There is no cooler way to get around Mazatlan than riding in a pulmonia. If you’ve taken one of these open air taxis before, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Warm ocean breeze blowing through your hair, loud bass from rhythmic latino music pumping from the speakers, flying down the malecon while watching the sunset. It makes you feel alive.
But if you are new to the Mazatlan scene and haven’t experiened a pulmonia ride yet, here is everything you need to know about the iconic transportation.
History of the Pulmonia
The history of the pulmonia is a great tale of visionary entreprenuership. It all started in the early 1960’s with Mr. Miguel Ramírez Urquijo, better known as the “Chícharo”, who wanted to bring Mazatlan into a new area of transportation.
His parents had always taken the ‘arañas’ around town, which were large 2 wheeled carriages pulled by horse. This had been the customary transportation method for many years, but it needed an upgrade to match a modernized Mexico.
He found some old 3-wheeled carts that a local air conditioning business had been using to transport and repair units and used them as a prototype for the new mode of transportation he was envisioning. The structure and the chassis of these carts seemed to work for his idea, as long as he could add some custom fibreglass to the body.
Once his protype was created, Miguel was confident he could make a business out of his new passenger trollies, he just needed more of them. The problem was he had no money to import them from the USA into Mexico, as it was very expensive and risky for the time. Not letting that stop him, he travelled all the way to the company’s headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska to speak with them directly. How he did this we’ll never know, but Miguel was able to convince the company to loan him the money to buy and import 8 of the units to Mazatlan.
Through MANY more obstacles of getting permits and government approval, Miguel finally doubled his fleet to 16, and then within 4 years, more than 100 pulmonia-style carts were on the streets of Mazatlan.
Today’s Pulmonias in Mazatlan
Now a days, there are hundreds of custom pulmonias driving tourists and locals alike through the streets of Mazatlan. In fact you can’t take a few steps on the malecon or throughout centro without seeing one. Pulmonias have syonomously become a major part of Mazatlan’s image.
One of the coolest things about the pulmonias in Mazatlan is how custom and unique they all are. You will see them decked out with different paint jobs, custom rims and wheels, and some even souped up with flashy lighting or expensive sound systems.
Traditionally pulmonias have used a VW bug engine, but you will see a few newcomers on the streets of Mazatlan that use everything from a Nissan to an Audi engine. They will also vary a lot in style! Some will be totally open just like a golf cart with a bench seat, while others will resemble more like cars with the roof cut off, designed with full doors and seatbelts.
Driving a pulmonia definitely comes with a sense of pride in this city. Not only do they have their own union, but there is even a monument erected on the malecon to celebrate their honor.
Does Pulmonia mean ‘Pneumonia’ in English?
Yes, it actually does! Now why in the world would anyone want to call their custom ride a ‘pneumonia’?
In the 1960’s when the very first pulmonias started appearing on the streets, seemingly overnight there were suddenly over 100 of these open-air carts flooding the roads. When it was 5 or 10 of them, the taxis and buses didn’t really pay them much attention, but once the number increased to over 100, the golf-cart like vehicles were taking some of their business away.
The taxi cabs wanting to keep their stake in city transportation started a smear campaign where they warned customers about riding in these ‘open-air’ taxis that would surely give them pneumonia.
I guess by the old addage ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’, the pulmonia drivers decided to keep the name, as it sure did gather a lot of attention. We all know that any press is good press, and the popularity of the pulmonia sky-rocketed.
Taking a Pulmonia in Mazatlan
If you are walking around Mazatlan and want to take a pulmonia, just simply flag down one that is empty and tell the driver where you want to go. Many of them are available on the spot for anything from a short ride to even a tour, of course assuming they also speak English.
Pulmonia’s can comfortably fit 4 people at a time.
How Much Does a Pulmonia Cost?
The cost of a pulmonia will vary greatly depending on who you flag down. They are all free to set their own rates, but you are also free to negotiate if you so wish. During peak times however, many of the drivers won’t be as open to your lower price suggestions.
Truth be told, pulmonias are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain, so they do come at a higher cost than a taxi, bus or uber – but they also have a fun novelty asepct to them.
Here are some general rates so you have an idea of what to pay:
$60-$100 pesos – Half the malecon or a short ride in centro
$100-$150 pesos – One end of the Malecon to the other
$300-$400 pesos – Per hour
People don’t just hire a pulmonias to get to one end of the malecon to the other. Many tourists hire pulmonias for half day or even full day trips around the city (and depending on the type of pulmonia) even outside the city.
The pulmonia drivers usually have already pre-determined and mapped out itineraries for tours based on your time-frame, but they also don’t mind adjusting it to fit your specific interests.
The pulmonias that have the doors (the ‘safari’ versions as they are called) are able to take tourists farther distances and don’t have to stay contained to the main streets of Mazatlan. Since they have seat belts and are safe for driving at faster speeds, these types of pulmonias can even do day trips to surrounding towns and villages.
The next time you visit Mazatlán, be sure to take a ride in a Pulmonia…you won’t regret it!