The city of Mazatlan is a secret paradise, a truly undiscovered pearl on the pacific coast of Mexico, is in the western state of Sinaloa. Like most cities in Mexico, Mazatlan has seen it’s share of violence as a result of the drug war. While tourism is a major industry, the city of Mazatlan also serves the fishing industry with its beautiful bays and marinas, unlike Cabo or Cancun which rely on tourism primarily. These waters aren’t as beautiful as the Caribbean waters on the eastern side of Mexico, but the shrimp and fish are well worth the loss of aesthetic imagery and the surf is perfect for the rookie body surfer like me. It’s January in Mazatlan. The only people here are Minnesotans and Canadians. Everyone thinks that I am the only black guy in the city. I met a Canadian named Robert upon arrival. He has been here for the last 9 years. He married a local girl and left his kids in Canada to spend all of his money. He says he is rich. I didn’t know what question to ask after he shared that information, so I just looked at him and nodded. After I helped him scan and fax some paperwork to Mexico City, he was gone. Apparently, he told all the locals he knew about me. As I began to descend on the tourist section, known as the Zona Dorado, the locals already knew of me. “Hey, do you know Robert?” or “Hey, are you from Texas?”. I was off put by it at first, but when I needed weed and one of the pulmonia drivers came through because “you are Robert’s friend then you are cool with me.” It’s not California good, but on vacation, you don’t want to be too high to explore the city. The quantity makes up for the quality and some. I came to Mazatlan to relax and recuperate and I was certain to leave with the mission accomplished. The only question was how? Mazatlan has a lot to offer.
I have never been a big shopper on the road, which has always helped my travel budget. Unfortunately, I can’t resist alcohol and usually spend most of my money on booze. I started doing so in Mazzy on day 1. When I landed at the airport, a group of salsa dancers welcomed the passengers from the airplane. Pacifica brewery gave out Styrofoam cup after cup of beer and before I knew it, we were in a conga line a few feet to the left of armed soldiers. The last time I came to Mexico, I was a bit intimidated by so many guns and soldiers on guard in their cities. The hidden faces seemed to only add to the terror. This time, it felt more like they were hiding their faces to protect their identity and nothing more. But I didn’t want to get involved with them. I was solo in Mexico, and if arrested, no one could help me get out. For this reason, I did most of my drinking in my room. Once I hit the maleceon, I focused on food carts and tourist shops. I’m spent most of my time in the Zona Dorado, but the best parts of Mazatlan are in the Old Town.
The old city is beautiful and the architecture is rich in color and spirit. I stayed in my aunt’s timeshare, which helped my meager budget last the entire week. Whether the escapades to neighboring islands and the tempting aromas wafting from street carts, I found the best deals to make my money last. My goal was to make the entire vacation for under $500.00, and since I paid $300 for a round trip plane ticket (still a great deal!), I had about $175 after airport food, baggage fees, and the shuttle ride to my room. I set a daily limit on spending and fell asleep to the sound of the ocean cracking against the shore beneath my room’s balcony. I did a bit of research before I went and knew exactly how I wanted to spend my time. The first few days, I decided to relax and hang in the Zona Dorado, the tourist section near my hotel room. I regretted this decision the moment, I ventured into the rest of the city, but as I landed on a Wednesday, I had a few days to spare before the weekend came and more than enough time to see it all. The tourist zone is primarily for restaurants and hotels. It was there that I began to meet other expats and visitors from the United States and Canada.
The next day I started out about 12 noon. I skipped breakfast and walked toward the main malecon, or Boardwalk in search of food. As I marched, a pulmonia driver pulled up beside me. I was used to this, these taxi’s wanted to escort you around for a small fee. I couldn’t afford to pay for them, so I spent the first day or so waiving them off. Then this one pulled along me and the driver asked, “Hey do you know Robert?” It took a second to click in my mind, but I told him yea and he struck up a conversation. His name was Fernando. I told him I was fine walking that day, but that I would look for him later in the trip when it was time to go to Old Town. He seemed decent and like so many others in this city, he knew so enough English to never use a word of Spanish in conversation. In Mazatlan, the talk always leads to one thing, the brothels and whorehouses, or at least it does when you are a single black man in Mazatlan.
I didn’t really know what to expect in Mazatlan. I did a bit of research and found most activities reviewed were booze cruises to neighboring islands, tequila farms, and ziplining or golfing. There was a little bit of information online about the strip clubs and dance clubs, but I’d been to Cancun before, so I anticipated the same thing I’d seen there. I was completely wrong in that regard. Instead of hearing the latest EDM, the deejays played 90′s club music, like Right Said Fred’s “Too Sexy for My Shirt” and Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations. The restaurants served delicious fish, ribs, tortas, and hot dogs, all with a local flair that made each unique.
There were some morning’s I spent too much money for breakfast, or some trinkets in the Zona Dorado, which forced me to balance the budget with cheap dinners, like cart food and less beer. Though offered frequently, I managed to visit two strip clubs during my trip. Fernando showed them to me at the end of two tours he gave on Friday and Saturday. I needed some weed to make the trip a true vacation and he came through, so I took him up on his offer to tour the city. He offered to show me the best placed in the city, the landmarks I’d heard of from my google search. I didn’t want to waste the gas, so I asked him to show me the best places with graffiti. We spent about two hours just before dark in the neighborhoods of Juarez and Cerritos. I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted because my camera was dead on day one and on day two I just forgot it, but with the help of Fernando, I’d finally made my way out of the tourist lane. As Saturday night came, I prepared for Senor Frog’s with more than $100 US still.
I decided to accelerrate my spending. I figured, the city would lull on Sunday or Monday for sure, and if not, I’d need to relax the same. I exchanged $40 into pesos and began the night with a huge face sized beer. I followed it with 5 tequila shots. By then, I’d made a few friends on the dancefloor and decide to buy a round for everyone. The locals liked to make jokes about black dicks (on day 1, a guy held a two foot long sausage out his window and giggled, “Hey Amigo?”), so the girls were giggling and making penis length signs as they danced with me. They brought shots and then the bartenders gave me 3 more for free and had 1 with me. I was ready to eat and sleep again, so I ordered a hamburger and fries to go. By the time they brought it out, I had another 3 shots. I left and walked north on Sabala Cameron to my hotel at the the top of the Zona Dorado strip with a few friends in tow. When I woke the next morning, it was nearly 1 pm. I rolled over and spent the last 80 pesos from the night before, on room service, french toast and fruit. If the city was alive, I didn’t want to waste it in bed recovering. I had $60 bucks left with no adventure under my belt yet. I wanted to do a tour of the Pacifica brewery and I wanted to visit Stone Island and do the other things on my list from internet research.
I found a huge deal. For $30, a tour of Deer Island, with zip lining and a visit to a tequila tasting with free alcohol on the island. Though food was not included, a food cart was set up on the island and I was able to feed for the loose Mexican coins I’d amassed over the first 4 days. After zip lining and getting drunk from 3-8pm, I was perfectly fine with calling it an early night. I didn’t hear of any partying happening on Sunday night, so I was in bed by midnight.
On my last full day in Mazatlan, I started the day with $33 bucks in pesos and US dollars. Once again, I was lucky enough to find a deal on entertainment. After negotiating my ass off, I talked myself into a 20 finger massage for an hour for $20 bucks. After so much walking and drinking, it was the perfect way to relax my body. I decided to finish the trip with food, so I loaded up on take out from 3 different places on the strip that I’d had my eye on, Loco Loco’s, Poncho’s, and Fat Fish. By the time I got back to my room and started to eat, I was down to $3 bucks. With less than 24 hours left in Mazatlan, I made it. I spent my final night in my room cleaning and preparing for my return to the states. I just out found the televisions got HBO. I guess I wasn’t spending much time watching TV in my room. Since the flight home was at 7 am, I stayed in to watch the season premier of Girls on HBO and to clean up a bit of the mess I’d made in the past week.
Mazatlan is a complicated city, in a very good way. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone trying to enjoy a great and beautiful city for a reasonable price. I made it to Mazatlan for 7 days spending only $500 bucks. This is the kind of place you could vacation at 4 times in a year and always have a great time. Go to Mazatlan. Conoce Sinoala.