RESUR­GENT MAZATLAN HAS MORE TO OF­FER THAN EVER

Wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties, gor­geous beaches and city cen­tre bring tourists back in droves

Ottawa Citizen - - Travel - JON ROE

Mazatlan is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a resur­gence.

In the early part of this decade, cruise ships stopped an­chor­ing in the Pa­cific port town, cit­ing an in­crease in crime. Now, Mex­ico’s Pearl of the Pa­cific is see­ing a tourism and con­struc­tion boom, re­mind­ing peo­ple why it was such an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion in the first place.

I had never been to Mex­ico when I headed to Mazatlan for its an­nual Fi­esta Ami­gos cel­e­bra­tion. It’s easy to see why the city is ap­peal­ing: lengthy beaches, award-wor­thy sun­sets and a his­toric city cen­tre with neo­clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. The 20-plus-kilo­me­tre male­con, or ocean­front board­walk, fea­tures photo ops in front of mon­u­ments, spec­tac­u­lar ocean views and cliff divers. The city is a joy to tra­verse in ope­nair taxis (in­clud­ing the unique pul­mo­nias) that blast mari­achi music. And there are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties to par­take in, in­clud­ing fish­ing, base­ball games and tequila tast­ing.

The cruise com­pa­nies are no longer wor­ried about safety

— 136 ships ar­rived in the city last year, a 47 per cent in­crease over 2018, and 150 more are ex­pected in 2020 — but both the Cana­dian and U.S. govern­ments have se­vere travel warn­ings for Mazatlan’s state of Sinaloa.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment warns vis­i­tors to avoid non-es­sen­tial travel in the state ex­cept in the city of Mazatlan and the U.S. gov­ern­ment lim­its its em­ploy­ees in Mazatlan to the Zona Do­rada, or Golden Zone, where many of the all-in­clu­sive re­sorts are, or the his­toric town cen­tre. Over five days I never felt un­safe but I took the sort of pre­cau­tions I would in any large city — stick­ing with groups, avoid­ing late night trips by my­self. The head­lines and warn­ings are cer­tainly scary, but it should not stop you from en­joy­ing this beau­ti­ful city.

The city is chang­ing rapidly in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a tourism boom by sea and by air (WestJet flies to Mazatlan mul­ti­ple times a week dur­ing the high sea­son of Novem­ber to April). Con­struc­tion dots the Cameron Sa­balo Av­enue and Av­enue del Mar, the city’s ocean­front thor­ough­fares which con­nect the Zona Do­rada and old Mazatlan. Across the city, the skele­tons of new con­dos and ho­tels — six are ex­pected to open in 2020 — are ris­ing from empty lots.

Be­sides the ob­vi­ous al­lure of warm weather — the tem­per­a­ture is fairly steady be­tween 15 C and 25 C dur­ing Canada’s win­ter — there are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties and tours to keep you oc­cu­pied. Our group took a tour to the nearby man­grove jun­gle, home to egrets, herons and pelicans, of­fered by King David Tours.

The half-day boat tour over the Es­tero de Urias south of the city flew by with our af­fa­ble tour guide Hugo, who told the story of Mazatlan and then tried — un­suc­cess­fully — to get a pel­i­can to grab a fish out of his hand on our re­turn. The pelicans were more cu­ri­ous about our boat on the way there; sev­eral landed on the roof, in­spect­ing us as we lis­tened to Hugo.

The tour show­cased the city’s south in­dus­trial shore­line, where Mazatlan’s other ma­jor, non-tourism in­dus­tries are based: the Paci­fico Brew­ery and fish­ing fac­to­ries. Fish­ing is big busi­ness here and the port is home to large fleets of shrimp and tuna boats. The city’s restau­rants are stocked with large shrimp — per­fect for the best co­conut shrimp you’ll ever have — and fresh tuna. Those look­ing to fish them­selves can take part in sport fish­ing tours like those of­fered by the El Cid Re­sort’s Aries fish­ing fleet.

There are also trips of­fered by El Cid’s Prona­tours that get you out of the city, where you can tour the more rus­tic vil­lages, taste tequila or meet tur­tles at a nearby sanctuary.

The city’s cen­tre his­torico is a must-see and is best tra­versed on foot. It’s home to cafés, an art nou­veau-style central mar­ket — which serves lo­cals with fresh meat and veg­eta­bles and tourists with knick-knacks and nov­elty T-shirts — and the Cathe­dral Basil­ica de la In­mac­u­lada Con­cep­tion, a stun­ning work of eclec­tic ar­chi­tec­ture with gothic and moor­ish in­flu­ences and a beau­ti­fully de­tailed ceil­ing.

There’s plenty now to keep you oc­cu­pied, but there is also more com­ing. Mazatlan is in the midst of re­vi­tal­iz­ing its central Bosque de la Ci­u­dad, cur­rently a quiet lagoon and park. The first step was a ren­o­va­tion of Es­ta­dio Teodoro Mariscal, the home of the Ve­na­dos de Mazatlán base­ball team, which last year ex­panded the sta­dium’s ca­pac­ity to 16,000. Base­ball is as pop­u­lar as soc­cer in some ar­eas of Mex­ico and the Ve­na­dos com­pete in the Mex­i­can Pa­cific League, whose win­ner takes part in the Caribbean World Series. Ma­jor League Base­ball stars such as Carlos Bel­tran, Roberto Alo­mar, and

David Or­tiz have com­peted in the Caribbean World Series; Es­ta­dio Teodoro Mariscal will host it in 2021. By then, con­struc­tion will be un­der­way for a new mu­seum and an up­grade to the city’s aquar­ium, built in part­ner­ship with the Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium.

De­spite the ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able in and around the city, the draw of cold drinks and sun­tan­ning at re­sorts in the Zona Do­rada is strong. Re­sort com­pa­nies like El Cid and Hote­les Palace of­fer fam­ily-friendly op­tions or more up­scale, qui­eter ex­pe­ri­ences with op­tional all-in­clu­sive pack­ages. There are pools and slides to ap­peal to the kids, and up­scale restau­rants and swim-up bars for the adults. There are daily ac­tiv­i­ties like beach soc­cer and pool vol­ley­ball and the beach is livened up by mari­achi bands.

There’s also noth­ing quite like grab­bing a tequila sun­rise from the ho­tel bar to drink while the sun­set paints the hori­zon and nearby is­lands — Isla de Para­jos, Isla de Ve­na­dos and Isla de Lo­bos (the Isle of Birds, Deer and Wolves, re­spec­tively) — shades of or­ange, pink, blue and pur­ple.

Sun­sets are a sim­ple plea­sure, but it high­lights the beauty that Mazatlan has to of­fer. The coastal city is back on the map as a tourist des­ti­na­tion for a good rea­son: with plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties to of­fer and a stun­ning vis­ual back­drop, it’s well worth the visit.

This trip was spon­sored by the Mazatlán Tourism Board.

It did not re­view the con­tent.

PHO­TOS: JON ROE

The church-like Valentino Night Club sits right on the shore­line in Mazatlan. With stun­ning views like this, it’s easy to see why the city is called Mex­ico’s Pearl of the Pa­cific.

The colour­ful Star Palace Beach Ho­tel in Mazatlan is one of a grow­ing num­ber of im­pres­sive ac­com­mo­da­tions.

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