Among the myriad Mexican resort areas I had contemplated visiting over the years, Mazatlán never appeared on my radar. That is, until last November, when a friend made an offer I couldn’t refuse.
So off the well-traveled path I headed to Mazatlán, in the state of Sinaloa— yes, the same Sinaloa that has unfortunately become identified with Mexico’s most notorious drug cartel. But unless your appetite for adventure routinely takes you to back-alley bars and clubs at 4:00 A.M, there’s little cause for alarm. Other than the occasional presence of armed guards riding in the bed of a pickup truck, tourists and residents remain unaffected by the violence.
I discovered this during a blissful four-day weekend. A wonderfully divergent mixture of old and new México, Mazatlán is now emerging as the premier vacationland on the country’s western coast.
To experience fully the diversity, I strolled along the malecón, the 14-mile-long seawall walkway, for a glimpse of fearless clavadistas, who entertain by diving into the rockstrewn ocean from a high platform; the mazatleco street vendors hawking fresh seafood, aguas frescas and souvenirs; and the statues paying homage to the bountiful sea. The brassy strains of tambora music create a soundtrack for pelicans plying the waves for dinner.
Mazatlán’s picturesque Pacific coastal backdrop provides a variety of aquatic activities, including parasailing, surfing, swimming and sport fishing.
The city, known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” stretches along 16 miles of golden-sand beaches. Seafood is plentiful, particularly shrimp and marlin. Meals become more of an event, with Pacificos and margaritas, delectable comestibles such as grilled shrimp tacos and guayaba—a favorite local dessert consisting of sweet guava baked into a pie crust.
Evening entertainment revolves around the Plaza Machado, surrounded by sidewalk cafes, and the landmark Teatro Angela Peralta, located in the heart of Old Mazatlán. The Neoclassical edifice, built in the early 1870s and recently restored to its original grandeur, is Mazatlán’s principal tourist and cultural attraction.
It takes its name from opera singer Angela Peralta, the Nightingale of México, who tragically died before performing there. For golfers, a building of particular interest stands some 20 miles from town at The Wyndham Las Villas Resort, a 68-room resort anchoring the 816-acre master-planned residential community known as Estrella Del Mar.
The plush Wyndham— with its three-mile private beach, four restaurants three bars, tennis courts, infinity-edge pool and on-site Sea Turtle Preserve and Sanctuary—provides access to Mazatlán’s best course: Estrella del Mar. The 7,015-yard Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed layout, which last year hosted the Canadian Tour PGA championship (won in a playoff by Jose de Jesus Rodriguez), features more than 20 acres of lakes and generously wide palm-lined fairways that filter into difficult green complexes with large, well-placed bunkers.
The roiling putting surfaces suggest the rise and fall of the waves along the six holes bordering the ocean.
Estrella is one of three golf courses in Mazatlán, the other two being a pedestrian track at Golf Marina Mazatlán and the El Cid Granada Country Club, which features three distinct nines and serves Mazatlán’s four El Cid Resorts. Eighteen of the holes comprise the 6,472-yard Championship Course, while Lee Trevino designed the newer Marina Nine, which involves water on seven holes.
“Mazatlán can only be considered a legitimate golf destination following the completion of the additional two courses that are on respective drawing boards,” says Jorge Corral, Director of Golf at the new Pacific Golf Center, which features a 16-bay driving range, batting cages, a bar and grill, fully stocked golf shop and a secluded corporate hitting bay, replete with lounge chairs and table service. “By exposing the younger generation of Mazatlán to golf, by way of the driving range and free use of equipment, we hope to cultivate a new crop of golfers.”
It’s hard to deny the uphill climb Corral has regarding growing the game. Despite the incentives he has instituted, the price of golf in Mazatlán clearly creates some significant challenges for the local population. Of the approximately 450,000 residents in the surrounding area, only 120 are registered golfers.
For now, that means more tee times for tourists. But on the last day, my fellow travelers and I took a half-day tour of Mazatlán’s foremost tequila distiller, Los Osuna, After journeying safely through cactus fields and dirt back roads, we eventually happened upon an oasis in the midst of nothing but blue agave plants. Los Osuna produces three types of the liquid nectar: a white or clear version, an amber one, and a dark, smoky Reposado.
The longer the smooth-tasting elixir ferments in the walnut casks, the darker the color. According to local lore, however, aficionados prefer the clear to the others for its purity.
And for the record, it is illegal for distillers not located in the state of Jalisco to name a product “Tequila.” The actual name of what we drank here is Los Osuna 100% Agave Azul.
And no, it doesn’t have a worm in the bottle.
According to our delightful docent, only certain mezcals (produced from another strain of agave plant), usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano. One legend about the worm suggests it was originally added as punishment for devouring and destroying the blue agave. We learned, however, that the practice began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s.
Mazatlán doesn’t need a gimmick to market its bounty of riches—not even as a “golf destination.” Its beauty, history, culture and charm charming put this seaside wonderland squarely on the map.