Mazatlán, Mexico: Home Away from Home

Mazatlan HousesittingWhere would we like to revisit, live, or retire? We have very different answers to these commonly asked questions, but when it comes to our “golden years” … Mazatlán, Mexico has dibs on us. With 300+ days of sunshine per year, beachside apartments for less than $250/month, incredible food, affordable health care, and a two-hour flight from the U.S., it’s no wonder over 20,000 expats call this place home. More than paradise on paper, the “Pearl of the Pacific” is full of character and rich with history. This Sinaloa city completely wooed us, and while we aren’t planning to flop down in a beach chair anytime soon, Mazatlán’s charms will always keep us coming back for more.

 

How It All Began

Housesitting MexicoWhat has brought us to Mazatlán twice in two years? It all began with Vermont mud season. While watching the fall leaves turn to barren trees, we remembered this little thing called housesitting. It’s a barter service where you take care of a homeowner/vacationer’s pets in exchange for staying in their fabulous abode. We signed up for HouseCarers.com and applied for gigs in Barcelona, Cappadocia, and Mazatlán…a place we’d never even heard of. The Mazatlán homeowner, Susan, reached out to us for a Skype interview and within two weeks we had a house on the beach and a cute pair of dogs to call our own. Round #1 of housesitting was October/November 2014, when we got to experience the world-famous Day of the Dead (watch this video), Stone Island by horseback, road trip to the charming El Quelite, and had so much fun, it left us wanting more. We don’t often return to the same place twice but when Susan needed help again in spring 2016, we jumped on the opportunity.

 

The Wonders of Housesitting

mazatlan communityHousesitting is the fastest way to feel like a local in a new place. When Susan told her neighbors we’d be taking care of her home, they welcomed us with dinners, tickets to cultural events, and an open-invitation into the community. Unlike a hotel guest or even a vacation renter, we were seen as a friend. With a home and pets to care for, we weren’t on holiday…we were living like a Mazatleco.

 

Centro Historico

Mazatlan old townNow for a bit about Mazatlán…settled by the Spanish in the 1500s with the Germans arriving in the 1800s, the city is a lovely cultural and architectural mashup. Neoclassical plazas, Bavarian breweries, Banda/Ooompa-music bars, old-school markets, trendy cafes, taco shacks, and grand seaside promenades give it European style with a Mexican tropical twist.

 

Colonial Jungle

street art mazatlanIn the 1950s, Mazatlán was one of Mexico’s top beach destinations (long before Cancun and Cabo) but it fell into disrepair in the late 20th-century and still has tons of renovation projects in the works. Some might see a few abandoned buildings as a bad thing, but we think it makes Mazatlán sooooo much cooler. Trees and street artists have taken back the city. 19th-century mansions have branches bursting through the roofs and graffiti murals decorating their walls. Walking the streets feels like a treasure hunt, full of unexpected delights. (We walk the dogs three times a day, as much for their exercise, as our own excuse for exploration).

 

Monthly Art Walk

mazatlan travel blogOne of the best ways to get inside Mazatlán’s historic homes and the vibrant cultural scene is the Art Walk. The first Friday of the month from November to May, artists open up their homes and studios to share their work, wine, and conversation. There are over 20 destinations on the walk but we’ve never made it past five because we wind up having too much fun hanging out in these inspiring spaces.

 

Plaza Machado

Plaza Machado, MazatlanPlaza Machado is the heart of the city’s cultural scene. It’s lined with incredible restaurants (we <3 Pedro y Lola’s), all with outdoor seating to take in the festive ambiance. Every weekend, artists and jewelry designers set up their stalls, a band plays in the central gazebo, and everyone is out strolling the manicured gardens or people-watching from one of the cast-iron benches. Around the corner on Calle Carnaval (a block off our street) is the feather in Mazatlán’s cultural cap: The Angela Peralta Theater. We’ve seen three different performances (opera, dance, and classical music) and they were all incredibly impressive, as was the sheer volume of shows each month.

 

The Malecón

Olas Altas mazatlanOn any given weekend, people flow from Plaza Machado to the Malecón seaside promenade. The main strip of Paseo Olas Altas is lined with bars, full of people drinking micheladas, playing dominos or dancing to a mix of banda and Latin pop. The seawall is just as packed with impromptu parties (open container laws aren’t even a notion) with groups of friends mixing drinks, strumming on instruments, and sparking up their own couples dance sessions. Weekend or not, when the sun sets…the whole town seems to stop and take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the day. (Why don’t we all do this more often?)

 

El Faro

hiking el faro mazatlanTo appreciate the city’s dramatic coastline, you’ve have to hike to El Faro. It’s the highest lighthouse in the Americas and offers the best vistas of the islands and jagged coast. We’ve hiked it three times and most recently with our Mazatleca friend Alejandra. She’s friendly with the Faro keepers and sweet-talked our way into the light itself with its 100-year old lenses and panoramic views. Gracias, Ale!

 

The Islands of Mazatlán

Onca Expeditions tripThe islands that sit before Mazatlán push the bay’s beauty to another level. Sailing to the beaches of Deer Island, gliding between the Two Brothers Rocks, and waving to the sea lion colony is a rite of passage. You could explore by catamaran, party boat, or kayak but we think the ultimate way to experience the Bay of Mazatlán is with Onca Explorations. More than an eco-tour operator, they are marine biologists and ecologists who have been doing research on the bay’s dolphins and whales for ten years. We went on their Wild Dolphin Adventure, which combines the traditional island loop, snorkeling the reefs, and a deep-sea trip to swim with the pods that cruise this corridor of the Pacific.

 

Wild Dolphin Adventure

Onca Expedition TripsHeading 20 nautical miles off the coast, passing the islands and a half dozen bobbing sea turtles, we slowly approached a pod of 200 pantropical spotted dolphins! Before we could blink, there were dozens swimming along our bow and leaping through the air. They were so close, their blowholes shot us like squirt guns. (watch this crazy video). “Andale amigos, put on your snorkel gear,” said Oscar, Onca’s founder and chief researcher. As we were getting ready, he lowered the hydrophone and the waters sounded like Grand Central, with countless whistles and calls. “Dolphins are social creatures, so just remember to be calm and respectful and they’ll likely swim alongside you.” We slipped in with as little splash as possible, and entered a marine world of wonder. We saw three adolescent dolphins gliding in unison below us and had adults come so close we could count their spots. After about ten minutes, we hopped back in the boat to keep up with the rest of the pod. We entered the water three different times on the expedition, each with fantastically intimate encounters with these beautiful creatures, not to mention the manta rays and sea turtles! We’ve taken all sorts of snorkel and scuba trips around the world…but we’d never experienced dolphins like this.

 

mazatlan mexico sunset With its incredible architecture, beaches, nature, food, music and people, Mazatlán just feels right. Our first visit was so magical, we wondered if it would still sparkle the second time around. It wowed us even more.

 

mazatlan travel guideWhere to Stay: Casa Lucila (chic boutique hotel right on Olas Altas beach) and Casa de Leyendas (across from the museum plaza). We highly recommend staying in the Centro Historico for the best of Mazatlán, but if you want to mix in a few lazy beach days, Pueblo Bonito is a great pick in the Golden Zone.
Where to Eat: Mariscos Los Especiales (best ceviche in Maz’), El Presidio ( al-fresco restaurant in the ruins of a 19th-century mansion), Pumba’s choreada stand in Plaza Leon, Taqueria Playa Sur for steak vampiros and quesadillas, and Pedro y Lola’s–best music and people-watching on Plaza Machado.
Where to Drink: Freeman Hotel’s rooftop bar for sunset happy hour, Joe’s Oyster for late night dancing, Belmar Hotel’s sidewalk café for monster micheladas, and the Malecón’s sea wall with a pair of a Pacifico Ballenas (translates to “whale” size beer ) and join the Mazetlecos for sundowners.
What to Do: Hike El Faro, Huana Coa Ziplining + tequila taste, Onca Explorations’ Wild Dolphin Adventure or whale watching, Las Labradas petroglyphs (an hour drive north of Mazatlán), horseback ride Stone Island (ask for Elysse), kayak to Deer Island with snorkels and a picnic, take in a show at Angela Peralta Theater, and do your best to catch their annual celebrations, Day of the Dead and Carnival.
How to Get Around: On Foot: the Centro Historico is incredibly walkable and charming at every turn. Bike: The Malecón is essentially a 13-mile bike path that connects the Golden Zone and Centro Historico while roads downtown are easy to navigate. Pulmonia: These souped up golf-carts work like taxis but they’re way cuter and more affordable for zipping around. (Funny Sidenote: Pulmonía translates to pneumonia, mischievously named by the taxi commission to deter people from riding them…don’t worry, the breeze is good for you.)

 

Mazatlan Photos

 Check out the Mazatlan Slideshow

 

 

37 thoughts on “Mazatlán, Mexico: Home Away from Home

  • Pingback: Travel photos: Mazatlan, Mexico

  • June 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm
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    I love all of these pictures! I have never been to Mexico, but this looks like such an amazing getaway.

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    • June 4, 2016 at 6:17 pm
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      Mexico is so much more than the package-resort destinations that get marketed to us. Mazatlán is one of those places where it has the incredible beaches and more importantly vibrant culture and a wonderful community.

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  • June 5, 2016 at 12:12 am
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    I really want to give house-sitting a try. I think it is a perfect way to figure out if you would like to live in a certain location. All of the locations in Mazatlan Mexico were beautiful and culture packed.

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    • June 5, 2016 at 12:58 am
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      Absolutely, it’s the best way to test drive a place…a vacation can’t tell you what it’s like to live there. It made us fall in love with Mazatlan 🙂

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  • June 5, 2016 at 9:20 am
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    Such a gorgeous place! I would love to visit it!

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  • June 5, 2016 at 10:45 am
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    I think its nice for each of us to be able to find a corner of the world to call home during those golden years. I think it actually might be right here where I live, but I am partial to the Colorado Rockies. Its just beautiful up there!

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  • June 5, 2016 at 12:28 pm
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    This looks like a wonderful time way from home, I am loving all of the photos. Looks like a great place to visit!

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    • June 6, 2016 at 2:36 pm
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      We felt so comfortable in Mazatlan. Mexico has so much in common with the States while being so unique! Glad you enjoyed the photos!

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  • June 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm
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    House sitting? What an inventive way to see the world. Great pics of Mexico. Looks like you had some awesome adventures.

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  • June 5, 2016 at 9:06 pm
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    I am amazed at how quickly you integrated into Mazatlán! I Echo Chrishelle’s comment below concerning the great photos. We visited for a few hours on a cruise ship and took a tour, but clearly there’s more here than meets the eye.

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  • June 5, 2016 at 9:20 pm
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    I’ve only been to Mexico once on a cruise. I’d love to check out other cities, this looks amazing

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    • June 6, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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      Absolutely, get out there on your own and go inland as well. You’d be amazed at cities like Guanajuato and mountains like Durango!

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  • June 5, 2016 at 10:27 pm
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    Mazatlan looks absolutely amazing and I can understand wanting to retire somewhere with 300+ days of sunshine a year. The pictures are stunning and make me want to visit.

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  • June 5, 2016 at 10:37 pm
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    I visited Mazatlan back in the 90s and loved that it wasn’t as commercial as Cancun. Loved the people too. I would love to visit again and love how you guys have gone about doing this. Great idea.

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    • June 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm
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      That’s great you went to Mazatlan! It’s a city that has its own soul and purpose beyond tourism. They don’t have to pander to anyone and that authenticity shines!

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  • June 6, 2016 at 12:29 am
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    I’ve never been to Mexico, but it is surely one of my top 3 next places to visit!

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    • June 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm
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      There is so much to see in Mexico. It’s so much more than the beach destination people make it out to be. We went to pyramids from 300 BC, Spanish colonial cities, and modern art galleries…it has such a rich culture!

      Reply
  • June 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm
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    Wow Anne, you brought me back (I was there in the 70’s). Looks like you guys had a great time!

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    • June 6, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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      Glad we could bring you back! The old city fortunately hasn’t changed too much since the 1970s and if anything it’s improved with some impressive renovation work of the Neoclassical buildings. We had an incredible time, thanks!

      Reply
  • June 6, 2016 at 1:52 pm
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    Wow! The photos show how fun it is to be in Mazatlan Mexico.Looks like a really amazing place to stay. The views in The Malecónis really breathtaking.

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  • June 6, 2016 at 7:26 pm
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    Oh, how pretty! Gorgeous photos. I’ve been to Mexico a few times, but never here. I’d love to visit some day!

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  • June 7, 2016 at 12:47 am
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    Wow! Lovely! All the pictures are gorgeous and the dolphins are really my most favorite one! Really beautiful places..

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  • June 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm
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    Omg so many fabulous photos!!!!!! I have been to Mexico many times and always have the best time. The reason I keep going back 🙂

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  • June 9, 2016 at 12:25 am
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    I have never been to Mexico, when you’re in the military, Mexico is one of the places we’re not allowed to visit. However now that I’m out, I have plans of going and you’ve just convinced me.

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  • June 17, 2016 at 10:47 am
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    Sounds really cool! I have traveled a lot with Couchsurfing, but never did housesitting. I really enjoy different ways of experiencing travels and it looks like a good opportunity to get to know the place, the culture and the habits of local community. Even this post on Mexico is so different from the common posts that can be seen on the internet about Mexico. Happy travels, guys 🙂

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  • July 17, 2016 at 8:40 am
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    So how can we FIND houses for sitting?! Tell me please!

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  • September 13, 2016 at 4:56 pm
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    My first and only experience in Mexico has been Mazatlan. The resort we stayed at kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole vacation. I’ll have to try it again with a rental through my husbands work instead of a hotel.

    Reply
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