Mazatlan is home to Mexico’s the second largest community of liveaboard boaters.
Among the 540 full-service boat slips available at Mazatlan’s five marinas, about half of the boats contain liveaboard singles, couples or small families, according to the port captain’s office. That means about 870 people are living aboard.
Mexico has no laws that prohibit living aboard, so far. It’s up to each marina to provide a variety of shore amenities and regulate guest activities, and to establish slip rates, discounts for seasonal and long-term stays, and fees for different services. Despite the country’s casual oversight, I can attest that Mazatlan’s five marinas included here are all first rate.
The advent of “commuter cruising” has been a blessing to recreational boating and to resort ports such as Mazatlan. How so? Mexico’s Temporary Import Permit (TIP) allows foreign boaters to keep their vessel in Mexico duty-free for up to 10 years, during which time they can legally leave the boat in a marina or boatyard while they fly home and back for work or any reason. Prior to the TIP, Americans had to get the boat physically out of Mexico whenever they left the country, which was impractical and detrimental to marinas and boatyards.
Liveaboard boaters have at least a half dozen reasons to stay here long term.
Weather and climate top the list. Mazatlan lies on the mainland at about the same latitude as Los Cabos on the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. Both resort ports are just a few miles south of the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north. But because Mazatlan’s weather is less influenced by the wide-open Pacific Ocean, boaters bask in balmy breezes during winter cruising season, below coconut palms filled with wild parrots.
Thanks to five different marinas, boaters can shop for amenities and deals that fit their budget. Marina El Cid is popular with upscale sportfishers, and Marina Mazatlan offers the widest range of cruiser services, while the other marinas occupy the space between. (See Marinas subhead.)
More yacht services are available here than in Los Cabos and La Paz combined and are generally less expensive. Mazatlan’s “Old Port” is an active commercial harbor that employs hundreds of diesel mechanics, welders, carpenters, machinists, and refrigeration and props services. They usually take weekend work on the yachts. SENI boatyard specializes in small ships and yachts.
Around the “Marina District” are skilled tradesmen in yacht canvas and upholstery, fiberglass, rigging, LP paint and varnish, electronics installation and repair, stainless tubing and more. GNMC is the yacht boatyard in the Marina District.
Like Los Cabos and La Paz, Mazatlan is famous for year-round sportfishing. Liveaboards are often commuter cruisers, meaning they need to fl y back and forth pretty easily while leaving the boat safely berthed. Boaters can fly to the U.S. from Mazatlan international airport (MZT) aboard Alaska, American, Delta, Aeromexico and Volaris airlines. Budget-minded owners can take an air conditioned Elite Bus to Tijuana or Nogales and walk across.
Mazatlan’s cure for “death by boredom” is Centro Historico, 20 square blocks of lovingly restored 1840s Victorian Italianate architectural gems, smack in the middle of downtown. Cobblestone streets around the lushly landscaped Plazuela Machada are lined with sidewalk cafés, trendy shops and the city’s best dining options. Provisioning is actually fun at the colorful open-air Mercado Pino Suarez, three blocks north of the Plazuela. Three blocks south is the Angela Peralta national theatre, center of Mazatlan’s lively fine-arts scene: ballet, opera, orchestral performances and period balls.
Easy daysails out to the islands are popular with liveaboards. Just outside the jetty entrance to the Marina District are anchoring possibilities at Pajaros (Birds), Venado (Deer) and Lobos (Seals) islands. Then Los Hermanos (Brothers) and Cardones (Cactus) islands are on either side of the larger jetty entrance to the Old Port.
Here are two dinghy explorations I enjoy. First, pass the cruise-ship docks in the Old Port and use binoculars for the next three and a half miles to peruse at least four shipyards, the navy station, docks for shrimpers and long-range tuna boats, panga repair yards, fruit orchards, market gardens and more.
Second, continue another five miles southeast to explore a tranquil semi-wild estuary of mangrove forests, parrots, songbirds, butterflies, a duck preserve and aquaculture pans. Tides affect the end of this estuary where a jungle canopy shades several narrow channels. This jaunt is similar to Tenacatita’s Jungle River Dinghy Trip — but no hotel tour boats.
The marinas provide a comfortable home away from home for about 870 recreational boaters living aboard at Mazatlan. Here’s my list.
Marina El Cid (FMI call 669-916-3468) has about 160 slips to 120 feet, a fuel dock, hotel restaurants, a pool, laundry facilities, a chandlery and sundries. Most slips are located just inside the entrance channel to the Marina District, but some side-ties may be arranged in the Sabalo South estuary in front of vacation homes. Marina guests have access to the resort’s elevated pool, restaurants, spa, golf, beach club, nightly movies on the lawn and more.
Marina Fonatur Mazatlan (FMI call 669-913-3720) has about 20 slips to 110 feet on the dock in front of the GNMC boatyard, in addition to a fuel dock, a head pumpout and a pool. This is the first marina to starboard inside the manmade yacht basin.
Marina Mazatlan includes about 270 slips to 80 feet and some longer end-ties. This cruisers’ community pretty much fills the northeast quadrant of the manmade Sabalo yacht basin. The volunteer net controller of the Cruisers’ VHF Net (channel 22 at 0800 Monday through Saturday) is often in this marina office or cruisers lounge. This is one of the few marinas in Mexico that takes reservations; call (669) 669-2936.
Isla Marina (FMI call 669-913-3388) features about 95 slips to 85 feet with limited power or water. Larger slips are on the south side of Isla Mazatlan, the manmade island, with smaller slips on the north side.
Marina Costa Bonita (FMI call 669-988-1056) has just 13 slips from 30 to 54 feet and is located inside a sheltered lobe off the northwest corner of the Sabalo yacht basin. Join the resort’s “yacht club” to get a slip with access to very nice pools and restaurants, barbecue grills, fish cleaning, dinghy storage, guest suites, a beauty spa and more.