Mexico Mazatlán
Destination: Polishing the Pearl
After a decade-long restoration, the historic downtown of Mazatlán, Mexico’s “Pearl of the Pacific,” is glowing once again
BY MARIBETH MELLIN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY GREGORY ALLEN
Fishing boats after their morning runs; the Teatro Angela Peralta’s vivid concert hall; garlic octopus at Pedro y Lola.

Mazatlán’s Plazuela Machado might well be open to cars during the day, but pedestrians still claim the right of way. A strolling mass of people fills the streets, and crowds spill out of open-air cafés in this historic plaza. On weekends an artsy crowd mingles outside the sienna-hued Teatro Angela Peralta concert hall. Back in the 1980s, this Baroque theater was a majestic wreck. Sections of wall lay in rubble, the roof had collapsed, and trees and vines sprouted from the stage. But the theater has made a surprising comeback: After a six-year, community-led renovation, it reopened in 1992—and jump-started the renaissance of Mazatlán Viejo, or Old Mazatlán. Today, a 180-block downtown area packed with almost 500 historic buildings is being considered for a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The best way to take it all in—from the renovated malecón (promenade) to the Plazuela Machado—is to indulge in one of the city’s great pleasures: a leisurely stroll.


ONCE UPON A TIME
Though today Mazatlán is known for its party-perfect beaches and wallet-friendly resorts, its roots are in mining. In the mid-1800s, much of the gold and silver extracted from the nearby Sierras came through this port town. German and Spanish businessmen who profited from this trade built a city in their own grand style, adapting European design to the warm climate. Neoclassical mansions with balustrades and balconies rose on narrow streets, and filigreed cast-iron railings and fences defined the city’s architectural style.


As the mining boom waned in the early 1900s and the Mexican Revolution sent foreign money fleeing, many mansions were abandoned and eventually crumbled into ruins. Now that Old Mazatlán has been reborn, it’s time to pay a visit.


A HISTORIC STROLL
You can make this walking tour in less than two hours, but with all the cafés, galleries and music you’ll encounter, why rush?


Begin at Playa Olas Altas, the surferfriendly neighborhood beach off the southeast end of Mazatlán’s malecón. Fuel up at El Shrimp Bucket, a kitschy breakfast joint where local politicians hold forth between bites. It also happens to be the first in the wildly prosperous chain of Carlos Anderson restaurants (Carlos ’n Charlie’s, Señor Frog’s and so on).

Next, head to a pair of historic hotels for two small but worthwhile pleasures. At the Belmar, Mazatlán’s first waterfront hotel, entire walls are given over to intricate tile mosaics. The nearby Posada Freeman, the city’s first hotel to have an elevator, lets non-guests take in the panoramic view from its rooftop pool deck.


PLAZUELA BOUND
The next cross street, Calle Sixto Osuna, angles away from the sea toward the historic center. This mansion-lined avenue, originally known as the “Street of Gold,” was the route favored by wealthy businessmen headed to the waterfront Customs House. Within a block, you’ll come to Mazatlán’s art museum. Despite its small size, it shows works by a number of famed Mexican painters, including Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo. Across the street, the city’s archeological museum displays intriguing pre-Colombian pottery.


The next three blocks of Calle Sixto Osuna are filled with high-ceilinged 19th-century stucco houses turned trendy night clubs, sculptors’ workshops and galleries. The narrow street gives way to the park-like Plazuela Machado.


In summer, the brilliant yellow blossoms of lluvia de oro (golden rain) trees float down to the plaza’s cast-iron benches. On weekend evenings musicians take over the ornate bandstand while craftspeople set up tables in the plaza to display beaded necklaces, silver earrings and hand-embroidered purses.


THEATRICAL REBOUND
Old Mazatlán might well have faded into obscurity were it not for the Teatro Angela Peralta, on the plaza’s eastern side. Construction on the theater began in 1869 but was delayed after its champion, a Filipino merchant named Manuel Rubio, purportedly disappeared at sea while on a fundraising mission to Europe. After years of delay the theater launched in 1874. Within the decade, Mexican diva Angela Peralta was set to grace the stage. But before opening night, she succumbed to yellow fever at the Hotel Iturbide next door. The theater took the diva’s name even as it slowly disintegrated in the tropical heat and humidity.


Saved from ruin, the Teatro Angela Peralta is rarely dark these days. During the day tours are available, but at night it regularly hosts dance performances, concerts and plays.


TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Historic buildings, some restored to their former grandeur and others on the verge of collapse, line the streets surrounding the Plazuela Machado. Along Angel Flores and Constitución streets, look for plaques bearing historical tidbits or literary quotes from writers and artists who found inspiration here.


Now head north on Avenida Benito Juárez. After three blocks you’ll arrive at Plaza Revolucíon, downtown’s main gathering point and home to the city’s cathedral. Inside, the marble pillars, crystal chandeliers and ornate gold-plated altarpiece have largely been refurbished, though work continues.


Walk two more blocks and you’ll reach the steel-framed Mercado Piño Suárez. Built in 1869 in the Art Nouveau style—think Eiffel Tower—this market draws residents shopping for everyday goods like chilies, chorizo and more.


Wherever you wander, be sure to keep an eye on the ground. Mazatlán’s sidewalks are full of surprises, from clusters of painted tiles to sudden gaps in the pavement. And take time to linger at a café. You’ll see strolling lovers, babies taking their first steps and young artists sketching their city’s enduring beauty.


EAT

EL SHRIMP BUCKET
Sidewalk tables overlooking the sea fill
early at this venerable hangout, where the
chilorio (pork in chili sauce) with eggs
is sure to open sleepy eyes. Naturally,
shrimp dominates at lunch and dinner.
111 Paseo Olas Altas; 011-52-669-
982-8019; dinner for two, $40*


PERO Y LOLA
This wildly popular plaza-side café lures
artsy locals with sidewalk tables, a
piquant garlic octopus starter and great
shrimp fajitas. 1303 Calle Carnaval;
011-52-669-982-2589; dinner for two, $35


LE SORELLE
Neighborhood ladies breakfast on
irresistible pan dulce (sweet rolls) in the
elegant dining room at chic Casa Lucila.
Lunch brings a bountiful Mediterranean salad
with shrimp. For dinner, expect heartier
fare like ribeye with spicy chilies.
16 Paseo Olas Altas; 011-52-669-
982-1100; dinner for two, $60


TOPOLO
An off-the-beaten-path discovery with
brilliant red walls, a lush courtyard and a
daring menu. Start with the superb stacked
guacamole and end with mangoes flambé.
629 Calle Constitución; 011-52-669-136-0660;
dinner for two, $50


*Prices cover a three-course meal for two,
not including drinks, tax or tip.


STAY

RCI-AFFILIATED RESORTS IN MAZATLÁN INCLUDE:

MAYAN SEA GARDEN MAZATLÁN

HOTEL GRANADA EL CID AT MAZATLÁN

COSTA DE ORO BEACH CLUB

ROYAL VILLAS

For more information, visit RCI.com or call
Weeks: 800-338-7777
Points: 877-968-7476


NON-RCI-AFFILIATED HOTELS:

POSADA FREEMAN
Drop-dead views from motelstyle rooms.
79 Paseo Olas Altas; 011-52-669-985-6060;
book.bestwestern.com; doubles from $76


CASA LUCILA
Sleek suites in a historic house.
16 Paseo Olas Altas; 011-52-669-982-1150:
casalucila.com; doubles from $195


EL MESON DE CYNTHIA
A simple five-room B&B near Plazuela
Machado. 408 Calle Sixto Osuna;
011-52-669-136-0560;
mesondecynthia.com;
doubles from $50


CASA DE LEYENDAS
Charming old-world B&B near the art museum.
4 Venustiano Carranza; 011-52-669-981-6180,
casadeleyendas.com; doubles from $89


MELVILLE HOTEL
Nicely restored, near Plazuela Machado.
99 Calle Constitución;
011-52-669-982-8474; themelville.com;
doubles from $80


HOTEL PLAYA MAZATLÁN
A sprawling family-friendly Zona Dorada
resort. 202 Ave. Playa Gaviotas;
011-52-669-989-0555; hotelplayamazatlan.com;
doubles from $101

Published: Sept/Oct 2008 Issue 
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