Mazatlan – Getting Around the Pearl of the Pacific

Two pulmonia taxis await passengers in front of a resort.
Two pulmonia taxis await passengers in front of a resort.

Mazatlan, Sinaloa Mexico

Travelers to Mazatlan have several options for getting around the city… this post focuses on two forms of taxi that are unique to the Pearl of the Pacific. Mazatlan can be divided into two major areas, the city proper and the Zona Dorada or Golden Zone where the majority of resort hotels are located. If you purchased a package tour to Mazatlan, you probably are staying in the Zona Dorada, and you may have pre-purchased shuttle tickets to your hotel in your package.

The Golden Zone is a long drive from the airport, typically 45 minutes or so via taxi or one-stop shuttle. If you are traveling in a group, you may find the airport taxi to be the most economical. I could have purchased shuttle tickets online for $25 per person for our trip in February 2015. We opted to wait until we got to town to decide what to do. We found that $29 US plus tip purchased us a cab ride directly to our hotel. Be careful though, you will be offered free taxi to town if you are interested in listening to a time-share pitch. The pitchmen will offer a taxi service and drag you over to their table where they make the offer of a free taxi ride and other incentives for a few high pressure moments of your time.

I recommend that after you finish customs entry that you go directly toward the main entrance at street level. A small booth labeled taxi service is where you want to go. You pay them at the window for your type of vehicle, which can include a large multi-passenger vehicle. They will give you a receipt that you present to the taxi driver. Other than tip, no other fees and no meter is involved. Airport taxi service is a monopoly. You won’t find any other types of taxi available for transport from the airport to your destination.


The standard “Eco-Taxi” is a typical economy car, Nissan or Prius. On your way to the hotel, however, you’ll probably see several of the over 300 little “golf-cart” style Pulmonias. These taxis were the brainchild of Miguel Ramirez Urquijo. In the mid-1960s, he put together a plan that included the purchase of small three-passenger taxis. Shaken by the competition, the regular taxi drivers threatened that passengers riding in the open-air cars might just catch pneumonia. The Spanish word for pneumonia is pulmonia. That name became the affectionately known nickname for the little taxi cabs. You won’t find pulmonias in any other city in Mexico. They are a Mazatlan exclusive.


The pulmonia drivers are generally friendly and speak English well enough for a gringo like me to get around. Mazatlan taxis are not metered, so you need to negotiate and agree upon your fare in advance. In February 2015, the typical trip between two points within the Zona Dorada was $5 US. A couple of our longer rides were $6. The fare is for the carload, no extra charge for up to the seat limit of three passengers. A trip to downtown Mazatlan typically cost $10 US. One day we decided to visit the Cathedral de Mazatlan and on our way there, we discovered the driver provided friendly conversation in fluent English. At that point, I asked about cost for a tour of the city for photographs. For $25 US, he provided an hour of his time and took us to several high viewpoints overlooking the city. In a future blog post, I will feature photos from this tour.


Though the logo on the front of this pulmonia says otherwise, don’t believe it. Most pulmonias are built pretty much of Volkswagen parts with fancy fittings like the BMW logo  adding artistic license. The original units, purchased in the early 1960s were manufactured in the U.S. by Cushman. Most pulmonias are white, but some enterprising drivers have come up with their own color schemes. One I saw, but didn’t have time to photograph before it was gone, featured a blue motif, labeled “Paul-monia”, no doubt named after the driver.


For groups of four or more, you can save a few bucks by flagging down one of the many red pickup-style taxis. The converted pickup has two bench seats along the pickup bed and a canopy to provide shade. Known as an Auriga, with room for eight, a typical fare in the Zona Dorada is $10 US for the carload, and a ride downtown around $20 US. As with the pulmonia, no meters are involved. Negotiate your fare prior to boarding the taxi.


You may hear people refer to aurigas as “spiders”. These small pickup trucks are descendents of the horse-drawn two-wheeled vehicles known as arañas (spiders in English) that were the original taxis in the city. As with pulmonias, you can charter one for a tour. If you wish to travel out of town, the auriga is an economical way to go. Pulmonias won’t leave the metro area.

The least expensive means of getting around the city is the city commuter bus. During our stay, we didn’t use the city bus service, but I’m told by other visitors that they are an inexpensive and safe way to get around the city. Happy travels in Mazatlan!

John Steiner



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