We arrived in Mazatlán after making the 5+ hour drive from Topolobampo, our ferry arrival port, and made our way to Fernandos RV Park, a little fenced-in lot located in a back neighborhood, just outside “The Golden Zone.” Mazatlán does not offer much in the way of camping, unless you like the accommodations at the local Walmart or prefer Stone Island, another great option, but requires a water taxi ride to town each day. We weren’t sure how that would work with Quito, our 14-year-old furry travel companion, so we opted to camp in town.
We lucked out, grabbing the very last spot and squeezed in between the massive rigs camped out for the season, making La Tortuga, our 27’ Minnie Winnie, look “mini” for the first time! I also think we were the only ones in the park without a giant screen TV in their outside living room. Apparently, you can RV and still live in luxury at the same time. Well, some can…just not us.
Our camp was about 2 miles from the famous Mazatlán Malecon, an almost 30-kilometer sea wall, known for being one of the largest in the world. That sounds like a challenge, doesn’t it?! On day one, I decided to walk to the Malecon in order to walk “the” Malecon. Once arrived, I was tired, dehydrated, and definitely not ready to walk another 30 kilometers. On day two, I took back-up: Noah, more water, and the bus! At 11 pesos per person, that’s 50 cents each, the bus is the best option to get you where you need to go in Mazatlán.
Just like many old cities, progress comes in with a shovel, ready to make everything bigger and better, leaving the old town in the dust. Well, not in Mazatlán. Old Mazatlán might still be the best part of this seaside destination. It sits along the far southern end of the Malecon and has the best options we found for exploring, eating and shopping.
Pino Suárez Municipal Market
The Pino Suárez market sits only a few blocks inland from Old Mazatlán and offers everything you could possibly need, and even more, you don’t! Most large towns in Mexico have a similar market, a place where the locals go shopping, and if you haven’t experienced one, I’d highly suggest a visit. I can’t think of anywhere better to buy clothes, gifts, groceries, dog food by the scoop, and even an entire pig’s head or fully skinned chicken- all in one place! It’s incredible!
Hint! If you’re a vegetarian, have a sensitive stomach, or you’re just not a fan of seeing slabs of meat sliced, diced, and hung from hooks, I’d suggest skipping these few isles.
My favorites at the market are the fresh vegetables and bread isles, where you can load up on fresh, colorful produce and a vast variety of gluten, all for little more than the change in your pocket. The only difficult part is deciding on which of the hundreds of stands to visit.
Lastly, the market is a photographer’s dream, so be sure and bring your camera along with you. The colors, the people…the hanging chickens- there’s a photo op at every corner. Note of caution! These markets can get crowded and where there are crowds, there is an opportunity for theft. Nothing about the Mazatlán market ever made me worry, but I’ve been warned in other cities to leave all valuables out of sight.
El Faro Lighthouse
A few miles up a narrow, windy road, above Old Mazatlán, sits the El Faro Lighthouse, standing guard at 500 feet above this beautiful Pacific Seaport, the largest between the U.S and the Panama Canal. We parked the RV along the Malecon (yes, our 27′ RV) and hopped a Pulomonia (golf cart) to the trailhead, where we began the climb to the top. I wouldn’t call the climb strenuous, as I may have been passed by a 100-year-old Mexican woman in flat shoes and a basket on her head, but it still wasn’t easy.
The paved pathway overlooks the city and ocean below, and is full of amazing photo opportunities at every turn, not to mention cats. The 20 or more resident felines were either sleeping along the trail or joining us in our expedition to the top, where apparently they get fed by the caretaker of the lighthouse, and probably tourists along the way. Not a bad life! They were the perfect distraction for Noah, who finally stopped asking when we’d get there.
Transportation in Mazatlan
Mazatlán has one of the better transportation systems we’ve come across in our travels so far, which is a huge benefit for travelers in RV’s without a tow vehicle. Even if you do have your own vehicle, I’d highly suggest taking public transportation, if for no other reason than the entertainment factor.
Below are the transportation options we witnessed in Mazatlán:
Buses: The buses are the cheapest and best option to get around, that is if you can figure out which bus to take. To catch a bus, stand at the bus stop and put a finger out to let the driver know you want on. If you don’t, they will pass by without stopping, assuming you are waiting for another bus.
The green bus is the best option for getting around the Malecon and Centro as they do a continuous loop, and you can get on and off anywhere you like. There are plenty of white buses as well, which all seem to stop in Centro, but have many other destinations painted on their windshield as well, none of which I recognized or wanted to take a chance on.
If you want more information about the bus system, ask one of the 1 million gringos living in the area, who seem to know the scoop on just about everything.
Taxis: The taxis, mostly green and white four-door sedans, can be flagged down from anywhere, and will take you anywhere you’d like to go, for all kinds of prices. The taxi prices in the city are not regulated so the driver can charge whatever he likes, which also means you can negotiate. If you don’t like the cost, refuse the ride and wait for the next taxi, which will typically result in a lower fare from your current driver. Except with buses, always negotiate your price ahead!
Pulomonias…aka, pimped out golf carts: Similar to a taxi, these cool rides can be flagged down from anywhere and will also quote you a range of prices, depending on where you’d like to go. They are all decked out with a louder-than-needed stereo system and they are not afraid to crank it up! It was our preferred way to travel as we had our dog Quito with us. Be sure and agree on a price before you depart and once you feel you have the best price, use that as your guideline and bargaining power for each ride thereafter.
Red Trucks: This is a small truck with some benches built into the back that will pick you up from just about anywhere. You’ll definitely want to put a finger out to hail one of these or they will not stop. However, when they do, you may find yourself sharing the ride with quite a few other people, groceries, and maybe even some livestock. And there is no such thing as a “maximum passenger load” on these guys. If you can fit, or at least hang off the back, you fit. When you want off, just pound on the side of the truck to get them to stop. This has become my favorite way to travel as the experience is so fun and different every time, especially when I was the one hanging off the back.
The Mazatlán Aquarium
The Mazatlán Aquarium is certainly not the biggest or best aquarium we’ve ever visited, but it is a nice way to spend an afternoon, offering relief from the heat and a change of pace from the beach.
Our trip to the aquarium coincided with a local school’s second-grade field trip. We followed this group from show to show, and when the kids were picked as volunteers to kiss a sea lion or have their heads used as a human bird perch for a parrot, Noah lucked out and was chosen every time. Maybe it had something to do with his red hair and pale skin that seemed to draw everyone’s attention. We were the only tourists there that day.
Unfortunately, Quito was not allowed to visit the aquarium, so we had to cut our time short in order to rescue him from the increasing temperature inside the RV. I would have liked to stay a bit longer as we had just found the fish who like to nibble on and clean your cuticles, and my hands were in desperate need of some love!
After 5 action-packed days, we were ready to leave the big city and experience some of Mexico’s inner pueblos. Unfortunately, our plans changed about 30 minutes outside of town when we experienced our first roadside “incident,” blowing a rear tire. Fortunately, unlike the narrow, windy roads- with no shoulders- we found in Baja, we had plenty of room to get off to the side, and Gregg got to work changing the tire. About 90% of the way through, and a few choice words later, we were visited by the Green Angels and a tractor full of farmers all prepared to help us out. The Green Angels are a bit like AAA, but their help comes free along the toll roads; the farmers were just there to offer help, or who knows, maybe laugh at us for not calling the Green Angels first.
La Tortuga Lesson #6: Don’t spend an hour changing your own tire along a Mexican toll road when you can call the Green Angels for FREE help.
With the tire changed and the limited options in the small towns ahead, we opted to return to Mazatlán, where we stayed another four days, awaiting the installation of four new tires, and completely blowing our travel budget for the week. We used that time to knock out some school with Noah and meet back up with some friends who had just ferried over from Baja.
All in all, Mazatlán was a great first stop on the mainland, allowing us to prepare for the next phase of the journey. It’s also the perfect place to be if you need a new set of tires!