By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
When Spanish conquistadors first arrived in what is now Mazatlán in 1531, they found a good number of major indigenous Indian tribes living in the hills and valleys of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. Much has changed since then, and now, the coastal city of Mazatlán is known as “Pearl of the Pacific” and boasts a diverse cultural heritage.
Sixteenth century Spanish settlers were followed by German, Italian, French, even Chinese, and later by British and American inhabitants, so every day life evokes the proverbial melting pot. Fascinating layers of Old Mazatlán’s founding story are reflected today in its unique architectural highlights and vibrant culture. Today, tourism is a growing sector of the local economy, as visitors discover Mexican authenticity in a region rich with stories to share.
Wandering through Mazatlán’s restored Old Town, referred to as El Centro Histórico by the locals, visitors find a key example in the Roman Catholic church dominating Plaza de la Republica. The Baroque-style Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception features a Paris-built organ, Renaissance domes and gilded Gothic arches. Each of its 28 stained glass windows incorporates a Star of David in the design. Have a look inside, buy a bag of feed for the pigeons and head for the marketplace a few blocks away.
The Market In Mazatlán
At the social heart of Mazatlán’s local lifestyle is the central market, Mercado Pino Suarez, a lively marketplace where locals gather and fresh shrimp is sold at stands under colorful umbrellas. Alongside the seafood vendors, dozens more stalls display everything from aromatic spices to handmade pottery. Relaxing while people-watching from a sidewalk cafe table is another art form in itself.
Presiding over Plazuela Machado is the 19th century Angela Peralta Theater, named after a famous 19th century Mexican diva. Its late-20th century restoration inspired the annual Mazatlán Cultural Festival, host to dozens of symphony, opera, ballet, contemporary dance, theater, cinema, and comedy events in November and December. Coupled with the State Festival of Arts, International Dance Festival, Mazatlán International Film Festival, Mazatlán Book and Arts Fair and International Guitar Festival, the destination plays a key role on the worldwide cultural calendar.
Carnival In Mazatlán
With such an enviable year-round climate and some of the most spectacular sunsets on earth, there’s good reason to party in the streets of Mazatlán. Carnival celebration in February sees more than 400,000 costumed revelers gather for a big procession, one that is surpassed in size only by carnival in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. Some say the star of the show is the fireworks; some say it’s the coronation of the Carnival Queen, and yet others claim it’s delicious pescado zarandeado, a popular regional barbecued fish.
Día De Los Muertos in Mazatlán
With November’s arrival, Mazatlán stages another theatrical procession around many centuries-old traditions for the two-day Day of the Dead celebration. Despite the name, it’s a festive time dedicated to helping spirits of departed loved ones find their way home. Illustrated with colorful blooms and imagery of the after-world, participants don costumes, masks, and body paint to honor all souls.