Mazatlan, Mexico: First Impressions on Safety, Beaches, Nightlife, and More
I wasn't a fan. A perpetual player hater of beach cities throughout Latin America. Too many tourists, not enough first-world amenities.
Sure, the beach is ideal for certain things. There's nothing like swimming in the sea and surfing waves. But it's hard to spend more than a week or two when your WiFi cuts out every third day.
Well, at least for a digital nomad like me.
Then I decided to do a stint in Mazatlan, Mexico. Like a junkie looking for his fix, I wanted to find the perfect beach city. I wanted to find a place where I could hustle online while still getting my swim in each and every day.
No one goes to Mazatlan. Why? Well, the violence for one. Close to the home to the Sinaloa Cartel, the city has been plagued with violence in the past. Hell, it's still here.
Plus, Mazatlan is close to the States. It doesn't have the sex appeal of heading down to Colombia or Brazil.
So, the place just isn't on the radar of many a digital nomad. This isn't Medellin, Colombia or Lima, Peru. You won't find hordes of young bucks living here for months on end.
Should it be? Well, I'm not one to judge that for ya, but I've been fairly impressed with the place over the last month or so.
The beaches are stunning, the waves fun as hell, and the Internet more than stable. For a beach city with solid amenities, Mazatlan is tough to top.
Mazatlan offers the typical traveler and digital expat:
- Great beaches
- Waves for surfing and body boarding
- World-class sunsets
- Amazing food, especially for seafood fanatics
- Lots of stuff to do and tourism
- Stable Internet, especially for a beach city
- Decent nightlife for a smaller city
- Low costs
- …And more!
Now, let's not get it twisted. Mazatlan, Mexico certainly isn't perfect. There are safety issues, gringo pricing, and a few other issues to deal with. Plus, there aren't many other digital nomads to meet and greet with.
But overall, the city is certainly underrated if the beach becomes a priority for ya. Let's take a detailed look as to why…
First Impressions on Mazatlan
Now, I haven't been here for a month yet. Close, but it's still my first month living in Mazatlan, Mexico. So, this is legit first impressions.
I'm not a Mazatlan, Mexico expert just yet. Thus, take this post with a grain of salt. Straight observations, not expert advice.
Where to Stay in Mazatlan, Mexico?
When talking Mazatlan neighborhoods, I've been hanging around Zona Dorada for most of my time here. I spent a few nights in Olas Altas.
The places I've checked out are:
- Zona Dorada
- El Cid Marina
- Olas Altas
- Lomas de Mazatlan
- Los Pinos
The Malecon area is dope and cheap, but there's not much going on around that area – other than the beach and the boardwalk.
Lomas de Mazatlan and El Cid Marina are nice areas where many locals live, but I wouldn't say they're ideal for tourists. You're generally 5-15 minutes walking from the beach and the prices aren't much cheaper than what you'd pay to be on the beach in other areas.
Overall, I'd stay in Zona Dorada. The beaches are great and the amenities are tough to top in Mazatlan. But, it is a little more expensive here.
Olas Altas is scenic and I love the small beach there. However, it's pretty far from the rest of the city.
If money and budget are a concern, finding something on the Malecon near Mono Beach/Gym is a great idea.
Weather in Mazatlan, Mexico
I arrived in Mazatlan in April. The weather has been amazing. High 70s and low 80s damn near every day.
For beach living, that's pretty perfect. Warm enough to take a swim in the afternoon and always feel the heat. Cool enough to walk around in the mornings and evenings without sweating your balls off.
I'm talking highs in the 90s damn near every day. Humidity should be through the rough, too. And it apparently rains at least 2-3 times a week in the hot, humid summer months.
So, who knows? I'll have to see how it feels here. I'm a beach lover and fan of the heat. But, there's a point where it's so hot and sticky that you don't even want to go outside. Ever.
If Mazatlan weather gets like that, I'll be leaving with the quickness.
Is Mazatlan, Mexico Safe?
Well, I honestly couldn't give a complete answer to that just yet. Here's what I do know:
It seems pretty damn safe walking around during the day and at night, especially around Olas Altas and Zona Dorada. Probably as safe as Mexico City.
There's tourist police all over the area, especially around Zona Dorada. You also see “snowbirds” all around in the tourist zones. And by “snowbirds” I'm talking about old gringos who come down for the winter.
If your Granny can chill here, you'll probably be straight, too.
With that being said, I've also heard some unsettling things about safety in Mazatlan, Mexico.
I was chatting with a taxi driver about a week ago and the topic of cartels came up. I asked him about violence around the city and he broke it down for me.
Apparently, things work like this. Every 8-15+ months, the cartel wars flare up and spill over into Mazatlan.
When this happens, people try to stay in their homes as much as possible. Tourist shops close. If people can work from their home, they do. Parents might not send kids to school. The nightclubs are vacant, as parents don't allow kids, even grown ones, to go party.
Generally, the fighting occurs for 2-4 weeks inside the city. The cartels basically kill each other until there's a “winner” in the area. Once a certain group has control, the fighting and murder are done. And Mazatlan goes back to normal.
How accurate is this? I have legitimately no idea. But this taxi driver seemed to know his stuff.
Nightlife in Mazatlan, Mexico
I won't front. I'm not a Mazatlan, Mexico nightlife expert just yet. Hell, I've downed three beers and a couple drinks my whole time here.
But, I'm also one observant gringo. So, here's a few things I've noticed…
There are a few big discos or clubs here that seem legit. I'm talking:
- Joe's Oyster Bar
- El Mal del Puerco
Maybe a few others that I haven't heard of, checked out, or seen. For a city of around 500,000 people, the rumba here is pretty damn good.
Why? Because thousands of local Mexicans from the surrounding cities head to Mazatlan every single week for beach time and partying. It's a local hotspot.
So, you have people coming in every weekend to unwind, plus all the Mazatlan locals. It makes for a damned good night out.
As good as Mexico City Nightlife? Probably not, but decent for a beach city.
Mexico Food on the Pacific Coast
One thing I've absolutely loved about living in Mazatlan, Mexico? The Mexico food, especially the seafood!
I'm telling you…
This is one of the best places I've ever been to get amazing seafood for almost nothing.
Tuna, shrimp, red snapper, and oysters galore. The stuff is everywhere. It's fresh as can be and pretty damn cheap to boot.
If you're looking for great food in Latin America, then Mexico is impossible to top. For those who enjoy seafood, Mazatlan might be the best spot I've been. Seriously, I can't recommend the seafood in Mazatlan enough.
Plus, you'll find all the typical Mexican fare that you know and love. Tacos, quesadillas, and so many salsas. If you're a food, then you'll be more than pleased with many of the offerings in Mazatlan.
A few quick recommendations…
The restaurants around Plazuela Machado are all pretty good. You can't go wrong grabbing a meal in that area.
The best place I've tried? Pancho's in Zona Dorada. Sure, it's touristy, but that 21 Sauce Shrimp or whatever they call it…
To. Die. For.
Things to Do in Mazatlan, Mexico
Personally, I'm an outdoor addict. I love the ocean, beaches, and anything where I moving and doing.
So, I've found there's more than enough things to do in Mazatlan, Mexico. For example, you can:
- Go to the beach
- Body surf
- Rent ATVs
- Rent a catamaran
- Go deep sea fishing
- Hike the lighthouse
- …And so much more!
If you get bored here, you probably not a big fan of the beach life. And if that's the case, you wouldn't want to spend time in Mazatlan anyway.
English Levels in Mazatlan?
Well, that's a tough one. Unless someone is well-educated or working in tourism, then it's unlikely they'll speak English.
People in the tourist zones often speak English because it helps them make cold hard cash. But these aren't necessarily the people you want to spend time with. They look at you like a walking dollar sign.
I'd say you'll need Spanish to make friends in Mazatlan, as most locals don't speak conversational English. Some do. Don't get me wrong. There are more people who have worked and lived in the States here than in other Latin American beach cities.
But, Spanish is still a huge benefit. Luckily, it's not to difficult to learn these days. You can pick up conversational Spanish in 3-6 months – if you combine traveling with online lessons.
Downsides to Living in Mazatlan, Mexico
No city is perfect! Especially a beach city that is known for tourism and violence. Quite the combo.
While I've been pleasantly surprised with what Mazatlan, Mexico has to offer, there's no denying a few minor issues. Namely…
- Safety: I haven't had an issue in Mazatlan. Knock on wood. But there's no denying that the threat of violence looms in this city. I don't think Mazatlan is 100% safe like Lima, Peru is. If this is your first time in Latin America, I'm not sure I'd recommend this place as a spot to start.
- Small Population: You just don't have a huge number of people to meet here. There are only 500,000 people in Mazatlan. This isn't Mexico City with its 23+ million inhabitants. You'll see the same people ate beach, in the gym, and at the bar over and over.
- Tons of Tourists: Every weekend the beach fills up with people from other small cities around Mazatlan. During the week it's somewhat dead, but come Friday afternoon and serenity is gone until next Monday.
- Local Love: I still haven't put a finger on this one yet, but locals aren't as interested in foreigners as in other areas in Latin America. It's not just foreigners, either. Some of the out-of-town Mexicans I've chilled with here have noticed it, too. Basically, since Mazatlan has been a tourist town for decades, the locals are all cool with tourists, but they tend to keep you at bay – because they expect you to leave next week.
First Impressions on Mazatlan, Mexico: Safety, Beaches, Nightlife, and More
Overall, I'm not addicted or enamored just yet. But Mazatlan, Mexico is growing on me with each passing week.
The beautiful beaches, wild waves, stunning sunsets, and stable Internet offer a lot to travelers and digital expats alike.
While it's not perfect, it can be ideal. If you speak a little Spanish and can invest a little time, Mazatlan is the best beach town or city I've been to. High praise for a perpetual hater of beach city shenanigans!