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Travel: Why Mazatlan has me rethinking Mexico

The view from a hotel room at the Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort in Mazatlan, Mexico.
The view from a hotel room at the Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort in Mazatlan, Mexico. | Dennis Lennox

I was recently in Mexico for the first time in two years.

My visit to Mazatlan, a coastal city in the state of Sinaloa, came a couple of months after this columnist warned readers about visiting the country. And yes, Sinaloa is the home of that Sinaloa — the notorious cartel and drug traffickers.

Notwithstanding what I previously wrote and the official warnings of the U.S. government, Mexico remains an incredibly popular destination for the sun-and-sand tourism demographic. Officially, Mazatlan isn’t subject to the government travel warnings. Instead, it’s just everywhere else in Sinaloa. That technicality aside, I wanted to experience firsthand what visiting Mexico is like these days.

While I could have gone to Cancun, Mazatlan was a better choice.

Beyond the curiosity factor, given its location within otherwise off-limits Sinaloa, the vibe that visitors experience — Mazatlan is truly an authentic Mexican city — is more appealing than the ridiculously fake Cancun. You can have the best of both worlds: resorts with beach access to the Sea of Cortez and a rich, centuries-old cultural scene. In other words, this is the real Mexico.

My visit fell around the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that combines Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day with elements of pagan indigenous traditions. Basically, the Day of the Dead is to Mazatlan what Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) is to New Orleans.

The Spanish colonial revival architecture of the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay.
The Spanish colonial revival architecture of the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay. | Dennis Lennox

Over the course of a few days, I stayed at two hotels within the same Mexican chain, the Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort and Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay. From a location standpoint, the Mazatlan Beach Resort is the best as it’s within walking distance of the over 4-mile-long embankment (malecon). But discerning travelers will probably prefer Emerald Bay, which carries a prestigious four-diamond rating from the AAA.

At the end of the day, forget whatever Uncle Sam says about travel to Mexico.

Sure, bad things can and do happen when tourists act stupidly and put themselves in bad situations.

The reality is a visit these days to Chicago or Washington is arguably more dangerous than going to Mexico this fall and winter. I had no issues in Mazatlan whatsoever.

If you go

Flying to Mazatlan will almost certainly require a connection in Mexico City on Mexican flag carrier Aeromexico, although the small airport does have a few nonstops to and from a few U.S. airports on American Airlines.

If I had to pick, I would stay again at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay. While it leans more toward the timeshare set, the gorgeous Spanish colonial revival architecture and manicured grounds make the property.

Consider visiting Gran Acuario, the new 300,000-square-foot aquarium, and the landmark Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. In particular, the Roman Catholic cathedral, located at Republic Square (Plaza de la Republica), is a spectacular example of 19th-century revival architecture.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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