One of the most common questions I get asked when I travel is “How did you happen to choose Mazatlán?” Of course that question usually comes from someone who hasn’t been here or who didn’t have time to explore it much.
When Paul and I first started exploring various locations in México with an eye to retirement we made up a list of the things a community needed to have. I wrote a blog post about it back in October of 2006. Here’s our list:
- A great place to walk
- Multiples of things (coffee shops, theaters, groceries)
- Not too hot and humid
- Needs a central gathering place or zócalo
- Needs to be an easy flight to the West coast of the US
- Can’t be a community with too many gringos
Everyone will have a different list, but this was ours. We had no idea at the time how perfect Mazatlán would be for us.
A Great Place to Walk
We lived in Seattle for most of our adult lives, and those of you who know the city know how well used Green Lake is. The biking and walking path around the lake is almost three miles, and is a favorite place for exercising, gathering, dog walking, biking, and much more. Paul and I even walked it on our first date! I always envied the people that lived within a few blocks of the lake. Well, here in Mazatlán we have a fantastic malecón that runs about 5 miles along the water. It is the best place to walk, run, bike, rollerblade, and watch a parade. It is popular all day long, with exercisers early in the morning and after work. In the evening, especially in the summer, people stroll after dinner to enjoy the breeze. I recorded two videos of “A Walk on the Malecón” if you’d like to see more. The first is from Olas Altas to Playa Norte (South to North) and the second is continuing North from Playa Norte to Valentino’s.
Multiples of Things
Mazatlán is a fairly large city, around 400,000 people. There are multiples of everything, from mercados to grocery stores to coffee shops and movie theaters. In addition to plenty of options food-wise, there are many wonderful events and activities that we enjoy throughout the year. We have the Venados baseball team playing Winter ball, a Marathon and Triatholon, and we are the home of Pacifico beer, a fun tour to take. Just recently we celebrated El Dia de la Musica, with six stages around centro and lots of great music. Every First Friday during the winter there is an art walk that truly should not be missed. (I’ll be writing about Mazatlán’s viibrant art community soon) Our favorite event is Moto Week, when thousands of motorcyclists come to Mazatlán for a week of fun. And you can’t forget Carnaval, the biggest event of all, and the third largest Carnival celebration in the world, just behind Rio and New Orleans! We also have lots of parades in Mazatlán, and they are even more splendid than ever because they usually travel down the street just next to the water.
Not Too Hot and Humid
Most people would say that we blew it on this one. But most of the year Mazatlán’s weather is about perfect. It’s only in the summer, once the rainy season starts, that the weather really gets humid. We keep cool by using fans everywhere, staying out of the sun at midday, and retreating to the air conditioning when it’s too much. There is an electrical subsidy that helps with electric costs in the hot months, thankfully. In the winter, though… you might wear a sweater in the evenings sometimes but for the most part it is warm and pleasant. We travel more during the hot summer months, exploring México’s more moderate areas. Last July we went to Oaxaca and we always enjoy visiting Guadalajara when it’s hot at home! But really, I can handle a few months of humidity for the perfection of fall, winter, and spring!
Needs a Central Gathering Place or Zócalo
Mazatlán has lovely plazas, and there are four in Centro that are very well used. The Plazuela Machado is the heart of the city. Ringed by historic buildings, restaurants with outdoor seating, with a lovely kiosco in its center, it is the place to be in the evening. On the weekends vendors set up stands, musicians play, and people sit on benches or stroll after eating dinner or buying an ice cream. The restored Angela Peralta theater has performances throughout the week, from dance to the symphony, opera or even art openings. The Plazuela Republica also has a nice kiosco that is ringed by walkways and shoe shine stands. The government offices are on one side (with the balcony for the Mayor to shout el grito) and the main cathedral, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on another. The Plazuela Zaragoza has been recently renovated and received a new kiosco. It is across from the Asilo de los Ancianos, so the elderly people make good use of the park benches during the day and on Thursday evenings it is lively with couples dancing to the Cuban Danzón. The Plazuela Hidalgo is a wonderful park with a library in its center instead of a kiosco, but it is very well used, too. Mazatlán is unique also in that it has a wonderful Centro Historico – not very common on the beach!
Needs to be an easy flight to the West coast of the US
Travel to and from Mazatlán is no big deal, especially in the winter when there are lots of direct flights. American Eagle just added direct service through Dallas-Fort Worth. I usually fly into Seattle in the summer so I fly US Air through Phoenix or Alaska through LA.
Can’t be a community with too many gringos
This criteria came about after we visited Ajijic, where we felt that the expat population was out of balance to the Mexican. Here in Mazatlán there is a fairly large expat population that is seasonal – most are here from November or December through April. During those months it can seem like they (we) are everywhere, but in a city this size we really are a drop in the bucket! I imagine that there are around 3-4000 Americans and Canadians here during the winter. We realized that we would need to have friends – English speaking friends – to make the transition easier especially while we learn Spanish. We knew that if we moved to a small community we’d feel too isolated in the early years as we worked on our Spanish. In this respect Mazatlán was a good choice, although because we aren’t immersed in Spanish all day every day it has taken us longer than we like to admit to progress. Paul is booked for a second round of immersion studying this summer, but he is leaving town to do it.
Once we moved here I found out lots of other wonderful things about this city. Its people are incredibly warm and welcoming. The climate is wonderful for gardening. The friends we’ve made here are extraordinary, from varied backgrounds and regions – and I believe we all share in the amazement of having such a great circle of friends. People are so willing to give, too. There are so many charities, most are run and supported by the entire community. The cultural life here is fantastic – it is a town that values the arts and nurtures its artists, too.
Right now it is summer, and I am enjoying how quiet the city is. School is out, though, and pretty soon we’ll feel things get more festive as many, many, Mexican families take their summer vacation to the beach. They understand what we now know – that Mazatlán is a wonderful place to visit or to live. I think its nickname, The Pearl of the Pacific, is just right.