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Mazatlán—meaning “land of deer” in the ancient Nahuatl language—offers a wonderful sojourn on the Mexican Riviera. With cobalt waters teeming with sea life, sprawling beaches, and a charming Old Town, there are plenty of things to do in Mazatlán for vacationers.

At 13 miles, the city boasts one of the longest esplanades in the world, stretching from the sparkling beaches of the Golden Zone in the north to the historic center in the south. Other

Mazatlán attractions range from humpback whale watching and snorkeling to the Old Town’s 19th-century cathedral.

Here are the 11 best things to do in Mazatlán on your next vacation to Mexico.

Wander Old Mazatlán

Colorful street of Old Mazatlán

Old Mazatlán

One of the best Mazatlán attractions is its Old Town, a sublime area on the southern tip of the waterfront, filled with pops of colorful architecture and attractive squares. Though some streets don’t quite conform, the Old Town is loosely based on a grid-style street plan, making it easy to navigate on foot.

Pino Suarez Mazatlán Market, in the thick of the Old Town’s action, is the bustling central market. Located between Aquiles Serdán and Melchor Ocampo streets, the market has operated since 1900.

Crab being sold at Pino Suarez Mazatlán Market

Fresh seafood in Pino Suarez Mazatlán Market

Vendors trade a wide assortment of items, including seafood, meats, spices, fruits, cheeses, candies, and a selection of locally made crafts and souvenirs such as tequila and leather goods.

Wander beneath the variety of celebratory piñatas hanging from the ceilings of stalls and seek out some of the best tacos and quesadillas in Mazatlán.

Tree-shaded street in Plaza Machado

Plaza Machado

Walk the short distance from Pino Suarez Mazatlán Market to the charming Plaza Machado, the historic quarter’s tree-lined square that was established in 1837, a pretty wrought-iron gazebo at its center.

You’ll find an array of bars and restaurants around the square with outdoor seating so you can enjoy an ice cream or chilled margarita while soaking up the easy-going ambiance.

Red and white facade of Teatro Angela Peralta

Teatro Angela Peralta Photo by David Stanley on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Plaza Machado is home to Teatro Angela Peralta, Mazatlán’s sumptuous opera house that was declared a National Historical Heritage building in 1990. The theater is named after Angela Peralta, the star of Mexican opera who died in the city due to the 1883 yellow fever epidemic.

The elegant neoclassical theater was fully restored in 1980 following years of neglect and decline. One of the best things to do in Mazatlán is to watch a live performance, tour the theater, and visit the onsite art galleries.

Read: 10 Best Theaters in the World 

Relax on the Beaches in the Golden Zone

Stroll Golden Zone, one of the best things to do in Mazatlan

Golden Zone

The popular Zona Dorada—Golden Zone—is a central seafront area of Mazatlán, home to beaches, shopping, and plenty of dining options.

Avenida Camaron Sabalo runs the length of the Golden Zone, where you’ll find stalls selling everything from inflatables and beachwear to souvenirs, among the many bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Calm waves of Isla Pajaros (Bird Island)

Isla Pajaros (Bird Island)

One of the best things to do in Mazatlán is to stretch out on one of the Golden Zone’s soft, blond strips that face Isla de Venados (Deer Island) and Isla Pajaros (Bird Island).

Playa Camaron is one of the best beaches for its shallow shore, while neighboring Playa Gaviotas offers a broader section with plenty of space for sunbathing. You can also take a boat from Playa Gaviotas to Isla de Venados, known as one of the best spots for snorkeling in Mazatlán.

Spot Migrating Humpback Whales

Humpback whale spotted in Mazatlan

Humpback whale

One of the best things to do in Mazatlán, and arguably in all of the Mexican Riviera, is to join a boat tour to spot magnificent humpback whales on their Pacific Ocean migration.

Watch for breaching humpbacks on the water’s surface between December and March. You may even witness females nursing their calves, with humpback whales preferring tropical waters for breeding.

Join a guided whale-watching trip led by a team of marine biologists and ecologists who will share their knowledge on these majestic mammals as you keep watch. Have your camera or cell phone fully charged to capture tail-slapping whales off Mazatlán’s coast.

Marvel at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Beautiful church of Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Another must-visit Mazatlán attraction is the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on 21 de Marzo.

Built between 1856 and 1899, the Cathedral Basílica de la Inmaculada Conception is the largest church in the city, featuring two imposing ivory bell towers that can be heard ringing out to mark weddings and other festivities.

Once you’ve admired the ornate Baroque-style cathedral, take a seat in the shade of a palm tree in the Plaza de la República opposite and enjoy a refreshing soda or ice cream.

Hone Your Horseback Riding Skills in Stone Island

Horseback in Stone Island, one of the best things to do in Mazatlan

Stone Island

One of the best things to do in Mazatlán is saddle up and go horse riding on Stone Island’s miles-long Isla de la Piedra Beach, reached via a 10-minute boat ride from Mazatlán.

Book a horseback-riding tour with an expert local guide, who will lead you on a steady beach trail via Stone Island’s verdant coconut plantations.

Isla de la Piedra offers a string of beachy, palm-thatched restaurants for once you’ve worked up an appetite trotting or cantering on the shoreline. Wear closed-toe footwear if you plan on experiencing an equestrian adventure.

Stroll Along the Malecón

Stroll the Malecón, one of the best things to do in Mazatlan

Malecón

Most Mazatlán attractions are centered around the Malecón—one of the longest in the world—stretching 13 miles along the seafront, parallel to Avenida del Mar, sweeping around the bay to Olas Altas.

The palm-studded route is peppered with monuments including statues dedicated to the Goddess of the Seas and another in honor of local fishermen.

Man cliff diving from El Clavadista

El Clavadista (The Diver)

Walk to the southern tip of the Malecón to reach Mazatlán’s sea pools, featuring a stark concrete waterslide and saltwater bathing pools that were built in 1915. Nearby, at El Clavadista (The Diver), watch cliff divers hurl themselves 46 feet off the overhanging rock into the ocean below.

This Mexican tradition has continued since the 1960s, with large crowds often gathering to watch the nail-biting stunts performed by experienced local divers from early afternoon through to evening.

Plate of shrimp tacos

Shrimp tacos

Once you’ve enjoyed a breezy stroll along a section of the Malecón (it’s almost impossible to take in the entire stretch in one day), take a seat at one of the delightful palm roof-thatched restaurants on the beach.

Almost all of them serve fresh seafood, including the oceanfront La Corriente, with dishes including sweet shrimp, snapper, and tuna, served with avocado salads and an obligatory mezcal-based cocktail.

There are bicycle rental stations and a dedicated cycle lane in place for visitors preferring to cycle the Malecón. There’s little shade on the waterfront, so make sure you’re prepared with a sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Read: Best Places in Mexico for Couples

Tour Mazatlán Aquarium

Unique architecture of Mazatlán Aquarium

Mazatlán Aquarium Photo by David Stanley on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

This dynamic and family-friendly Mazatlán attraction is also part sea museum, planetarium, and botanical garden. Opened in 1980 on Avenida de los Deportes, it’s a place to explore the fascinating skeleton remains of marine mammals and coral exhibitions, and to learn about aquatic conservation programs.

An amphibious fish that uses its fins to walk known as the mudskipper, carnivorous piranhas, and air-breathing lungfish are among the jaw-dropping species in Mazatlán Aquarium’s 17 freshwater tanks. Octopuses, surgeonfish, sea turtles, and seahorses can be seen in the 34 saltwater tanks.

An important arm of Mazatlán Aquarium’s work involves research and conservation to protect marine life in Mazatlán. The Sea Turtle Conservation Program has seen the institution protect 6,289 nests, liberating over 384,000 hatchlings. Macaw, whistling duck, and brown pelican protection programs are also among the initiatives in operation.

Visit a Local Distillery

Tequila isn’t the only mezcal-based libation that Mexico is known for. Onilikan, with a distillery on Avenida Playa Gaviotas in Mazatlán’s Golden Zone, produces a delicious range of agave-based liquors, including its Blue Agave Brandy.

In addition, Onilikan also produces a range of spirits made using fermented mango, including brandy and gin.

Visitors can tour the distillery to observe the distillation process and learn how these fruity drinks are created. Taste the products and learn how to incorporate drinks such as vodka with habanero chili, mango gin, and the award-winning blue agave brandy aged in French oak barrels into tempting cocktails. Pick up a bottle of your favorite tiple to take home as a reminder of your time in Mazatlán.

You could also visit the more rural Los Osuna Vinata distillery, a 50-minute drive from Mazatlán, to sample a range of small-batch, single-estate spirits, including Los Osuna Blanco, Reposado and Añejo.

Kayak Around Deer Island

Calm waters of Deer Island with view of the mountains

Deer Island

With an untamed and far-flung feel, Deer Island is a pristine, 100-acre nature reserve located less than two miles off the coast. One of the best things to do in Mazatlán is kayak around Deer Island, which can be reached via catamaran, an amphibious ferry boat, or a sailboat from the mainland.

Pelican on the shores of Deer Island

Deer Island

Part of Mazatlán Islands’ Ecological Reserve, Deer Island is blissfully unspoiled, with white sand beaches and gentle waves. The reserve is home to a number of resident and migratory birds, including the brown booby and pelicans.

Enjoy a guided kayaking session around the island and breathe in the fresh ocean air while witnessing the island’s rich flora and plentiful marine life. You’ll want to keep a lookout for dolphins, along with sea lions, sea turtles, and a variety of coastal birds.

Pack a mask and snorkel and cool off with a dip in the warm water to explore the rocky reefs around the island.

Enjoy Laidback Playa Olas Altas

Sandy beach of Playa Olas Altas

Playa Olas Altas

Enjoy Mazatlán’s laid back surf and café culture on Playa Olas Altas, which translates as High Waves Beach, at the southern tip of the Malecón, west of Old Mazatlán. Watch the steady flow of surfers breaking Pacific waves as you dip your toes into the water.

Typically less crowded than the Golden Zone’s shores, Playa Olas Altas is a pleasant spot to sip a coffee or the local brew, a Pacifico beer, at one of the promenade cafes and bars.

Just one block from the beach, on Venustiano Carranza, enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of Mazatlán’s best restaurants, ​​Angelina’s Kitchen. Share a selection of dishes such as fried eggplant drizzled with honey, avocado and heart of palm salad, and shrimp or pork tacos stuffed with salsa, onion, and cilantro.

Hike to El Faro Lighthouse On Isla El Crestón

Aerial view of El Faro Lighthouse

El Faro Lighthouse

For commanding views of Mazatlán and the vast sapphire ocean, pack your walking boots and hike to El Faro Lighthouse at the southern crescendo of the city.

El Faro is perched on a rocky outcrop on Isla El Crestón, technically no longer an island, since it was joined to the mainland by a causeway. El Faro is thought to be one of the highest lighthouses in the world.

The lighthouse structure is not spectacularly tall—just a couple of stories high—though the cliff on which it sits towers 515 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Built in 1879, El Faro originally used an oil-burning lamp and dazzling mirrors to warn incoming seafarers, before switching to a hydrogen gas lamp in 1905 and, finally, electric in 1933.

The shining beacon can be seen from a distance of 30 nautical miles, projecting the equivalent light of 600,000 burning candles.

Iconic El Faro Lighthouse in Mazatlan

El Faro Lighthouse

The hike to reach the lighthouse takes roughly 30 minutes, following a gravel, cliff-hugging path leading to concrete steps. Plan to make the journey earlier in the day, before the temperature reaches its peak. Since it’s uphill, you can expect the walk to be moderately strenuous.

While the lofty lighthouse isn’t particularly noteworthy in itself, the views are magnificent. Walk to the end of the Crystal Viewpoint, an eye-watering, glass-floored walkway cantilevered over the cliff.

If you’re looking for a place to eat after your hike, head back down to the causeway, where you’ll find a cluster of casual waterfront venues.

Colorful street of Mazatlan

Mazatlán

Mazatlán attractions offer a glorious mix of culture, nature, and ocean activities. Explore Celebrity Cruises’ luxury cruises to Mazatlán to book your next getaway to Mexico.

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