Last Updated on September 18, 2020
Did you know Mazatlan Carnaval is touted as being the third largest celebration of it’s kind in the world after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans? This event also lays claim to being the biggest and oldest Carnaval in Mexico. Regardless of statistics, when over 700,000 people come to town, that is the makings of one big party!
Carnaval in Mazatlan features epic parades, spectacular fireworks, regal pageantry, massive marionettes and the exploding effigy of an abhorred public figure – the perennial crowd favourite! Add to this roving musicians, national music acts, dancing, amazing food and delicious icy cold beer for the ultimate street party!
Each year this event has a different theme – notably represented in the parade floats, performances and costumes. Carnaval in Mazatlan is very much a fun, family orientated event. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of beer flowing and partying with generations of Mexican families turning out en masse for this annual celebration.
Aside from Easter (Semana Santa), Carnaval is a huge economic boon to the city. Hotels are booked out months in advance and often require a three night minimum stay over this period. Naturally the price of everything is inflated, right down to a humble beer.
Is it Carnival in Mazatlan or Carnaval in Mazatlan?
So, what’s in a name exactly? How does Mazatlan officially spell this world-famous event? To many folks north of the border carnival seems to be the preferred way of spelling this Mazatlan event. To native English speakers, carnival is used to describe the popular cruise line or some type of travelling amusement show. However, the Spanish spelling is carnaval. So, which is the correct word to use in the case of Mazatlan?
Officially it’s Mazatlan Carnaval and that’s all there is to it! You’ll see this spelling everywhere – on the logo, banners, merchandise, parade floats, the official website and more. Both spellings are correct, depending on where the event in question is being held but we’re talking about Mazatlan so throw aside carnival for carnaval and get ready for one hell of a party!
When is Carnaval in Mazatlan?
This celebration is held over six days in the run-up to Lent – typically in February. Carnaval in Mazatlan officially begins the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and runs through Pancake Tuesday (a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras). All events occur in the evening and at night.
Mazatlan Carnaval 2021 is scheduled to begin February 11 and end on February 16. The theme for 2021 is Lanao, un Viaje Por el Tiempo (Lanao, a Journey Through Time).
Insider Tip: Typically, Carnaval events in Mazatlan don’t start on time. We’re not saying you should arrive late for anything, just don’t have any expectations for timeliness.
Where is Mazatlan’s Carnaval?
The majority of Carnaval’s events are centred along the malecón in Mazatlan, especially the free events. However other locations including Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (Mazatlan Venado’s Baseball Stadium) and the Angela Peralta Theatre also play host to paid ticketed concerts and ceremonies.
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Mazatlan International Airport (General Rafael Buelna International Airport), is 19 km southeast of the city. You can take any taxi to the airport however you can only take the waiting yellow and white taxis or shuttles (colectivos) from the airport to your destination.
Before hopping in one of these designated taxis you must first pay your fare inside the terminal at the Transportaciones Aeropuerto counter. This is cash only. The breakdown of fares is calculated per zone. After paying based on your zone simply present your voucher to the next available taxi driver. This pre-paid system eliminates all guesswork and negotiating of fares, with all zones and their prices listed behind the counter.
Fare Zones 1 – 4 to Mazatlan From the Airport as of September 2020:
- 1 – Old Mazatlan and the Golden Zone north to the El Cid Marina Hotel – 430 MXN
- 2 – North of El Cid Marina Hotel up to but NOT including the Riu or Cerritos Point – 450 MXN
- 3 – The Riu, Cerritos Point, Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay and Playa Delfin north to just south of Oceanica – 490 MXN
- 4 – Oceanica and Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra) – 620 MXN
Insider Tip: As already stated this pre-paid system accepts cash only. Although Transportaciones Aeropuerto accepts U.S. and Canadian dollars, the exchange rate at the taxi counter is rather abysmal. Have enough pesos on hand for the taxi fare and to see you through at least a day or two.
Getting Around Mazatlan
Simply getting from point A to point B is a party in itself here in Mazatlan and even more so during Carnaval. For a truly unique way to get around Mazatlan catch a refreshing breeze with a lift in an iconic pulmonia. There’s no shortage of these open-air, golf cart-like canopied Volkswagen vehicles whizzing about town.
For larger groups of 6-8 adults, consider hiring an auriga. These canopied red trucks with their built-in sound systems ferry folk about town, but on weekends and Carnaval they are typically party trucks. Both pulmonias and aurigas are noteworthy for their blaring music.
Taxis and Ubers are also common modes of transport around town – expect lengthy waits during Mazatlan’s Carnaval week.
Insider Tip: Always confirm your fare before getting in any of the above modes of transport. Vehicles don’t have meters, therefore rates are negotiable and fares must be agreed upon before the trip. Always carry small bills just in case your driver “doesn’t” have any change!
Aside from public transport, wear comfortable shoes because you’ll find yourself walking a lot more than you anticipated during Carnaval.
Where to Stay During the Mazatlan Carnaval Celebration
As stated above the price of many things becomes inflated during Carnaval, especially accommodation. Demand drives prices so even basic budget options are not what one would consider budget, but in the grand scheme of things you won’t get any better!
Insider Tip: Book in advance. Visitors reserve accommodations months in advance, especially oceanfront balcony rooms offering a perfect vantage point over the parades along Avenida del Mar. Keep in mind there may be a two or three night-minimum booking required. Carnaval in Mazatlan is big business for hotels!
Alternatively, find somewhere away from the malecón and Centro area if you don’t want the associated partying with Carnaval. In reality, if you are centrally located in Mazatlan be prepared for late night festivities. Remember this is Carnaval, Mazatlan’s biggest party!
Where: 1912 Dr. Carvajal, Centro
Telephone: 52 669 985 1233
This centrally-located hotel is a very basic budget option and somewhere we’ve stayed ourselves. If you don’t expect much you won’t be disappointed. There’s a supermarket across the road and some great 24/7 taco stands just outside of Mercado Pino Suarez just a couple of blocks away.
Where: 166 Paseo Olas Altas, in Mazatlan’s Centro area.
Telephone: 52 669 985 1112
Aah, Hotel Belmar – the choice of Hollywood’s elite in the 50’s – is now the best budget option in town! Located right on Playa Olas Altas, this is the perfect location if you want to be in the heart of the action for Carnaval in Mazatlan. An ocean-facing room guarantees you a front row seat for Carnaval’s famous Combate Naval fireworks extravaganza and parades.
Where: 1607 Belisario Domínguez, in Mazatlan’s Centro area.
Telephone: 52 669 982 1888
Soak up the atmosphere of Mazatlan’s historic Centro, just steps from Plazuela Macahado and downtown’s art district with a stay at this hotel. Located a couple of blocks from the malecón, this is a great option to enjoy one of the world’s biggest carnavals.
Where: 16 Avenida Olas Altas, in Mazatlan’s Centro area.
Telephone: 52 669 982 1100
Located on the southernmost end of Playa Olas Altas, this boutique hotel offers stunning ocean front views – perfect for the Mazatlan Carnaval Combate Naval (Saturday night’s big fireworks show). It’s also in close proximity to a couple of music stages, so bring ear plugs.
Where: 2 Calle José María Iribarren, in Mazatlan’s Centro area.
Although Casa Lulu is a pleasant oasis in the city, it is still located along the malecón. Though not within the Carnaval party zone of Olas Altas, there may be residual mirth and merrymaking from partyers as they make their way home.
Temperatures in February and March in Mazatlan are incredibly comfortable. Daytime highs are right around 80°F (26°C), with nighttime lows registering in the mid 50’s F (15°C). Humidity is low and rain is rare but we recommend having a light jacket with you when going out for the night. A chilly sea breeze can make standing for hours on end watching the parades along the Avenida del Mar a tad uncomfortable.
Safety at Mazatlan Carnaval
What can I say about safety that hasn’t already been said regardless of where you are and any event that you attend? Use common sense! It’s best not to get stocious drunk but if you do it’s adviseable not to carry valuables on you, i.e. your passport, bank cards or anything that will be a nightmare to replace! Try to maintain some wherewithal of your surroundings. There is a high police presence at Carnaval in Mazatlan, but still do not flash any valuables – money, jewellery etc…
With an extra 700,000 folk in town, Carnaval makes for incredibly tightly-packed crowds resulting in a pickpocket’s dream. Backpacks and handbags are not a good idea. Keep all cash firmly up front on yourself and keep your wits about you and your surroundings. There’s no need for paranoia, just exercise basic common sense in crowds this large.
Mazatlan Carnaval Parking
Simply put, Mazatlan Carnaval parking is a nightmare! You’ll find designated parking lots in town, but you’ve probably got a better chance at becoming Carnaval King or Queen than getting a parking spot in one of these lots. Spectators arrive hours before events begin and residential streets are jammed full of vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper. Enterprising locals open up their driveways and any spare bit of space they have as impromptu parking lots…for a fee.
If you’re coming in from any of the outlying areas – Sábalo, Cerritos, the Golden Zone etc… take your preferred mode of public transport – a bus, taxi, pulmonia, auriga or an uber. If you’re closer to town, soak up the atmosphere and walk to the celebrations along the malecón.
Mazatlan Carnaval Events
The main goings-on for Carnaval in Mazatlan fall under two categories: free and paid events. See this schedule from Mazatlan’s Carnaval 2020 for an idea of the primary festivities, as the upcoming 2021 list is still in the planning stages. These events are the same each year and include parades, pageants, pyrotechnics, cultural performances and plenty of live musical acts.
As mentioned, the City of Mazatlan chooses a different theme for Carnaval every year. Monigotes are built, stages are designed, costumes are sewn, dances are choreographed and the city is abuzz with the unveiling of that year’s theme. Immediately below is much more information on purchasing tickets and details of each individual Carnaval event in Mazatlan.
Where to Purchase Tickets For Paid Events at Mazatlan’s Carnaval
All tickets for paid events may be purchased in advance after New Year at the Angela Peralta Theatre ticket office on Plazuela Machado. Box office hours at the theatre are 9:00 am – 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm. Tickets are available also at a kiosk outside of the theatre on Plazuela Machado from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
Tickets may also be purchased at a kiosk in La Gran Plaza shopping mall on Avenida Reforma from 11:00 am – 8:00 pm daily. You can also obtain tickets at the Cultura office at 203 Avenida Miguel Alemán from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Stay tuned for further details and information. Once the 2021 Mazatlan Carnaval schedule is released we will include it here. The official website is currently under construction.
As is traditional during this festive period, a Carnaval King and Queen are coronated with much pomp and circumstance. In keeping with this being very much a family orientated time there is also the coronation of the Child Queen. However, Mazatlan Carnaval is unique in that there is also a coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games.
King of Joy Coronation:
Where: This coronation is held at Parque Ciudades Hermanas (Sister Cities Park) on Mazatlan’s Malecón.
This is a Free Event
The crowning of El Rey de la Alegria (the King of Joy) heralds the real start of Carnaval in Mazatlan. Grab a few beers, don a jacket and bring a camp chair if you really want to get comfy. Save your appetite for snacks from any of the multiple food vendors on hand selling anything from chicken kebabs and tacos to tostilocos.
This inaugural coronation is attended by thousands and is an informal, convivial night of banter, ribbing, song and dance. Obviously it helps if you are fluent in Spanish to really get the most out of the speeches, but regardless it’s a fun night out for all the family. As is common throughout Carnaval, the post coronation concert is a crowd-pleasing national act.
The Floral Games and Coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games:
Where: Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (Mazatlan Venado’s Baseball Stadium)
This is a Paid Ticketed Event
Although she’s the official runner-up to the Carnaval Queen, the crowning of the Queen of the Floral Games is deemed just as important. Unlike the crowning of the king, this ceremony is much more formal in manner.
This prestigious cultural event comes packed with colourful, elaborate stage shows representative of Carnaval’s theme. National literary accolades are awarded at the Juegos Florales (Floral Games) ceremony and the night is rounded out with a top-billing national act and fireworks.
Carnaval Queen Coronation:
Where: Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (Mazatlan Venado’s Baseball Stadium)
This is a Paid Ticketed Event
This elegant, spectacular ceremony celebrates the coronation of Mazatlan’s Carnaval Queen. If the thoughts of shuffling shoulder to shoulder through crowds on the malecón isn’t your thing, perhaps consider this event a more subdued alternative whilst still being treated to all that Carnaval offers.
Enjoy intricately choreographed performances set against a backdrop of special effects and colourful lighting as regal pageantry prevails. The culmination of the night’s events include an exhilarating fireworks display and a concert by one of Latin American music’s top performers.
Insider Tip: It’s pretty much impossible to attend the coronation of the Carnaval Queen and make it back into town to see the Combate Naval (the big fireworks show). Decide ahead of time which one you’d rather attend.
Coronation of the Child Queen:
Where: Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (Mazatlan Venado’s Baseball Stadium)
This is a Paid Ticketed Event
Monday focuses primarily on family events. For everyone else it’s somewhat a day of recovery before the final onslaught! The morning sees the Children’s Dance, with prizes awarded and beaming parents proudly recording every last step. Later in the evening a pint-sized princess becomes the Child Queen of Carnaval, with the same pomp and circumstance as awarded to her adult contemporaries.
Quema de Mal Humor (Burning of the Bad Mood)
When: Saturday between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm
Where: The Burning of the Bad Mood takes place on the malecón along Playa Olas Altas
Oddly enough, this crowd favourite remains one of the lesser-known events of Carnaval! Each year crowds gather to celebrate the Quema de Mal Humor a.k.a. the Bad Mood Burning. Sometimes the effigy is that of a reviled public figure and sometimes it’s just a nondescript blob. Either way the hanging and burning of this piñata puppet represents the woes of Mazatlan going up in smoke.
The effigy hangs from the back of a truck and is paraded along Olas Altas to the Venado Statue and then set alight. The massive exploding piñata spins, hisses, crackles and smokes as attached firecrackers perform their annual ritualistic cleansing, much to the crowd’s delight.
Combate Naval (Naval Combat Fireworks)
When: Saturday at 10:00 pm
Where: Crowds gather along Playa Olas Altas to enjoy these fireworks.
Saturday night is the explosive highlight of Carnaval for many. The malecón is awash with onlookers ready to be dazzled by the night’s choreographed pyrotechnics, lasers and music show.
This epic display is a celebratory representation of the defense of Mazatlan from the French Colonial invasion in 1864. Fireworks and their ensuing billowing smoke recreate the cannon battle between the French battleship La Cordeliere and the British war sloop Charybdis.
Drones were used in a truly unique way for the 2020 Mazatlan Carnaval. Out of nowhere on the horizon a formation of ships appeared in the sky, set to a backdrop of sombre classical music. Each ship was represented by a formation of colourful drones and a brief mock battle ensued. Following the synchronised drone re-enactment the traditional fireworks, lasers, music and fire on the water began.
Insider Tip: Make a reservation for an outside table at a restaurant along Playa Olas Altas for the fireworks. Alternatively book a booze cruise with Yate Fiesta for one of the best vantage points of Saturday night’s fireworks and one of the best parties in town.
Mazatlan Carnaval’s Parades
Where: The Inaugural Parade heads north along the malecón from Playa Olas Altas to Valentino’s at the southern end of the Golden Zone.
Without a doubt the highlight of Carnaval for most are the parades, with Sunday’s Inaugural Parade being the most anticipated event. Indeed, such is the level of enthusiasm to get a prime vantage point that folk camp out 48-hours in advance along the malecón. They set up their tents right on the footpath and patiently stake their claim for themselves and their families. This has become a Mazatlan Carnaval tradition in itself!
Sunday’s official festivities begin with a smaller pre-parade which begins around 4:00 pm. Here the floats are typically from local companies whose promotional tactics include throwing freebies to the eager crowd. With the onset of twilight at 6:00 pm the eagerly anticipated real parade begins.
The malecón glows for three hours with colourful storeyed floats, dancers, marching bands, horseback riders and plenty of music to assail your senses, so prepare for a sensory overload.
Where: Along the malecón from the Mazatlan Aquarium to Playa Olas Altas
The second parade marks the beginning of the end of Carnaval. The same floats that made their way north along the malecón on Sunday now return south to their final resting place in some lonely, nondescript lot on Avenida Miguel Alemán.
Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, is the final fling with partying going on right through the night. After the parade the main stage on Playa Olas Altas hosts a free concert performed by a Latin American music superstar. The following morning of Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of Lent, a time of atonement and abstinence for many.
Insider Tip: Rent a room in a hotel for viewing the parades as many snowbirders and folk in-the-know do just this. That way they have the best of both worlds – they can enjoy the parade from above without jostling for a spot amongst the crowds. When it’s all over they can stay the night or just go home to their Carnaval-free neighbourhoods. Hotel De Cima is a popular choice for a great parade vantage point.
What to Expect at Mazatlan Carnaval
As already mentioned, there are particular Carnaval events that require paid ticketed admission. However don’t be surprised finding that you’ll need tickets to access certain areas along the malecón to enjoy the free night-time entertainment. These tickets are free and are really just a form of crowd control. Strategically-placed booths allow you to simply obtain a free ticket which you then present to the police stationed at the checkpoints. Queues move incredibly swiftly for these tickets, so it really isn’t an inconvenience waiting for these.
You’ll encounter tight security during Carnaval, complete with sections of Olas Altas cordoned off, including the side streets leading to this stretch of the malecón. The police man these checkpoints – be prepared to get frisked! You cannot bring alcohol in beyond these checkpoints, but there are plenty of beer tents with inflated prices beyond these boundaries. In 2020, cans of Pacifico beer cost 20 pesos.
Insider Tip: If you’re lucky enough to know someone with a hotel room within the checkpoint zone, stash some beers there before-hand to save some pesos.
You’ll find plenty of banks of toilets set up in advance throughout the party zone to accommodate the crowds. In our experience we found them relatively well maintained considering their temporary status and the burden they bear. Of course this depends on one’s general willingness to use public toilets.
Insider Tip: Bring your own loo roll, just like you would anywhere in Mexico.
To the best of my knowledge it is illegal to drink in public in Sinaloa. However as long as you are not fall-down drunk or obstreperous, we have yet to ever see this law enforced along the malecón or on the beaches in Mazatlan.
During Carnaval it is perfectly acceptable to stroll along the malecón with your drink of choice – as long as it is not in a glass container. This laxed open container policy isn’t just reserved for Carnaval, you can partake in this popular amble all year round. In fact it’s common for folk to gather along the malecón wall to enjoy the spectacular sunsets the Pearl of the Pacific is famous for any night of the week. Aaah Mazatlan – like there aren’t enough reasons to love this city!
Insider Tip: Have pesos on hand for the beer vendors – cards aren’t accepted.
Banda music is synonymous with Sinaloa and is incredibly popular throughout Mexico. This musical style is a hybrid of Mexican and German Polka music. A typical Sinaloense group features brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. Believe us, you’ll know when you stumble upon this distinct musical gathering.
Throughout the day and night you’ll find roving Sinaloense bands strike up a tune, much to the delight of the crowds. This is an invitation for couples of all ages to dance impromptu to the music and for others to sing a rousing rendition of the tune. For those camping out on the footpaths reserving their spots for the parades, banda musicians provide a welcome distraction. These guys work on tips so remember to give them a few pesos for their talents.
Insider Tip: Always carry ear plugs.
At least half a dozen stages are set up along Olas Altas, many being used simultaneously! Carnaval is a holiday for many here in Mazatlan and it’s one giant party. Along with the stages there are also roving musicians, so the opportunity to dance is never far away.
I thought Irish folk knew how to rage it up, well Mexicans are on a par or might even overtake us when it comes to partying. Here folk party throughout the night. Don’t be surprised to see/hear parties going on until 6 am!
Insider Tip: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Otherwise seriously consider the location of your hotel room. If you are staying along Playa Olas Altas prepare for some late, loud nights.
Things to Do Besides Carnaval in Mazatlan
During the day nothing much specifically Carnaval-related happens. People take this opportunity to nurse hangovers and rest, in preparation of the coming night’s festivities. Typically people visit with family and lounge on the beaches or take in the sights of Mazatlan.
There are plenty of things to keep all ages occupied in and around the city while waiting for the evening’s entertainment to begin. Stroll about town or take a pulmonia or auriga tour. Mazatlan is full of sights and landmarks perfect for snapping a photo as a memento of your Carnaval visit.
Make sure you check out the colourful Mazatlan letters by Valentino’s on the north end of the malecón. Of course, don’t leave town without capturing the perfect photo op featuring any of the iconic Mazatlan Carnaval Monigotes located around town, especially along the malecón.
History of Mazatlan Carnaval
Carnaval in Mazatlan traces it’s origins back to 1898. In its formative days men and women threw flour, ashes, glitter and dyes at each other whilst dockworkers and market-workers threw rocks and hurled abuse at each other. Thankfully, a committee was formed early on and came up with a more restrained and refined celebration of parades, coronations and confetti-flinging, which continues to the present day.
Presently the Carnaval tradition of mask-wearing still exists and these days kids spray each other with silly string while waiting for the parades to begin. Rather than rocks, confetti now rains down on spectators as it’s shot from cannons placed on parade floats and of course the crowning of Carnaval royalty continues to enamour the crowds.
Although Mazatlan Carnaval is the third largest celebration of this kind in the world, we found it to be a very relaxed, family orientated, social event. Even shuffling through the crowds was not as daunting as one would think. We encountered no pushing, shoving or jostling as people just amiably made their way from one place to the next, albeit sometimes in a huge wave of humanity.
We both come from countries where gatherings of 700,000 would feature plenty of drunken brawls, rudeness, heated arguments and plenty of police involvement. That likely happens at Carnaval in Mazatlan however we witnessed nothing but throngs of well-mannered people having fun. We were both simply amazed by how respectful the crowds were and hope you will be, too.