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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Bike Touring is an amazing way to see Mazatlán
In my opinion biking is one of the nicest ways to experience Mazatlán’s famous promenade, also called malecón. That’s why my wife and I brought our road bikes aboard WestJet flight from Edmonton to Mazatlán. Whenever we travel, we are always looking for something little different in terms of exploring local life and we think bikes are perfect tools for that.
In Mazatlán lots of people do what Vera and I did every day and go up and down the malecón (boardwalk or promenade) along the ocean. It is relatively flat, very scenic and overall very safe.
The promenade called Malecón
The Mazatlán malecón is a concrete walkway along the beach usually very crowded during the day. The Mazatlán malecón stretches all the way from Cerro de la Neveria hill in the south and Olas Altas beach, to the touristy Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) on the north. It is decorated with wonderful sculptures, and lined with cliffs, rocky points and golden beaches. This promenade is nearly twenty kilometers long and wide enough for plenty of traffic including bicycles, pedestrians, skateboarders, strollers, dogs, and people on rollerblades. Everyone is tolerant of the bikers and many rollerblades who are wobbling along. With my Garmin bike computer I measured the distance from Olas Altas beach to Cerritos beach on the north. It was exactly 18 kilometers long. Well known Valentino’s bar was much closer at the end of the ‘official’ malecón, after only 8 kilometers.
Biking along the malecón – A journey beyond the all-inclusive
Once we arrived in our B&B first thing on my mind was to unpack my bike and assemble it for the ride along Mazatlán busy streets. Our place was only two blocks away from the malecón on the Icebox Hill or Cerro de la Neveria on Spanish. The view from our B&B roof top terrace, toward Cerro de la Neveria right behind our B&B was amazing. We were right there and the towers at the top of the hill looked like they are from some science fiction movie. The two hills at either end of Olas Altas beach are quite steep, with sheer cliffs extending down to the rocky shore. They give Olas Altas a cozy, secluded feeling, separating it a bit from the glitzy hustle and bustle of the beaches to the north.
I rode my bike almost every day while in Mazatlán. It is a great town for bike riding, at least as far as I’m concerned. Some people are put off by the traffic (pedestrian and vehicular), but I think it adds to the excitement and challenge. However, it is not very challenging for a serious road biker like me and if you are trying to get in some good cardio or burn a few extra calories, you either tow a bag of bricks behind you or seek a tougher ride somewhere else. Which I did, but this will be another blog story. Really big Sierra Madre Mountains are not that far away from the city…
Biking along the oceanside promenade is gorgeous, easy and fun! Day after day, the early morning breeze of the ocean was refreshing as we zipped along the malecón. Kilometer after kilometer of well-maintained sidewalk were left behind before we would stop for a cold drink or a bite to eat in one of the many bistros along Avenue Del Mar or down in Olas Altas at the end of our ride, close to our B&B. A very good place to eat or have cold ‘serveza’ was a restaurant called ‘The Fish Market’.
Along Mazatlán’s malecón there are many statues including the Continuation of Life, monument to women, monument to men, Pedro Infante, Venado (deer), Monument to Fishermen, Pacifico brewery statue, Pulmonia monument, and the monument to the Family.
This type of life is what I call ‘Healthy Living in Mexico!’ Most Westerners go to Mexico and never leave the walls of their all-inclusive resort. Don’t be like them. Vera and I tried to stay off the malecón at sunset, as it was too crowded. Besides in the evening there are other things to see in Mazatlán. Malecón is made for bicycling in the morning or early afternoon and city biking is best reserved for Sunday mornings. Always wear a helmet; sun glasses help with sunlight and flying dust, and biking gloves provide comfort and extra protection for your hands. Invest in a loud bicycle bell, it forewarns people of your presence and opens spaces between groups of pedestrians who take up the whole width of the malecón.
After few days in Mazatlán I started seeking tougher rides away from malecón. First I went north to Cerritos beach, at the far end of town, but this involved riding on a busy boulevard along the shore and too many crazy drivers. It was few days later that I discover Avenue Francisco Solis, parallel to the malecón – Avenue Camaron Sabalo. This was much safer road for bike riding and didn’t have that many lights that would stop me. This route was all flat other than going over the two bridges around El Cid Marina area, that are more of a workout due to the speeding traffic then the incline or distance.
Old Town Mazatlán has a lively pulse
My wife and I really enjoyed riding along the malecón but we also ventured into the Centro Historico. Our road bikes were made for racing and riding on smooth even roads. The narrow tires of road bikes are not recommended on Mazatlán’s uneven, pothole filled streets, away from malecón. A better option for street bikes may be hybrid/touring bikes which are strong enough to take on the cracks and curbs while not as heavy and clunky as a mountain bike – but hybrids are a new style of bicycle, not all that common here.
I’ve experimented with riding downtown and still enjoy it. Thus, watch for ‘tope’ speed bumps on the road to slow down passing cars. It is best to go really early and realize that for a great workout, you will be going up and down the same small hills over and over. Here I am talking about going over the Lookout hill – or Cerro del Vigia on Spanish. This is a small loop, only 2.5 kilometers long, but the road is very interesting as it goes over the Lookout hill and then down the hill into the town. At the statue of Pedro Infante (he was the actor, the hero, the legend – he died the morning of April 15, 1957, in a plane crash) I turned right into the Avenue Miguel Aleman and stayed on it all the way to the end. There I made a sharp right turn to the Avenue Emilio Barragan, which goes along the cruze ship dock and back onto Paseo del Centenario and over the same Lookout hill again.
If you choose to head into ‘El Centro’ it’s better to stick to the smaller, quieter streets as biking on some of the more congested streets is very difficult due to heavy traffic and lack of good sidewalks.
Rules of the street
Riding a bicycle (or driving a car), is a whole different experience in Mazatlán. A Mexican friend once commented ‘you foreigners do not know how to drive here, you just assume because there is a stop sign, the other driver will stop.’ Watch out, this is so true. Bicycles have no right of way and are totally vulnerable to the disorganized traffic caused by vehicles, by pedestrians, by dogs and anything else you can imagine. Assume nothing. Keep your eyes open all the time. Watch for cars turning in front of you, watch for people opening car doors, be very careful with pedestrians who will look you in the eye and then proceed to step right in front of your bike. Don’t be embarrassed to be cautious, be preventative. Use hand signals whenever possible. Avoid city biking during rush hours… The Mazatlán streets are filled with deep puddles after the night’s rain, and are very slippery. I do not recommend biking shortly after the rain. But in four weeks it rained only one time.
Mountains in Mazatlán?
You’ve got to be kidding. Mazatlán, also meaning ‘place of the deer’ is situated on mostly flat grounds. There aren’t really any mountains in Mazatlán, but there are some hills a few kilometers north east of town called San Antonio hills.
Mazatlán has only three hills – all of them in the southern part of town, called Olas Altas. Hill with the communication towers at the top is called Icebox Hill or Cerro de la Neveria, as locals call it. That’s where our B&B was, so I was beginning all my rides in the area between these two hills. I would come around Olas Altas beach, change my gears quickly and speed up along Paseo Claussen towards north and Zona Dorada…
Icebox Hill got its name from caves where 19th Century Mazatlecos stored ice for refrigeration. Since those days, Cerro de la Neveria has acquired several tiers of large, expensive homes perched on the cliff tops. These days most of them are for sale… made me wonder why?
The second hill is called Lookout hill or Cerro del Vigia on Spanish. The view from Lookout Hill is fantastic, but the road up from malecón to Paseo del Centenario is steep and goes around ‘El Pacifico’ College building. At the top are a rusty cannon and the Centenario Pégola — built in 1848 to celebrate the end of the U.S. invasion (aka the Mexican–American War). If I wanted to stay in the city I would ride over this hill many times… in both directions.
Cerro de Creston (El Faro) climb – hike to the lighthouse at the top
There is also well known Cerro de Creston climb to the Lighthouse (El Faro) at the top. That was my next venture! But I couldn’t climb this hill on my bike. There is no road to the top, only a trail. It is only for hiking… and Vera and I did it!!
Mazatlán also has the second tallest natural lighthouse in the world. I decided to combine the challenge of an up and over a good sized hill, with a climb to the top of the lighthouse – on foot, for a good cardio workout. If you don’t know Mazatlán, you can’t imagine what a wonderful hike it is.
So, on a day I packed camera in my back jersey pocket and took a few pictures in an attempt to show at least some of what this adventure is about. I drag Vera along my side as she was also curious about this climb. We clicked into the pedals and took off from our B&B in direction of the ocean at Olas Altas beach. First we went along the malecón to get some distance into our legs. We rode by the Olas Altas beach and continued on the main drag Avenue Del Mar towards the Cerro de Creston climb and the famous Lighthouse (El Faro) at the top. At the end of the peninsula’s southern end, a prominent rocky outcrop is the base for El Faro hill. After we crossed the Lookout hill, we turned right onto Capetan Joel Montes Camarena road that goes over the narrow passage (yes, Isla de Creston used to be an island!). At the bottom of the hill we passed a smelly sewage plant, but kept going to leave the bad smell behind.
Climbing up Cerro de Creston, Mazatlán’s highest hill on foot, to El Faro Lighthouse is worth the effort if you want the full Mazatlán experience. We even had to push and carry our bikes for an additional workout. This is where a dead-end road with spectacular views over the Mazatlán offers some short, but serious climbing – and of course descending on the way back.
We had some sunshine and good legs to give this hill a try. With a bit of adrenaline pumping through us, we shot up the first incline carefully. Reaching the climb we left the bad smell behind. Once on the climb, I was pretty happy that we carried a water bottles, because the temperatures had risen above 30 C and there is nowhere to get any water on that climb. The 6 switchbacks are tight and steep but taking them on the outside gives the possibility of gathering some momentum before shooting back towards the inside halfway through the curve. Walking up the hill like this, I kept our speed up. When the climb became steeper towards the top we stopped few times to have a sip of water and lower our heart rates, because the gradient was well above 10 per cent. On the way up I saw lots of plants and flowers, several spiders (off the road) and iguanas…
After carefully negotiating several switchbacks and climbing for more than 20 minutes, we arrived at the top of Cerro de Creston, the home to 33 species of flora, 19 species of fauna, and El Faro, the second natural highest lighthouse in the world. At 157 meters (523 feet) from high tide, the view of this domain is well worth the imposing climb. The birds were flying below me; boats rock in the harbor, wave’s crash at the base of the hill and all of Mazatlán, the Pacific, the Sierra Madre mountains in the distance and the surrounding area was spread out in front of me.
As for the hill, well, I admit it doesn’t look like much in these pictures, but it was a moderate challenge for me and my wife. You can do it too, because we could! Try it and see.
At the top, we had a short break and took many pictures of Mazatlán. I didn’t realize the city was so big until I saw it from that height. The ocean views take in the harbor, where you can see the cruise ships and the ocean, with sailing and shrimp boats. Beautiful water, golden beaches, and this expansive view made the climb worth every step.
My only wish was if I could have had a cold beer at the top!! There are refreshments for sale by Fareros, who is the man at the lighthouse, but no beer. The Farero on duty during my visit was a wealth of information about what you see below and the lighthouse itself. Be sure to meet the German Shepard who is the perro de Faro (lighthouse dog).
Now for the fun part… Fully recovered from our earlier uphill effort, coming down was ‘fast and furious! Be careful on the way down, as there are always some people coming up. We started the descent looking forward to enjoying a good downhill run but it seems it was over before it began.
A number of Canadian tour operators have direct flights to Mazatlán. Check with your favorite travel agent or book online using Expedia or any other travel site. My wife and I picked up a couple of expensive round-trip fares with WestJet. The airline recently made a major commitment to serving Mazatlán this winter by offering new direct flights from Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. Unfortunately at the time of our travel (November), they didn’t have any sales and we payed prime dollars for our tickets. We stayed in an apartment at the ‘Old Mazatlán Condominiums’ property located in Old Town (Centro Historico) for a very affordable price.
Mazatlán is safe, just ask the dead people
Yes, Mexico is a madhouse, but a fun-madhouse. People are friendly and joyful. Located on the Pacific Coast, just a fingernail gap on the map below the Tropic of Cancer, Mazatlán has the requisite sand, sea and sun that winter-weary Canadians ache for. We really enjoyed Mazatlán. Despite its madness, or maybe because of its madness, it made sense. Perfect sense, somehow.
Those four weeks in Mazatlán was just what we needed to get a break from the long Canadian winter! Mazatlán has been a great experience and who knows, we might just decide to come back again next year!
Have a good and healthy season.
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