To say moving from a small surfing town to a mountaintop college town was a shock is an understatement. From surfing the waves before my first class to walking among big pines, it was a big change, and that's without mentioning the culture shock I experienced.

Mazatlán, a city right along the Pacific Coast, is known for some of the most beautiful sunsets in Mexico. There are islands people swim or paddle to every day, dolphins playing near the beach, seals sunbathing on rocks and colorful iguanas climbing the hundreds of palm trees. The sky is always blue, the ocean always twinkling and the islands are the most vibrant green you will ever see. Imagine having the opportunity to call a place like that home.

One of the most recognizable landmarks is the “Malecon.” This is a 20-plus kilometer seawall that runs the length of the main bay in Mazatlán, one of the longest ones in the world. People are constantly walking, riding bikes, skating and so much more along it every day. Many monuments along the Malecon symbolize iconic things that distinguish the port like a fisherman, seals, a pulmonia — which is the local taxi — and so much more.

During February, the annual Carnaval is celebrated along the Malecon, where hundreds of thousands of people come together to throw confetti and enjoy the event that consists of carnival queens, colorful parades, amazing concerts and firework shows, all with a view of the sunset in the background.

Mazatlán is one of the oldest ports in the Americas. Mazatlán translates to “land of the deer” in Nahuatl, one of the native languages of Mexico before it was conquered by the Spanish. The port was home to many native tribes due to its vast amount of seafood and fertile soil. After a wave of illness and conquistadores left most of the natives dead in the late 1500s, Mazatlán was an easy target and a new place for the Spanish to settle. 

By the 1700s, the port gained more relevance among the Spanish, French and even pirates due to the presence of gold and silver in the area. It wasn’t until 1821 that Mazatlán gained independence from the Spanish.

Due to Mazatlán's vast history, the architectural influence of the Spanish is obvious in the downtown area, also known as the Centro Historico. There are many picturesque buildings, from restaurants to theaters, which always offer something new to do. In the center of the area is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which features a 19th-century baroque-style building with a variety of stained glass windows and gold-plated statues.

There are three islands close to the mainland and they are all named after animals that inhabit the area. All three of these islands — Isla de los Venados (Deer Island), Isla de los Chivos (Goat Island) and Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island) — are nature reserves due to their lush flora and fauna.

Bird Island is known for having an immense bird population, which reproduce and live there. Among the species that inhabit the island, many are considered endangered, leading to an even further effort of protecting the area. Many wild orchids, cacti and other tropical flowers can be found on this island, adding to its beauty.

Deer Island is the most visited of the three. Many people enjoy its fresh coconuts, the vast amount of seashells and hiking to the top for a view of the coast. Cave paintings were discovered on the island, making it of high historical value. 

Being that Goat Island is the most difficult to get to from its surrounding rocks, it is also the least visited.   

Mazatlecan culture is known for having great storytellers, so I grew up hearing a lot of stories surrounding my hometown. A local legend of a pirate shipwreck surrounds the three islands and directly involves the Isla de Chivos, where the sole survivor of the wreck is said to have found refuge while all others were lost to the sea the night of the accident. As it is said to have occurred on a Thursday, it is superstitiously asserted that people should avoid the islands on any given Thursday to avoid any such accident. 

Because of the proximity of the islands, locals and tourists enjoy kayaking, boating or swimming to Goat and Bird Island. There are reefs with colorful tropical fish, conch and starfish, so you can see plenty of people snorkeling and enjoying the aquatic wildlife. It is extremely peaceful as many Mazatlán locals advocate for the protection of our islands and worship their beauty.

One of the most amazing parts of my hometown is the locals. They are a big part of what makes Mazatlán such a magical place. You will most likely encounter someone you know everywhere you go and be greeted with the brightest smile and biggest hug. Everyone is very proud to be from Mazatlán, and because of this, there is a great sense of protection for its many beauties. You will find local families constantly donating to great causes, joining beach cleanups and working on projects to further satisfy the needs of the town. 

Mazatlecans are big fans of parties too. During the weekend, the nightlife is booming: the smell of freshly made tacos fill the air, the noise of “Banda” (local bands) surrounds the town and smiles are on everyone's faces. There are plenty of places both locals and tourists visit to enjoy good food, drinks and music. 

Oftentimes, when I tell people where my hometown is, they genuinely do not have a clue. However, I do believe everyone needs to smell the salty air and watch the sunset over the Mazatlán islands at least once in their lifetime.

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