El Meson de los Laureanos restaurant, in El Quelite // © 2014 Mazatlan Tourism Board
Mazatlan is one of many Mexican destinations that can hold a visitor’s interest for days on end. The beachfront city’s mix of colonial history, great seafood restaurants and vibrant nightlife holds enough charm to fill several vacations.
Even so, for a change of pace, some travelers will want to venture out and explore the surrounding countryside. Three small towns — two of which are Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns) — make excellent day trips.
El Rosario is a Pueblo Magico located just 30 miles from Mazatlan.
At first glance, El Rosario — a former mining town — fails to impress, since the ambiance is more contemporary than historic. The town’s history comes to life with a visit to the Baroque-style Nuestra Senora del Rosario, a church that features a gold-encrusted altar. The church is actually a rebuild of the former 18th-century Mission of Our Lady of Rosario, which was destroyed when a mining tunnel collapsed. The residents laboriously moved the stones across town to build the new church. The spooky ruins of the original church can also be visited.
Rosario’s second claim to fame is as the birthplace of the much-beloved ranchera singer Lola Beltran. Beltran died in 1996, and a small museum in El Rosario chronicles her life. Her home has been transformed into the El Tiro de San Antonio restaurant. Visitors should consider including the restaurant in their day trip plans — and ask the staff to play some Beltran hits while they dine.
A day trip to Cosala could easily turn into an overnight, since the Pueblo Magico town lies about 120 miles north of Mazatlan.
Sights to visit in Cosala include the 18th-century Santa Ursula Church (ask to see the centuries-old stone sundial), the spacious Plaza de Armas and the Mining and History Museum, which occupies a 19th-century house. There are approximately 250 colonial-era historic buildings in Cosala, making it a great destination for a rambling city walk. Along the way, visitors will see crafts for sale — look for Cosala’s prized Ixchel-fiber weavings and baskets.
Quelite is a personal favorite of mine, even though it hasn’t achieved Pueblo Magico status. This is also the closest of the three towns, being only a 25-mile drive northeast of Mazatlan.
Perhaps the main appeal of El Quelite is its sleepy, Old Mexico atmosphere. The town’s top attraction is the restaurant El Meson de los Laureanos. This is a place to settle in for at least an hour or two, enjoying a phenomenal spread of regional dishes, live music and displays of folk art. After a meal, head toward the back of the restaurant, which opens to an outdoor area of free roaming chickens, ducks and goats. Children and animal lovers can get some tortilla scraps from the kitchen and make a few friends among the livestock.
There’s not a lot to see in El Quelite — it’s mainly a town for a quiet stroll. I enjoyed poking my head into the church and walking through the old cemetery to the edge of town.
When it was time to leave, I said goodbye to the 19th century and headed back to 21st-century Mazatlan.