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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Mazatlan

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Jan 26, 2021

Mazatlan will take your breath away. This stunning jewel of a coastal city is one of the most underrated places to visit in Mexico, which makes it one of the country's best-kept secrets. Mazatlan is one of the only cities in the entire country that has a thriving metropolis, an architecturally preserved historic center, and a coastline that rivals any other beach destination in the country.

Start with a stroll down the iconic malecon, or sea wall. This 13-mile-long path is one of the longest in Mexico and takes visitors through some of the most distinct neighborhoods of Mazatlan. On either end, you'll find the Centro Historico, which is a protected area known for its pastel-colored colonial-style buildings and leafy plazas, and the Golden Zone, which is the main stretch of all-inclusive hotels and expansive beaches.

But the city is home to many secrets, from secluded tropical beaches, turtle nesting grounds, and historic cathedrals to cultural theaters and a thriving sports scene. To visit Mazatlan is to truly become acquainted with one of Mexico's most authentic destinations. Read on to discover the top attractions and best things to do in Mazatlan.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Stroll the Malecon

The Malecon in Mazatlan
The Malecon in Mazatlan

The best way to get a feel of Mazatlan as a whole is to stroll its iconic Malecon. The Malecon, or seawall/boardwalk, runs for 13 miles along the city's coastline, and acts as the main artery connecting each of Mazatlan's distinct neighborhoods.

The Mazatlan malecon is the longest in Mexico, and one of the longest in the world. It runs from Olas Altas Beach, at the edge of the Centro Historico, and continues north. In addition to passing through several of the city's vibrant districts, the Malecon is always humming with activity, from runners and cyclists to sculptures, live performances, fishermen, and bustling restaurants.

The Malecon also sets the stage for some of the city's top events, from International Motorcycle week and the Mazatlan Biking Tour to the Pacific Great Marathon and the city's annual Fiesta Amigos tourism celebration.

2. Wander Plaza Machado

Historical architecture along Plaza Machado
Historical architecture along Plaza Machado

Sightseeing in Mazatlan's most historic district begins at Plaza Machado. This is the heart and soul of Mazatlan's visually stunning Centro Historico. Over the past several years, Mazatlan has received millions of dollars in tourism development and rejuvenation, and Plaza Machado continues to be the jewel in the crown.

Wreathed in historic buildings, peppered with palm trees, and humming with activity, Plaza Machado is one of the best spots in the city for people watching and soaking up the local Mazatleco culture. Perch in one of the outdoor cafés that ring the square and listen to the boisterous live music, watch a local dance performance, or simply gaze at the historic colonial buildings that are splashed in brilliant colors.

The Plaza, as it is known today, was constructed in 1837 and was designed to show off the rising wealth and stature of Mazatlan at the time. Today, it is a gathering point for the community, and a must-see for anyone's first time (or seventh time, for that matter) in Mazatlan.

3. Absorb the Centro Historico

Mazatlan's Centro Historico
Mazatlan's Centro Historico

Stepping into Mazatlan's Centro Historico is like stepping back in time. The narrow cobblestone streets are flanked on either side with brilliantly colored colonial buildings, many of which date back more than 500 years.

Within the Centro Historico, you'll find some of the city's best cultural offerings, as well, from art galleries and museums to fabulous restaurants, shopping, and more. Insider tip: The best time to visit the Centro Historico is just before sunset, when the entire neighborhood is bathed in liquid gold, allowing the burnt oranges, bright purples, and electric teals of the buildings to glow.

The Central Historico is where you'll also find Olas Altas, the street that hugs one of the original beaches in Mazatlan. It's one of the few cities in Mexico that offers both colonial history and culture, with laid-back beach living.

4. Climb El Faro

El Faro de Mazatlan
El Faro de Mazatlan

The lighthouse was built at the end of the 19th century and used an oil-burning lamp. In the early 20th century, the lighthouse converted to a rotating signal that used hydrogen gas. Today, the lighthouse uses a 1,000-watt bulb, which can be seen for 30 nautical miles.

To access the lighthouse, visitors can embark on a strenuous half-hour hike to the top of the hill. Even if you're not a lighthouse aficionado, the hike is worth it for the sublime views over the entirety of Mazatlan and the crashing waves along its coastline.

5. Explore Stone Island

Palm trees on Stone Island
Palm trees on Stone Island

Despite its deceptive name, Stone Island is actually a peninsula. Still, its remote, wild atmosphere will have you feeling like you're another world away from the developed, sprawling main city.

Just a short boat ride across the channel takes you from the bustling port to the sweeping swatch of dark-sand beach, backed with dense palm trees and peppered with beach huts.

One of the most popular day trips for both locals and tourists, Stone Island is an activity paradise, whether it's ATV rides, banana boat tours, snorkeling, or horseback riding.

But even those who prefer to just kick back and relax will feel right at home at this tropical escape. Many restaurants rent out lounge chairs and serve delicious beach fare from underneath their thatched palapa roofs.

6. Marvel at the Historic Cathedral

Mazatlan's cathedral
Mazatlan's cathedral

The many hills surrounding Mazatlan make for spectacular viewpoints down over the city and coastline. But no view is more spectacular than that over the stunning Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción. Rising from the valley like a canary-colored beacon, the cathedral is one of the most historic and iconic sites of Mazatlan.

The basilica was started in 1856 and was built on the site of an indigenous temple. It was finally completed some 20 years later. Inside is visually stunning, from the golden Baroque altar to the rounded Renaissance domes and Gothic arches.

Look closely at the 28 stained-glass windows to discover the Star of David. As the story goes, the architects incorporated this detail as a measure of thanks for the donation of construction funds that were contributed from the Jewish community of Mazatlan.

Address: 21 de Marzo, Centro, 82000 Mazatlán, Sin., Mexico

7. Cruise to Deer Island

Deer Island
Deer Island

Unlike Stone Island, Deer Island is true to its name. In fact, any visitor to Mazatlan will immediately notice the three rounded island mounds that sit perched just offshore. Deer Island is the most popular for visitors and locals to go spend the day at a white-sand beach, splashing in the calm, warm water.

From the shores of Deer Island, the middle of the three islands, visitors will have a perfect shot of the Mazatlan skyline. The waters surrounding the island are tranquil, warm, and relaxing. This is a great spot for a day trip to explore nature, swim, kayak, take up a game of beach volleyball, or pack a picnic. You can even arrange for a water tour to explore the coast around the other two islands and score some excellent views of Mazatlan from the water.

8. Watch a Performance at the Angela Peralta Theater

The Angela Peralta Theater
The Angela Peralta Theater | David Stanley / photo modified

A step through the historic walls of the Angela Peralta Theater is truly like a step back into Mazatlan's 19th-century colonial past. The magnificent theater is one of Mazatlan's most important and visually stunning cultural gems. In fact, when the Centro Historico of Mazatlan was revitalized, it was the Angela Peralta Theater that shimmered as its crown jewel.

The theater can be found just off the north end of the Plaza Machado. Built in the mid-1800s, the theater was not the first in Mazatlan, but it was by far the most spectacular. Today patrons can feel the history that gilds every surface, from the ornately carved balcony seating to the historic wooden floors and seating. This is a National Heritage Building with more than 800 seats.

The program of events at the theater include everything from classical music to traditional Mexican cultural performances, and even special Day of the Dead celebrations each year in the beginning of November.

Address: Carnaval S/N, Centro, 82000 Mazatlán, Sin., Mexico

9. Hit the Beach

Golden sunset at the beach in Mazatlan
Golden sunset at the beach in Mazatlan

It's rare to find a destination that is equal parts cultural stronghold and beach escape. But Mazatlan manages to fill both cups equally, so we would be remiss to not highlight the gorgeous beaches that line its coast.

Mazatlan is one of the top beach destinations in all of Mexico. After all, with nearly 13 miles of coastline, there have to be a few beaches worth mentioning. From the historic center all the way through to the more recently developed Golden Zone, up to the marina and into New Mazatlan, there are many miles of sand worth exploring.

Surfers and lovers of big waves will feel most at home on Playa Olas Altas, Playa Los Pinos, Playa Bruja, and Playa Cerritos. But if it's gentle conditions and pure relaxation, it would have to be Playa Sabalo, which is the main beach in front of the many resorts along the Golden Zone.

For activity throughout the day and into the night, Playa Las Gaviotas and Playa Camaron have a ton of action, and this is where a lot of the youth of Mazatlan come to spend their weekends or days off.

If you're really interested in exploring an untapped beach, head as north as you can to Playa El Verde Camacho, an eco-reserve that is pristine, undeveloped, and known for its many sea turtle nests.

10. Get Close to Nature at the Mazatlan Aquarium

Mazatlan Aquarium
Mazatlan Aquarium | David Stanley / photo modified

Mazatlan sits perched right at the mouth of the Sea of Cortez, which Jacques Cousteau named The Aquarium of the World. This puts Mazatlan right at the doorstep of some of the ocean's most incredible examples of wildlife. The Mazatlan Aquarium gathers many of these species together for an up-close-and-personal viewing.

One of the largest aquariums in Latin America, the Mazatlan Aquarium happens to also be one of the only aquariums on Mexico's Pacific Coast. Inside visitors will discover 52 tanks that house everything from sharks and lobsters to seahorses and more than 250 other saltwater and freshwater species. The most impressive exhibit is the main Oceanic Fish Tank, which holds more than 420,000 gallons of water.

Address: Av. de los Deportes 111, Tellería, 82017 Mazatlán, Sin., Mexico

11. Catch a Baseball Game

Believe it or not, Mazatlecos (residents of Mazatlan) bleed baseball. Their hometown team is the Venados de Mazatlan, or the Mazatlan Deer. The deer is the mascot of the city, in fact. Catching a baseball game in Mazatlan is just about one of the most exciting things a visitor can do. The experience is full of energy, and about so much more than the actual game itself.

The Teodoro Mariscal Stadium houses 16,000 people, and guests can enjoy the non-stop entertainment, restaurants, shopping, box suites, and more. And then there is the actual sporting event itself, which is nothing short of electric, especially when the city's main rivals, the Tomateros de Culiacán, are in town.

Address: Justo Sierra S/N, Estadio, 82140 Mazatlán, Sin., Mexico

12. Spot Stunning Whales

Humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching

Spotting majestic whales in their natural habitat is one of the most magical experiences - and in Mazatlan, it's more common to spot humpback whales than in most other places. That's because every year between December and March, pods of whales swim through the Sea of Cortez on their way farther south to give birth.

During this time, it's popular for visitors to take whale watching tours in order to spot the 11 species of whales as they make their way up their migratory path. Humpback whales start in Alaska, Oregon, and Canada and swim more than 3,000 miles to Mexico.

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