More in Mazatlan

Cultural options and quaint local towns conjure up Old Mexico

By: Darrel Lippman

Mazatlan is positioning itself as a vacation spot with much more to offer than lazing on the beach. With its picturesque colonial villages dotting the outlying Sierra Madres and bustling downtown arts and culture scene, Mazatlan offers travelers a variety of engrossing sightseeing opportunities to reflect on when they make it back to the surf and sand.

“The traveler nowadays wants to have an experience the magic of the old towns, the history, how the Spaniards cooked the bread the old-fashioned way in adobe ovens and how they grow the roosters for cockfighting,” said Gilberto Aviles, commercial director for El Cid Resorts/Mazatlan Hotel Association.

Prime example: the rural village of El Quelite, where visitors will begin soaking in the local charm as soon as they enter the town limits.

Once on foot, a stroll through El Quelite’s town square provides a window into Sinaloan history, including a temple with 17th-century oil paintings. Just up the hill called Cerro de la Cruz is the biggest gamecock farm in northwest Mexico. Visitors may watch a charreria (rodeo) or a game of ulama (a sport similar to soccer).

The economy in El Quelite a windy, 30-minute drive north of Mazatlan on Highway 15 is based on cattle, agriculture, fruit growing and dairy products. And the local cuisine is some of the best Mexico has to offer.

At Meson de los Laureanos, I sampled the quail, carne asada, machaca (shredded beef and peppers), chorreada asientos (deep-fried pork and cheese on a pancake-thick hand-made corn tortilla) and horchata, a sweet drink made of rice water and milk. For dessert: jamoncillo, nugget-sized marriages of milk and sugar that had the consistency of fudge.

A laminated menu explains that “the regional gastronomy is 100 percent Sinaloenses within a rural atmosphere that will make him remember the roots of our Old Mexico.” Proprietor Marco Osuna also runs the adjacent two-room bed and breakfast and is the town doctor and pharmacy owner. Born and raised in El Quelite, Dr. Osuna, a larger-than-life town patriarch, rents out the rooms for 500 pesos (about $45), including breakfast. His parrot, Nacho, introduces himself to patrons on their way into the restaurant.

“Here we are preserving the old Mexico traditions,” explained Dr. Osuna, who is trying to get a museum subsidized for his collection of Mexican artifacts. “You can hear donkeys bray, roosters crowing. And Mazatlan is close. We are a cluster Mazatlan is the main planet and El Quelite, Copala and Concordia are the satellites.”

Old Mazatlan

In addition to the various cultural country tours to the colonial villages, there are city tours of Old Mazatlan. Known as Old Centro, the restored historic downtown is home to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the central market and more. On a recent trip sponsored by the Mazatlan Hotel Association and the State of Sinaloa, a contingent of journalists strolled through the main streets of the Historical Center on a walking tour called Cultural Corridor. Among the tour’s myriad stops were the recently refurbished, 135-year-old Angela Peralta Theater and Betty’s Bakery, where the day’s offerings are prepared on the premises (which also serves as the namesake owner’s home).

Plaza Machado, Mazatlan’s lively historic plaza, includes winding streets filled with unique examples of neoclassical architecture, as well as museums, art galleries and al fresco dining. Dating back to 1898, the annual Carnival takes place here and attracts nearly 300,000 participants for an array of Mardi Gras-like festivities including parades, fireworks, food fairs and art and musical events.

Residents also host Mazfest, an arts festival held each year with cultural events ranging from ballet, opera and rock concerts to art and photography exhibitions.

“The difference between Mazatlan and other destinations on the Pacific is, if you go down to the Historic Center, Mazatlan has a real taste of Mexico,” Aviles said. “Mazatlan has a social life. And then it has a culture. There are plenty of cultural events all through the year. So you can combine experiences, for example, like going to see a play at the opera house at night with playing golf or fishing during the day.”

One of Aviles’ favorite attractions is the Teatro Rubio (Angela Peralta Theater) to take in a concert or play.

Or, he recommends simply soaking in the atmosphere of the Old Town square, “and have a cup of coffee in the afternoon ... you don’t feel like you’re in Mazatlan.”

Another difference between Mazatlan and other Mexican destinations, according to Aviles, is that it does not depend solely on tourism; there’s the fishing industry, agriculture and mining.

“Mazatlan started out with all those mining towns along the Sierra Madres,” he said. “The first Europeans who came to the area came to those pueblos for gold mining. You can go to Teacapan, approximately 1½ hours south of Mazatlan, and see how the Indians, before the Spaniards came, used to fish for shrimp in the estuaries. You eat like a king down there.”

Working in the hotel industry, Aviles has traveled extensively to other Mexican destinations but will always have a special place in his corazon for Mazatlan.

“For me, I like Mazatlan. I was born and raised here,” he said. “I love living here and not only because my family is here; the weather is ideal year-round, if you like fishing, you have great fishing. And then you have all the colonial towns like Copala and Concordia. If you want to go to the mountains, you just drive from Copala 15 to 20 minutes. The temperature in the summer here might be 100 degrees; up there it’s only 65 or 70.”

Such a description is sure to resonate with Southern California clients.


Country Tours: Located in the Sierra Madre Mountains, the colonial villages of Concordia and El Quelite and mining town of Copala offer visitors panoramic views of valleys and vistas; churches dating back to the 15th century; and the history lessons of the explorers and colonists who settled there.
City Tours: Located in Old Mazatlan, the restored downtown, known as Old Centro, is home to the ornate Angela Peralta Theater among other artistic, architectural and cultural attractions. The Cultural Corridor tour departs the Miguel Espinoza Gallery weekdays at 10 a.m. and visits the Municipal Arts Center, a traditional Mexican bakery and more.
Tour Operators: Ole Tours (52-669-916-6288);
Playa Sol Tours (52-669-913-7777);
Viajes El Sabalo (52-669-914-3009)