All photos courtesy of Mazatlan Tourism
People of a certain age can recall what was probably their first time getting a look at the resort cities of Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. It was on the TV show “Love Boat,” of course, as a smattering of B-List celebs boarded a Princess Cruises ship and worked through that week’s particular series of romantic entanglements and other various life crises while sailing in the Mexican Riviera.
Too young to remember the show, or feeling nostalgic about those episodes featuring Charo coo-chi-cooing her way around the lido deck? You can find it on cable to this day. Try MeTv.
Well, it seems that what's old is new again. That's welcome news for cruisers who are interested in the natural beauty, rich culture and diverse outdoors activities that Mazatlan and its neighbors in Mexico have to offer.
Mazatlan is in the middle of a renaissance, experiencing a return to glory after a period of struggling to hold onto its once-thriving cruise industry. After U.S. State Department reports of spiking gang violence and murders, as well as incidents of petty crimes against tourists in Mazatlan in 2010, several major cruise lines removed the port from its itineraries in 2011. Ships made more than 200 port calls in Mazatlan in 2010 but fewer than 30 the following year and about a dozen in 2012.
READ MORE: Discover Amazing Mazatlan
The reaction by the lines, no doubt, could have been for an abundance of caution. However, the conditions in Mazatlan have proved to be no more dangerous than most other places, and the lines have been steadily returning after evaluating the safety for tourists. Ship visits are on the rise, with 35 cruise calls in 2015, 93 in 2016 and more than 100 expected in 2017. After losing a bit of luster, "The Pearl of the Pacific" is shining brightly once again.
The city and port also are doing much to improve the cruise passenger experience, according to Julio Birrueta, director of the Mazatlan Tourism Board. The city refurbished and updated the port facility in 2015 and has invested $1 million to improve access and connect the port terminal to the downtown historic district with better walking routes, Birrueta said.
He says the historic district is about 40 percent restored and improvements will continue "little by little" to meet continuous and measured growth and assure that businesses and services will exist for visitors.
In fact, Sinaloa Governor Mario Lopez Valdez and Mazatlan's tourism sector received special recognition by the Florida and Caribbean Cruise Association and Disney, Carnival, Holland America and Princess cruise lines at the World Cruise Convention for their efforts to revitalize the cruise industry in Mazatlan.
I spoke with Birrueta, who was obviously cheered by Mazatlan's return to glory, and he offered a few options for how to spend a day in port if you are visiting Mazatlan for the first time.
Tour the City – Rent off-road vehicles that carry up to four people to drive yourself all over the city. Explore the Golden Zone, where you'll find most of the hotel resorts, fine-dining eateries and the top nightlife. Other must-see spots are the historic district (El Centro) of Mazatlan, where you'll find the oldest buildings and charming sidewalk cafes – a perfect area to mingle with locals – and Plazuela Machado, one of the oldest plazas in the city and home of French and Spanish architecture, theaters, museums and hotels.
Or try touring the city via its pulmonia drivers. These open-air taxis are like large, fast golf carts, and you can negotiate a rate before you hop in for your ride. This is a distinctly Mazatlan way to get around and a must try for at least one leg of your tour around the city.
Jungle Tour – This popular adventure to a protected wildlife preserve takes you boating in the mangroves and hiking through lush jungle areas to spots birds and other wildlife. You'll also check out a coconut plantation before visiting pristine beach areas.
El Quelite – Located about 35 minutes from the cruise pier at the base of the Sierra Madre mountains, this little rural village showcases the peaceful daily life outside Mazatlan. The Spanish colonial village features colorful houses, and a tour here could include a show with dancing and horses and a fresh-made lunch including a demonstration of hand-made corn tortillas.
Tequila Factory Tour – Even if you don't drink tequila, you'll be fascinated by the process and in awe of the perfectly lined rows of blue agave rosettes that flank the drive into the distillery. Educational tours show the traditional old process and also the modernization of the tequila industry that is important in this region. These tours include options for a ziplining adventure at the nearby village of La Noria as well as time for shopping.
Beaches – Head to the harbor marina to check out the largest shrimp fleet in Mexico. Grab a boat taxi or rent a kayak and visit Deer Island or the Stone Island peninsula to kick back and relax on a quiet beach to enjoy a day in the sun while swimming or snorkeling.
Food – The authentic culinary delights are a must when visiting Mazatlan, which is known as the "Shrimp Capital of the World." Aside from the tasty shrimp, you'll want to dig into the signature tacos and fresh fish like tuna. "Most places say they offer catch of the day," Birrueta says. "We have the catch of the hour."
Wander El Centro or the marina areas to find numerous places to tempt your palate.