Mazatlán: The “Pearl of the Pacific”

By Janet Blaser

With a long history of welcoming immigrants, this mid-size city on Mexico’s west coast offers visitors more than the standard “golden trio” of great weather, reasonable prices, and a stunningly beautiful location. Mazatlán is one of Mexico’s few colonial towns actually on the coast, with miles of beautiful beaches, a thriving year-round cultural scene, fantastic fresh seafood, and a friendly community of local people and expats.

Recent renovations of the city have made it even more attractive, with two elegant oceanfront parks, a completely re-done Centro Historico, an easier-to-navigate path and glass-floored lookout at El Faro (the highest lighthouse in the world), and a beautified malecon, the 12-mile boardwalk along the glittering Pacific Ocean that now features Mazatlán’s first bicycle path.

Mazatlán also offers “user-friendly” healthcare, with two modern and fully-equipped hospitals as well as many smaller neighborhood clinics. Most doctors and dentists speak English, and the cost for a standard office visit is about $25. You’ll also find banks everywhere, along with familiar stores like Home Depot and Walmart (as well as a plethora of small neighborhood tiendas) and a myriad of flights operating year-round to the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere from the recently expanded Mazatlán International Airport.

The city is justifiably proud of its status of one of the biggest shrimping ports in the world, and that means you can buy fresh wild and farmed shrimp at incredible prices—and find them in omelets, burritos, pasta dishes, tacos, salads, and more. Fresh-caught tuna, marlin, swordfish, mahi-mahi, and snapper are abundant here too, and the local markets are full of a mind-boggling array of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, including mango, papaya, pineapple, and avocado.

The majority of expats live along the coastline, within easy walking distance to long stretches of beach. Each part of the city has its own style, and whether you’re looking for a stand-alone house on a shady tree-lined street, a high-rise condo with sweeping views of the ocean and mountains, a modern home in a gated community with an award-winning golf course, or a simpler apartment or casita in a more Mexican neighborhood, Mazatlán truly has something for everyone.

Retire in Mazatlán

Retire in Mazatlán
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Yes, the beaches are beautiful, the weather is perfect most of the year, and the cost of living is low, low, low. But what makes Mazatlán really stand out as a retirement destination is the cultural scene: a refined, ever-changing, and exciting tapestry of entertainment, events, and fun things to do—many of them free.

An internationally known dance and music school in the Plaza Machado guarantees a constant stream of young energy and performances, and the Angela Peralta Theater, a gorgeous, 1,200-seat theater built at the turn-of-the-century, is home to a smorgasbord of dance, theater, music, and other events. These include the annual eight-week Cultural Festival (hundreds of free and ticketed events throughout the city), Dia de la Musica (10 stages set up in the streets of the Centro Historico with free music), and the José Limón Dance Festival (a week of contemporary dance from around the world). The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated for two days with family-friendly parades, theater events and costumes, and bystanders are encouraged to dress up, paint their faces like catrinas, and join in the fun.

The oceanfront malecon, or boardwalk, hosts marathons that attract international runners, as does the annual Ciclotour, a week of on-and off-road bicycle races. And of course there’s the annual Carnaval—the third biggest in the world—another week of parades, fireworks, live music, and more. Admission is always reasonable, with the most expensive tickets hovering around $15.

Sitting peacefully off the coast are Deer, Bird, and Wolf islands; all are environmentally protected and home to a variety of birds and reptiles. Visitors are permitted to hike and relax on the quiet shores, which afford a different perspective of the city’s coastline. Whales and dolphins migrate through these waters, and boat excursions are particularly popular (and almost always yield amazing photos). If you’re really lucky and it’s the right time of year, you may be fortunate enough to witness manta rays leaping out of the water during their annual mating ritual.

The big, vibrant expat community is welcoming and full of opportunities for volunteering, out-of-town excursions, and special events like the seasonal farmer’s market, Comedy Club, and music festivals on the beach. Of special note are the Mazatlán Tourist Aide Volunteers, or “blue shirts” as they’re known, who set up in busy areas of the city to give information to the thousands of cruise ship passengers and other tourists who come to Mazatlán each week.

There’s so much to do—but if you’d rather just relax under a palapa with a cold cerveza and a couple of shrimp tacos, Mazatlán’s got you covered there too.

Lifestyle in Mazatlán

Lifestyle in Mazatlán
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Mazatlán has several distinctive parts of town where most expats live, each with many neighborhoods and different flavors (but all boast beautiful sunsets). Centro Historico and Olas Altas front a small bay with a sweet beach and feature more than a dozen blocks of gorgeous colonial homes, tree-shaded plazas, and a bustling cultural and culinary scene; this is where the Angela Peralta Theater is, and also where the annual Cultural and Music Festivals take place, as well as Carnaval. You can walk to everything: restaurants, the central market, the beach. Most homes were built at the turn-of-the-century and have a New Orleans-flair: charming interior courtyards, original tiled floors, and high wood-beamed ceilings.

Going north along the oceanfront malecon, next up is the tourist-filled hotel zone, with all the trappings—and noise—you’d expect. But go inland a couple blocks and you’re in tree-filled neighborhoods like Lomas and Sabalo Country, where houses, duplexes, and condos have yards and driveways. Sidewalks lead to parks, churches, and small tiendas (stores), and charming coffee shops and taquerias. The beach, with Mazatlán’s trio of islands just offshore, is a short walk away, as are a plethora of restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Major shopping—Home Depot, WalMart, Sam’s Club—is less than a 10-minute drive or bus ride, as is the biggest hospital in town.

Cerritos and the Marina areas are at the far north end of Mazatlán. The long stretch of beach, although lined with condos and hotels, is still quiet and home to a great surf spot. The marina is billed as Latin America’s biggest; shopping is easy with the new Galerias Mall, which flaunts a state-of-the-art movie theater and lots of U.S. stores; WalMart is across the street, and the new Marina Hospital puts doctors and medical services at your fingertips. Condos, houses of all sizes, and more affordable duplexes in gated communities offer choices for every budget. It’s a favorite area for families, too, with private schools, gyms and athletic fields, and more new restaurants and services cropping up as more people move here.

Cost of Living in Mazatlán

Cost of Living in Mazatlán
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While costs are less in Mexico, and in Mazatlán in particular, as time passes this is changing. Like anywhere else, you’ll pay more for beachfront property or a fantastic ocean view; that said, homes and condos can still be found for under $200,000. Depending on the part of town, a furnished two-bedroom apartment or small house can cost $500 a month, plus utilities.

It’s true that beer is cheaper than water, and a massage only costs about $25. An in-home visit from a vet costs about $10; a plumber or electrician a little more. Things like eyeglasses, lab tests, and taxis are so much less than in the U.S. it can be unbelievable, and if you’ve reached age 60 you can register for an INAPAM card, which gives seniors discounts at a myriad of places, including half-price for long-distance bus travel within Mexico.

Meals at restaurants run the gamut of $2 for a fresh shrimp taco at a neighborhood café to $25 to $30 for an elegant meal at an upscale, fine-dining restaurant where you’ll be expected to dress up. (That means closed shoes and no shorts) An average lunch for two costs between $5 to $8 at any number of small restaurants, cafés, or palapa restaurants on the beach. Delicious whole roast chickens, a Sunday tradition, can be bought at small rotisserie shops for about $3, with rice, beans, tortillas, and salsa included.

Here’s an example of a monthly budget for a couple living in Mazatlán:

ExpenseUS$
Housing (two-bedroom apartment)$500
Utilities (electric, water, gas, internet)$50 to $60
Groceries$300
Entertainment (massages, theater, live events)$100
Housekeeping$60
Transport/Public$40
Total$,1050 to $1,060

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