Mazatlan, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, gets a bad rap. Mostly because people confuse a drug cartel being named after a state, or with a state being named in honor of a drug cartel.

This unfortunate labeling likely has kept Mazatlan from the escalating costs of other coastal expat areas that don’t happen to share a name with a cartel.  I question if they are even safer, as I have read of isolated drug related violence in most all areas, including the vaulted San Miguel de Allende or Puerto Vallarta.

Mazatlan’s cost of living is even low by Mexican standards. It’s a city roughly the size of Richmond, Virginia, so has the critical mass necessary to be more than a beach town. It has a vibrant arts community, including a renowned school for aspiring opera singers, a large historical district and a great live music scene.

We found this fully furnished Mazatlan apartment on Craigslist for $600 US dollars a month

We found this beautiful, fully furnished Mazatlan apartment for $600 US dollars a month

Many expats, including expats from Europe live here. If you feel safer surrounded by Americans and Canadians, those neighborhoods are to be had up at the northern tip of the city near the Marina area. More that 20,000 snowbirds flock here from Canada from November to April.  Very affordable housing can be found throughout Mazatlan, including it’s beachfront.

Unlike more popular expat communities, Mazatlan is a working town. Tuna, not tourism is its chief industry, which helps Mazatlan retain its authenticity in spite of its size.  Mexican tourists fill  Mazatlan too, especially for Carnival and Semana Santa.

The historic district and it’s Plaza Machado is the hub of it’s cultural scene, pegged by the famous Angela Peralta Theatre.  The operatic theater, first constructed in 1874 as the Teatro Rubio, was reconstructed in 1992 and named in honor of the famous Mexican soprano. It’s three levels are preserved in original form.

The theatre hosts both American productions like Cats as well as Mexican productions. Last year, I had the opportunity to see Hector Ortiz and the theatre’s entire orchestra cover Jim Morrison and the Doors.

They didn’t stop there. It’s three-story lobby was bathed in black light and smelled of incense. Ortiz’s rich performance was accompanied by a slideshow depicting the era. Excellent two-person productions in side salons of Antonio Hass, another theatre.

Aspiring opera singers come from all over Latin America to be under the tutelage of Maestro Enrique Patrón de la Rueda, considered the foremost director of opera of his generation in Mexico.  Opera transcends language and students sing operas from throughout the world.

For dining, Mazatlan has a solid selection, with the best experiences offered by Topolo on Constitution Avenue near the central plazuela and El Presidio.  If you are to only dine out once in Mazatlan, El Presidio, which is located in a former prison, should be your choice.

Recently I discovered Mazatlan also is an easy flight to Tijuana. The reason that is positive is you can save hundreds of dollars in airfare coming and going out of Mexico if you fly to Tijuana, cross the border, and fly to your U.S destination from there.

While I don’t want to belabored the concern with drug activity in Mazatlan, it seems to be the elephant in the room that prevents people from seriously considering retiring to the city.  Is there drug activity? I assume so. My Mexican friends have offered to take me on a tour of those areas, as I have never seen any.

Consider this. Probably most people who live in an American city live within a few miles of a “bad neighborhood.” Yet people avoid entire states in Mexico because some area in that state has a problem.  Four of the most dangerous cities in the world are in the U.S. yet you do not avoid the entire states of California, Michigan, Missouri and Maryland.

Use others’ biopic vision to your advantage and scout Mazatlan if you’re considering Mexico as a retirement destination.

If you  want to feel like you’re having a life experience in another country without giving up conveniences, if you want a still very-affordable coastal town with a great night life, and if you still like to take in a quality concert or play every now and then, take a look at Mazatlan.

Written by our wonderful guest writer, Kerry Baker.
Kerry is an expat and author of the “Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free On-line”.

Photo By Crystal Marie Lopez via StockPholio.com