Most cruise vacations to Mexico visit either Baja Mexico or the Mexican Riviera. Both destinations offer many exciting and unique options, and that can make deciding which cruise vacation to enjoy first difficult.
Visitors traveling to Baja Mexico can take advantage of great seafood, surfing, desert flora, primitive cave paintings, Spanish Missions, and virtually constant sunshine. The deep clear waters along the Baja coastline are also perfect for sport fishing or whale-watching excursions, and several fine golf courses are accessible from Baja cruise ports of call. You'll also find sailing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking is readily available. Cabo San Lucas is the most popular destination along the Baja Peninsula.
The Mexican Riviera has become the fourth-most-popular cruise destination in the world, and it's gaining a reputation as an excellent alternative to the Caribbean. The region offers a wide variety of attractions including beautiful beaches, lavish hotels, marinas/sports facilities, and great restaurants. Visitors to the Mexican Riviera can choose from adventure sports, watersports, golf, and tennis. Jungle expeditions are available on both foot and horseback, as are guided tours that explore the ancient treasures of the Mayan world.
Popular Baja Mexico cruise destinations include:
Cabo San Lucas: The "party capital" of Baja Mexico, Cabo San Lucas is full of clubs, bars, and party boats. It's also home to many duty-free shops. Watersports and sightseeing excursions are other popular activities that visitors to Cabo San Lucas can enjoy.
Catalina Island: Located just 22 miles off the California coast, Catalina Island is not connected to Baja Mexico but it's still included in most Baja Mexico cruise itineraries. Nicknamed the "island of romance," Catalina has many Mediterranean-style shops, restaurants, and hotels, plus plenty of sites that are ideal for watersports. Cars are limited here – most people travel on foot, on bikes, or via golf cart.
Ensenada: Mexico's second-busiest port of call is located just 68 miles from the U.S. border. The city is loaded with history – many sites and attractions date back to Ensenada's "discovery" in 1542. The city's three biggest industries are fishing, shipping, and tourism.
San Jose Del Cabo: Located near Cabo San Lucas, this Mexican city is quieter and smaller than its popular neighbor.
Todos Santos: Located in the vicinity of Los Cabos, this Mexican town offers scenic beaches and a more "traditional" Mexican experience.
Popular Mexican Riviera cruise destinations include:
Acapulco: The first resort city in Mexico's Riviera, Acapulco still thrives thanks to its glamorous beach hotels and resorts, shopping plazas, wide range of tourist attractions, and a very popular nightlife scene.
Huatulco: Located in Southern Oaxaca near the Mexico/Guatemala border, Huatulco is best known for its many beaches and nine beautiful bays. Less visited than many of the busier resort cities to its north, Huatulco is a popular destination for ecotourists – many surrounding areas are protected from commercial development.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo, nicknamed Zihua, is a small Mexican fishing town that did not become a popular tourist destination until after the adjacent resort town of Ixtapa was built. Ixtapa was created solely to attract tourists, and it's loaded with beachfront hotels and shops.
Manzanillo: Mexico's busiest port is billed as "the sailfish capital of the world."
Mazatlan: Nicknamed "the Pearl of the Pacific," Mazatlan is a major tourist attraction, largely due to its beaches and fishing. It's also the labird rgest Mexican city on the West Coast.
Puerto Vallarta: This Mexican port city gained international fame as the setting for the 1963 film Night of the Iguana. Puerto Vallarta is the second-most visited Mexican resort destination, attracting over 3 million vacationers per year. Beach resorts line the coast, offering seaside dining and very scenic views.
Baja Mexico Activities & Attractions
Avalon: The largest city on Catalina Island is home to the Avalon Casino, the Catalina Island Museum, Chimes Tower, and Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden.
Avalon Inland Motor Tour: Take a bus tour of Catalina. Stops include El Rancho Escondido, where guests will enjoy an Arabian horse demonstration.
Cabo San Lucas Beaches: Highlights include Lover's Beach, Playa Mendano, and Solmar Beach.
Cabo San Lucas Excursions: Activities available via shore excursion include horseback riding on the beach, snorkeling, ocean kayaking, hiking, ATV tours, catamaran rides, deep-sea fishing, and explorations along the coastline.
Cabo San Lucas Golf: A major attraction. More than a half-dozen courses are available in Cabo San Lucas, some of which are internationally ranked.
Cabo San Lucas Party Boats: Contact your cruise line for reservations.
Cabo San Lucas Party Restaurants: Choices include El Squid Roe, the Hard Rock Cafe, Coyote Ugly, Carlos 'n' Charlie's, Cabo Wabo Cantina, and the Concert Hall & Restaurant.
Catalina Interior Tour: Take a Jeep tour through the rugged and undeveloped areas of Catalina Island. Tours are available through the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Catalina Island Beaches: Options include Little Harbor and Lover's Cove (for snorkeling).
Catalina Island Golf: Tee off at Catalina Island Golf Course.
Catalina Island Water Sports: Scuba diving is available at Casino Point Marine Park. Kayaks may be rented at various locations.
Coastal Eco-Rafting Adventure: Explore ten miles of Catalina's coastline. Occasionally, you'll encounter dolphins, sea lions, and harbor seals.
Corridor Beaches: Numerous beaches and resorts are located between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo, including Dolphin Beach, El Tule Beach, El Blendito Beach, Las Viudas Beach, Palmilla Beach, and Santa Maria Beach.
Ensenada Golf: Bajamar is a 27-hole golf course featuring spectacular views.
Ensenada Parks: Pay a visit to Constitucion de 1857 and Sierra de San Pedro Martir.
Ensenada Sites: Highlights include the Fish Market, Mexico's oldest winery, the statues in Plaza Civica, and Riviera del Pacifico's cultural center and shopping plazas.
Foxploration: Learn about moviemaking. See props and costumes from famous contemporary and classic movies. Located one hour from Ensenada.
Green Pleasure Pier: A popular spot located at Avalon on Catalina Island. Many ocean excursions depart from this pier, including glass bottom boat and submarine adventures.
Historical Tall Ship & Snorkel Tour: Sail past the beaches and rock formations of Cabo San Lucas on a narrated tour. Your ship will anchor, and you'll have an opportunity to go swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, or bird watching.
La Bufadora: One of only three continuous tidal blowholes in the world is located in Southern Ensenada.
Land's End: The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula is an excellent site for scuba diving.
Los Arcos: Rock formations that protrude from Cabo San Lucas into the Sea of Cortez. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Cabo San Lucas.
Pueblo La Playa: A beach in San Jose Del Cabo that offers plenty of sun, swimming, and horseback riding.
Punta Bunda: Go diving, snorkeling, or kayaking. Located near Ensenada.
Rancho La Verdad H2 Adventure: Explore the mountains and deserts of the Baja Peninsula. Your adventure includes visits to La Verdad Ranch and the villages of El Sauzal and Las Pilas.
San Jose Del Cabo Sites: Attractions include Estero San Jose Park, the Los Cabo Cultural Center, and the Mercado Municipal shopping area.
San Jose: Highlights include Cacti Mundo Botanical Garden, upscale shopping, and a historic mission site. A 20-minute drive from Cabo San Lucas.
Todos Santos Art Gallery: Located in Todos Santos.
Todos Santos Beaches: Options include La Chacora Beach and Las Palmas Beach.
Whale-Watching Excursions: Excursions are offered in several Baja locations.
Mexican Riviera Activities & Attractions
Acapulco Beaches: Choose from a wide array of locations including Caleta Beach, Caletilla Beach, Condesa Beach, Los Hornos Beach, Hornitos Beach (for watersports), Revolcadero Beach (for horseback riding), Punta Diamonte, Playa Marques (for parasailing), Punta del Guitarron, Playa Icacos, Playa Angosta, and Playa Larga.
Acapulco Marina: The point of departure for many snorkeling, sailing, and deep-sea fishing adventures.
Barra de Potosi: Charming, quiet village located near Zihua. Relax on the beach, exploring the wildlife sanctuary lagoon, or go horseback riding.
Bike-Mex Adventures: Explore the jungles and waterfalls surrounding Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Boca de Tomatlan: A day trip from Puerto Vallarta and located near Mismaloya, this Mexican village is filled with shops and restaurants.
Centro Internacional de Convivencia Infantil: Located in Acapulco. A much-loved family watersports park featuring pools, waterslides, and live entertainment.
Divers Point: Even if you don't want to jump, you can always watch. Located in Mazatlan.
Eco-Tours de Mexico: Activities offered as part of this eco-excursion include bird-watching, whale watching, sea kayaking, and visits to a colorful turtle camp. Tours depart from Puerto Vallarta.
El Centro: Attractions include downtown Puerto Vallarta (home to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Mercado Municipal, the Rio Cuale Flea Market, and Plaza de Armas (the main square).
Golden Zone: Mazatlan's famous collection of beaches, hotels, shops, and shows.
Hacienda Las Moras: This rural resort features a fabulous swimming pool, horseback riding, beautiful gardens, and comfortable lounges. Tours depart from Mazatlan.
Huatulco Beaches: Options include Playa Bocana, Playa Conejo (for surfing), Playa La Entrega, Playa Santa Cruz, and Bahia Tangolunda.
Ixtapa Beaches: Options include Isla Ixtapa (requires a ferry or boat ride), Playa el Palmar, Playa Baradera (for watersports), and Playa Pacifica.
Ixtapa Resort Tour: Highlights include the hotels and shops along Ixtapa's main strip.
Ixtapa Sites: Attractions include Artisan Market and Pacifica Ixtapa Viewpoint.
Las Caletas: A secluded beach near Puerto Vallarta that's home to deer and parrot centers, snorkeling sites, guided kayak tours, and a spa. Only accessible via boat.
La Casa del Habano: Cuban cigars are legal in Mexico! La Casa del Habano is one of Puerto Vallarta's finest cigar shops.
La Quebrada: Acapulco's main attraction is a cliff overlooking the water – only the most adventurous will dare to jump!
Magico Mundo Marino: An aquarium and waterpark located in Acapulco. Watersports rentals are available.
Manzanillo Beaches: Options include Las Hadas, Playa Audencia, Playa Las Brisas, and Playa Miramar.
Manzanillo Golf: Tee off at La Mantarraya Golf Course.
Manzanillo Sites: Attractions include Laguna de Las Garzas (for bird-watching), the Museum of Anthropology and History, and Peninsula de Santiago (for spectacular ocean views).
Mazatlan Aquarium: Bring the kids to see exotic bird shows and over 300 different species of marine life.
Mazatlan Beaches: Most of Mazatlan's beaches are located in the Golden Zone including Playa Sabalo, Playa Las Gaviotas (for watersports), Playa Los Cerritos, Playa Norte, Playa Los Pinos, and Playa Olas Altas (for surfing).
Mazatlan City Tours: Excursion includes a guided tour of downtown Mazatlan, the waterfront area, and the Pampantla Fliers show.
Mazatlan Eco-Tours: Activities offered as part of this eco-excursion include bird-watching in mangrove swamps and the Sierra Madre Mountains, kayaking, and sailing to Deer Island (a protected National Reserve).
Nuevo Vallarta: The newest resort community in Puerto Vallarta.
Oaxaca: Located a few miles inland from Huatulco, Oaxaca (and its surrounding area) teems with historic sites and shopping centers.
Old Acapulco: Highlights include the Acapulco Historical Museum at the El Fuerte de San Diego fortress, the Malecon pedestrian promenade, Nuestra Senora de la Soledad Cathedral, Parrazal Market, Plaza Alvarez (the main square), and the views from atop El Mirador.
Old Mazatlan: Home to many popular tourist attractions, including art galleries, a Moorish-style cathedral, Central Market, La Continuidad de la Vida monument, the Mazatlan Art Museum, the Mazatlan Arts & Crafts Center, the Mexican Rodeo arena, the National Institute of Anthropology & History, Plaza Republica Park, and Teatro Angela Peralta.
Old Mazatlan Walking Tour: This guided tour features scenic views, stops at several famous monuments, and visits to popular Mazatlan tourist attractions.
Pacifico Brewery Tour: Learn about the history of Mazatlan's original beer factory. Highlights include a guided tour, Pacifico's Beer Museum, beer tasting, and scenic views of Mazatlan.
Puerto Angel: Located a short distance from Huatulco and home to many beautiful beaches.
Puerto Vallarta Beaches: Options include Playa de Los Muertos, Playa Mismaloya, and Playa Quimixto.
Puerto Vallarta Golf: Recommended courses include the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, the Tom Weiskopf Signature Course, and courses at the Four Seasons Resort or Marina Vallarta Golf Club.
Puerto Vallarta Sailing: These excursions sail to the Bay of Banderas.
Puerto Vallarta Scenic Highlights Tour: Highlights include stops at El Centro, the Los Arcos Marine Sanctuary, Marina Vallarta, the shops and restaurants in Zona Romantica, and the Virgin of Guadalupe Cathedral.
Puerto Vallarta Snorkeling: Snorkeling is available at Las Animas Quimixto, Las Caletas, Las Marietas, Mismaloya, and Yelapa.
Roqueta Island: A short ferry ride from Acapulco. Home to a lighthouse, restaurant, and zoo.
Sierra Madre Expeditions: Adventurous tourists can book air or sea expeditions that visit remote areas of Sierra Madre.
Sierra Madre Jungle Canopy Tour: An active adventure that takes place in the Puerto Vallarta rainforest.
Sierra Madres: Old mining towns near Mazatlan, such as Concordia and Copala, date back to the 1500s. Excursions to the Sierra Madres also stop at the village of Malpica and feature a tour of the village's floor tile factory & bakery.
Swim With the Dolphins: Available in Puerto Vallarta.
Tequila Factory Tours: Tours depart from Puerto Vallarta. Your excursion may include a guided tour of the city.
The Malecon: Puerto Vallarta's world-famous beachfront walkway. Lined with statues.
Troncones: Just a short drive from Zihua, Trocones is a great site for surfing and hiking. You can also try ziplining through the jungle.
Whale Watching: Available at most ports. Some whale-watching excursions can be combined with snorkeling adventures or dolphin swims.
Zihua Sailing & Snorkeling Excursions: Sail to Manzanillo Bay, where you can snorkel, swim, or sunbathe before enjoying lunch and boating back to Zihuatanejo Bay.
Zihuatanejo Beaches: Options include Las Gatas (for snorkeling), La Ropa (for snorkeling and swimming), Playa Larga, Playa Le Madera, and Playa Principal (for watersports).
Zihuatanejo Deep-Sea Fishing: Several excursions are offered. Fish for bonita, marlin, or sailfish.
Zihuatanejo Sites: Attractions include El Faro lighthouse, the Fish Market, Museo Arqueologico de la Costa Grande, the Town Square, and the Saltwater Lagoon.
Baja Mexico Ports Of Call
Cabo San Lucas, San Jose Del Cabo, and Todos Santo are popular cruise destinations in the Los Cabos area. Popular ports to the north include Ensenada and Catalina Island.
Mexican Riviera Ports of Call
Mexican Riviera cruises generally depart from L.A. or San Diego and travel to Acapulco, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Manzanillo, Ixtapa and/or Zihuatanejo. Most Mexican Riviera cruises also stop at locations in Baja Mexico including Ensenada, Catalina Island, and Cabo San Lucas.
When To Visit The Mexican Riviera
Tourists visit the Mexican Riviera year-round. Temperatures remain in the 70s and 80s throughout most of the year, with the exception of the hotter months of August and September, when temperatures climb into the 90s. Some cruise lines offer Riviera cruises year-round, but most cruise lines visit the region from September through May.
When To Visit Baja Mexico
Gray whales can be easily spotted from the shore between January and April, attracting thousands of tourists, scientists, and whale lovers each year. Summer is the best season for watersports in the Southern Baja Peninsula. During the winter, temperatures will average 59 degrees. During the summer months, 86 degrees is the average.