By Stuart Wasserman
Gertrude Stein's famous "there is no there there" line could never be said about Mazatlan, a port town on the Pacific northwestern coast of Mexico. It all centers around the Plaza Machado — the city's romantic Centro Historico and a romantic place that features New Orleans-style architecture: old houses and commercial buildings (including an opera house) that date from the 1870s and the 1880s. Just five blocks away is a U-shaped sandy beach called Olas Altas and a neighborhood of the same name. It means high waves, but in winter they are small but powerful and can launch a swimmer swiftly onto the sand.
Within that 50 or so square blocks is where the "there" is in Mazatlan.
Around the plaza, visitors have a choice of good restaurants, all with outdoor seating. Over the last 10 years new restaurants have popped up within a short walking distance. Standouts include the Water's Edge, El Presidio, Hector's Bistro and El Aljibe de San Pedro. The No. 1 place for morning coffee with an ocean view has been Looney Beans, a family-run spot owned by folks from California. But now Rico's has expanded into Olas Altas from the hotel strip to the north called the Golden Zone, opening a new spot a few doors down just a few months ago.
Besides an abundance of coffee shops and restaurants in this zone, the small Canadian and American community that winters here supports a weekly organic farmers market every Saturday in a nearby park. They also fund a community center called El Recreo on Constitution Street that features two international films a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, biweekly yoga classes and conversational language offerings.
On Thursday nights a Latin outdoor evening dance takes place at Zaragoza Park, which is walking or bicycling distance from Olas Altas and the Plaza Machado. The music features lively cumbia music and salsa tunes, some popularized in Cuba during the 1930s and '40s.
The choice of accommodations has expanded in the Centro Historico. The Siesta Hotel is an older established hotel whose rooms have been totally renovated during the last two years. The rate for a private air-conditioned interior room and bath is $38. The hotel overlooks the popular Malecon — or pedestrian walkway — and the beach. Waterfront rooms — which can be a bit noisy — are $45. The hotel is family-run and friendly and added a small swimming pool at the rear of the property a few years ago. In the courtyard, a bevy of birds serenades guests every afternoon. There are no coffee makers in the room, which is no problem since Looney Beans and Rico's are just a block away.
The newest lodging in town is the Inn at Centro Historico, which is located two and a half blocks from the nightlife around the Plaza Machado. The rooms are sleek but small, but the amenities are noteworthy. The front desk is open 24 hours a day, and the hotel offers a free shuttle to its sister hotel, the Inn at Mazatlan, about 20 minutes away by car or 30 minutes by bus. They also offer a great Sunday brunch at the restaurant, Papagayo, which attracts local residents in stylish dress. The price is $127 per night.
For a splurge there's Casa Lucila, a luxurious choice with a million-dollar view looking across Olas Altas Beach. The interiors are modern and sleek yet cozy and comfortable, and the bathroom is the size of a New York City apartment. The hotel features a rooftop pool that affords a fine view of the beach and the city beyond. Stays are about $183 a night, although they go up in December before dropping again in January.
WHEN YOU GO
The Siesta Hotel: www.lasiesta.com.mx
The Inn at Centro Historico: www.theinnatcentrohistorico.com
Casa Lucila: www.casalucila.com
Stuart Wasserman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The view from the terrace at Casa Lucila hotel in Mazatlan, Mexico, offers guests the opportunity to relax with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Photo courtesy of Stuart Wasserman.