Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Mexican Riviera

Mexican Riviera Ports of Call

Cabo San Lucas beach.
Cabo San Lucas beach.

Mexican Riviera cruises are a chance to see the best ports of call 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.

A handful of them even begin in Seattle, Washington, or Vancouver, British Columbia. They often visit the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean during long 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. Acapulco cruises are less frequent because it is much farther south than the other ports.

The majority of them visit just three major ports on seven-night cruises: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta.

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 or circle around Baja California and visit some smaller ports in the Sea of Cortez. Cabos San Lucas and Mazatlán are the closest ports.

The following Mexican Riviera cruise tips briefly 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 the embarkation ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

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 of course the 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 massive 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 along it.

Cabo San Lucas also is known for having very dry weather throughout most of the year.


The city of Mazatlán is a short hop due east of Cabos San Lucas on the continental Mexican 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

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

Attractions include El Centro, the historic district, and the Malecon, 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. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the religious gem of the city.


Manzanillo, about 120 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, attracts far fewer cruise ships than Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Ships that visit it are likely on a Mexican Riviera cruise that lasts 10 nights or longer.

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. It offers more than 40 miles of beaches.

Colima, capital of the state, is a 90-minute drive and known for its historic architecture, two nearby volcanoes and the Mayan 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 movie 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. Cruise ships that visit Acapulco are most likely on a Panama Canal cruise.

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.

Sea of Cortez Ports

Some of the longer Mexican Riviera cruises that last 10 and 12 nights may visit two of the following four ports: Guaymas, La Paz, Loreto or Topolobampo.

They are on the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. Guaymas and Topolobampo on the Mexican mainland coast. La Paz is on Baja California and just north of Cabo San Lucas. Loreto is about 200 miles north of La Paz.

They range quite a bit in size. Guayman has about 100,000 people while Topolobampo has only about 6,000.

Norwegian and Holland America are among the few cruise lines that visit these ports or that offer Mexican Riviera cruises that last longer than seven nights.

As a result, these ports have fewer shore excursions than the other major ports. Cruise visitors will find less commercialization and more authentic Mexican culture.