Don't Miss in Mazatlan
Old Mazatlan: Mazatlan has a surprising number of historical sites including a Moorish-style cathedral, with an ornate vaulted ceiling (you can visit for free, but donations to the restoration fund are accepted). Across the street is the Plaza Republica, downtown's central gathering place, where pigeons congregate, shoeshine vendors do their thing and Victorian iron benches are perfect venues for people-watching. The park also has an impressive Victorian bandstand. A few blocks behind the cathedral is the Central Market (Mercado Pino Suarez), where you can buy anything from sombreros to raw meat (bargaining is encouraged).
Plaza Machado: Within Old Mazatlan, walk back toward the church and continue a few blocks to the very impressive Teatro Angela Peralta, which occupies one side of the attractive square known as Plaza Machado. The Italian-style theater, dating to the 1800s and named for a famous diva, has been lovingly restored -- it is now a national historic landmark -- and is simply gorgeous. Admission is about $1.30. Upstairs, you can learn how the theater was previously in such bad shape from storm damage that a ficus tree was growing where the stage was supposed to be. Elsewhere on Plaza Machado, you'll find refreshing sidewalk cafes, pretty colonial-style historic buildings and colorful homes, some of which are now galleries.
The Art Scene: If you want to explore the Old Mazatlan art scene, you can pick up a map of galleries and artist studios at the tourist office on Mariano Escobedo. Other attractions include the free Museo de Arqueologia (archeological museum) and the Museo de Arta (art museum). From November through May, there's an evening art walk.
Malecon: Mazatlan has one of the world's longest malecons, or seaside walkways, with metal sculptures both serious and whimsical interspersed along the seawalk. On the south end, watch the daring high-flying divers off Divers Point, a 10-minute walk (or quick taxi ride) from Old Mazatlan. Typically, they perform when a crowd gathers, and a tip is suggested.
Golden Zone: This tourist paradise has shopping, glitzy hotels, people-watching and beach-bumming on the sunny, palm-lined beaches. The main drag is Rodolfo T. Loaiza; ask your taxi driver to drop you at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan, which is pretty much in the thick of things. Playa Sabalo and Playa Las Gaviotas, two of the beaches in front of hotels in the Golden Zone, are centrally located and offer water sports activities such as snorkeling, personal watercraft rentals and parasailing. The quieter Playa Los Cerritos is just north of the Golden Zone's activity hub.
Mazatlan Aquarium: If you're traveling with kids, consider a stop at the aquarium, located between downtown and the Golden Zone. It boasts trained sea lion, exotic bird shows and some 300 species of marine life. On the way, you will pass an enormous sculpture of a nude woman, reclining on an anchor, known as Fisherman's Monument (Monumento al Pescador).
El Faro Lighthouse: Active travelers will relish the challenge to hike up Cerro del Creston, Mazatlan's highest hill, to El Faro, the lighthouse that has marked Mazatlan's channel since 1879. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to hike the 523-foot-high hill, but once you're there, the views are spectacular (this lighthouse is the world's second highest).
Mazatlan's Offshore Islands: Veer off from the hustle of bustle of the cruise terminal area and visit one of Mazatlan's islands such as Deer Island, a protected national reserve. Wolf Island and Bird Island provide eco-tour opportunities such as birdwatching in mangrove swamps, kayaking, hiking and the area's best snorkeling waters and sailing trips. Stone Island is actually a peninsula, but its location -- just a quick water taxi ride from the cruise terminal -- feels like a world away. This long, flat, sandy beach attracts locals and tourists who are drawn to its beachside restaurants, activities such as kayaking and ATV rentals and shallow waters fit for the whole family to swim. You can come here via tour operators, cruise ship excursions or on your own.
Golf: If you're into golf, the course at Estrella del Mar, designed by Robert Trent Jones, is adjacent to the beach, although the resort is a bit out of town (about 30 minutes north) so plan your time accordingly. Interestingly, shore excursions run here to a turtle sanctuary also on the premises. (10 Camino Isla de la Piedra; 888-587-0609; grounds fees for 18 holes range depending on the season, plus equipment rental)
Mining Towns: Tour the old mining towns of the Sierra Madre foothills, where the streets are cobbled and the rooftops red tile. Villages of note include Concordia, founded in the 1500s and a center for ceramic pottery and handmade wooden furniture, and Copala, a colonial mining village turned artist colony.