With Mardi Gras around the corner, all eyes will be on… Mazatlán.
That’s right. The Pacific coast resort destination is home to one of the most vibrant celebrations in Mexico. It’s part of the annual Carnival Week taking place this year from February 23-28.
“According to Forbes Magazine, we’re the third largest Mardi Gras festival in the world,” Julio Birrueta, director of the Mazatlán Tourism Board, tells Travel Agent.
“New Orleans and Rio may be bigger, but those events aren’t family oriented. Our is, and that’s why we draw about 600,000 people or more. We have parades, coronations, a king and queen, fireworks, music, a food fest and much more,” Birrueta added.
Carnival traditions in Mazatlán date back to the 19th century. But they’re not the only festivals beckoning visitors to the “Colonial City on the Beach.”
“After Mardi Gras, we start our spring cultural festival with lots of different events and performances. We have our annual bike tour and of course, the Day of the Dead celebrations are very elaborate here,” said Birrueta.
An additional point of pride: the Tianguis Turistico trade show will take place in Mazatlán in 2018.
While Mazatlán may never be the tourism powerhouse of a Cancun or Los Cabos, that’s fine with Birrueta.
“We don’t worry about not having tourists. But we welcome them. We offer a direct touch with the real Mexico. People love visitors and interact with them. That’s why we have a huge expat community. We have about 7,000 Americans living here,” said Birrueta.
Tourism is growing steadily, thanks to initiatives to restore and enhance the historic downtown area.
“Our historic district is more walkable. We have new landscaping in our main plaza, the Plazuela Machado. And new restaurants are coming in that are amazing,” said Birrueta.
Gastronomy is a big pull for Mazatlán. It’s Mexico’s seafood (especially shrimp) capital, known for specialties such as agua chile, washed down with locally-made Pacifico beer.
The Malecon Boardwalk
“On the hotel front, there’s a new Marriott in the works. A Holiday Inn Resort just opened in the heart of Golden Zone. The Pacific Palace Beach Tower Hotel opened about a year ago. The Canvas Hotel is almost finished and will open soon. The former Balboa Tower is now reopened as the Ocean View Beach Hotel. In April, we have the Star Palace opening at the ocean front,” said Birrueta.
Airlift remains a key factor in Mazatlán’s growth as a tourist destination.
“Flights here have been steadily increasing and that’s very important,” said Birrueta
Airlift is also a boon to La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur.
Interestingly, there’s a car ferry across the Sea of Cortez that connects Mazatlán to La Paz. But, tourism officials are touting a much easier solution, namely direct flights to La Paz from Tijuana.
The Cross-Border Express (CBX) is an enclosed pedestrian skywalk bridge from San Diego to the Tijuana Airport passenger terminal. From there, direct flights on Volaris and Calafia Air make the trip to La Paz in less than two hours. Passengers connecting from the San Diego Airport can take a free shuttle to the CBX.
It’s an attractive alternative to flying into Los Cabos and then driving two hours to La Paz.
The city of 300,000 still maintains a small-town feel, Sandra Felix, general director of the board of tourism of La Paz, tells Travel Agent.
“The downtown area is where most tourists stay. In the afternoon, you can walk on the boardwalk and see families there with bikes and rollerblades,” said Felix.
Last year saw record numbers of tourists in La Paz. Felix is hopeful for 2017.
“We see that people who go to Cabo for seven days take a day trip to La Paz. On their next visit, they come directly to La Paz,” said Felix.
There are no all-inclusives in La Paz. But, hotels typically offer meal plans. The Costa Baja Resort offers both a spa and golf course. And new in town is the 98-room Cathedral Hotel, which opened in 2016.
“Our main selling point is that we offer incredible experiences. We don’t want you to simply stay in the hotel and lounge around the pool. Nature is our biggest asset, and we’re an eco-destination like no other. The World Tourism Organization says this is the year of sustainable tourism. La Paz is a perfect example,” said Felix.
The destination can also hold its own on the festival front.
The La Paz Triathlon takes place on March 25. It features night time runs, where participants cross a finish line accompanied by neon lights and music.
In April, the Gastro Vino fest takes place in Todos Santos, midway between Los Cabos and La Paz.
“Gastro Vino is a really unique event. You walk through the town, stopping at restaurants to sample a specific dish and wine,” said Felix.
The upcoming spring break period is a perfect time to visit La Paz, she added.
“You can be here in less than two hours with the CBX. That’s not far to go to enjoy our Balandra Beach, which both USA Today and TripAdvisor have called the most beautiful beach in Mexico,” said Felix.
She also gives a shout out to festivities in La Paz this week.
“Our Carnival celebration is fantastic. The entire boardwalk is lined with booths, games and rides. If anyone has clients in Los Cabos right now, they should encourage them to come over,” said Felix.