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Mazatlán's Stone Island offers cruisers a quieter side of Mexico

The beach on Stone Island near Mazatlan is nearly deserted even with two cruise ships in port nearby. Visitors can sunbathe or try horseback riding, snorkeling, kayaking or boogie-boarding. 

Jeramy Gaul | Special to the Times

The beach on Stone Island near Mazatlan is nearly deserted even with two cruise ships in port nearby. Visitors can sunbathe or try horseback riding, snorkeling, kayaking or boogie-boarding. 

MAZATLÁN, Mexico

With the pull of the Caribbean waning after eight cruises, we longed for something different.

Alaska? Too cold.

The Mediterranean? Too far — and the dollar too weak, at least when we were booking last year.

The Mexican Riviera? Images of two world-class resort areas danced on the computer screen. Cabo San Lucas. Puerto Vallarta.

Perfect.

But there was a mystery tucked in the middle of the itinerary. What was Mazatlán?

In Cabo, our ship's tenders ferry passengers to shore through a phalanx of megayachts and impressive deep-sea fishing rigs. In Puerto Vallarta, condos guard the entrance to the port. An upscale mall and large Wal-Mart await outside the terminal. Not far away the waterfront promenade, lined with metal sculptures, evokes a Mediterranean feel.

Mazatlán has an entirely different vibe. After leaving the Norwegian Star, passengers ride a tram pulled by a tractor through a maze of freight containers. Walking is not allowed.

Mazatlán is a working port, Mexico's largest. And it's busy.

But once past the hustle and bustle, Mazatlán provided the most relaxing, and inexpensive, day of our cruise.

What lies ahead?

Walking through the terminal gate we find ourselves in a residential area. We ask directions to the Stone Island ferry and head off on a roughly half-mile trek to its dock.

We buy $1 round-trip tickets and ask when the ferry will arrive. The attendant smiles and points to a small 15-foot skiff with a small outboard motor.

We are a little unnerved.

Still, our group climbs aboard, joining several residents who work on Stone Island. It takes less than five minutes to cross the narrow channel. Once on land we turn and see that our ship is no more than a football field away. We can swim for safety if something goes awry.

A few more steps and the long, flat expanse of Stone Island's beach appears in picture-postcard perfection.

Aging restaurants and bars line the beach. Made of concrete block with thatched roofs, they are a world away from the megaresorts.

We select a restaurant with lounge chairs and umbrellas on the sand and settle in.

The beer comes in a bucket — five Pacificos for $6, five Coronas for $7 — covered by hunks of ice that need a little time to chill the brew. Lunch is grilled chicken sandwiches for less than $3 each. (Our tab for the day totals less than $15, plus tip.)

We kick back, basking in the sun, soaking in the panoramic view of the Pacific. There are no resort crowds spilling onto the beach, no music blasting away to drown out the rhythm of the ocean.

Even with two cruise ships in port less than a mile away, we are alone. On a beach that stretches for a mile, we count no more than 20 people.

Away from it all

For those who want more than lounging on the beach, Stone Island has shops that set up snorkeling and kayaking excursions, arrange horseback rides or rent ATVs.

But that's not what draws us in.

"It's primitive. Relaxing. Cheap," cruiser Jerry Hoehn of Lake of the Woods, Va., says. "And even though it's practically in the shadow of the ship, it seems remote. In a good way. The little ferry boat ride made it seem that way."

We do have to fend off persistent hawkers selling souvenirs, hats and crafts. With so few people on the beach, their clientele is limited. But Bryan Lehman of Lancaster, Pa., grabs the opportunity to negotiate the price of a wooden marlin. After several tries, he and the vendor reach a deal and he leaves with a prized possession.

Hoehn's wife, Barb, wonders about the name of the island, which seems more like a peninsula.

"There are no stones. Maybe they were talking about the big stone out in the middle of the cove? And it's really not an island," she says.

Our day produces only one complaint. We can't find margaritas anywhere.

The Mexican specialty seems like an endangered species on Stone Island. Our server says Victor's, the bar next door, makes them.

Sometimes.

Understandable. On laid-back Stone Island, making a frozen concoction almost seems like too much like work.

Kyle Kreiger can be reached at kreiger@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8565.

.If you go

Mazatlán

Population: About 500,000

History: The city was founded in 1531. German immigrants developed the port, now Mexico's largest, in the mid 1800s to bring in equipment for the area's gold and silver mines.

The city: Mazatlán is divided into two distinct areas. Old Mazatlán, the downtown area, is home to the city's rich history, including the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Four miles to the north is the Gold Zone, Mazatlán's growing resort area.

Visitors like: The nearby waters are well-known among sport fishermen hoping to land a marlin.

Average temperature: 77 degrees

To learn more: Go to www.visitmexico.com, click "Destinations" and proceed.

Sources: www.visitmexico.com, www.frommers.com

Mazatlán's Stone Island offers cruisers a quieter side of Mexico 03/14/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 15, 2009 6:22am]

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