9 Things to See in Sunny Mazatlan, Mexico

Golden Zone of Mazatlan

What to do and where to go in Mazatlan Mexico

Mazatlan, facing the Sea of Cortez on the western coast of Mexico, doesn’t get nearly the attention of many other resort areas, like Los Cabos. It only has a few glitzy hotels aimed at the rich and famous and has traditionally had fewer international air connections than Puerto Vallarta or the Los Cabos area. This is also a real city, not a custom-built resort area, so there’s a history before tourism and plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with that part of the economy.

The main draws for vacationers have long been sport fishing and the terrific beaches, from the Golden Zone and “New Mazatlan” to the north down to surfer beach OlasAtlas near Old Mazatlan. Both are still the reasons many fly here on vacation, but Mazatlan also has the distinction of having a real historic district—most of it from the late 1800s—that you can stroll and dine in when you need a break from the beach.

So while there are the usual sun and fun opportunities by the water, including island excursions and water sports, Mazatlan is also a city where you can explore blocks of buildings that go back to the Gold Rush days and visit shops selling more than jewelry and cheap souvenirs. Last, you can explore it all by pulmonia, the unique Mazatlan taxis that are Volkswagens converted to covered open-air buggies.

Angela Peralta Theater

This pride and joy of the historic district of Mazatlan has been through a tumultuous history. Built in the late 1800s, it was named after a famous singer who contracted yellow fever upon traveling here to perform and died. After a period of glory the building served as a movie theater, boxing arena, and eventually an abandoned ruin. Renovated and restored to its former glory, it reopened in 1992. You can tour the neoclassical structure for a nominal fee with a guide or catch a performance at night. Except for big-name concerts, the ticket charges are nearly always a bargain and this is a center for student performances of dance, music, or theater.

An art gallery near the entrance shows off temporary exhibitions by local and international artists. Tours also visit a museum upstairs shows the building in ruins and at different stages of restoration.

Peralta Theater Mazatlan

Location: Calle Carnaval pedestrian walkway between Constitucion and Libertad.

 

Plazuela Machado

Plazuela Machado historic district of Mazatlan in MexicoThe heart of the historic district is this leafy rectangular plaza, with leafy trees and palm trees both in place, many buildings painted bright colors. It is lined by restaurants, shops, and museums, plus the Angela Perlata theater is nearby, making this a good place to linger from lunch time onward. Built in 1837 by the wealthy businessman it was named after, in the center is a wrought iron gazebo from 1870.

It’s a hub of activity, especially at night when there’s frequently live music coming from stages on the plaza or performers outside the restaurant tables on the sidewalks. By day there are a few small museums worth a visit. It’s easy to walk from here to other central Mazatlan attractions that are on the edge of the historic district, such as the main square, basilica, and central market.

Centro Historico

While this area of Mazatlan has gone through several periods of ascent and decline, a government focus on restoration incentives and sensible zoning laws has resulted in spruced-up buildings that are also functional. The exteriors remain historic, but inside the owners have flexibility in making the (often deteriorated) space work for current needs. So there’s a good range of nightclubs, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and residences. Many buildings in the Old Mazatlan area date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the bustling port city was wealthy from shrimp, fish, minerals, and an iron foundry.

The historic sights of Old Mazatlan are concentrated in a rather limited area near the Plazuela Machado, a small, tree-filled square with a wrought-iron kiosk in the center. Nearby is the ornate, neoclassical Teatro Angela Peralta.

Historic district of Mazatlan

On the edge of the historic district are several other spots worth the walk. The late 1800s church here is an oddity in several respects, including Moorish touches and even Stars of David by the door. The main zocolo is not nearly as attractive as Plazuela Machado, but is a good spot for watching how the locals bide their time.

El Faro

The Lighthouse of port city Mazatlan has been shining since 1879, guiding ships coming up the Sea of Cortez. It can be seen 30 nautical miles away. For tourists, the main reason to come here is to see the divers. From a high platform, young men sometimes make daring high dives for assembled crowds for tips.

You can hike up to the lighthouse itself though to take in the view of the port and entering ships—mostly shrimp boats, plus an occasional cruise ship. Because it sits on a high hill, it’s reportedly the highest lighthouse in the Americas, as 523 feet above the high tide line.

Estero Ecological Reserve

This estuary nature park area is quite close to Mazatlan, making it a popular excursion for those who want to explore the coastal wildlife while in the area. Some 270 kinds of birds make their home in this area, which is a mix of streams, mangrove swamps, and beach. You’re sure to see herons, egrets, and other sea birds, as well as smaller ones feeding on this ecosystem.

Most tours spend time motoring through the estuary by boat, stopping at strategic spots where different kinds of birds congregate. It’s an educational trip on local nature, the seafood industry, and coastal wildlife. The tour ends with lunch and time to spend on a deserted beach the group will have to itself.

Zona Dorada (Golden Zone)

A deserted stretch of sand just a few decades ago, the Golden Zone of Mazatlan is now the area where package tourists spend most of their time. Lined with hotels, restaurants, and bars, it pulses with activity from the morning until the wee hours. All the usual water sports are on offer and sailing trips depart to nearby islands.

Golden Zone of Mazatlan

Playa Los Sabalos is the center of the zone and is the best area for swimming, with a surf that is calm most of the time. There are plenty of choices for toes-in-sand dining and drinking, as well as discos that are pumping at night.

Playa las Gaviotas offers more of the same, but has rougher waters and can be more crowded because of the size of the hotels fronting it. You can walk from one to the other along miles of golden sand or catch an open-air taxi called a pulmonia.

Stone Island

This offshore island is a popular excursion stop for cruise ship passengers docking in Mazatlan, but most of the visitors are locals on weekends and it’s not very crowded on non-cruise weekdays. The main reason to visit is to lie on the beach, swim, and eat grilled seafood at a thatched-roof restaurant, but you can also explore the island by horseback or on walking trails. The beach here is a good spot for seashell collecting.

There are two ways to get to Isla de Piedra as it’s known locally. The independent route is to take a pulmonia to the cruise ship port and take the public launch, running every 15 to 30 minutes. Another option is to sign up for a tour that includes some time at Stone Island. Most of them also visit mangrove swamps in a jungle area to spot birds.

Mazatlan Aquarium

This aquarium is a bit of a cobbled-together affair with displays in multiple buildings spread throughout the grounds. It contains more than 300 species of fish, plus crowd pleasers like porpoises, rays, turtles, and sharks. If you pony up extra money, you can swim with those sharks or feed them yourself.

show at the Mazatlan Aquarium

This is a varied attraction for families, with tropical birds doing tricks in an open theater and in another area, trained sea lions jumping and splashing. There are play areas for the kids and a restaurant on site with reasonable prices. You can also tour botanical gardens and a small zoo, the highlight being several aviaries with colorful birds overhead.

Location: Avenida de los Deportes 111, just off Avenida del Mar

Playa Olas Altas

Near historic Old Mazatlan, Olas Atlas beach fronts the original tourist zone. Here a long and wide malecon sidewalk is popular with joggers and in-line skaters moving past the city’s first waterfront hotels, like the Freeman—the first building in town to have an elevator. It’s a pleasant place for a stroll, with a shady cocktail or beer being just across the street.

Olas city beach in Mazatlan

The beach itself isn’t as wide or attractive as the Golden Zone further north, but its proximity to inexpensive hotels and downtown living quarters means it’s often just as busy. This is also one of the best stretches in the area for surfing and boogie boarding, so you can get in on the action yourself or just watch from a beach blanket.

Since a good number of the vacationers in Mazatlan are domestic ones, hotel prices here are more reasonable then many other beach resort areas of Mexico. There are only a few resorts above $200 a night, even in high season. Find the best Mazatlan rates at Bonwi and earn lots of points back that you can use on another vacation later. You can cash in points for a hotel room, rental car, or flight.

The Hotel Zones of Los Cabos, Mexico

Las Ventanas Rosewood luxury resort

Las Ventanas Rosewood luxury resort

If you’re headed to the resort area of Los Cabos in Mexico for the first time, you may not realize what a large, spread-out region this is. Occupying the whole bottom of the Baja Peninsula, it’s a sprawling cement truck parade of hotels, condos, golf courses, and two cities amidst dry desert and cacti.

Los Cabos has the greatest concentration of luxury resorts in Mexico though, with more being added every year, so it’s not a place filled with high-rises that can host 1,000 guests. Here the emphasis is increasingly on the guests who put this place on the map: upscale travelers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York City, and oil country in Texas.  Don’t expect to find great  bargains here just because you’re heading south of the border: everything has to be shipped in or flown in except for seafood. Just getting water requires an expensive desalinization process. You’ll pay $200 an up to play golf because, well, Jack Nicklaus designed the course and…it’s a desert!

Los Cabos Quivira golf course

Here are the geographic options when you book a resort in Los Cabos. Make sure you’ve got a map handy to figure out what’s what.

Cabo San Lucas

This is the busiest part of the region because it’s where the cruise ships dock, where the nightlife is, and where the marina is that leaves on whale-watching trips. This calm bay is one of the few places where you can swim from the beach in this whole area: in most spots the waves are too rough and the undertow is serious.

There is a mix of upscale lodging (like Cabo Azul) here, as well as more budget-friendly options fanning back from the sea.

Le Blanc Los Cabos in the Corridor

The Corridor

The Corridor of Los Cabos was once and long and lonely stretch of desert dotted with a few hotels and golf courses. The cement trucks have been working overtime the past few years though and a new hotel goes up every month or two. Most of the best high-end resorts are here, like Rosewood Las Ventanas, One & Only Palmilla, and The Cape. The latest additions are a new Le Blanc and a new Casa Velas—both luxury all-inclusive resorts.

An all-inclusive or a high credit limit on your card can make a lot of sense here because you’re miles from anything when you arrive. You probably won’t leave the resort much except for adventure excursions.

San Jose del Cabo and the Port/Marina

San Jose del Cabo has long been the sleepy cousin at the other end of the corridor, but it has caught the development bug as well, especially in its marina/port area, where there’s a Secrets Resort and soon a Four Seasons.

Land’s End Los Cabos and North

Los Cabos Land's End waves

Where the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean meet is the tip of Baja known as Land’s End. Grand Solmar and Pedregal resorts are there, around the corner from the famous arch, and not far from downtown Cabo San Lucas.

Development is stretching north from there, with the Diamante and Quivira golf courses being the centerpieces of major real estate and hotel developments. There’s a Pueblo Bonito resort, a partially opened Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas, and a Nobu. The further north toward Todos Santos you get, the more isolated the areas become. The idea is to play golf and hang out by the pool, though there are plenty of adventure activities on the wide beaches and among the cacti.

To book your perfect Los Cabos vacation and earn lots of points back you can use for future trips, go to Bonwi.com and rack up the rewards.

 

The 5 Best Florida Beaches Easily Reached From Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

People fly from all over the world to go to Orlando, home of Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios amusement parks, and much more. This is a land-locked city though, so if you want a Florida beach vacation you need to drive east to meet the Atlantic Ocean or west to reach beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.

Both coasts are easy to reach in a rental car, however. Most of the way you will be on large highways and the roads are well-marked. The closest beach to Orlando is only one hour away from the gates of Walt Disney World, while the farthest one on this list is just two hours away.

Cocoa Beach, Florida – 1 hour

beach near Orlando
(photo courtesy Visit Space Coast Tourism)

Near the Cape Canaveral area where the United States launched most of its manned rockets into space, this is the closest beach to Orlando. Like all but one here, it’s on a narrow barrier island jutting out into the sea. Expect soft golden sand but big waves sometimes: this is one of the best surfing spots in Florida.

There are four public beach access areas with parking (for a fee), so it’s easy to come here on a day trip and return to your hotel in Orlando that night. For the kids there is also a public skate park and several playgrounds. The Kennedy Space Center has a visitors center open to the public.

Daytona Beach – 1 hour 15 minutes

Daytona Beach Florida

Best known as home of the Daytona 500 Speedway where NASCAR auto races take place, this is a beach where cars rule. You can drive right onto the hard-packed sand and park your car on the very wide beach. This makes any stretch of the beach easily accessible in your vehicle, in an area that stretches more than 15 miles from New Smyrna Beach through Ormond Beach.

Prices are reasonable at Daytona Beach for lodging, meals, drinks, and activities, so this is a good spot for a couple or family on a budget. The area has a surprisingly robust art scene, plus the region is frequently cited as one of the best beach values in the USA.

Clearwater Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

Clearwater Beach Florida

Often voted as the prettiest beach in Florida, this is a compact white-sand beach area that is only 2.5 miles long. Much of it is connected by paved walkways and bike lanes and there are plenty of restaurants and beach bars with a view of the green and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The water stays much warmer here than on the Atlantic coast, with temperatures only dipping down below 20°C for one month in February. The water is very calm here, making it a good choice for young children. Search on Bonwi for the best Clearwater Beach resort deals.

St. Petersburg Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

St. Pete Beach Florida

The Tampa Bay area’s other main beach is St. Petersburg, a long stretch of sand dotted with a variety of hotels and condo complexes. There several similar barrier island beaches immediately to the north such as Treasure Island and Madeira. As with Clearwater the sea temperatures are pleasant most of the year and there are seldom waves large enough to knock down even the smallest child.

This is a beach area where you pick a spot and park or you explore by car-there’s no boardwalk or path along the sea. It’s worth heading to downtown St. Pete for restaurants and nightlife, catching a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, or exploring the Sunken Gardens area filled with tropical plants. The Salvador Dali Museum faces the Bay. Several well-regarded breweries are located here too, including Green Bench and 3 Daughters.

Anna Maria Island – 2 hours

Anna Maria Island Florida

For a taste of Florida the way it used to be before the state got so developed, head to Anna Maria Island where no building can be more than three stories high. There are no huge sprawling resorts here and the main things to do are eat seafood and lounge on the beach.

Just seven miles long and a few blocks wide, this is an easy island to navigate and there’s a free trolley to get around on once you’ve found your parking spot. There is a playground on the most popular public beach access spot and there are shaded picnic tables.

Wherever you go in Florida, you’ll earn the most points back to use for a future vacation by booking your hotel and rental car with Bonwi.com.

All photos by Tim Leffel except Coco Beach.

5 Florida beaches that are 2 hours or less from Orlando

The Hotel Zones of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale Beach

The Atlantic Ocean coastal city of Fort Lauderdale is part of a 23-mile stretch of beach in Broward County, so there are plenty of places to stretch out on the sand. Then there’s the Intracoastal Waterway, a gay travel zone, and chic Las Olas inland, so sorting out the best place to book your hotel can be a challenge.

Fortunately, the various hotel zones of Fort Lauderdale are relatively well-defined. Once you know your objective, you can narrow down the options from 100+ properties to find the best place to stay in your budget. Be sure to check Bonwi for the best hotel deals and the most reward points back no matter which area of the city you choose.

Northern Beach Area

If you’re looking for a quiet, more residential area, the stretch of beach going from Lauderdale by the Sea down to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is going to be the best bet. There are fewer hotels in this area and they’re more spread out, though of course the surf and sand are going to be just as enticing.

Southern Beach Area

The bulk of the areas hotels and resorts are clustered in the area between the state park and the turnoff to the convention center. Here you’ll find the largest range of options, from 5-star luxury resorts to small family-run hotels with a kitchenette. Just remember that none are directly on the beach no matter what: there’s a public walkway on that side and no buildings directly next to the sand—unless you count lifeguard stands and public bathrooms.

walkway along the beach in Fort Lauderdale

Gay Fort Lauderdale Hotels

This destination is frequently touted as the top LGBT place to visit in the Eastern USA, with around 20 gay-exclusive guesthouses, a robust nightlife scene, frequent same-sex weddings, and several dedicated museums.  Guesthouses that cater to same-sex couples and groups are primarily clustered in the blocks between Vistamar and Riomar streets  and will have “Gay” or “Gay-friendly” in the description.

Hollywood, Florida

Although technically not Fort Lauderdale, this is so close that it might as well be, plus the water taxi heads down here on its last stop. If you’re planning on parking yourself at the beach most of the time, this can be a good alternative.

Convention Center and Cruise Port

If you’re just spending a night before or after one of the many cruises that depart from here, you want to be at the southern end of Fort Lauderdale, near the street that quickly changes names from Seabreeze Blvd. to SE 17th Street to A1A. Some airport and downtown hotels will also shuttle guests to the cruise port, so check the descriptions when you book.

Hotel map Ft. Lauderdale

Las Olas and Downtown

If chic shopping and fine restaurants get you more excited than body surfing in the waves, then Las Olas is the place to stay. This mile-long retail street is full of interesting shops, some of the top restaurants in the area, and fun nightlife options.  Downtown Fort Lauderdale is the cultural magnet of the area, with the county’s main performing arts center and multiple museums.

Fort Lauderdale Airport

If you’ve got an early flight or are just on a business trip, there are multiple hotels near this busy airport served by multiple international carriers and serving as a hub for Spirit Air. Most provide some kind of shuttle service and don’t forget that the South Florida Tri-Rail system has train service up to Palm Beach and down to Miami.

If you need to get from one zone to the other in Fort Lauderdale, don’t worry. There are plenty of options for getting around, even without a car. Besides taxis and rideshare services, there is a water taxi system, a city bike share system, and a malecon sidewalk running the length of the beach that’s great for walking.

Ready to book a vacation? See the Fort Lauderdale hotels at Bonwi.com, where you’ll find guaranteed low rates and generous points back you can use for your next hotel stay, flight, or rental car with no blackout dates.