And so we set off exploring. Plaza Machado — a rectangular park with wrought-iron gazebo, lush grass and palm trees — is surrounded by colourful twostorey buildings that house a lively collection of restaurants, cafés, art galleries and bars. By day, the plaza is an oasis of calm. On weekend evenings, a festive mood prevails as musicians roam the brick perimeter where local craftsmen sell their wares, and diners enjoy alfresco breezes at candlelit tables.
Just off the plaza, the restored Angela Peralta theatre is at the heart of the town’s cultural revival. Named after the legendary operatic diva — who died of yellow fever in Mazatlan in 1883 — the building is home to a stunning 800-seat theatre (with elaborate Italianate mezzanine and balconies) that offers classical and contemporary dances, symphony concerts, opera, jazz and more by performers from around the world. The complex also includes a municipal art centre, art galleries and fine-arts school.
We wandered most of the 20block historical area near the theatre. Though much of the architecture we observed — including an impressive archeological museum, history museum, and former shops and homes of wealthy merchants — dates from the 19th century, we also saw a number of intact Art Deco and mid-century buildings that add to the town’s visual appeal.
Facing the Plaza de la Republica, another palm-filled park with a Victorian filigree bandstand, we spied the twin yellowtiled spires of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
In addition to the expected soaring columns, gilded arches and sparkling chandeliers, the eclectic neo-Gothic basilica reveals a soaring interior with a surprising piece of history: each of its 28 stained-glass windows contains a Star of David, commemorating a donation made by a wealthy local Jewish family in the late 19th century.
Beyond the cathedral, the central market beckoned. The bustling indoor bazaar offers phantasmagoric displays of local food. Counters were piled high with glistening fish — Spanish mackerel, sea bass, red snapper, snook — mounds of golden and red mangoes, bursts of red tomatoes, orbs of cheese and vendors selling only one product: tubs of spices, stacks of hot sauces, cases of coffee, chicken or beef cut every which way. Small eateries served casual fare (also found on the second floor) while other shops offered T-shirts, hats, beachwear and other touristy trinkets. •••
After our nearly three-hour walk, we were ready to retreat to the beach to body surf (him) and read (me). We hailed an open-air pulmonia, the iconic little taxi (picture a golf cart with a roof for shade) created in Mazatlan in the 1960s. During our five-day stay, we never needed to rent a car, not even to explore the remote and wild northern beach, Playa Bruja; pulmonias, as well as regular taxi cabs, are plentiful and inexpensive.
Serendipity played a part in our daily adventures. While enjoying a breakfast of eggs with tuna chorizo at our hotel, we marvelled that a thing such as tuna chorizo even existed. Our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the label from the product — and directions on where in the Golden Zone to find Dolores Market, a modern, all-things-tuna emporium. (We travelled home with a dozen frozen packages.)
By chatting with others along the way, we learned where to enjoy the best sunset cocktails (the roof terrace of the 11-storey Posada Freeman Best Western, where we first met Howard and Garrido); where to find a fabulous meal (Hector’s Bistro, a stylish and jazzy spot helmed by Mazatlan-born chef and owner Hector Peniche, touted as a catalyst for enticing other creative eateries to the Centro); and where to hear live jazz in Plaza Machado (La Bohemia).
Unsurprisingly, fresh seafood is a popular menu item in the Centro’s expanding number of chef-owned restaurants. Perhaps the best tip of all for two oyster aficionados was where to slurp fresh bivalves on the beach. A brief pulmonia ride brought us to Playa Los Pinos, a shallow wading beach popular with families with small children.
Seated at plastic tables and chairs, shaded by umbrellas, we enjoyed two dozen freshly shucked Pacific oysters ($5 per dozen). The gnarly creatures, resembling prehistoric beasts, were sweet and perfectly complemented by the locally produced Pacifico beer.
Nature and culture? In Mazatlan, we discovered we could have both.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are piled high in the indoor bazaar of the central market in Mazatlan’s Centro Historico.
Typical of the colourful historic structures found in Mazatlan’s Centro Historico is this building that once housed a German Notions Store, founded in the 1840s, that remained in operation for more than 100 years.
Freshly shucked Pacific oysters await diners at Playa Los Pinos, a shallow wading beach popular with families with small children.