Incredible Mazatlán: Stories are the Best Souvenirs

The callejoneada or alley stroll during Dia de los Muertos in Mazatlán was one of the experiences of my lifetime. I still tell the stories about the cultural immersion long after any trinkets I brought back home have disappeared. You see, stories ARE the best souvenirs.

 

Top things to do in Mazatlán

UPDATED March 15, 2024 — It’s been years since I’ve visited Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast of Mexico—maybe twelve. Up until that point, I’d traveled to Mazatlán at least five times. The tropical getaway was one of my favorite affordable beach destinations. It’s actually close—only a two-hour and eleven-minute flight from Phoenix on American Airlines. And you can typically score some great vacation packages.

Is it Safe to Visit Mazatlán?

The first thing I did when I got the invitation to visit the Mexican “Colonial Town on the Beach” was check the US State Department advisory for the fair city. You see, ten or so years ago, drug cartel activity earned bad press for Maz. One of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations is based in the state of Sinaloa. Yet the current advisory updated on August 22, 2017, states:

Defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa, except the cities of Mazatlán, Los Mochis, and the Port of Topolobampo.

Updated Travel Advisory Earns the Mexican City Another Chance

Since my travel in Mazatlán, as far as I knew, would be limited to Zona Dorada (the golden coast where many of the hotels are situated), the historic town center and direct routes to and from these locations and the airport, I decided to give Mazatlán another chance.

Mazatlán: Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead

I was so excited that my visit, hosted with Fiesta Amigos, a conference of travel professionals, would coincide with Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I’d never attended Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and was intrigued to learn more. (Read more about the Day of the Dead. )

I was not disappointed. I felt totally safe the whole week I was in Mazatlán, where I swam, bodysurfed, snorkeled, and did something I’d never done before deep-sea fishing.

Stacey Wittig stands next to Blue Marlin fish and fisherman

But my favorite experience was the Day of the Dead processional, or what is called the callejoneada, or alley stroll. And what is so cool is that you don’t have to wait until next year to have a similar experience. Mazatlán’s carnival is coming up in February, and you’ll find the same awe and appreciation of different cultures that I found on my latest visit.

Day of the Dead altar called ofrenda

 

Dia de Los Muertos Callejoneada or Alley Stroll

We stood in the heart of the historic district, Plazuela Machado, waiting for whatever happened next. I wore a headband with colorful flowers, typical of the holiday. The balmy night was filled with anticipation, and when I looked at the children’s faces, I was reminded of my youthful ‘nights before Christmas’ hopefulness. The square was filled with families and us, the delegates from the Fiesta Amigos conference, waiting for the Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada to start.

Stacey Wittig with headband of flowers at Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada

 

The Beauty of the Unfolding of Unknown Rituals

There’s something beautiful about the unfolding of unknown rituals. I felt a sense of childlike wonder take over, and I let go of the need to control or understand what would happen next. On the other hand, the Americans who surrounded me needed to know what was next, and since they didn’t, they wanted to make it—whatever it was—happen on their own. There was a sort of culture clash going on.

“What are we doing just standing here?” pouted one of the American hipsters.
“Just standing here,” I thought to myself. “Really, it’s OK to simply stand and breathe in the present moment of anticipation and excitement.”
“Let’s just go! Let’s start walking,” she demanded, pushing ahead. The treasonists in our group moved slightly forward while others held back. From above, I imagined that we looked somewhat like an amoeba changing shape as we pushed against the crowd and as the crowd pushed against us. I was happy to stand my ground and wait for whatever happened next.

Fiesta Amigos Wait for the Callejoneada

In time, three young Mexican public relations professionals arrived holding placards on long sticks that read, ‘Fiesta Amigos.’ They positioned themselves at the front and back of our group of about 150 people. The association had asked us to dress in white for this occasion, and so we stood out of the crowd as a seemingly amalgamated group between the handheld signs.

sign reading Fiesta Amigos leads the Dia de los Muertos procession

 

Fireworks signal the beginning of the Callejoneada

Finally, fireworks and bottle rockets signaled the beginning of the promenade, and our giant white amoeba started moving around the square in Mazatlán’s historic center.

crowd at Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada

 

The sea of people parted.

I expected our group to move with the masses of others that had gathered in Plazuela Machado. But I was astonished to see that those not dressed in white parted to let us through.

Parted to let us through?

Families with baby carts, grandmothers, ninos and ninas stood on the curb or sat on walls, smiling and sometimes waving as they watched us walk by. Waving at us?

Crowd watching Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada

 

We were the Callejoneada!

I thought we had come to the promenade with the locals, but instead, we were on the promenade, and the locals were watching us!

I learned later that the Fiesta Amigos had been processing in the Day of the Dead parade for years. Locals reached to touch my arm and then pointed to the flowers in my hair. “Que Bonita,” I heard several times.

Some of those standing curbside were dressed in Muertos attire, and I stopped to ask if I could take their picture. They would nod solemnly, and I would snap the image.

Woman dressed as Catrina La Calavera

 

We walked for blocks, snaking through the alleyways of historic Mazatlán, until we reached the Malecon, one of the longest boardwalks in the world. It was an incredible experience, and I am sure to tell stories about it for years to come.

Make your own stories in Mazatlán. Stories are the best souvenirs, you know. Learn more at VisitMexico.com.

Mazatlanvisit.com/mazatlan-carnival.html

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey,  an Arizona travel writer, was a guest of  Reynolds + Associates public relations firm while researching this article.

The opinions of the opinionated travel writer are her own. The information here is posted to the best of her knowledge, but there may be omissions or changes over time.

7 thoughts on “Incredible Mazatlán: Stories are the Best Souvenirs”

  1. Mazatlán: Stories are the Best Souvenirs” is a phrase that highlights the idea that memories and experiences are more valuable than physical souvenirs. When visiting Mazatlán, Mexico, tourists are encouraged to make lasting memories through their interactions with the local culture, cuisine, and people. These stories and experiences are often considered to be more meaningful and long-lasting than any physical item they could bring back as a souvenir. The phrase encourages travelers to embrace the full experience of a destination and not just its material possessions.

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