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Mexican Riviera

Mexican Riviera Cruise Tips: Ports and Attractions

Cabo San Lucas beach.
Cabo San Lucas beach.
Mexican Riviera cruises are a chance to see the best destinations that the west coast of Mexico has to offer.

They usually begin in one of several ports in southern California. Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines depart from Los Angeles. Holland American departs from San Diego. Princess uses both Los Angeles and San Diego. Royal Caribbean does not offer cruises to the Mexican Riviera.

Some of them even begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, which also is a starting point for Alaskan cruises. They often combine the Mexican Riviera with the Caribbean in the form of Panama Canal cruises.

Nearly all of the cruises visit one or a combination of a common list of ports: Catalina Island, Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Manzanillo and sometimes Acapulco.

Short-term cruises of three or four days usually visit Catalina Island off the coast of California and Ensenada, which is the northernmost port of the Mexican Riviera.

Longer cruises will go farther south to the other destinations. Cabos San Lucas and Mazatlán are the closest and Acapulco is the farthest south. The following Mexican Riviera cruise tips cover what to expect in each major port.

Catalina Island

Even though Catalina Island is a California island rather than a Mexican island, it is a common stop simply because it is so close to San Diego.

Attractions include shopping and dining in the seaside village of Avalon, hiking in the undeveloped interior and snorkeling, kayaking or scuba diving along the island coves and beaches.


Ensenada lies just south of Tijuana on the Baja California coast. Its unique attractions include La Bufadora and gray whale watching.

La Bufadora is a marine geyser on the Punta Banda Peninsula, which is 21 miles south of Ensenada. The geyser is one of the largest marine geysers in the world. Its blowhole spouts sea water as a result of air being trapped within sea caves.

Gray whale watching is popular in the winter and spring because these giant sea creatures come south to give birth to caves in the warmer waters off Baja California.

Cabo San Lucas arch
Arco de Los Cabos. Credit: Wikimedia

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas is the next stop on a trip south because it lies at the tip of Baja California. Water sports and a great harbor highlight any visit to the city.

Although it is known for its fishing, Cabo has the famous El Arco rock arch. Excursion boats take visitors out to view the arch, while kayakers, sailors and jet skiers hover around it or land on the beach.

Anyone less adventurous will find plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment along the extensive Cabos San Lucas marina pier. Cruise ships tender their passengers to a point at one side of the pier. They can easily spend an entire morning or afternoon browsing on its massive length.


The city of Mazatlan is a short hop that lies due east of Cabos San Lucas on the continental Mexico coast.

It is known for 17 miles of beaches and historic buildings in Old Mazatlán. The old city is about one mile or a 15-minute walk from the cruise docks.

Otherwise, the taxi fee is about $10 one way. Be sure to negotiate the fee before getting into the cab.

Other options include a catamaran sailing trip to Deer Island or exploring the colonial towns of Copala and Concordia.

Puerto Vallarta

Longer cruises will continue on to Puerto Vallarta. This popular port lies about 250 miles south of Mazatlán, which means it offers warmer weather but also more rain during the hurricane season.

Attractions include The Malecon. It is a beach promenade that goes the entire length of downtown Puerto Vallarta. Activities include dancers, music, arts, crafts and events.

El Centro is the historic town square with colonial architecture and The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the religious gem of the city.


Manzanillo, about 120 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, offers many more beaches that make the Mexican Riviera a popular destination for cruise ships and longer-term visitors alike. It has more than 40 miles of them.

This port with heavy commercial traffic is known for its two bays with plenty of sport fishing. The renovated central city has a main plaza, boardwalk and a variety of shops, bars and restaurants.

Colima, capital of the state, is a 90-minute drive and known for its historic architecture, two nearby volcanoes and the ruins at the Pyramids of La Campana.

Acapulco cruise port
Acapulco cruise port; Credit: Wikimedia


Possibly the most famous port on the Mexican Riviera is Acapulco, thanks in part to a move by Elvis Presley in 1963.

It is the farthest south of all of the Mexican Riviera cruise ports -- more than 300 miles from Manzanillo. It receives fewer cruise visitors than the more northern destinations. It is more popular with longer-term visitors.

Cruise visitors will find the port is an appealing stop, although not as appealing as back in its heyday. The bay beachfront and the city center of Old Acapulco is a short walk from the cruise terminal.

Acapulco is one of the oldest beach resort destinations in Mexico and is known for its nightlife and beaches.

Mexican Riviera Cruise Weather

Mexican Riviera weather has an impact on when visitors go to each port. It is driest from early winter to late spring and offers warm weather at the same time.

That time period is ideal for visiting any of the ports. Rainfall becomes heavy during the summer and fall, especially in the southern destinations. Like the Caribbean, the Pacific has a hurricane season which begins in mid May and ends in November.

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