The Essence of Mexico


Written By: Robyn Roehm Cannon

With a past that can be traced back to 1531 and the indigenous tribe of the Totorames, the story of Mazatlan is rich with traditions, European architecture, and activities that treat visitors to genuine Mexico. Unlike many more tourist-driven destinations, most “Mazatlecos” have lived their entire lives in the area and are part of large families who also live and work in the city. Family comes first in Mazatlan, and to visit is to become a part of that tradition.

Mazatlan has a position of great importance in Mexico’s international trade. As early as 1820, ships were built in its harbor, and in 1828, a maritime customs house was built that still exists today. As one of Mexico’s major shrimping ports, a highlight for tourists is access to exceptionally fresh seafood – especially jumbo prawns harvested just miles offshore and deliciously prepared in myriad ways.

For a great meal after a day in the sun, Cilantro’s, a romantic candlelit beach house just feet from the crashing surf at the Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan, is the place to go. This gorgeous restaurant offers crisp white tablecloth service under a palm thatched roof; freshly caught shrimp and local lobster are simply grilled over a mesquite fire and served over fragrant rice. The succulent crustaceans are garnished with fresh guacamole, handmade tortillas, and pico de gallo, and are accompanied by superb margarita cocktails muddled with tiny locally grown limes.  All finished up with flan, a traditional baked egg custard topped with a caramel glaze, and sometimes, flaming Spanish coffee, dramatically prepared tableside by delightfully charismatic waiters. It simply doesn’t get any better!

Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan is located in the northern part of the city, just beyond a collection of hotels, specialty shops, and restaurants known as the Golden Zone. With impeccable guest service, accommodations decorated with authentic Mexican tiles and artwork, beautifully tended gardens, and pristinely groomed beach, the Pueblo is respected throughout Mazatlan – and Mexico – for five-star service in a warm and relaxed atmosphere that really feels like home, only better.

Since temperatures in May can creep up to the 90s, early exercise is best, followed by a leisurely breakfast at Las Palomas (translated “The Doves”), which resembles the porch of a traditional hacienda, with latticework ceilings, brightly colored bougainvillea vines, and giant fans that create a cooling breeze.

After that, it’s time to hit the beach and take over a palapa. The palapa is a miraculous invention – when it gets too hot in the sun, the shade of these giant palm beach umbrellas lowers the temperature by at least 20 degrees and offers relief in the shade. The roar of the ocean is constant as you read and nap away the afternoon, opening an eye now and then to talk with roaming beach merchants who have silver and brightly colored beach sarongs for sale.

After the sun lowers over the horizon, it is time to think about eating again, and after a shower, you can dress and grab a pulmonia (an open-air taxi converted from a small jeep) to patronize one of Mazatlan’s many great restaurants. Favorites include Panchos Cafe in the Gold Zone on the beach, Pedro and Lola’s or the Pacifico Cafe in the city’s picturesque town square, with traditional Mexican fare, roaming mariachis, and local families and couples mingle with tourists.

For amazing anitpasti, hand-thrown brick-oven pizzas, and scrumptious house-made pastas in a European cafe setting, try Vitorio’s. If you feel like dancing, a stop at Joe’s Oyster Bar can be a fun way to end an evening, or a great way to spend a late lunch on the beach, with deep-fried fresh oysters and an icy cold beer. Sometimes, though, if you dress up a bit and walk just a few feet from the villa you can go to one of the most special Italian restaurants in the world, outside of Venice. Angelo’s is a Mazatlan institution at Pueblo Bonito, with impeccable service and authentic Northern Italian cuisine. The tableside preparation of the classic Ceasar salad is an event, and chef Gilberto DelToro Coello has won many awards for his original presentations.

Besides consuming all the delicious food in Mazatlan, there are so many ways to spend relaxing days. An early morning trip into El Centro allows you to experience an authentic marketplace that has been going on daily for hundreds of years. Jungle mountain tours share the birds, wildlife, and handmade furniture and pottery trades in the little town of Copala, which dates to 1565. And for museum-quality handmade Citali jewelry, visit the Rubio Jewelers and El Delphin. Jose Rubio is a U.S.-trained gemologist, and both shops offer exquisite, authentic pieces at very fair prices.

The ocean, the sun, the people are the same, year in and year out. It’s a touchstone type of place, and once you visit, you’ll find you’ll leave your heart there.