To get to know a city, you must walk the streets, savor the food, and—as is the case in Mazatlán—drink the beer. While most of Mexico looks to Spain for its main influences, the influx of Germans and French into Mazatlan gave this city a bit of a different flair after the Mexican Revolution. Germany keeps itself front and center daily in the ice-cold bottles of Pacífico pilsner-style beer that decorate almost every table around town. The masters behind the recipe were three Germans who founded the Pacífico Brewery in 1900, and a tour through the facilities is one of the highlights of any visit here. Plus, you can literally hear Germany alive and well in the local banda music: the oom-pah sounds and the polka inspiration is unmistakable.
But back to getting to know Mazatlan… In order to walk, savor and drink in the best this beautiful seaside destination has to offer, you must first hail a pulmonía outside of your hotel for an open-air trip to the centro histórico. You’ll feel the ocean breeze quickly take the edge off the sunny, humid day as the four-person open-sided “taxi” pulls out onto Olas Altas Boulevard and the seemingly endless malecón. Families start strolling along the beach in the morning, setting out their towels while the kids jump around in the waves. You’ll zoom (well, as much as a glorified golf cart can zoom) down the wide avenue past a series of monuments to downtown Mazatlán, including a statue of a deer (in reference to the indigenous origins of the city name); one dedicated to its famous son, singer/actor Pedro Infante; the leaping dolphins of the “Continuity of Life” and a huge copper cooking vat from the Pacífico Brewery that once held 24,000 liters of beer.
Ask your driver to drop you off at the corner of Olas Altas and Sixto Osuna, a street that leads right into Old Mazatlán. The historic downtown area is eminently walkable: a multi-year, multi-million restoration project has given the streets and the gorgeous colonial buildings a new lease on life. The streets, lined with multi-colored façades punctuated by wrought iron railings, are clean and uncluttered by street vendors. This area is the repository of most of Mazatlan’s extraordinary cultural offerings and there’s never a dull moment, day or night.
On Sixto Osuna, take a minute to visit the Museo de Arqueología for a quick tour through centuries of Sinaloan history and culture. You’ll see petroglyphs, figurines and the beautiful pottery that showed off the mazatlecos good taste even back there. There are many cool little shops/galleries further down the street—check out Casa Etnika just a few blocks away. Tucked away in an early 19th-century former home, Casa Etnika is an airy, plant-filled gallery/café/boutique combo of the best sort, filled with quality handicrafts from all over Mexico.
There are two plazas within walking distance: Plazuela Machado and Plazuela República. The former is the “heart” of the centro histórico. It’s a busy social center, hosting book fairs, and art expos and, during February, it’s also Carnaval central. Visitors saunter along the sidewalks and locals move with more of a sense of purpose, though the mazatlecos are true to their coastal upbringing and lack that “stress gene” that defines the rat race in large cities. The plaza itself is leafy and welcoming, with strategically placed benches to best view the bandstand on the nights there’s live music.
Machado Square is the site of Mazatlan’s oldest social clubs, restored buildings converted into restaurants and one of the centro’s finest attractions, the Teatro Angela Peralta. The theater has undergone some ups and downs since it was built in the late 1800s, but there’s no doubt today, it’s hitting all the high notes. Carnaval queens are elected here, opera singers perform here, orchestras play here and dancers… The theater houses Delfos Danza Contempránea, one of the northern hemisphere’s most important contemporary dance companies. This is a true center for the arts: as you walk by the tall, Colonial-era windows, you can peek inside and see the dancers stretching at the barre in one room, painters intent on their canvases in another and actors rehearsing their lines in yet another.
Across the plaza is the brightly painted Café Pacífico building. One of the many sidewalk cafés that surround the plaza (and purported to be the oldest bar in town), the Pacífico (of course), serves ice-cold Pacífico pilsners (also known locally as “Palfísico”) and one of Mazatlan’s best taste temptations: aguachile. This absolutely scrumptious dish is made of succulent fresh-caught shrimp filleted and marinated in lime juice, serrano chiles, cebolla morada and sliced cucumbers. Also on the menu: a variety of marlin-based dishes, including smoked marlin tostadas. If you’re not much of a beer drinker, try a cielo rojo (because, as he said, nothing goes better with aguachile on a hot day than a cold beer). The concoction of Clamato, lime juice, a few drops of Jugo Maggi, and a Pacífico served over ice will be just what the doctor ordered.
Nearby is Plazuela República, the yellow-tiled spires of the Cathedral visible from just about every angle. The lushly planted plaza is the site of the Palacio Municipal and the Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción, the city’s largest Catholic church. Built in the 1800s, the Cathedral is a splendid combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture (along with a very unexpected Star of David in every one of its stained glass windows.) A few short blocks away, you’ll transition from sacred to secular when you step into the Mercado José Pino Suárez. An absolute riot of sights, smells and colors, the mercado sells pretty much anything you can possibly desire, including potions for attracting husbands and repelling bad luck, chicharrones, pigs’ feet (and heads), t-shirts and sundries. It’s perfect for 30 minutes or more of artistic digital pictures, not to mention a bag of inexpensive souvenirs. On the way out, snag a couple of bright yellow cocadas, taking care to stay away from the bees.
After a fun morning of exploration, head back to your hotel with plenty of time for a power nap in my air-conditioned hotel room before heading back to el centro at night. We guarantee it’s going to be a blast.
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