Escape to Mazatlán

This tropical getaway offers a cure for the wintertime blues.
Cassandra M. Vanhooser

It's always summertime in this Mexican resort town. Mazatlán is the perfect destination for a winter weekend. Whether you're sunbathing or casting for marlin, this tropical paradise certainly lives up to its title--Pearl of the Pacific.

Friday--Retreat to the Sea
Your hotel selection will be the most important decision you make when traveling to Mazatlán. Don't be fooled by spectacular pictures of palm trees, huge pools, and ocean views. If you don't see a room pictured online or in a brochure, be sure to ask plenty of questions before booking.

We prefer Pueblo Bonito ($155-$300; 1-800-990-8250 or www.pueblobonito.com) or Inn at Mazatlán ($150-$700; 1-800-262-0526 or www.innatmazatlan.com.mx). If these hotels are booked, try Playa Real or Playa Mazatlán.

As soon as you check in, head for the beach. Order a drink from the bar, and watch the setting sun paint the sky with ribbons of gold, orange, and pink.

Brush the sand off your toes, hail a pulmonía (open-air taxi), and go to Pancho's Restorán. A favorite at this restaurant is Special Shrimp Pancho's ($17), wrapped in bacon, grilled, and smothered in a light, cheesy sauce.

If you're not exhausted yet, continue your celebration at Joe's Oyster Bar. When you get back to your room, open the balcony door, and let the whisper of the waves lull you to sleep.

Saturday--Explore a New Culture
After your early-morning walk or run on the beach, settle in at your hotel's beachside restaurant. Fill up on huevos rancheros or breakfast burritos because you've got a busy day ahead.

Start your exploration with a tour of the city. This will let you visit important landmarks and get an overview of the city's design and history. Especially impressive is the view from Cerro del Vigía. You can see the Zona Dorada and Old Mazatlán, plus the fishing fleet pier and Stone Island. You also get a view of the lighthouse perched atop nearby Crestón Hill, which can be seen at night for 30 nautical miles.

A number of companies offer tour packages with prices starting at $15 (Vista Tours, 011-52 [669] 986-8610 or www.vistatours.com.mx; Olé Tours, 011-52 [669] 916-6287 or www.oletours.com).

Continue your exploration of the city with a stroll along the malecón. This coastal avenue parallels the sea for 20 miles, connecting the Historic Center with the hotels in the Zona Dorada. Stop for lunch at Mariscos el Camichin, where the house specialty is Pescado Zarandeado. The fresh fish is smothered in onions, peppers, and tomatoes, then grilled. A 1-kilogram serving (2.2 pounds), which is enough for two people, costs $9.50.

Mazatlán doesn't have the bargains or the selection available in some Mexican cities, but there are some interesting shops along the malecón and in the Zona Dorada. You'll find leather goods, pottery, and some folk art, but don't miss the jewelry stores. Many, including Joyerías Pardo in the Zona Dorada, specialize in Mexican fire opals, a luscious orange stone infused with flashes of color.

Back at the hotel, sit by the ocean and rest up for the evening. You'll start out at Ernie Tomato's, where you can feast on Famous Ribs B.B.Q. or shrimp fajitas. Then dance the night away at Valentino's or one of the many discos in the Zona Dorada.

Sunday--Fun in the Sun
After your late night, you'll be tempted to sleep in. Resist! The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Old Mazatlán is an architectural jewel. The organ was crafted by Frenchman Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the same builder who designed the one at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

If you want to get away from it all, take a boat to Stone Island to experience 10 miles of unspoiled beaches, plus horseback riding and parasailing.

Cap off your vacation with a romantic dinner for two at Angelo's. Chef Gilberto del Toro Coello, a graduate of New York's Culinary Institute of America, offers an ever-changing list of new Mexican creations, as well as Italian and international favorites. Don't miss the bananas flambéprepared tableside for dessert.

Got an Extra Day?
Plan a deep-sea fishing excursion. Because Mazatlán sits at the juncture of the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean, it has some of the most fertile waters in the world. Star Fleet Sportsfishing offers trips from the fishing fleet pier. Prices range $260-$350 per boat for five to eight people (1-888-882-9614 or www.worldwidefishing.com).

For more information: Call the Mexico Tourism Board: 1-800-446-3942 or www.visitmexico.com or Mazatlán Hotel Association: www.gomazatlan.com. Consider the dates of Mazatlán's Carnaval celebration (February 27-March 4) when planning your trip. There will be lots to do, but hotel prices will increase.

How to Get There
Because Mazatlán is located 751 miles south of Nogales, Arizona, you'll definitely want to fly. Continental Airlines offers daily flights from Houston, but don't procrastinate about making your reservations. There's only one flight in and one flight out. Direct flights from Houston start at $50. Cheaper flights may be found by checking with your travel agent. Aero California, AeroMexico, Alaska Airlines, America West, Frontier Airlines, and Mexicana also offer service to Rafael Buelna International Airport.

This article is from the February 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.