Mazatlan (Photo:Travel Bug/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Mazatlan

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.

About Mazatlan


Pro

A focus on history, art and beachy fun have strengthened Mazatlan's stronghold with cruise lines

Con

Parts of the city aren't so nice; be careful if venturing out on your own

Bottom Line

This Mexican destination is a mix of city grit and beachside luxury


Find a Cruise to the Mexican Riviera

Where You're Docked

Mazatlan's cruise port shares space with commercial industrial activity -- and because it's a bustling cargo port, a free tram takes you among the shipping containers to the cruise terminal. There, you'll find a festive atmosphere with timeshare vendors trying to give you free rides (if you will look at their properties), craft vendors and shops, including a pharmacy where you can buy Viagra and other medications without a prescription. Tables are set up under shade trees if you have a hankering for a cold beer. There's also a second, quieter crafts market across from the chaos of the cruise ship terminal. Note: As of spring 2014, ATMs and the Internet cafe haven't returned to the terminal. When more ships start coming, port officials believe these companies will return to the complex.

Good to Know

As a city, Mazatlan is quite spread out. Make sure to allow enough time to make it back to the cruise terminal if you're heading to the Golden Zone or the malecon.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

ATMs are widely accessible if you want to get Mexican pesos, but U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. If you are making an expensive purchase in a shop, you are best off paying with a credit card. Having dollar bills to pay for cab fares and trinkets is helpful.

Language

Locals speak Spanish, but English is also widely spoken, particularly in shops and tourist venues.

Shopping

You can buy all kinds of Mexican crafts and silver jewelry, as well as original art. In the Golden Zone, visit the shop Madonna for Mexican handicrafts. A good choice in Old Mazatlan, in addition to the bustling market, is Nidart Gallery, near the Angela Peralta Theater, where owner Loa Molina creates hand-made Carnival masks.

Best Cocktail

When you're on the Mexican Riviera, it's hard to turn down margaritas. The local beer is Pacifico, which has been brewed in the city since the Germans arrived in the 1800s.