on one of the local Pulmonias (open air cab), which you can only find in Mazatlán, for a very reasonable price.
7. Walk along El Malecón
When we say walk along the Malecón, we don’t mean the whole thing. That would take you the whole day as it is over 20 km long! We recommend splitting it up into sections or just choose one particular area.
We walked a pretty significant part of the Malecón from the northern part of the historic centre to the west and all the way down to the start of the walk up to the lighthouse. It was a good walk to say the least. Along the way we stumbled across some really interesting places such as El Clavadista and Carpa Olivera (the old salt pool).
The whole Malecón walkway was recently renovated adding palm trees and lights the whole way making it usable at all hours of the day. In the evenings you will see plenty of locals strolling along the coastal path and plenty of bars and restaurants with live music creating an upbeat and energetic atmosphere.
8. Swim in the old pool
Before going to Mazatlán we didn’t really do much research about what to see and do as it was only a quick stop for us so when we came across Carpa Olivera we were little bewildered as to what is was. Our curiosity was quickly answered when we saw people jumping in. It even has a slide going into the pool, although we didn’t see anyone using it and it looked like it wasn’t in use.
Carpa Olivera was the idea of a Chilean chef called Antonio Olivera who made his home in Mazatlán. Antonio and a group of locals designed a beach-side restaurant and saltwater swimming pool that’s water was topped up with every high-tide.
During its heyday it was a spot for high class residents of the area and the area became a pretty glamorous spot. Live music and exquisite regional food delighted to high flyers and top all of that off with a dip in the saltwater pool at sunset it must have been something spectacular.
Unfortunately, in 1954 a hurricane caused a lot of damage and it was left abandoned. Over the following years it was still in use by some locals and in 2004 it was remodelled and continues to be a great place to hang out around sunset or a place to cool down during the hot midday sun.
9. Watch the fishermen feeding the pelicans
Watching the fishermen feeding the pelicans and frigates was a complete surprise for us, we could have stood there for hours watching them all. We had just happened to leave our Airbnb and walked out towards the Malecón and saw a feeding frenzy down on the beach as the fishermen were cleaning their catch.
For us it was something so special because we had always seen the pelicans from a distance or when a the occasional prehistoric looking bird flew right past us. To have the chance to see the up close flapping their wings, squabbling over fish entails and not flying away was something really special.
The frigates were also swooping in really low trying to get their own little piece of the action and they are truly majestic birds and their wing span is terrifyingly wide. Again you don’t often get to see this birds so close up and able to see all the detailing on their plumage. Amazing!
10. Visit Mercado Pino Suarez
If you are in need of a little shopping or just want to wander around a traditional market selling everything you could possibly need then Mercado Pino Suarez is the spot to visit. We were surprised by the amount of different things being sold. From deep-fried insects to ponchos to delicious and extremely refreshing freshly made juices this market has got you covered.
Outside of the market on the northern side you will find plenty of taco stands full to the brim with locals chowing down on mouth-watering tacos al pastor, carnitas and, of course, fish tacos! Being a local market full of locals the prices are not aimed towards tourists and you will get a fair and local price.
We took advantage of our time at the market and ordered a thirst quenching juice with fresh oranges (I think she put six or seven oranges in it!) strawberries, guayaba and whatever else she threw in! All this together cost 40 MXN for 1 litre. Exactly what we needed.
Where to eat in Mazatlán
As in every city in Mexico, there is absolutely no shortage in food! Malin and I really noticed this in Mazatlán, it seemed that every corner had a taco stand and there was an abundance of small restaurants serving dishes of the day for a great price.
Aside from Tacos, burritos and quesadillas there are some great little places selling absolutely delicious tortas (big sandwiches) for around 40 MXN. The tortas are not like something you get in the UK or some European countries with just a few bit and pieces inside, oh no, these are full to the brim with avocado, salad, egg, meat (if you want it) and many more things.
One thing we did notice when we were wandering along El Malecón at night close to the historic centre were extremely busy beach-side restaurants serving freshly caught seafood and they all seemed to have a band playing traditional upbeat Mexican music. You could tell everyone was having a great time.
Where to stay in Mazatlán
There are two main areas where people stay when they visit the Pearl of the Pacific. For people who are more interested in culture you will definitely be more at home staying in the historic centre of the city. If you are more interested in a relaxing holiday or break and what you enjoy a bit of nightlife and beach-life then the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) will be right up your street.
Hotel La Siesta is just off one of the main beaches in the historic centre and close to Carpa Oliver and El Clavadista. The rooms are very comfortable, nicely decorated and has everything you need to have a comfortable stay. The rooms start at 29$ USD.
Hostal Mazatlán is one of the cheapest places to stay in the historic centre and features simple but comfortable rooms. It is located in the middle of the historic centre close to the cathedral. The double rooms start from 21$ USD.
If you want to be able to relax between visits to different spots around the city then Hotel Boutique Casa Lulu is the place to stay. The rooms are really nice and there is even a pool to kick back and enjoy some micheladas.
Need a bit of luxury during your stay in the city? Then we have got the place for you. Best Western Posada Freeman is exactly what you need. This big hotel chain knows how to look after its guests. The location is great too, right on one of the main beaches and close to the historic centre. Rooms start from 70$ USD and up.
The Golden Zone
This area of town is the most popular place for tourists to stay. Malin and I would personally rather stay in the historic centre of the city as we like getting the feel for a place and what better spot than the cultural heart of a city. However, if you are looking for comfort and great beaches then the Zona Dorada is probably more ideal.
Finding cheap accommodation in the Golden Zone may be a little bit tricky. We have managed to find one place that is more affordable, Funky Monkey Hostel.
The 7-bed dorm rooms start at 15$ USD per night. It is set back a little from the beach but it does have great reviews.
Hotel Capital O Zona Dorada Inn is located in the northern part of the Golden Zone and features large bright rooms that look really comfortable as they include a table, sofa and a terrace. The rooms start at 50$ USD.
How to get to Mazatlán
The airport is about 30 minutes south of the city and we found it hard to find any information about how to get into the city for a fair price. In the end we walked out of the airport for about one kilometre and then booked ourselves an Uber as they aren’t allowed to drive into the airport to pick people up.
At the airport there are some minivans that can take you into the city as well as taxis but their prices we just too high for us and in the end I believe we paid about 230 MXN for our Uber.
Just like the airlines, the bus companies in Mexico have a vast network of bus routes connecting all of the major cities and towns. So if you are coming from as far away as Mexico City or as close as Puerto Vallarta, it is all possible. One thing to take into consideration is the price and the amount of time it will take. Mexico is a huge country and traversing it by bus takes a long time and isn’t particularly cheap and you might even be better off taking a flight.
If you are in Baja California and want to go on the cargo ferry across to Mazatlán you will probably end up paying around 180$ USD for the tickets including a cabin for two people. It is cheaper if you book without the cabin but you will have to spend the night sitting in an uncomfortable chair or maybe even on the floor.
When to visit Mazatlán
The most popular time for people to visit Mazatlán is between January and May and it can get quite busy and the cost of accommodation can go up considerably. Malin and I visited in January and found the prices to still be reasonable and the temperature was very pleasant.
The best time to go, in our opinion, is between November and January. The likelihood of rain will be very low and the temperatures will be between a cool 18°C and 23°C (64°F – 73°F). It might be a little cold during the evenings so take a thin jacket with you to keep you warm.
We really hope that this guide will help you to get the most out of your time in this fantastic city full of memorable things to do. If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comment section below or send us an email by going to the contact section of our page.
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