Wondering if you should book a surf trip to Mazatlán, Sinaloa?
Mazatlán is an excellent destination for surf trips because of the consistent surf, lots of hotel options, and some of the best seafood in Mexico. There are both reef breaks and beach breaks in town while the region north of Mazatlán is packed full of world-class point breaks. Surfing in Mazatlán is as much about coastal culture as it is actually about riding waves.
The people in Mazatlán love living at the beach which is evident every night around sunset when the boardwalk comes to life. The surfing community in Mazatlán is larger than any other city of comparable size on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Puerto Escondido and Pascuales might have more big wave chargers but a larger percentage of the general population surfs in Mazatlán. Surfing is a part of the culture in Mazatlán.
I am in love with Mazatlán and try to visit every couple of years. It is one of my favorite places to stay when driving the 15D from Nogales to Guadalajara. We usually book an extra night to enjoy the beaches and the seafood. Cruising the boardwalk at sunset is one of the best ways to see the city and find a place to eat.
The reality is that Mazatlán is a very safe tourist destination. There are no conflicts between rival organizations spilling into the streets like I have seen in Cancún or Tijuana. I think Mazatlán is one of the best places to find good surf in Mexico.
Surfing In Mazatlán Overview
Mazatlán is located in the northern half of mainland Mexico at the mouth of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). It is at roughly the same latitude as San Jose del Cabo and the tip of the Baja Peninsula blocks much of the swell energy from the northern hemisphere.
The biggest waves in Mazatlán come during the summer months from the south and the southwesterly swells. There are some waves in the winter but winter is not the best time to plan a surf trip hoping to score big waves.
The town of Mazatlán is quite spread out. The boardwalk is famous for being one of the longest beach boardwalks in Mexico and after driving it a few times you will understand why. There are a number of distinct coastal zone with different types of waves. Downtown Mazatlán (Centro Histórico), the Golden Zone (Zona Dorada), and Cerritos all have different features that cause the waves to break in different directions and with different features.
Downtown Mazatlan has more reef breaks. The accommodations are mostly older hotels that are near the beach but not directly in front of the beach. The pools are smaller and there aren’t any of the mega-resorts like the RIU. Families staying downtown may enjoy a guest pass to one of the larger resorts in the newer part of town with vast pools and amenities. Nobody can deny that Oldtown Mazatlán is charming. It is a cool place to stay.
The Zona Dorada is about big resorts and big parties. Valentino’s Nightclub is a landmark on the coast that demarcates the beginning of the Zona Dorada. It was a legendary nightclub that was built on a rock formation jutting out a little way into the surf. Waves break on both sides of the cliffs. For those looking to surf and party, the Zona Dorada is the best place to post up and have everything within walking distance.
Mazatlán just keeps growing. My wife used to stay at the El Cid Marina Resort when she was a kid. Back then the marina was the end of the development. Today, El Cerritos Beach on the north side of the marina is home to many of the large all-inclusive resorts and a lot of new housing developments. There is surf at either end of the 3-mile-long beach but not much in the middle. It is very easy to access a hotel in Cerritos from the freeway if you are driving but a very long taxi ride from the Mazatlan International Airport if you are not. Plus, the beaches to the north don’t have the same charm as the beaches south of the marina.
When I travel, I like to have a vehicle and travel to the different breaks in the region. That is a great option in Mazatlán but there are a number of beachfront hotels and hotels within walking distance that having a car isn’t necessary. The city is big but you don’t need to drive to score good surf.
Mazatlán Surf Spots
These are the best breaks in and around the Mazatlán Metropolitan Region. The area north of Mazatlán is full of incredible world class point breaks.
The waves within the city are very user-friendly. When it comes to exploring the breaks outside of town in rural areas of Sinaloa state it is best to employ the services of a surf guide or a surf camp.
1. Valentino’s Surf Spot Mazatlán
Valentino’s is one of the most important landmarks in Mazatlán because of the unique architecture and the rock formation jutting out into the sea. That rock formation forms a reef that causes waves to break with nice form.
There is a wave on either side of the rock formation and the right is called Valentino’s and the left is called el Camarón.
The reef needs a little swell to come to life but when it does the wave lines up with a playful face. When the swell is macking, the wave breaks much faster and races down the line.
Many people will be staying in the Zona Dorada and surfing El Camarón. It is worth checking Valentino’s as well. You never know when it will be doing its thing.
2. El Camarón
On the north side of Valentino’s is Playa Las Gaviotas. The left breaking off of Valentino’s rock formation is called El Camarón.
Most of the time El Camarón is a mushy left breaking over more sand than reef. It is a good wave for early intermediate surfers to practice on. It doesn’t stand up too quickly and allows the surfer to ride a little ways but doesn’t have a lot of push for modern manuevers.
The nice thing about El Camarón is that there are a couple of nice hotels and nightclubs nearby where you could plan a really fun party and surf getaway.
Keep and eye out for a big south swell a few weeks out and come to Mazatlan to surf.
3. Playa Los Pinos (or Los Pinitos)
I love this spot. I love the beach, the section of the boardwalk and I love Downtown Mazatlán.
Los Pinos Beach is a long left-hander that breaks over an odd-shaped reef. While it is a very user-friendly wave to surf, there are a lot of sea urchins on the inside when the tide gets low.
I always see a lot of people surfing shortboards at Los Pinos but the wave just seems to favor a longboard or a mid-length. The takeoff section has a little push to it but the wave just lingers down the line breaking slowly but steadily.
A board with a little more foam will do cutback after cutback. A shortboard will struggle to do anything vertical after the initial whack.
Playa Los Pinos is a small stretch of beach wedged in between the Oceanography campus of the University of Sinaloa and what looks like a historic and long-abandoned Navy events venue. There is an old canon on their patio pointing out over the surf spot. I bet the Navy officers threw some awesome parties here back in the day.
In the morning there are always some surfers on the beach. In the afternoon the place is packed with local families and vendors. It is a very popular family beach.
4. Playa Olas Altas
I still remember the first time I saw Olas Altas from the window of a beachfront highrise. It took my breath away. This is the most iconic view in Sinaloa.
Most people don’t realize there is a fun wave right below the Pedro Infante statue on the boardwalk. The wave here really needs a big swell to come to life and it is nothing to write home about. It is an ideal soft top foamy surfboard wave.
I got a ton of waves on a weekday morning with not another surfer in sight.
This is Oldtown Mazatlán with all its historic buildings and a lovely beach. I’ve stayed at the Belmar and the Posada Freeman which are both right across the street from the beach and have a great view of the break.
5. Playa Luna Bonita
If you are looking to take a surf lesson then you will want to stay near Playa Luna Bonita. This is one of my favorite beaches in Mazatlán with one of the best waves in Mexico for beginners. It also happens to be where most of the surf schools are located. People are taking surfing lessons on a daily basis.
Check out Lexie Surf Academy and Mazatlan Surf School for prices and availability.
6. Playa Bruja
Playa Bruja is well regarded as one of the best surfing locations in Mazatlan but it is a ways away from downtown. It takes more than a half hour to drive up here from most parts of the city but if the swell is pumping, it is probably worth it.
The wave at Playa Bruja is formed by some rocks that stick out of the long Cerritos sand bottom beach. It is usually just a little bit bigger than the other waves in town with a steeper face.
A great thing about surfing Playa Bruja is that there are both rights and lefts. The wave breaks over reef but as it stands up on the inside it is mostly sand bottom. It feels like a big A-frame beach break.
One of the disadvantages to surfing Playa Brujas is that is very susceptible to the wind and high tide. Every day in the early afternoon the wind changes and blows the place out. The wave just doesn’t work with the onshore wind.
7. Playa La Escopama
This is Nuevo Mazatlán and the road was only paved in the last few years. It is so far away from Downtown Mazatlán that you need to have a car out here. I stay here when we are driving Mexico’s Interstate 15D from Nogales to Guadalajara because it is close to the freeway.
We stayed at the Diamond Bay and the beach is not surfable out front but my kids loved playing in the sand. Next door to Diamond Bay is the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay which looks amazing. Their section of beach has a little reef and some tide pools at low tide. I haven’t seen it break but I can totally see how the point could pick up a big swell.
Playa La Escopama is a long way from the action in Mazatlán. It is only worth checking if you are already up here to look at Playa Brujas. The lookout spot is next to Jaiba Pata Salada restaurant at Punta Cerritos. If Playa Brujas is too big and closing out, it might be a little more organized around the corner.
8. Stone Island (Isla de Piedra)
Just FYI, Stone Island isn’t actually an island. It is just a beach on the other side of the harbor.
There are a couple of good waves there though. The beach break has some great A-frames with both lefts and rights. Then, a wave breaks across the jetty that works like a point break.
Stone Island has a bunch of simple enramada, thatched-roof restaurants serving great food including fresh fish and cold beer.
There are a bunch of tour operators planning trips out to Stone Island. The cheapest way to take the water taxi. It costs $30 pesos round trip and they leave every 15 minutes and it only takes 5 minutes to cross the channel. Once you land at the Stond Island dock it is a short 200 ft walk down to the sand and 400 ft to the restaurants. There is a lot of room to spread out. Stone Island is the perfect place to find a little peak to yourself.
Stone Island is a really fun way to spend the day.
North of Mazatlán there are a series of point breaks. They are some really remarkable waves under the control of some local caciques. Access is heavily regulated and this is rural Sinaloa. I recommend getting a local guide to show you around.
Mazatlán Surf Seasons
Summer is the best season to travel to Mazatlan. Bring a wave storm if you will be driving through in the off-season.
Mazatlán Surf Lessons
Playa Luna Bonita is the best place for beginners to take surf lessons in Mazatlán. There are a couple of great surf schools. Check out Lexie Surf Academy and Mazatlán Surf School.
Intermediate-level surfers will enjoy surfing with Jah Surf School. A lot of people choose to leave their boards at home and schedule a surf tour with Elias. He will pick you up at your hotel. bring a bunch of boards and show you the best spots in Mazatlán and nearby.
Mazatlán Surf Shops
There aren’t as many surf shops in Mazatlán as you would expect for a town with so many surfers. Downtown has a surf shop that sells more clothing than they do surfboards and wax. Make sure to bring an extra bar of tropical water surf wax because they will be expensive when you find them. If you need ding repair, talk to the surf schools.
Where To Stay In Mazatlán
As we talked about earlier, there are three main places to stay in Mazatlán: Downtown Centro Histórico, the Zona Dorada, and Cerritos (north of the marina). There are waves in all three regions.
Where to stay in Downtown Mazatlán
Where to stay in the Zona Dorada
📍Budget Option – Gaviana Resort
📍 Mid-Range Option – El Cid Marina Beach Hotel
📍Luxury Option – Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan – All Inclusive
Where to stay in Cerritos Beach
📍Budget Option – Diamond Bay
📍Luxury Option – Hotel Riu Emerald Bay
How To Get To Mazatlán
Mazatlán has a major international airport and is on one of the main road from the United States to Mexico City. It is really easy to get there from just about anywhere in North America.
I drive from Guadalajara to San Diego a couple of times a year and Mazatlán is a favorite stop along the way. It is only five hours away from Guadalajara but it is home to some of my favorite beaches and places to surf. Los Mochis, Culiacán, Navajoa, Hermosillo, and Magdalena de Kino are lovely places to stop, rest, and eat while you are driving to Mazatlán. Try to take in as much as possible.
Mazatlán Airport Transfers
Solo travelers with shortboards will have no problem getting a taxi at the airport. Larger groups with larger surfboards and lots of luggage might consider a private airport transfer.
If you want to book an airport transfer with a big van, talk to Tour Guide Mazatlán. They will greet you with some sodas or beers for the road. I book all my tours and airport transfers through Viator and have been really happy with them because of the cancelation policy.
Crowds and Localism in Mazatlán
Mazatlán has a lot more room to spread out than the surfers in Sayulita do. There are lots of surf spots both in town and within an hour of town.
The spots that are for beginners have no localism but can get a little crowded on the weekend and during the high season. The more advanced spots typically have stronger currents and require more paddling that will separate the surfers with a lower skill level from the intermediate and advanced level surfers.
One thing to keep in mind is that point breaks north of town are heavily localized or have difficult access. It would be best to go with a surf camp or with a guide to show you the ins and outs.
Where to Eat and Drink in Mazatlán
Mazatlan is a seafood lover’s paradise. Many of the best restaurant groups in Mexico that focus on seafood serve Sinaloa-style seafood.
While there are plenty of high-end restaurants around, I think that the soul of Mazatlán is found in the street carts.
Even if you are staying outside of the Centro Histórico, make sure plan at least one meal in Oldtown.
If you are looking for an awesome coffee bar, Tótem in the Centro Histórico has delicious methods and specialty coffee. If you are staying in the northern part of the city, check out Surf’s Up Beach Cafe on a lonely stretch of Playa Escopama.
Surfing In Mazatlán FAQ
These are the most commonly asked questions that I see in the online forums about Mexico.
Is Mazatlán a good place to learn how to surf?
Mazatlán is an excellent place to learn how to surf. The water is warm, there are lots of waves for beginners, and there are lots of good surf instructors.
Check out Playa Luna Bonita for all the best Mazatlan surf camps.
Is Mazatlán safe?
No, Mazatlán is not safe like Mérida but it isn’t difficult to travel to Mazatlán without incident. This is a party town and it is all too common for people to drink too much and get into trouble.
It probably goes without saying but wherever there is a lot of alcohol there are drugs. That opens up a whole other can of worms. More than a few traveling surfers have run astray of the law in Mexico only to wake up to the consequences the next day.
According to both Numbeo and the quarterly study by the National Statistics Institute, the perception of security by the people that live in Mazatlán is very good. People love living here and consider it a safe place to live. More people consider Mazatlán a safe place to live than consider Guadalajara a safe place to live, where I live.
What is the best time of day to go surfing in Mazatlán?
Generally speaking, the best time of day to surf in Mazatlán is in the early morning when the wind blows lightly offshore.
The weather can change very quickly in Mazalán, especially during the rainy season.
Large tidal movements can shut down the surf in the morning. Try to avoid super high tides as well as super low tides. A mid-tide is usually the best bet.
Can you surf a shortboard in Mazatlán?
Yes, you can absolutely surf a shortboard in Mazatlán when there is a solid swell. A board with more foam will get you more waves in between swells. I like to have a mid-length surfboard around because they can be surfed in a wide variety of conditions.
How does Mazatlán compare to Puerto Vallarta?
The city of Puerto Vallarta only has about 220,000 people while the Puerto Vallarta Metro area has close to 500,000 people. Mazatlán Metro Area also has close to 500,000 but it is much more densely populated.
Surfing in Puerto Vallarta requires the surfer to leave Puerto Vallarta and drive to the neighboring state of Nayarit to surf Punta Mita or San Blas. The surf in the actual city of Puerto Vallarta is fickle at best. It only gets good on hurricane swells.
In Mazatlán, you can surf right off the boardwalk in the historic core. Mazatlán is also a lot more local than Puerto Vallarta. Gentrification has pushed a lot of families out of the Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta. Mazatlán is a tourist destination but it is not a predominantly international tourist destination. The number of license plates from Durango and Coahuila almost outnumbered the Sinaloa plates.
Final Thoughts On Surfing In Mazatlán
Mazatlán is easily one of the best places to surf in Mexico. It is an easy-to-reach destination with consistent surf in the summertime. There are lots of fun breaks in town and there world class surf on virgin coastlines within a couple of hours of town.
Besides surfing, there is a lot to do in Sinaloa. The people are warm and welcoming. The food in Sinaloa is some of the best in Mexico. Mazatlán is the whole package and I can’t wait to go back.
I’m planning my drive back to Guadalajara right now. We are debating between a couple of different itineraries but spending another couple of nights in Mazatlán is winning out.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING
- Sunscreen: The Best Biodegradable and Reef Safe Sunscreens for Mexico
- Hat: Barmah Wide-Brim Hat, Classic Panama Hat, Lifeguard Hat.
- Water Bottle: 40oz IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle
- Cooler: 3 Can TOURIT Cooler Backpack
- Shade: Pop-up Sun Shelter or Umbrella with Universal Clamp
- Long Sleeves: Rip Curl UV Long Sleeve Tee
- Shades: RAEN Optics sunglasses
- Car Rental: Discover Cars
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