About 3 days before we left for Mazatlán, the State Department issued a new security alert for the Sinaloa Region. Cartel activity throughout Mexico has been on the rise, and the State Department deemed it necessary to issue a level 4 classification for Mazatlán. Level 4 is serious. I am not a risk taker. But the historic downtown area and Zona Dorado were excluded from the Level 4 classification. I registered our trip with the State Department STEP program and made sure all of our paperwork was in order. I felt thankful that I would only be in Mazatlán for about a week, since my work trip would take me back to the States (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City – where I accidentally booked a trip that coincided with Sundance Film Festival but made the best of it and caught a movie) for ten days. We hadn’t heard great things about cruising Mazatlán. “The marinas are expensive.” “People are always trying to sell you stuff.” In fact, many cruisers skip Mazatlán altogether and head straight to Puerto Vallarta.
I have no idea what those people are talking about! I loved Mazatlán. We docked at El Cid Marina, which was our first resort-style marina. We’re not really resort people, so that in and of itself wasn’t a selling point for us, but I certainly can’t complain about the hot tub and two nice pools. I also indulged in a massage at the spa on our first day in town, which was amazing. The El Cid demographic skews white and about 3 decades older than us. For the first couple of days, we stuck close to the marina. The guys did some exploring after I’d left, so Keith and Philippe were prepared to show me around when I returned.
First of all, the food was incredible. We ate so many delicious meals – everything from fancy braised short rib to alitas (chicken wings) and hot dogs (called jates in Baja Califoria Sur and jochós in Mazatlán). The people, as they tend to be everywhere in Mexico, were friendly. The Club de Conversacion, organized by a local university and hosted at a local coffee shop, allowed us to practice our Spanish in a casual setting with people who were also excited to be practicing their English.
My favorite part was the historic downtown area, which was stunning. These beautiful tree-lined streets have sidewalks with light inlays, so the old (but typically very well maintained) buildings and walkways are all illuminated. The streets are narrow and have a very European feel. Every time we neared the beautiful central square (lined with quaint restaurants, artwork, and people playing with their dogs), we joked about “entering zone 4”.
We also made friends! Philippe heard a guy in a bar transitioning back and forth between English and Spanish, so he introduced himself. David and his girlfriend, Rebeca, and their friends, Gabriel and Carolina, were great. David and Gabriel both speak perfect English, and Rebeca isn’t far behind. It was great to meet up with them for drinks and dinner, and to be able to practice our Spanish with them. The local knowledge was very much appreciated. I’m sure a big part of the reason we ate so well was that we were always eating at restaurants they recommended.
One particular day, Philippe and I made our way to Zona Dorado to eat jochós and Panamá (the Mexican version of a Friendly’s). El Cid has a shuttle van that transports guests between their three properties, but is also just a great way to get to the more central areas of town. Philippe and I were sitting at the back of the van, which we typically did since it was difficult for some of the guests to navigate through the tight aisle. To my right was a balding man in his Hawaiian shirt, ready for dinner at the other resort. In front of us sat a white-haired couple in matching track suits who discussed with a neighbor how they had been traveling from Tennessee to Mazatlán for 30 years on their winter vacation. The gentleman in front looked around for a place to stash his cane before taking his seat. As we rode the shuttle and talked about how much we were enjoying Mazatlán despite the less-than-positive reviews from fellow cruisers and the State Department, Philippe quipped “look at us on this bus full of daredevils!”.
In the end, we did spend almost all of our time in the two areas of Mazatlán that were excluded from the strictest State Department classification. We ate well, we made friends, we practiced our Spanish, and we can’t wait to go back.
Cell phone connectivity – No issues here! Cell service was fine everywhere we went.
Wi-Fi – Marina El Cid charges daily for WiFi. Our booster let us get good service at the docks, though. Lots of restaurants and bars offer free Wi-Fi.
Restaurants –There are too many to name! Again, we can’t thank David, Rebeca, Gabriel, and Carolina for introducing us to such great places. The best meal we ate in Mazatlán was at Kua. The drinks were expensive at $120 pesos or more per drink, but the food was incredible. The short ribs came with a whole extra bowl of tasty broth and this shredded lettuce that initially seemed a little out of place but then paired exquisitely. It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. El Presidio has a stunning outdoor space that is worth checking out, but despite their amazing reviews we weren’t blown away by the food (perhaps because it followed on the coattails of our meal at Kua). Pro tip: at El Presidio, don’t order a first, second, and third course dish for everyone at the table. Based on the restaurant ambiance and menu prices, we assumed they were small plates. They are not.
For amazing Mezcal cocktails and a cool space, check out Café Pacifico. For sushi, try Sushi KO (They were actually closed for an event when we arrived, but Philippe coerced the chef into making some unagi para llevar for our group and it was incredible). For Indian, you’ll want to go to Morena’s Taste of India (get the butter chicken, and if you want to get drunk the Jamaican punch). It’s worth checking out Panamá.
Finally, we have to give a huge shout out to Manny and La Trokería. This outdoor food truck court deserves to be a hit! Manny is the beer guy. He is a distributor, but has this little kiosk right at the front of the seating area. He has great beers, which can be hard to come by in Mexico. We drank a lot of Trés Brujas, which is brewed by three local women (Local! Female brewers!). You should also ask Manny for some Mezcal. He spent a long time looking for the one he carries, and he will walk you through why he loves it and how to drink it. If you’re extra nice, he’ll serve it with orange slices and chapulinas (grasshoppers). We also ate a lot of chicken wings (order a side of fries from the chicken wing spot) and burgers (the Tijuana XX is really good!) at the other two establishments. For real. If you visit Mazatlán, eat here.
Sights –Walk the historic downtown. It’s so beautiful at night, but I regret not making it there during the daylight as well. Drink a michelada at one of the bars along the malecón and watch the sunset. Check out the Best Western Skybar (which I didn’t make it to, but the guys said was great). Go to Club de Conversacion to practice your Spanish and help out some eager, college-aged English learners from 6:30-8:30 pm on Tuesdays at Rico’s Café. The event is sort of like speed dating. They match you with a partner or two and you speak Spanish for 10 minutes and English for 10 minutes before switching partners.