Western Mexico’s beach resort at Mazatlan has seen more than its share of foreign armies over the years. It’s been captured by Spanish conquistadores, invaded by American troops, shelled and blockaded by British warships, blasted by French ships and even shelled by Mexican ships. What’s more, Mazatlan holds the dubious honor of being the first city in the Western Hemisphere to be bombed from the air (in 1917, during the Mexican revolution).
Now there’s yet another army on the scene. Only this time, its troopers are scampering around town with paint brushes, ladders, mold scrapers. shovels and plumbing pipes. Their mission: to create a major new tourism attraction by restoring the colonial splendor of dozens of blocks of decrepit buildings running inland from the town’s cruise docks.
Spadework on the project – called the “Tourist Pedestrian Corridor” – began early this year to the tune of $3 million worth of digging. Pot-holed streets and crumbling sidewalks were replaced with cobbled lanes and brick walkways lined by shade trees, metal benches and 19th century-style lightposts.
Hundreds of buildings along the corridor are targeted for facelifts, including a good number already undergoing surgery. In some spots, entire blocks have been reborn, splashing the previously dingy area with a palette of pastel blues, greens, yellows, reds, pinks and browns. Accenting many of the new facades are arched doorways and balconies with bougainvillea poking through newly forged iron railings and lattices.
Project planners see the corridor soon blossoming with sidewalk cafes, plazas, shops, art galleries, boutique hotels, museums, courtyards and mansions, all oozing old-world charm. Also to be spruced up will be a half-mile-long waterfront district – perhaps most kindly described as “visually polluted” at present – running alongside the cruise docks.
The project is the latest phase of an architectural renaissance launched a decade ago in the city’s downtown Historic District – spread out over a whopping 180 blocks. First to be restored were some 50 inland blocks circling such picture-postcard attractions as the Plaza Machado (dating back to 1837) and the Angela Peralta Opera House (circa 1874), both earlier returned to their original splendor.
The corridor links Mazatlan’s cruise docks to the previously rejuvenated section of town. “Future visitors from the ships will start getting immersed in our colonial heritage as soon as they step ashore,” said a Mazatlan spokesman. “Along the way, information kiosks will tell passengers about the sightseeing gems awaiting them in the downtown restorations.”
Additionally, the corridor is expected to draw hefty numbers of vacationers staying in the dozens of resort hotels peppering the beaches of Mazatlan’s Zona Dorada (golden zone), about 20 minutes from the Historic District.
Getting there: Nonstop flights to Mazatlan are scheduled from U.S. gateways such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas/Ft. Worth. The schedules of several airlines are timed to offer quick connections at the gateway hubs for passengers flying to Mazatlan from Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Boston, New York and other key U.S. cities.
Staying there: Awaiting visitors to Mazatlan are some 10,000 hotel rooms, mostly in lush resorts along the beaches of the Zona Dorada. Among popular properties there are El Cid, the Playa Mazatlan and the Pueblo Bonito.
A number of boutique hotels and inns have popped up in recent years around restored areas of the Historic District. They include the Melville a few blocks from the Plaza Machado, and right in the plaza the most recent newcomer, the Jonathon.