In addition to a vibrant cultural center, accommodations for all tastes and pocketbooks, and a wide array of restaurants, Mazatlan is home base for tours into the nearby town of La Noria as well as gateway to the Sierras.
La Noria (the Well in Spanish) is a scant 20 miles northeast of Mazatlan. An agricultural community with a tradition of leatherwork and saddle-making, it's a regular destination of city tour groups. Although the town is attractive and colorful, most groups head out to the tequila factory after a brief stroll around the plaza, a visit to St. Anthony's church, and perhaps the purchase of a stamped leather belt or a pair of huaraches.
Compared to the Jalisco distilleries, La Vinata de los Osuna is a compact operation capable of producing 540 gallons day. In truth, their product cannot be officially called tequila because it is not produced in Mexico's specifically designated area, the D.O., in the northwest. Their "tequila" however, is 100 percent blue agave and is made in the traditional way, which is demonstrated on the tour.
First, the agave is cultivated in the fields for 8 to 10 years
before it is ready for harvest. The plant is cut, trimmed, and taken to the distillery where the pinas are quartered and roasted in primitive pit ovens (for demonstration purposes) or autoclaves. When the pinas' starches are converted to sugars, at Osuna they are crushed with a stone wheel drawn around a circular trough by a mule, then shredded to extract their juice, called aguamiel. Fermented in pot stills, the resulting liquid is distilled at least twice.
Tequilas are rated by the amount of aging: silver is either not aged or aged for a minimum of 60 days in stainless steel tanks; reposado is aged in wooden tanks for at least two months; and anejo is aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 months. Los Osuna falls somewhere in the reposado range. It doesn't compare to the quality of my personal favorite, Don Julio, but it's a good low-proof tequila.
After a tour of the facilities, the palapa bar opens so guests may sample the wares. During our trip Tequila Sunrises and Margaritas, were served, but if you wish to get the true flavor of their product, ask for a caballo or pony. I don't go for the salt and lime action but prefer to sip slowly to determine the full flavor and quality.
If you want to extend your Sinaloa experience, you can travel 75 miles to Cosala. Named a Heritage Site and Pueblo Magico by Mexican tourism officials, Cosala is It is located northwest of Mazatlan between Sinaloa and the state of Durango. Cosala means in the Cahita language "place of the beautiful landscape."
The village lives up to its name and cries out to be explored on foot, street by street. Founded as The Royal Mines of the Eleven Hundred Virgins of Cosala in the 16th century, Cosala's architecture is distinguished by thatched roofs and tile-crowned cornices. The patios and adobe walls are framed by painted moldings which contrast colorfully with building exteriors. A palm shaded plaza with fountain is surrounded by shops, restaurants, the city hall, and the Jesuit and Franciscan convents. Stop at the Santa Ursula Temple, built in the 18th century; peruse the documents, old photographs, mineral samples and pre-Hispanic and colonial metal objects at the Museum of Mining and History; or sample the local cuisine at El Merendero, El Pueblito, or El Sazon de Dona Tichi restaurants around the plaza.
Thursday evening there is a folklorico presentation at the museum. The Hacienda Quinta Minera Hotel is clean, attractive and convenient to the downtown area. Its gardens, pools and patios encourage relaxation.
Just five miles from the town, Vado Hondo Waterfall Adventure Park provide pools for swimming in warm weather and a challenging zip line, ropes, and bridge course. Two of our group tried it out and frankly admitted they were terrified. Local women prepared us a delicious picnic lunch of blue corn tortillas, grilled flank steak and grilled spring onions.
Another afternoon we visited the Ecological Reserve of Our Lady Mineral, where they are attempting to bring back the endangered Mexican Green Macaw. There's not a whole lot to see except for a large cage of birds they are trying to rehabilitate.
Leaving the reserve, we drove to Lake Comedero, where we were met by Steve McMahon, who, with his three partners, built a fantastic fishing lodge a few clicks from the local docks. This place is a bass fisherman's paradise with its secluded coves and 100 miles of shoreline. The Lodge is fronted by a palapa bar with views of the lake and mountains. There are 12 rooms including several suites and several with shared baths. They have fully equipped bass boats and provide guides to make the most of time on the water. Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to test Steve's boast of lunkers awaiting our lures.