Mazatlan: Stone Island & Seahorses

The drive from Celestino to Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island) ended up being one of the more pleasant we’ve had in a while. Two hours on good toll roads and light traffic.

Stone Island is on the far southern end of Mazatlan. I thought this day might be full of city driving until Lori informed me we’d be taking a bypass clear around the city.

And when I say clear around the city, I mean 10 miles in the direction of Durango before the route takes a sharp right-hand turn near the airport and drops you on a nice rural road leading to the tip of a peninsula and a stone’s throw from Old Town.

It would be nice if more Mexican cities had bypasses like this.

Stone Island isn’t actually an island, but a narrow peninsula. The southeastern end is attached to the mainland. The northwestern tip is separated from Old Mazatlan and Centro by a 1,000-foot shipping channel.

I’ve read about RVers staying in the heart of the city, right in the center of the Golden Zone. Unfortunately, the last of those RV parks closed a few years back. At present, if you want to stay at an RV park in Mazatlan, your choices are the far north of town (5-7 miles from Old Town) or Stone Island. We thought we try our hand at the latter.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to get to Old Town from Stone Island. There are pickup taxis that ply the main roads and regular water taxi service connecting the island with Old Town.

Mazatlan is a big, bustling city, not to mention very popular beach destination. Stone Island, on the other hand, is mostly made up of acres upon acres of coconut plantations, with a small village on the western edge and a long strand of beach running the southern length of the island.

Quick Trip to Old Mazatlan

We rolled into the RV park a bit after noon and picked out our spot. There were about a dozen other RVs already parked, but the place was eerily quiet. Heat of the day, I guess?

After setting up, we thought [briefly] about doing a leisurely afternoon at the RV. But I wasn’t feeling it. It had been nine days since we left San Carlos, and Mazatlan was right at our doorstep. The others didn’t take much convincing. We set out to find the water taxi and headed into Old Town.

We have great memories of staying in Mazatlan for a few days when we made the move from Nayarit to Baja a couple years ago. We’ve been looking forward to revisiting ever since.

No visit to Old Mazatlan would be complete without a quick stop for a paleta. After Las Glorias, we made sure to go to a place we could trust. We hit up this place in 2022 twice.

Above, 2024. Below, 2022.

It’s been several weeks since we’ve seen craft beer on tap. The aptly named The Beer Company had us covered there. We asked for a flight. Mighty generous one at that.

Riley, showing his true colors (and new ‘do’).

A bit of a late night for the boys, but they weren’t complaining.

Stone Island

Stone Island’s a funny place. Not some place I’d want to live long term, but a nice enough place to call home for a couple of weeks.

We’re well out of the Easter holiday time, but there’s still a festive air around here. Mazatlan proper may be popular with gringos, but Stone Island definitely seems to attract the domestic crowds.

Most of the activity seems to center around the westernmost beaches, and we’re staying on the eastern side of the settlement. But there is a pretty sizable caravan here at the RV park at the moment, which is keeping things livelier than we would have thought.

The beach is just steps away from our RV. Most days, it’s pretty low key. But the boys do have to constantly be watching out for four-wheelers, motorcycles, and cars driving on the beach, which I loathe with a passion.

Before kids, it was annoying. With two little guys who love to run around and play in the sand, it takes away a lot of the fun and relaxation for Lori and me who always have to be on our guard for a group of young drunk half-wits plowing through.

Tonight seemed like a good night to break out the grill. Once I got a good fire going, I felt a lot of gringo eyes from the Caravan crowd looking in our direction. Turns out, they were eying our boys as they busied themselves around the RV park.

Our boys have lived in Mexico for over three years and are used to a certain level of freedom, acceptance, and adulation that that comes with being a kid in Mexico. But while this caravan is here, it’s clear, we’re not Mexico. We’re in gringo-land. And our kids-being-kids appears to be rubbing some of these folks the wrong way.

At one point, Noe was collecting odds and ends left in the empty RV sites. He brought a small round board over to me and I asked him to take it back to the empty site. He moved onto something else and forgot about it. Riley, trying to be helpful, took the board and tossed it in the adjacent site. Apparently, this was a little too close for comfort for our grumpy neighbor who proceeded to come out and give me a public dressing-down regarding my kids trespassing on his site.

I apologized and went back to the grill to tend to dinner. This really upset him. “Aren’t you going to talk to him?” he yelled over. First he gets bent out of shape about something so trivial. Next, he interrupts me during one of the more delicate phases of the grilling process. And now he’s trying to dictate my parenting.

I was none to pleased by the idea of having to cohabitate next to this jerk for the foreseeable future. That is until, the next morning, a dozen massive engines fired up, and a dozen massive rigs filed out in a long line, never to be seen or heard from again.

Peace and quiet.

The days that followed here on Stone Island were peaceful and relaxed (with the exception of the loud parties on the property next door on the two Saturday nights we were here).

The permanentes that remained at the park were as you’d expect from people who have more or less decided to call Mexico home—in a nutshell, the polar opposite of Mr. Grumpypants.

Within an hour of the caravan clearing out, one couple from British Columbia came by with sparklers for the kids. The others chatted the boys up whenever they passed by. The day before we left, we were invited over to a small gathering where they grilled up hot dogs for the boys.

Things might have been quiet at the RV park, but the party continued down at the far end of the beach every afternoon for the entire time we were there. Hundreds of domestic tourists road through on tractor tours of the island every day of the week.

We were stunned to see so many adults and children continuing to visit after most Mexicans had used up much of their precious vacation time during the two week holiday of Semana Santa and Semana Pascua. We never quite figured out that one. Clearly, it’s very good to be Mexican right now.

Noe and Riley love finding these flowers on the ground, which resemble pom-poms more than an actual living plant.

Seahorse Expedition

As far as attractions go, Stone Island is pretty light on those. In a sense, the island is the attraction. Tour guides hawk tours in the Centro to visit rustic Stone Island for the day, for a tractor tour around the relatively uninspiring village and the chance to get some wicked whiplash on a banana boat.

But there is one attraction that Stone Island is becoming known for: Marine Biologist Armando’s Seahorse Expedition. It’s not cheap (as we quickly learned), but it’s unlike anything you’re likely to encounter anywhere else on the planet.

This guy is crazy about seahorses. They’ve been his passion since 2000 and he’s found a way to turn this passion into something of a cottage industry. At least that was the idea before the Mexican government passed recent legislation bringing his business to a halt.

The wild seahorse trade is a lucrative one in various parts of Asia and Latin America. Many people believe seahorses have curative or mystical properties. In recent decades, seahorse populations have been decimated to the point of being critically-endangered. Most countries have outlawed the sale and trade of wild seahorses.

Armando’s idea was to figure out a way to farm seahorses. If people could successfully grow seahorses in captivity, it could largely bring an end to illegal trade. The problem is, it’s really really hard to do so. A lot of people thought it was impossible. However, Armando figured out a way to do it, and do it at scale.

Then, about a year ago, the Mexican government decided to ban all sales of seahorses, wild and farmed, sending Armando’s business into free-fall. He decided to dramatically scale back operations and open his farm up to the public to raise awareness and help support his family.

The baby seahorses begin in these large concrete tanks. You can barely see them (they are black).

Next, we were led into a room where the real fun began. Tanks upon tanks of fully grown seahorses to gawk at up close.

In addition to learning everything we’d ever want to know about seahorses (and more!), we also learned about the painstaking process used to grow the different types of food critical for seahorse development at every stage. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the whole process.

After our seahorse expedition, we explored the island a bit more, discovering a superb little coffee shop and bakery along the way (Cafe Avoda). Super nice owners and staff as well.

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