The Place of the Deer.

A place of peaceful beauty, Mazatlan lies at the Southern Sea of Cortez on mainland Mexico. Mazatlan means ‘place of the deer’ in Nahuatl, spoken by the native Indian tribe. Later the French coined it the ‘Pearl of the Sea of Cortez’. The perfect place for us to stop and regroup after changing our plans from sailing the world to staying in Pacific Mexico for the coming year.

The decision was made, but I am notoriously slow in adjusting to changed plans. Both of us gladly let Mazatlan’s busyness and flair wash over us. Built by first Spanish, German and French traders, its historic center carrees of one level houses evoke a New Orleans on the sea. Narrow, one-way streets lined with renovated houses painted in vibrant colors, opening to cool courtyards with lush vegetation. The main square was rimmed by restaurant terraces, brimmed with life in the evenings. The central market was an iron structure, teeming with smells, colors and sounds. Saturdays there was music, Sundays a mass.  On the second story is a food court, where in countless rooms women cook home cooked meals for little money. The terraces were over the street life, fruit stands, golf-cart like taxis, busses, cruise ship tourists and policemen monitoring for safety.

We were anchored in the old harbor, the basin was constructed by connecting tuffed islands to the mainland, on one sits the highest lighthouse in the Americas, it can be seen from thirty nautical miles and we saw for hours until we arrived exhausted in Mazatlán. Mazatlán is situated in a basin ringed by low mountains inland and a string of rocky come shaped island. Two of those were made into peninsulas to construct the ‘Old Harbor’.

From where we anchored we had a good view of all the coming and goings in the harbors announced by tug boats waiting at the entrance. A short dinghy ride to Club Nautico, where Mexicans store their fishing boats, and a short bus ride later we were in the center of this half a million strong, bustling city. Only few cruisers anchor in the harbor, most stay in the resort like marina district a long bus ride north of town. Next to us were anchored a couple from Seattle rebuilding their engine on their boat SV Ardea on their way to live and work in Panama and Roger on SV Tropic Tramp, at 76 years old still dividing his time between sailing in the Sea and working in the US. We stayed longer than planned in February and interviewed Roger before heading out the Ísla Isabel (watch Roger’s interview here).

On our first stay in Mazatlan in February, we felt we had finally arrived in Mexico proper from a series of outpost town along the Sea of Cortez. Mazatlán is half a million big, has beaches with tourist resorts and a large cruise ship terminal, which took over as the major source of income for the city, but it’s long history grounds it deeply. A large central farmers market, stores with artifacts by local artist collaboratives, good restaurants are equally frequented by locals and tourists, many ‘snowbird’ US and Canadians live here over the winter, the city slows after their departure in June when humidity and heat take over.

The town was founded in 1531 and as it grew, the harbor was enlarged over time by dredging further inland into an estuary system. With various colonial influences from the Spanish, Germans (introduced Pacifico beer and the tuba), Filipino and French, the old town center looks decidedly French, laid out in a quarré of cobblestone streets with one story city mansions with large interior courtyards. The malecon runs along the sea for miles, past the historic district out to the large hotels and marinas in the North.

We enjoyed Mazatlán both times, strolled the streets, sat in court yard cafes among tropical plants, went to visit museums and the local theatre and stopped often to Central Market. Mazatlán’s climate was tropical, high humidity at night made for mornings with dense fog. The first time we arrived at dawn in Mazatlán, we waited out at sea for several hours until the fog lifted and the port opened again for pleasure crafts. It was March, spring with perfect temperatures in the 70s (20 C), summers are reportedly so hot and humid that it’s hard to breathe.

We spend a Sunday on a nearby beach, with the rest of Mazatlan, it seemed, and everyone was out to enjoy the sun. We found restaurant on the bluffs, artfully appointed and shaded by a large palapa roof, run by the daughter of a fisherman. She was a competitive surfer and needed a job after finishing high school, so she opened ‘Che’s on Piedra Beach’ named after her father and not the Argentinian revolutionary. After a good lunch, we strolled the crescent shaped white beach and back, watching families…

Olas Altas Beach next to the Centro Historico of Mazatlan.

Centro historico Mazatlán.

Fish restaurant Mazatlán.

Plaza Machado restaurant in Mazatlán.

Modern city villa in Mazatlán.

Mazatlán taxi. Golf cart model on a VW chassis.

Centro historico buildings.

The Happy Saint and Donkey restaurant, Mazatlán.

Square in Mazatlán.

Museo de Arte, Mazatlán, accidental homage to Barragan?

Favorite cafe hangout Casa Etnica.

Huichol art describes sacred rituals during which peyote is smoked… sold at Casa Ethnica.

Artisan shop in Mazatlán.

The central market is veggie and fruit lover’s paradise.


Sweets at the market in Mazatlán.

Nuts and things in bulk.

Food court restaurant above the main market in Mazatlán.

Lunch at the upstairs food court on top of the main market overlooking the buzzing streets below.

View from Che’s restaurant on Bahia Piedra.

Sunday at Bahia Piedra.

Che’s restaurant on Bahia Piedra.

Enjoying the cool shade of a Palapa roof and a lemonade at Che’s restaurant on Bahia Piedra.