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Spend Some Time in Old Mazatlan, in the Historic Center

I first visited Mazatlan back in 2011, when it was a much sleepier place. I spent most of that time soaking up the atmosphere in Old Mazatlan, the historic center area, and thinking that there was a lot of unrealized potential in those houses and commercial buildings, many of them seemingly empty.

Old Mazatlan historic center

Mazatlan’s historic center today

I’ve been back several times since and houses I could have bought then for a pittance are now going for close to a million bucks. Since the opening of a much faster highway from Durango, more domestic flight connections, and the remote work trend spurred by the pandemic, the Mazatlan luxury real estate scene has exploded. See our just-published story at that link for the scoop.

This rise in popularity and influx of money has done wonders for the historic center and it is positively gleaming now. I was just there in April for the total solar eclipse and was impressed with all the great restaurants, coffee shops, music clubs, and cocktail bars. It’s easy to walk out your door and find a dozen good choices within a few blocks.

Mazatlan’s Historic Center

Mazatlan has a different feel than most other Mexican beach resorts because it has a real history and some architecture that goes beyond the new blocky concrete resorts look in the Golden Zone. This was a major port city in the 1800s and there are a lot of interesting historic structures built during that time and spruced up in recent years.

In some cases, a mere sprucing up wasn’t enough. The historic Angela Peralta Theater opened in 1881 but eventually fell into disrepair and sat abandoned. After lots of effort and fundraising to avoid demolition, the theater was rebuilt and restored, opening again in 1992. I was fortunate enough to catch a dance performance there on my first visit. Here’s what it looks like before the crowds file in.

Angela Peralta theater


The heart of the old city is Machado Square, where restaurants and bars are indoor/outdoor affairs. Locals, tourists, and expats spend hours at cafe tables soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying fresh seafood. There are frequently music shows going on in the square or at specific restaurants like Pedro & Lola.

This time I had a good meal at El Cielo with some friends and then had a more romantic dinner at the elegant Casa 46. It’s upstairs, overlooking the square from one floor above.

We had a delicious parade of food and wine, including a unique garden salad with wild greens and yuzu ice cream; a tasty fresh red snapper filet, and a tender steak with carrot pureé and creamy garlic sauce. We went for two desserts with local connections: a kind of creamy corn cake and a Mexican bread pudding with goat cheese ice cream.

Casa 46 Restaurant

If you stay at Casa Lucila, which is one of the few luxury hotels in Mazatlan, you can walk to all this from a seaside location a few blocks away. If they are sold out, your best bet is to rent a house or condo instead of heading north because it’s a long way from here to the Golden Zone when traffic is heavy, especially on the weekends.

You can walk to the beach from the historic center, so you can get the best of both worlds. It’s a small one where you have to bring your own chairs or blanket to sit on though, so if you want full services, see the section below. It’s nice to wander to the shore for sunset though because Mazatlan’s sunsets seldom disappoint.

sunset near centro

Outside of the historic section but still in Centro is Cerveceria Tres Islas, an excellent craft beer brewery that can hold its own with the best in Mexico. It’s a small space, even smaller when it’s too hot to sit outside, so come in the afternoon if you want to be sure to find a spot. They usually have 8 to 12 beers on tap, including some experimental brews that are heftier and higher in alcohol than what you’ll normally find on tap in this country.

Things to Do Near Old Mazatlan

I mentioned above that there a small beach, Olas Altas, near the historic center of Mazatlan. If you want to kick back in a lounge chair all day with a shady umbrella though, ordering food and drinks without moving, catch the short ferry over to Stone Island.

This is a must for us every time we visit because it’s got all the elements of a relaxing day by the water. You’ve got a waiter or waiter fetching fresh ceviche and shrimp tacos, a full bar to order from, and a nice view out to some nearby islets. The beach here is so long that you could wander off for an hour and not come to the end of it.

If you’d rather see what life under the sea is like, head to the newly revamped and expanded Mazatlan Aquarium, officially known as Gran Acuario Mazatlan. That link will take you to the English version where you can see what’s on offer and the ticket prices.

I visited the old version of this aquarium on my first trip in the early part of last decade and it was pretty rinky-dink to be honest. They offered a bird show and a fun sea lion show, which they still do, but now they’ve focused the aquarium tanks inside on what lives in the Sea of Cortez. And that’s a lot: cool jellyfish, eel, sharks, and seahorses. Plus rays that you can touch.

The architecture for the new buildings is as impressive as what’s inside too, easily the most striking buildings that have gone up in Mazatlan over the past half a century. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

Mazatlan aquarium

While you’re in the neighborhood, you could combine this with a baseball game if it’s the right time of year. Mexico may be a football-obsessed country, but here it’s the baseball team that’s famous: the Mazatlan Venados (deer). You’ll see their merch all over town.

I still haven’t hiked to the top of the lighthouse mountain or made it to the Observatorio 1873, but I’ll definitely do both on my next trip. The Observatorio is a complex that incorporates a former military outpost turned observatory, funicular, museum, mezcal distillery, bird sanctuary, and more.

Article by Timothy

Timothy Scott is the founder and editor of Luxury Latin America and has been covering the region as a travel journalist since the mid-2000s. He has visited each country we cover multiple times and is based in a UNESCO World Heritage city in central Mexico, where he owns a home. See contact information here.

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