Rugrats on the Riviera

Mazatlan, an easy-going beach city on the Mexican Riviera (1,000 air miles from Los Angeles and 200 miles north of Puerto Vallarta) has long been noted as a family-friendly destination. On the same latitude as Hawaii, Mazatlan is an intriguing old port city where salty sailors from throughout the world once shipped out silver and gold, giving the place a flavor that Hollywood often tries to capture in swashbuckling period adventure movies.

By: Richard Carroll

Mazatlan, an easy-going beach city on the Mexican Riviera (1,000 air miles from Los Angeles and 200 miles north of Puerto Vallarta) has long been noted as a family-friendly destination. On the same latitude as Hawaii, Mazatlan is an intriguing old port city where salty sailors from throughout the world once shipped out silver and gold, giving the place a flavor that Hollywood often tries to capture in swashbuckling period adventure movies. Festive and diverse, Mazatlan is a comfortable haven for clients on holiday with their children.

Take the beaches all 17 miles of eye-popping sand and surf. Fifteen of them stretch northward from the original old city and are bordered on one side by a seawall and a bustling boulevard of beach resorts and lively sidewalk cafes and on the other by long, curling waves.

Mazatlan is one of very few Mexican resort cities that allows surfing in town great for the kids and ideal for parents who want to keep an eye on them. Notable in-town surfing locations are Playa Los Sabalos, Playa Los Gaviotas, and Los Pinos Beach, known by the local dudes as “the Cannon.”

Along the breezy malecon (a popular seaside road), clients can hop on an open-air, three-wheel pulmonia, a clever version of a golf cart. Rattling like an old Model T Ford, they haul tourists to the hotels and restaurants or up to Cerro del Vigia (Lookout Hill) for a view of the harbor.

Another city vista and fun-filled family outing is the 45-minute hike up Cerro del Creston to the El Faro Lighthouse tucked away at the south end of town. The walk begins at the end of Paseo Centenario near the sport-fishing docks. The lighthouse is the second tallest in the world 447 feet above the sea. Only Gibraltar is taller. On the way to El Faro, divers can be seen performing swan dives from steep rocky cliffs at the south side of the city, not unlike Acapulco’s famed cliff divers, but without the fanfare.

Golfing families can tee off at the El Cid Golf & Country Club, which has 27 holes, including a Lee Trevino nine-hole course. Public courses include the Estrella Del Mar Golf Course, an 18-hole, 72-par beauty and the Club de Golf Campestre. Fees are in the $70-to-$75 range. Kids can rent water-play equipment at the El Cid’s Aqua Sport Center while their parents are golfing.

Families can experience the other side of Mazatlan and a bit of history at Plaza Revolucion and the adjacent neo-Gothic-style (1875) cathedral, six or seven blocks from the beach in the center of town. Nearby is the Mercado Municipal the central marketplace one of the largest, most complete and colorful shopping areas on the coast and the city’s heart and soul. Hundreds of items, including clothing, meat, vegetables and exotic fruits, are sold in a maze of stalls and shops.

Minutes away to the south is the original main plaza, Plaza Machado, replete with galleries, museums, sidewalk cafes and carefully restored, 18th-century homes.

Vista Tours

Concordia and Copala. Vista Tours will pick you up at any hotel and take you on a six-hour trip via bus high into the Sierra Madre foothills to the remote villages of Concordia and Copala. The first stop is Concordia, a former mining town, filled with baroque architecture and artists who create traditional furniture and other handicrafts. Resident pigs wander the narrow, cobbled streets while being serenaded by crotchety roosters.

From Concordia, the road sweeps 14 miles upward over the rocky Magestral River to Copala, circa 1565, and a small central plaza in front of the San Jose stone church, built in 1740 and among the oldest in Sinaloa State. Ringed by mountains, Copala boasts views of distant ridges and peaks, cattle ranches and a bit of silver mining left over from the old days.

Lunch at Daniel Garrison’s restaurant is a highlight. The personable and articulate Garrison, whose mother and grandparents were born in Copala, serves traditional Mexican plates and a famed banana cream coconut pie.

Visitors can see the old cemetery on the hill, choose from a number of hiking trails or relax in the plaza.

The price for the excursion is $40 per person with lunch. Beer, soft drinks and bottled water on the bus are included.

Other side trips include a three-hour City & Shopping Tour, priced at $18 per person; a five-hour Tequila Tour to the arts and crafts village of La Noria, then to La Vinata, the only tequila distillery in the state of Sinaloa, and El Habal village and El Habaleno restaurant. The price is $27 per person (there is also an optional stop for lunch at El Habaleno).

Web site: www.vista tours.com.mx. All tours are commissionable.

Where to Stay

With more than 8,000 rooms in Mazatlan, accommodation rates are generally lower than those in other Mexican coastal resort destinations.

El Cid Mega Resort is Mexico’s largest self-contained resort with four hotels: the Castilla Beach Hotel, the Marina El Cid Hotel & Yacht Club, the Granada Country Club and the El Moro Beach Hotel. Call 800-525-1925; Web site: www.el cid.com.

Following are medium-priced beach hotels that offer special programs for families:

Hotel Playa, 800-762-5816, Web site: www.mazat lan.com.mx; Los Sabalos Resort Hotel, 800-528-8760, Web site: www.mazatlan. com.mx; Pueblo Bonito Resort, 800-990-8250, Web site: www.pueblobonito.com; Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, 800-990-8250, Web site: www.pueblobonito.com; Riviera Beach Resort; 800-782-4298, Web site: www. mazatlan.com.mx; Royal Villas Resorts, 800-898-3564, Web site: www.mazatlan. com.mx.

When You Book

High season is approximately Nov. 16 through March 15; shoulder, March 16 through June 15; low, June 16 through Nov. 15.

Mazatlan’s colorful Mardi Gras Carnival celebration takes place the last weekend before Lent, during shoulder season. Dating to the mid-1920s, Carnival is a celebration of fireworks, parades, dancing and merry making. Advance reservations are advised. Mazatlan Web sites: www.mazatlan.com.mx; www.mexonline.com.

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