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Mazatlan is a fun and easy place to go with kids. The people are friendly, there is lots to do and getting around is easy.
Most hotels and resorts offer enough activities and fun to last a day or a week. Head out to the pool in the morning, the beach in the afternoon and the waterfront restaurnat at dinner, and you've got yourself a wonderful day of vacation and relaxation.
When you are ready to go somewhere, hop one of the open-air taxis that wait in front of hotels. They are cheap and easy. Be sure to agree on a price before getting in. Kids love riding in these fun little vehicles.
There are two main shopping areas and both are a little tricky with kids, simply because of the crowds and slightly chaotic nature of each area. The Zona Dorada or Gold Zone is near many of the major resorts. It's the easier of the two shopping areas to negotiate with kids. Lots of open stalls selling everything from jewelry to hammocks. Kids are sure to find a souvenier or two to bring home. For a bit more adventure, the downtown market is fascinating. There are butcher shops a more intimate view of meat than many may be used to. There are so many t-shirt stalls, it becomes difficult to chose. Most of what they sell in the gold zone is also sold here at a lower price. But this market place is more crowded. If visiting with children, a tight buddy system would be in order as it would be all too easy to become separated.
Just a few blocks from the downtown market is a beautiful cathedral worth a look.
For a day trip, Stone Island is very fun and well worth it. You can book a tour, but we went on our own and had no problems. Take a taxi to the dock and buy very cheap tickets to be taken over to Stone Island on a little skiff. (Beware, this is not exactly a tour boat. WHile we were offered life jackets, they were not in good condition and it's not out of the question that the little skiff could tip.) Once on Stone Island, it's a short walk (five minutes) to a vast, amazing beach. Here you can rent kayaks, horseback ride, take a banana boat ride, even rent ATVs. The prices for all of these activities were quite low. There was a warning on one message board about liablity issues should you damage an ATV. If you have older kids and want to try ATVs, beware and know your responsiblities.
Lunch on Stone Island is a lot of fun. You sit at a table in the sand, shaded by a large umbrella and out comes wonderful, authentic food. There are several little cantinas along the beach. Nothing elegant by any means, but great food. There are also plenty of vendors roaming the beach, hoping to make a sale.
A few warnings about Stone Island: You pay cash for everything and there is no cash machine on the island. (The island is actually a penninsula, by the way.) We actually ran out of cash after renting ATVs and they Kayaks. So we spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sun and surf and it was fine. But take plenty of cash if you plan to do many activities. Secondly, the restroom facilities are rather basic. We were offered bathrooms at the place where we ate lunch. They were on par with a typical honeybucket, at best. If you have young children, this could be an issue. I would also not recommend Stone Island if your tummy is unsettled.
Warnings aside, Stone Island is a great way to spend a day. The activities are less expensive on Stone Island, so if you're longing to do the banana boat or rent a kayak, this is the place. Note there does not appear to be parasailing on Stone Island.
One thing kids love to do in Mazatlan is get a henna painted on their skin. This is a seeminly harmless activity. However before you allow anyone to ink your child, google "Black Henna" and familiarize yourself with the dangers of black henna ink. It is a serious matter. One of my three children got black henna. I had no idea there was any risk at all to henna and his reaction was quite severe. He got the black henna on the beach in front of the Pueblo Bonito. My other two children got henna at Stone Island with no problem. Certainly henna can be a fun thing to do. Just know before you go and beware of black henna. It is dangerous.
The Mazatlan aquarium is worth a short trip. It's nothing like American aquariums. It's very simple and basic, but enjoyable as a break from the beach. It's easy to get their via open air taxi. The stretch of wild beach near the aquarium is lovely to walk but dangerous to swim.
There is a waterpark in Mazatlan. It was not opened in February when we were there but is supposed to be fun.
Boogie boards are widely available for rent. It would probably be cheaper to bring your own if you have one, but it was easy to walk out on the beach and grab one.
Fruit vendors walk the beach selling fruit cups. I had heard that the fruit was best (and safest) first thing in the morning, so we made a point of gettign some each morning. We also enjoyed some unique cookies that were sold by vendors in the late afternoon. The vendors were enjoyable to interact with and not overly persistant. They are kind to children and kids are able to bargain with them. The vendors selling kites do a brisk business on windy days!
Mazatlan is a perfect spot for a family vacation. From toddlers to teens, there is something for everyone and lots of time to just relax and be together. And that's what vacation is all about.