Cheap Mexico

This picture shows the Hotel Belmar, Mazatlan, Mexico.

The fabulous Belmar Hotel, Mazatlan: cheap and classic

Travelzoo.com did me another solid when it announced this mad Westjet sale last fall. Tickets from Winnipeg to Mazatlan were going for $49, and back to Winnipeg for $99. M and I had no plans to go to Mexico, but since we were already going to Winnipeg to spend Christmas, we decided to go a little early and then take off to Mazatlan for a week. Bonus: the week before we left, we noticed the price to return had come down to $67. Westjet credited us the difference. Total price of airfare, per person, including taxes and fees: $200 Canadian. It pays to keep checking for price reductions!

Accommodation prices in Mexico can differ wildly. At the bottom end you’ve got your hostel dorm beds for $5 a night, all the way up to your super slick resorts that have rooms that cost in the hundreds. If you’re cheap like us, and if you want to go to Mazatlan to see Mazatlan, as opposed to, you know, swarms of tourists, you’ll avoid the dreadful Golden Zone like Montezuma’s Revenge and head straight for the old city. Here we found a wonderful, rundown, rambling old hotel called the Belmar. This place has tons of old Mexican charm and is right on the malecon (sea wall). Its heyday was in the ‘50s (side note: we are in love with all things ‘50s), but it’s been around since the 1800s. It was the hotel of choice for Anais Nin, John Wayne and other celebrities, and is said to be haunted (this may or may not work for you. M reported being awakened at night with the sense that someone was in our room).

This place constantly gets a bad rap from TripAdvisor and other sites, but I don’t know where it comes from. We’ve been there twice now. Both times we got a double room with a big balcony overlooking the beach. Last year the rate was around $35 Canadian/night, and this year it was even lower at $29/night. The staff are super cool and nice, the place is clean and the location is unbeatable. OK, OK, so sleeping on those beds is akin to sleeping on a cardboard box, with a cracker for a pillow. And, fine, there is never hot—though sometimes there is warm—water in the shower. But give me a break. Anyone who goes to Mexico expecting luxurious living is missing the point, in my humble opinion.

This picture shows Olas Altas Beach in Mazatlan, Mexico.

The practically uninhabited beach in front of the Belmar Hotel, yours for free

Then there’s that beach. It never ceases to amaze me how empty this beautiful beach is, this beach just across the street from the Belmar. Perhaps the big waves scare people off—it’s mostly populated by a gringo or two and local kids with their surf and body boards. Even then, the swimmers hang at the other end of the beach, away from the surfers, where the water is a little calmer.  Another excellent feature: there are no vendors walking up and down the beach. They’re all in the Golden Zone. Ha ha.

Mexico is known for its cheap eats and nowhere is this more evident that at the public market in Mazatlan. The upstairs is all little restaurants where you can get a meal for a few dollars. Some of these joints have balconies overlooking the street. It’s a real urban al fresco experience, and the tortillas never stop coming. Interestingly, the restaurants at the public markets seem to be the only cheap eateries that actually give you real milk for your coffee (everywhere else, it’s Coffee Mate, mate).

This picture shows a restaurant at the Pino Suarez public market in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Restaurant Angelica, at Mazatlan's public market

But even cheaper is buying food from the market and putting together your own meal. We bought granola (Mexican granola is excellent. Lo maximo!), fruit and homemade yogurt for breakfast, then headed over to the excellent bakery a few streets over for buns and treats, and then finally to the tamale shop. That took care of breakfast and lunch. The only meal we had out was dinner. That saved us a bundle.

We left Mazatlan proper to spend a few days at Isla la Piedra (Stone Island), a short boat ride from town. To get there, everyone will steer you toward the ferry terminal area, where a boat to the island (which is actually a peninsula) costs 10 pesos. But if you catch a boat a couple kilometers past the ferry terminal, at the fish market, that boat will only cost you 5 pesos. Needless to say, this is where the locals go to catch a boat.

This is the beach at Isla la Piedra, or Stone Island, Mazatlan, Mexico

View from the balcony, Isla la Piedra, Mazatlan

We trudged up the beach at Stone Island to find a place to stay. We wanted somewhere cheap (of course) and as far away as possible from the RV parks (gross). A guy we approached about a room packed us into his old truck and drove us to his cousin’s place. The cheaper rooms were full; all they had was a “condo” for $45 U.S. a night. We protested that it was too much for us, but they invited us to see it anyway. Well. It was a beautiful little apartment with a massive balcony, complete with double hammock, overlooking the beach. It had a full kitchen and a nifty little barbecue made with an old tire rim with legs of rebar. We caved and spent three days there. Yes, for cheapos, $45 a night for accommodations in Mexico is serious coin. But it was worth every centavo.

This is a rim and rebar barbecue found in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Rim-and-rebar BBQ

Oh, and about that fish market I mentioned earlier, that’s the place to go for freshly caught seafood. You can take the boat (from the village) for the 5 pesos (it’s a return ticket if you return the same day) to the market, buy your fish or shrimp, head back and put that rim-and-rebar BBQ to good use.

SUMMARY: Cost of trip to Mazatlan, including airfare, meals, accommodations and other monies spent: less than $500 per person!

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