Mazatlan is an old player in the resort city game that has kept its authentic charms. Its best scene is tucked masterfully in its historic streets and expansive golden coast. Cancun, well, what is there else to say about Mexico’s tourism head honcho? It practically has everything you’ll ever look for in a jam-packed holiday.
A resort city that has well-kept its authenticity despite the tourism boom, Mazatlan is casual, historic, and laid-back. Despite its enormous size, the city is modest and sees fewer international crowds.
You will most definitely feel what a real large seaside Mexican city is all about. With a rich historic center, the longest Malecon, and even richer gastronomy, Mazatlan is underrated and special.
What Makes Mazatlan Unique?
Off the Beaten Path Charm
Often called “Sleepy Mazatlan”, the city is often overlooked due to the shimmer of other Pacific gems such as Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. Mazatlan is one of Western Mexico’s most underrated cities that packs quite outstanding appeals.
You can find the city on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, just across the Gulf of California. Mazatlan’s modest name perfectly hides the charm it has built since its establishment. The sleepy city despite sitting alongside Mexico’s greats isn’t overrun by international tourists all year round.
Most visitors you’ll see in the city during nonpeak months are Mexican. They’re mostly from other neighboring cities and the occasional foreign backpacker. Mazatlan can still be crowded but nothing as dramatic as the crowds you’ll catch in Los Cabos, or Cancun.
However, the best thing about having a more modest reception, Mazatlan’s authenticity is well-kept. You’ll quickly learn that visiting places that are off the beaten path do have their charms. Mazatlan can still feel like a classic Mexican seaside city, as the city isn’t as Americanized and commercialized.
Endless Coastal Stretch, Beaches Galore
In seaside cities in Mexico like Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, you can expect that there will always be a plethora of beaches. In Mazatlan’s case, it even tops a myriad of cities in Mexico with its utter number of beaches on its expansive coast.
First off, Mazatlan is enormous. It has over 3,068 sq km or 1,184 sq mi worth of land, which is even bigger than “big” Cancun. You can expect to have plenty of places to visit. And “plenty” might even be an understatement.
With this stark size, you can expect an expansive coast as well. Mazatlan sports a staggering 27-km or 17-mi stretch. You can surely find a beach to your liking here. However, if you ask a local or a Mazatlan-loving expat what the best beaches are, you’ll most probably hear:
Playa Olas Altas
Since the 1950s, Playa Olas Altas has been regarded as one of Mazatlan’s best beaches. The beach is especially famous among surfers who come for the tremendous waves. During the week, vacationers can enjoy some privacy on this length of sand.
Weekends, however, draw a greater population of both locals and tourists. Surfers assemble for the high surf, and cliff divers practice their sports for tips.
Playa Cameron is known for its beautiful sunsets and excellent water conditions. There are no other places in the city like it when it comes to boats along the coastline. Along the shore, there are also several merchants offering a variety of goods.
Due to its ideal location in the city’s tourist core, the region around Playa Camaron has a large selection of hotels and vacation rentals.
Playa Las Gaviotas
The waves on Playa Gaviotas are rather calm, making it a favorite swimming and sand-lounging spot. There are numerous restaurants and hotels within walking distance of the beach.
Soft golden sands, brilliant sunsets, and a throng of tourists and locals. This beach is also a great site to organize tours and excursions. Most of them can take you to the islands, take you fishing, and rent scuba gear.
The Golden Zone is perhaps Mazatlan’s answer to Cancun’s Hotel Zone and Los Cabos’ Tourist Corridor. Golden Zone or “Zona Dorada” is perhaps the most popular feature of Mazatlan. You can find hotels, restaurants, shops, nightlife, and outdoor activities here.
The Zona Dorada, located four miles north (6.4 km) of downtown, is essentially the heart of the city’s tourist sector. It boasts a sophisticated vibe and plenty of amenities.
Mazatlan’s Golden Zone is vibrant and celebratory, and it’s always a hit with thrill-seekers. It is located away from the tranquil serenity of Isla de la Piedra or other peaceful beaches.
It offers a diverse range of activities and sights to view. For nearly every visitor, this has become the place to be. The Golden Zone of Mazatlan is where all of the major tourist activities and entertainment take place.
In addition to the plethora of things to do in the area, the Golden Zone Mazatlan offers a wide range of lodging alternatives. The area offers budget motels to luxury hotels. Plus, the lavish resorts you’d expect from such a well-known tourist destination.
At 10 kilometers (6 miles) long, the Mazatlan Malecon is arguably one of the longest in the world. It can top its more famous Puerto Vallarta counterpart.
A staple in most Mexican seaside cities, a Malecon or promenade is popular among city walkers and morning joggers. Malecones across Latin America best define traditional cities, evoking an air of authenticity.
Many monuments and statues can be found along the Malecon. There are numerous important monuments in the city found along the Avenida del Mar portion. Among the many, check out, the Pacifico Brewery Monument, and Mazatlán’s largest monument, the Fisherman’s Monument.
Across the Malecon, you can find a variety of fantastic beach seafood restaurants to choose from. Some food places are in Palapas, open-air palm-roofed huts, or full-on buildings. Every year, Mazatlán’s Carnival parades take place on the Malecon as well, making it one of the most exciting places in the city.
You can trust that walking along the Malecon is safe, yet it is still best to be careful. Always exercise caution as you would where you’re from.
Just off the coast of Mazatlan, Deer Island is one of the most popular offshore excursions from the city. The city may have fewer tourist crowds, you still can’t help but want to feel a bit of isolation from the big city. Deer Island perfectly provides solitude and quiet, along with captivating vistas.
Calm and isolated, Deer Island can feel like an escape. You can enjoy a classic leisurely stroll here along the white sand beaches, with a view of Mazatln’s skyline. Deer Island is only 1.4 miles away (2.3 km) and can be reached by catamaran, amphibious ferry boat, or sailboat.
You can even swim or kayak to the island from the Golden Zone’s shoreline if you dare. Enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, a banana ride, or simply soaking up the rays in the tranquil and pristine surrounding seas.
Old Town Flashbacks
Mazatlan’s old town holds the city’s rich history well-kept and preserved by the locals. Despite the ever-developing tourism scene of Mexico, the city has kept its roots and has weathered the tides of time. Located right in the peninsula that juts out of the city center, the Centro Historica is the best place to get to know Mazatlan better.
Step back into time as you walk around the Centro Historica, with its colonial-era musings. Cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings define Mazatlan’s old town. Many of these buildings date far back to the time of the Spanish.
You will also find some of the best cultural features, including art galleries and museums across the district. Be sure to sample the local cuisine in fabulous restaurants, shopping, and more, all within the Centro Historico.
The best time to explore the Centro Historico is right before sunset when the entire area is drowning in afternoon gold. The effect illuminates the buildings’ orange, green, and purple hues.
Historically, thanks to its geography Mazatlan has been exposed to a slew of different cultures. You are bound to come across an impeccable gastronomical scene. Thanks to foreign influences coupled with the already rich native culture.
If you’re one for cheap eats, you can sample many of the city’s staple dishes from a plethora of street food places across the city. You can be sure to find numerous street food options in the city. Sample from food trucks to sidewalk carts to plates served out of house windows, where long lines are good signs.
Look for spice-rubbed charcoal-grilled chicken, chili lime corn on the cob, and ceviche made with the fresh catch of the day. If you want to sample everything, a cuisine tour is a great option. Tomatl, designed by a local Mazatleca, is top-rated. They offer street food tours as well as taco, mezcal, and beer tours.
If you want to try something a little bit more upscale, you have many restaurant options in Mazatlan as well. You can sample menus from restaurants such as El Presidio, an alfresco place, or Casa 46 for a perfect ensemble of local and international dishes.
The blueprint of tourism success, Cancun has everything you could ever want from a major resort city. Its appeal can have all kinds of travelers coming in by the millions. In Cancun, you can have a well-developed city, stunning beaches, and history at your doorstep.
Brimming with thrills and entertainment, Cancun is famous for its dynamic and energy that none can ever match in the Americas. You will have hotels and resorts along its famous expansive beach stretch. But what’s amazing about Cancun is that it has both ancient ruins by day, and lively parties by night.
What Makes Cancun Unique?
The Biggest Nightlife Scene in the Caribbean
If you’re a party-loving traveler, Cancun is probably the nightlife capital of the entire Americas. First known for its gorgeous beach expanse, Cancun’s party scene is currently perhaps its most famous selling point.
Imagine exploring most of the Riviera Maya’s magic by day, and then you have music, dancing, and all-out fun by night. Cancun definitely rhymes with “fun”.
The city’s vibrant and dynamic nightlife is perhaps its most defining draw beyond its classic natural and historical charms. Cancun is indeed a purposely-built city but it sure does pack quite a punch. Imagine having all that adventure across nature and history, then cap the day off as the city turns into one big nightclub.
Here are some of the most packed clubs in the city:
Club-loving travelers across Mexico will most definitely know Coco Bongo. This Mexican nightclub brand has its own trademark shows that are unique and entertaining. The fun and entertainment Coco Bongo brings in Cancun is as grand as the city itself.
Coco Bongo is one of the most famous superclubs in the city, thanks to its theatrical shows, expect to have your senses stimulated. You can marvel at the many cabarets and circus-esque shows that are held regularly. Expect to witness theatricalities reminiscent of Las Vegas right in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
On top of its flamboyant shows, the club also hosts events headlined by international music personalities and DJs. Coco Bongo offers world-class entertainment for anyone willing to have fun in Cancun’s animated evenings.
Mandala Beach Club
Apart from Coco Bongo, Mandala is also another quirky club in the city that offers trademark themes and shows. Mandala Beach Club is located right on the white sands of Cancun Beach in the Hotel Zone. Expect to find a perfect mix of a tropical vibe, nightclub pleasures, and Native Indian overtones.
Mandala Beach Club’s patrons are mostly swimsuit-donning guests, with a drink or two in their hands. Its convenient beach location allows you to have an ecstatic time after a relaxing time at the beach.
Perhaps the biggest club in Cancun, The City stays true to its name by organizing impressive music events and parties. The superclub hosts show that usually feature big international names in music. This makes The City one of the must-visits in town.
Imagine a superclub that is able to host over 5,000 people, having parties and concerts all night long. The City is a nightlife powerhouse in Cancun, expect to catch a couple of grand shows during your stay.
Thanks to its Yucatan address, Cancun sits close to many of the Ancient Mayan remnants, giving a glimpse of the region’s rich ancient past. You can have ancient cities in ruins sporting colossal pyramids and elaborate architecture.
If you’re a nerd for the world’s ancient structures such as the pyramids of Egypt, you can drool over how many are speckled near Cancun. You can avail of the many tours offered around the city, or even in hotels’ holiday packages.
Part of Quintana Roo’s initiatives, Cancun’s state, is to make these ruins accessible to tourists. The ruins themselves have amassed quite an interest to the international community. This has made them one of the must-visit when in Mexico.
Here are some of the most famous and accessible sites:
Hotel Zone guests can have easy access to one of the many ruins across Quintana Roo. The ruins of El Rey or “The King”, are located right within the Hotel Zone, fronting the Caribbean Sea. if you’re planning to conquer as many ruins as you can, El Rey is the best first stop.
What makes El Rey even more appealing aside from its accessibility is its interesting location. You can witness an ancient ruin right along one of the most developed parts of the city. This showcases a rather interesting contrast, triggering a spark in curiosity and a bit of variety.
It was concluded that El Rey was built around 200 AD, during the start of the civilization’s rise. Back in the day, El Rey used to be a port for the trading and transport of goods.
Despite its lesser foot traffic, Coba houses the tallest ancient structures in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ancient city that sits just north of Cancun is often overshadowed by the iconic Chichen Itza.
El Castillo or the city’s main pyramid stands 135 feet or 11 meters, and is Coba’s most defining feature. Featuring 120 steps reaching the top, visitors are actually allowed to climb the staggering height with the help of a rope at the center.
It may be underrated compared to other more famous entries, but the city back then was a seat of power in the Mayan world. Coba was an important city in the region built during the rise of civilization. The region’s agriculture and trade routes were controlled by the city.
Perhaps one of the most famous entries of the region, Ek Balam is full of curiosities and awe. Easily accessible from Cancun, you can find one too many tours to Ek Balam. Most of these tours are readily available in hotels as part of a package, or tour agencies across the city.
The discovery of Ek Balam was actually just in the 80s and excavation didn’t start until the late 90s. This makes the ancient city one of the latest additions to the Yucatan’s endless roster of ancient ruins. Due to it being located right inside a thick forest, the discovery of the ruins took longer than most.
The Acropolis in Ek Balam is its most defining feature. With a staggering 100 feet or 30 meters in height, the pyramid is imposing and eccentric. You can marvel at its intricate exterior, pondering its mysterious past. Such is the case for the rest of what’s left of the Mayan civilization in the entire Yucatan.
A Buffet of Natural Wonders
Beyond Cancun’s animated nightlife and its curious ruins, the city also offers its wealth in natural beauty. Cancun is surrounded by many of Mexico’s most interesting natural features. From under-the-sea wonders to curious natural formations deep in the jungle, Cancun is jam-packed.
First off, you have access to the Mesoamerican Barrier Beef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The reef system offers beautiful underwater features together with a rich variety of marine life. You can take part in the many diving and snorkeling tours from the city.
Deep in the jungle that surrounds the city, you can find natural sinkholes filled with water called Cenotes. These formations are usually filled with swimmable water, surrounded by lush vegetation at the rim. Cenotes are also the trademark of Cancun and the entire Yucatan as well.
But the best and most iconic natural feature of the city has to be its expansive stretch of white-sand beach. The 13-mile beach stretch (21 km) boasts soft gleaming white sand and clear blue shallow waters. The entire stretch is a marvel in itself, further upscaled by the extensive line of hotels and resorts fronting the Caribbean Sea.
Running parallel to the imposing 13-mile beach stretch, the Hotel Zone or Zona Hotelera in Cancun is its most famous landmark. The zone consists of over 140 hotels offering a spectrum of services and experiences to guests of the legendary city.
From affordable stays to opulent resorts, Hotel Zone can offer possibly everything to every type of traveler. You can consider the zone to be the beating heart of the city as you don’t only have hotels and resorts here. You can also find shopping, parties, and the best food in the Hotel Zone.
Here are some of the top-rated accommodations:
For the well-heeled traveler, the Ritz-Carlton is synonymous with luxury and sophistication. You can find that the Ritz-Carlton lives up to the brand’s reputation. Its 365 suites are complete with the necessary luxury amenities. Plus, it has an ambiance that evokes elegance and sophistication.
Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun
As the name suggests, LeBlanc Spa Resort is an all-white beacon of relaxation and luxury in the Hotel Zone. Its unique and extravagant features distinguish the resort from the rest that line across the zone.
In LeBlanc, you will find that all your needs and more are planned and taken care of. Alluding to its spa-resort name, expect to be relaxed, invigorated, and excited while you stay here. You can also enjoy sprawling vistas of the Caribbean.
Secrets The Vine
For couples, and adult friend groups, Secrets The Vine don’t hold their charms a secret. With an extensive service, the resort offers one of the best accommodation experiences you can have in Cancun. Expect to be well taken care of with spa services, yoga sessions, and wine tasting events.
For foodies, you also have six on-site restaurants ready to satisfy your palate, each offering extensive menus. And if you’re done with the beach, the resort also has outdoor pools with sweeping views of the Caribbean.
Is Mazatlan Better Than Cancun?
When it comes to a premier holiday experience, full of dynamics and thrills, Cancun definitely takes the bag. The city has toppled all others, thanks to its complete roster of features that cater to everything a tourist could ever need. In simpler terms, you have everything in Cancun. Think history, culture, nature, beach, and nightlife all wrapped in a ball of dynamic energy.
But that doesn’t mean that Mazatlan fares too far from Cancun. The old Western Mexican gem is perfect for those who don’t prefer the overwhelming highs of Cancun. Mazatlan is authentic, slow, and laid-back, yet it can also be touristy. And if you prefer cheaper seaside cities, Mazatlan is a warm embrace.
What Is Better – Mazatlan or Cancun?
Cancun fares better if you’re up for a jam-packed holiday experience in a resort city. Largely because Cancun has everything you could ever want in a holiday.
The Cancun experience encompasses nightlife, ancient ruins, a great beach, and a whole slew of natural wonders. On top of that, Cancun is safer than Mazatlan. But the only drawback is the more expensive choice.
Is Mazatlan More Expensive Than Cancun?
Thanks to its higher demand, and unwavering fame, Cancun is the more expensive option. In fact, its costs fare way higher than Mazatlan. The pacific gem of Mazatlan is the best option if you want cheaper costs for an authentic Mexican gem.
Is Mazatlan Close to Cancun?
Mazatlan and Cancun sit on opposite sides of the country. They are approximately 2,013 km (1,251 mi) away from each other, directly.
Where Is Mazatlan Compared to Cancun?
Mazatlan straddles right at the Pacific coast of Mexico, northwest of the country. Cancun on the other hand is located at the Caribbean coast, southeast of the country. As you can tell, both are on opposite sides of Mexico. It may take around 30 hours to drive, or just around a couple of hours to fly between them.