Long a favorite of cruisers (the port was one of the original Princess stops made famous by "The Love Boat"), Mazatlan hopes to reclaim its position as the Mexican Riviera's "pearl of the Pacific." And with its renovated historic center, a vibrant artist community, plenty of beaches and an aggressive focus on improving cruise passenger service and safety, the city seems poised for success.
Mazatlan took a steep fall in 2011, when highly publicized drug crimes that put tourists in the crossfire prompted all cruise lines to pull out. City and Sinaloa state officials worked hard in subsequent years to reduce crime, adding attractions and making it easier for tourists to find their way around. In 2013, the first ships came back, and more are scheduled to return.
With a sprawling beach promenade (at 13 kilometers, Mazatlan's malecon is one of the largest in the world), the city has a bit of a split personality. At one end is the very touristy Golden Zone (Zona Dorado), where Diamonds International, Senor Frogs, and souvenir shops, bars and eateries abound on white sand beaches. At the other (and closer to the cruise port), Old Mazatlan delights with colonial-style plazas, bistros, cafes and art galleries.
Located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, Mazatlan means "land of deer" in the ancient Nahuatl language. It has a rich ethnic diversity because of its prime spot along the Pacific Coast shipping route, attracting pirates, Spanish explorers, Filipino merchants and German immigrants who put the place on the map in the 1800s as they developed the city as a port for shipping cargo. Mazatlan continues to be one of Mexico's major cargo ports; exports include some 40 million pounds of shrimp per year.
Mazatlan's tourism industry was born in the 1960s, when celebrities such as John Wayne arrived in search of trophy fish. The beaches were also a central draw, first for cruisers and spring breakers and later a more diverse vacation crowd. Now, you'll find a growing number of American and Canadian expats, particularly artists who are drawn to the city's cheaper real estate, cost of living and cafe camaraderie.