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Mazatlan’s boardwalk, or malecon, is a fascinating oceanside walkway that stretches for miles along the city’s inviting bay. It’s a unifying thread joining the varied neighborhoods of this laid-back port city. At the northern end of the city is the area known as the Zona Dorada, or Golden Zone. Some visitors spend their entire vacation in this neighborhood, never venturing away from the international hotels, fine dining, golden sand beaches and souvenir shopping. While the Golden Zone definitely has its appeal, visitors also find that many intriguing parts of the city lie to the south.

MazatlanPulmonias ply the streets here, offering transportation at prices between those of a taxi and those of a bus. Unique to this city, they have become one of its symbols-so much so that a bronze statue of a pulmonia graces the center of the malecon.

Mazatlan, a city of about 500,000, is home to one of Mexico’s largest fishing fleets, and thriving processors ship premium seafood all over the world. The people on this part of the boardwalk wear work clothes rather than beach attire.

A few blocks off the boardwalk to the city center at the Republican Plaza, also known as the Jardín, is a bustling tree-lined square. Earnest shoeshiners are so busy that customers actually have to wait in line for a polishing. Across the street is the town basilica, a yellow, double-spired cathedral built in 1875.

North from the square is the central market where you can wander through stands of fragrant fruit and flowers. Venture a few streets south to the restored colonial section of town to view colorfully painted homes with wrought-iron trim that line the pleasant streets. This area has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few years-there are now art galleries and cafés in what were once almost ramshackle buildings.

There has also been a transformation of the Teatro Angela Peralta, an Italian-style opera house built in the late 1800s. Named after a famous Mexican opera singer who died of yellow fever just hours before she was scheduled to perform here in 1883, the renovated theater is now the site of musical and theatrical performances, including the city’s folkloric ballet.

The graceful Plazuela Machado is lined with outdoor cafés and an artsy bookstore, the small plaza exudes colonial charm. Four blocks away is Playa Olas Altas and at the top of a nearby hill is El Mirador-a high plaza with fantastic ocean views. Decorated with nautically themed statues, El Mirador is a perfect spot for snapping photos of the Pacific shoreline. The shore along this point is a jumble of crashing waves and sharp, jutting rocks. If you notice a crowd around a 45-foot platform, you may just be in time to watch a man dive into the shallow and perilous ocean below.

If you decide to “push for the summit” to the lighthouse at the top of Cerro del Creston, you will find it is no small task. At 515 feet above the water, it’s the second highest lighthouse in the world, behind that of Gibraltar. Spread below you-bordered by rolling green hills and shimmering sea-is all of Mazatlán, the Pearl of the Pacific.

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