Someone asked me the other day why I love living in Mazatlán. It has been 15 years since I moved to Mexico, and 12 of those have been spent in Mazatlán, the “Pearl of the Pacific.”
I had to think for only a minute, and then realized it was the same things that first attracted me to come here on vacation: a beautiful, swimmable ocean; a charming Centro Historico; an exciting and diverse year-round calendar of cultural events; an affordable cost of living; an active expat community; a short flight time to the U.S.; and, some of the friendliest people in Mexico.
I also wanted to be warm (I love the sun!), and while the Mazatlán summers can be over-the-top hot and humid, it works for me. Many year-rounders use summer as the time to go north to visit family or to travel to other, cooler parts of Mexico.
All of those things still add up to a wonderful place to live (or visit)—and all of those things are what makes my life in Mazatlán so enjoyable.
But why Mazatlán, you may still be wondering? Most of those things I have just named can be found in many areas of coastal Mexico. Locals will tell you, though, that Mazatlán, known as the Pearl of the Pacific, has a special charm that touches your heart (toca tu corazón), which I and many others who know the city well have found to be true.
I have always lived in the Centro Historico. This is where you find the gorgeous turn-of-the-century homes and plazas, complete with cobblestone streets and abandoned buildings begging for a remodel. We expats love these: the charming interior courtyards, original tiled floors, 18 ft. ceilings crossed by weathered wood vigas, or beams. Lately, locals have been turning old family homes into restaurants and bars, so visitors can bask in their beauty without having to deal with the constant maintenance required in the hot and humid summers.
The Plazuela Machado is the big main plaza, home to the Angela Peralta Theater and surrounded by restaurants, bars and shops. The theater houses a ballet and modern dance school, symphony, and music, art and opera schools. It is a bustling hub of activity, as is the theater itself, with a full calendar of events and festivals for about eight months of the year.
Another advantage to living in Centro Historico is the walkability of it. Everything, it seems, is just a few blocks away. Besides restaurants, museums, shops and the theater, the big central mercado is here, across the street from the cathedral, which while a tourist destination, is also fully operational with masses, weddings and other events. In another plaza, every Saturday from November to May, there’s an organic farmers market.
And of course, there is Olas Altas, Centro’s beachfront neighborhood, bookended by two small hills, Cerro del Vigia and Cerro de la Neveria. The malecón runs through here, continuing about five miles north to the Golden Zone, and is a favorite of runners, cyclists, dog-walkers, families, et al, who enjoy the beautiful views and refreshing ocean breeze.
Several internationally known races take place along the malecón each year, including the Gran Pacifico Marathon. It attracts professional runners from around the world competing for big cash prizes. Those of us who do not participate like to get a seat at any number of cafés along the route to cheer on the always-front-running Kenyans as well as the stragglers at the end.
This is not to say other parts of Mazatlán don’t have their charm, too. The Golden Zone is also popular with expats. Just a block in from the bustling hotels and souvenir shops are neighborhoods with wide, tree-shaded streets and lovely homes and condos with yards and gardens. Here, you are close to a different list of “everything:” all the big-box stores, a gorgeous long stretch of flat beach and tons of restaurants and bars, many of which have live music several nights a week. Mazatlán’s three islands—Deer, Goat and Wolf—are so close it seems you can reach out and touch them, and the sunsets are particularly spectacular because of them.
Continuing north you come to the Marina, and the landscape changes. Gone are the strip malls and clusters of tourists, replaced instead by dignified gated entrances to housing and condo developments on both sides of Camarón Sabalo, the main road. Here it widens to four lanes, divided in the center by a roomy greenspace with a big, new bike lane. Beautiful old-growth trees provide shade along the way. While some may think this area has no charm, once you are inside any of the oceanfront condos the views are breathtaking and the conveniences and easy camaraderie of your neighbors make for a relaxed and comfortable life. Most places have their own restaurants, some open to the public, and there is a lively community of folks with whom you can socialize. I always tell people not to knock it until they have tried it! It is not colonial Mexico, but rather just another way of living in this beautiful country.
The marina itself has its own special vibe, and restaurants, bars and convenience stores surround hundreds of boat slips that back up to the El Cid Golf Course. It is centrally located, affordable, protected and a favorite with boaters making their way up and down the coast.
Resuming our journey north, we find ourselves in Cerritos, or “little hills,” a continuation of the same type of development as the Marina. At the end of the road and the long coastal stretch of beach is Playa Bruja, with a small selection of restaurants and shops. On the point past the strip is a sweet beach that is often overlooked as its entrance is often blocked from view by parked cars and coco vendors. It is a favorite with families, especially at low tide, when the rocks make tide pools big enough—and safe enough—to play in.
From here you can look north to an almost unobstructed view of the coast, broken by a handful of luxury developments and one destination restaurant that sits directly on the beach. The city has announced plans for the construction of a huge commercial port an hour or so out of town, moving it from the main port that now hosts cruise ships, as well as many fleets of commercial fishing boats. The cruise ship port will then be remodeled to provide services for the thousands of passengers that come through Mazatlán each year.
Things have changed in the last few years, with lots of new restaurants and other more upscale businesses, and an almost constant presence of national tourists taking advantage of the Durango bridge and highway, which cut a 16-hour drive to just over two. Along with this growth has come a wave of condo and hotel towers that to us “long-timers” can be shocking, but such is the way of the world, especially when it comes to beautiful coastal locations.
Rents and home prices have also risen, but remain low compared to the U.S. I pay $8,500 pesos (about US$425) for an 1,100 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment half a block from the beach. Long-term rentals are usually completely unfurnished, which means renters must buy their own appliances (stove, refrigerator, air-conditioners, ceiling fans, washing machine) and of course furniture, which adds to the initial cost. Snowbirds and those looking for a few months’ stay will find a smorgasbord of turn-key, short-term rentals with everything needed to be comfortable. These rentals can be double the cost of a property with a year’s lease. Many regular snowbirds rent year-round even though they may only be in Mazatlán for six months. Snowbirds are almost all Canadians, and they never stay longer than six months.
If you want to buy a home, you should know that demand is driving prices up. You will find new condos listed for a wide range of prices, from about US$50,000 to half a million, depending on amenities and location. It is the same with homes in Centro Historico. Completely renovated colonial homes range from US$180,000 to $500,000. Smaller, more run-down row houses in need of extensive renovations might be US$60,000 or even less. And, of course, the closer you are to the ocean the higher prices will be. If you go 10-to-15 blocks inland, everything changes. Using a reliable, reputable real estate company is always recommended in Mexico.
I am happy to say that writing this “tour” of Mazatlán has rekindled my affection for my adopted home. There are so many reasons why I love living here, and although they may seem like simple things, they add up to a comfortable, happy, affordable lifestyle that I would not trade for anything.