Although Mazatlan markets itself as a seaside paradise in which the roughest thing one might encounter are ocean swells, it is a beach resort with a dark side — one that many enterprising taxi drivers are exploiting with unauthorized "narco-tours."

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MAZATLAN, Mexico — The tour guide’s voice dropped to a whisper as he pointed out the left side of his open-air taxi and said conspiratorially: “See that house? It belongs to Chapo.”

The guide recovered his normal tone around the corner, well out of earshot of anyone who might be inside what he claimed was one of the beachfront hideaways of Mexico’s most-wanted drug trafficker, Joaquin Guzman Loera, who is known universally by the nickname El Chapo, or Shorty.

Although Mazatlan markets itself as a seaside paradise in which the roughest thing one might encounter are ocean swells, it is a beach resort with a dark side — one that many enterprising taxi drivers are exploiting with unauthorized “narco-tours.”

Mexicans are fed up with their country’s unprecedented level of bloodshed as rival drug cartels clash with the authorities and among themselves for drug profits. But the outrage is tinged by a fascination with the colorful lives of the outlaws.

Ballads extolling the traffickers’ exploits, known as narcocorridos, are hugely popular, especially among the young. And it seems that quite a few Mexican tourists are curious enough about the country’s most notorious criminals to pay for a glimpse of their vacation homes and favorite hangouts, not to mention the spots where some of their lives came to a sudden end.

Mazatlan is not the only narco-tour destination.

In Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, visitors are taken to the spot where the cartel leader Osiel Cardenas was arrested in 2003 after a shootout with soldiers.

In Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state and the center of Mexico’s drug trade, a popular visiting spot is the shrine to Jesus Malverde, the mustachioed bandit hanged in 1909 and now considered the patron saint of the underworld.

Mazatlan has long been known as one of the Sinaloa cartel’s favored vacation spots.

One of the stops in the narco-tours is the oceanfront disco Frankie Oh, which in the 1980s was without equal as a place to dance the night away. Until the government shut it years ago, it was owned by Francisco Arellano Felix, one of the brothers of the family that runs the Tijuana cartel. Now in disrepair, the dance club is partly blocked by billboards that local officials put up to hide the past.

“Tourism officials don’t want to promote the narco-culture,” Silvestre Flores, a Sinaloa academic who has written about Mazatlan’s drug tours, said. “They see it as something that damages the image of the place.”

Flores views the underground tours as not unlike the guided visits that stop at Ground Zero in New York or the favorite haunts of Al Capone in Chicago. People are intrigued by crime and death, he said.

Official tours of Mazatlan stick to more family-friendly activities, like a visit to the hilltop lighthouse said to be among the world’s highest, or to the sea-lion shows at the city aquarium.

When a song was released last year that mentioned one of Mazatlan’s most famous hotels, El Cid, and rhapsodized about sniffing cocaine all night in a suite there, officials persuaded local radio stations to drop it.

Juan, a taxi driver who offers drug tours, describes them as no more damaging than reading Mexican newspapers, which are filled with drug-related articles. He gives several narco-tours a day, he said, but only when tourists ask for them.

The tours, for which Juan charges about $15 an hour, are usually taken while passengers sip Pacifico beer, which is brewed nearby, and sway to norteno music, which he puts on at full blast.

As he cruised along the main tourist district on a recent morning, Juan suddenly stopped his taxi, one of the many oversize golf carts known as pulmonias that circulate in tourist areas.

He got out and began the tale of a notorious shootout that took place there seven years before. It was not clear that Juan was present during Mazatlan’s most infamous murder, but he certainly made it seem that way.

“Boom, boom, boom,” he said, getting out of the taxi and dodging and weaving on the sidewalk as he recounted the automatic gunfire that rang out.

Both his hands were in the shape of pistols as he told how Ramon Arellano Felix, a brother of the disco owner and co-leader of the family cartel, showed up to kill his rival Ismael Zambada, known as “El Mayo,” but, instead, was killed himself.

The scene of the crime is just a busy sidewalk.

Occasionally, though, a bouquet of flowers will appear at the very spot of the killing, left by an admirer, a sign the cartels still have a hold on Mexico’s imagination.