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Mexican Riviera cruise guide

In:
29 Jul 2022

Cruising the west coast of Mexico along the Mexican Riviera makes for an excellent vacation, with dramatic landscapes, world-class cuisine, and culturally-enriching ports at your fingertips.

Cabo San Lucas Arch

Understanding the ins and outs of cruising the Mexican Riviera is important before embarking on your cruise. If you’ve cruised the Caribbean side of Mexico before, you might be surprised by just how different the Pacific side of the country can be, so it’s helpful to know what to pack, what to do in port, and how to best prepare for your sailing.

Here’s our guide to cruising the Pacific coast of Mexico along the Mexican Riviera.

In this guide:

What is the Mexican Riviera?

Cabo San Lucas beach

The Mexican Riviera refers to cities and towns situated on the western coast of Mexico known for picturesque oceanfront resorts and tourist attractions.

The phrase “Mexican Riviera” was originally coined by Princess Cruise Line and has since been adopted throughout the cruising industry to describe the beauty and cultural enrichment visitors can expect on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas arch

Located at the southernmost point of Baja California is Cabo San Lucas, which is among the most popular tourist destinations in all of Mexico and known for its party atmosphere, abundant wildlife, and unique rock formations.

As your cruise ship sails into Cabo San Lucas, you’ll pass by Land’s End, a rock formation and iconic landmark of the city. The most well-known of the rock formations is El Arco, a 200-foot granite rock in the shape of an arch.

Related: A day in Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas

If you’re hoping to get away from the more touristy, beach resort vibes found in Cabo San Lucas, make the 30-minute trip to San Jose del Cabo. San Jose del Cabo is a more relaxed, artsy town with fewer crowds offering a local-feel.

Cabo San Lucas is a tender port, so be sure to collect your tender ticket early so you can disembark and get the most out of your time in port.

Puerto Vallarta

Once a quiet fishing village, Puerto Vallarta has grown exponentially to be among the busiest resort towns in Mexico. More lush and hilly than other Mexican Riviera cruise ports, Puerto Vallarta offers the perfect blend of calm beaches and hip city streets.

You’ll want to visit the Zona Romántica (Romantic Zone) in Puerto Vallarta, a historic, waterfront old town neighborhood that is home to boutique shops, bars, restaurants, homes, and condos.

Related: A day in Puerto Vallarta

Downtown Puerto Vallarta

History lovers can make a trip to the Xihuacan Museum and Archaeological Site, which was home to various tribes throughout history including the Aztecs, Olmecs, and Toltecs.

Mazatlán

El malecon in Mazatlan

Crossing the Gulf of California from Cabo San Lucas will bring you to Mazatlán, a resort town known for its wide white sand beaches and charming Centro Histórico. Mazatlán is the most populous of the Mexican Riviera cruise ports, with around 500,000 people calling the city home.

Related: A day in Mazatlán

Mazatlán is split into three main areas: the Marina, Golden Zone, and Centro. Most visitors will spend the day along Centro Histórico, Mazatlán’s Old Town. The historic city center is a walkable, cobblestoned neighborhood lined with colonial buildings where you’ll find a variety of museums, restaurants, and plazas.

Don’t forget to take a walk on the Malecón (boardwalk) of Mazatlán, which is a whopping 13 miles. The boardwalk covers the length of the waterfront from Mazatlán’s most historic neighborhoods to the newest.

The cruise port in Mazatlán is located within a shipping port, so visitors will have to take a quick shuttle to town before exploring.

Ensenada

Kayaking near La Bufadora

Ensenada is located just 2 hours driving distance from San Diego in the most northerly part of Baja California. Ensenada is a port city surrounded by the “Napa Valley of Mexico” and is known for its rocky geography, fresh seafood, fantastic surfing, and local wines.

Related: A day in Ensenada

Cruising to Ensenada offers plenty of activities to choose from, including wine tastings, shopping at local markets, enjoying fresh cuisine, and visiting the second largest blowhole in the world.

Catalina Island

While not technically in the Mexican Riviera (or in Mexico for that matter), Catalina Island is a port you’ll see on shorter cruises to Mexico out of the Port of Los Angeles. The island is located just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California and is best traveled via golf cart or bicycle.

A small paradise of beaches, wildlife, hiking trails, resort villages, and shopping, Catalina Island is sure to offer a fun-filled port day while on a cruise.

What to do in Mexican Riviera cruise ports

Whale watching

If you thought you had to take a cruise to Alaska in order to book a whale watching excursion, think again. The Mexican Riviera is one of the best destinations in the world to spot these magnificent mammals. In fact, the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) has been called the “World’s Aquarium” due to the abundance of diverse sea life calling the area home.

Whale watching on Mexico’s Pacific coast is best from mid-December through late March/early April, when whales make their way south from Alaska and the Arctic. The most common whales you’ll spot in Mexico are humpback and gray whales. While blue whales, sperm whales, orcas, and fin whales pass through the area on their migration route, they are much rarer to spot.

Exploring Pueblos Mágicos

Mexico market

One of the best parts of cruising the Mexican Riviera is walking around the historic, cobblestone-street towns you’ll find in this region of Mexico.

Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns) are small towns recognized by the Mexican government for their culture, history, and charm. There are currently 132 pueblos mágicos in Mexico, several of which are located nearby cruise ports in the Mexican Riviera, including Sayulita and Todos Santos.

Visiting a Pueblo Mágico will connect a visitor with a small town’s unique roots, history, and traditions, all while admiring the colorful, intricate architecture and natural beauty that makes these towns so unique.

Take a stroll around port

If you’re the type of cruiser who prefers wandering around port instead of taking excursions, you’ll find plenty to do in each Mexican Riviera port.

Be sure to grab a coffee, beer, or meal in a local Plaza. These town squares are the perfect place to watch and observe local culture and lifestyle. While some are more touristy than others, relaxing in a shady plaza can help break up a busy port day in Mexico.

Beach day

While the Mexican Riviera offers plenty of history, culture, and cuisine to discover, sometimes a day in port is best spent relaxing on a sandy beach. Luckily, the main Mexican Riviera cruise ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallarta can make for an excellent beach day.

At the ever-popular Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas are two beaches: Lover’s Beach and Divorce Beach. Both beaches are only accessible via boat, but Cabo San Lucas has plenty of water taxis available to get you from place to place. 

Snorkeling and diving are also popular along the Mexican Riviera, which has an abundance of marine life to discover, from pufferfish to butterfly fish, octopi, sea turtles, and even sharks!

If you can’t decide on one of the many beaches along the coast, consider a catamaran or boat tour! While cruising along the coast, you’ll be able to visit several destinations and attractions while spotting wildlife and swimming along the way.

Keep in mind that some ports offer better swimming opportunities than others. Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlán tend to have stronger currents and conditions than Puerto Vallarta, which is located in a small bay as opposed to the open Pacific.

Resort For A Day

There are several all-inclusive beach resorts offering day passes to cruise guests through Resort For A Day. These can make a nice, stress-free option for those interested in a relaxing beach day.

In Puerto Vallarta you’ll find RIU Palace Pacifico, RIU Jalisco, and Hotel RIU Vallarta, all of which offer unlimited drinks and food along with pool and beach access.

In Cabo San Lucas are two resort day passes: the Solmar Resort Cabo San Lucas and RIU Palace. Just like in Puerto Vallarta, you can purchase a day pass to the resorts and enjoy unlimited dining, drinks, and access to resort amenities like the sauna, beach, and pools.

Adrenaline-filled adventures

Mexican vineyard

Adrenaline-seekers will find plenty of adventurous activities to keep them occupied on a Mexican Riviera cruise. From zip lines to kayaking and off-roading through the countryside, you won’t go bored while in port.

ATV tours are popular along the Mexican Riviera, allowing visitors to experience the countryside around ports by off-roading through vineyards, canyons, and deserts.

If you’re in for a challenge, consider a hike to the El Faro Lighthouse in Mazatlán. This 1.5 mile out-and-back hike takes around 45 minutes and offers the best views of Mazatlán and the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.

Mexican Riviera Cruise Itineraries

Royal Caribbean offers several different itinerary options to the Mexican Riviera, from short weekend getaways to 7-night sailings and repositioning cruises. Ports visited will depend on itinerary length due to the travel time required to reach certain destinations along the Mexican Riviera.

3-night cruises

Typically offered over the weekend, 3-night cruises visit Ensenada, the northernmost port in the Mexican Riviera. These cruises include one sea day and a 10 hour stop in Ensenada.

Related: Guide to weekend cruises: Tips for taking a 3-night Royal Caribbean cruise

4-night cruises

4-night Mexican Riviera cruises visit the ports of Ensenada and Catalina Island. They also include one sea day. These cruises are offered from Monday to Friday.

5-night cruises

Sailing on a 5-night Mexican Riviera cruise gives just enough time to reach the port of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There are two 5-night itineraries available:

  • 5-night Cabo & Ensenada cruise, with port days in both Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada along with two sea days
  • 5-night Cabo Overnight cruise, with an overnight stop in Cabo San Lucas and two sea days

5-night cruises are not offered as often as 3, 4, and 7-night cruises, but they can be found periodically throughout the year.

7-night Mexican Riviera cruise

A weeklong cruise to the Mexican Riviera allows ample time to travel to several ports further south along Mexico’s Pacific coast, allowing for more diversity in terms of scenery, culture, and activities.

7-night Mexican Riviera cruises visit the ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallarta. They have three sea days.

Repositioning cruises

In addition to regularly-scheduled Mexican Riviera cruises on Navigator of the Seas are repositioning cruises along the Mexican Riviera. As cruise ships make their way from Alaska to the Caribbean (and vice versa) during the change of seasons, they’ll pass through the Pacific coast of Mexico, visiting several ports along the way.

These cruises tend to be between 11-16 nights, departing from either Los Angeles or San Diego and ending in Florida. Repositioning cruises often visit Huatulco, Mexico, a port located in the state of Oaxaca, which is not visited on shorter Mexican Riviera cruises.

What cruise ships sail to the Mexican Riviera?

Navigator of the Seas is the Royal Caribbean ship offering year-round cruises to the Mexican Riviera from the Port of Los Angeles. As a recently amplified Voyager Class cruise ship, Navigator of the Seas boasts plenty of amenities, restaurants, lounges, and onboard activities to keep cruisers busy.

Highlights of Navigator of the Seas include the longest waterslide found at sea, ice skating, the Bamboo Room tiki bar, Hooked Seafood restaurant, and a resort-style Caribbean pool deck.

Related: Navigator of the Seas guide & review

There will occasionally be other Royal Caribbean ships stopping at ports along the Mexican Riviera. However, this only happens during longer repositioning cruises as ships make their way from the Caribbean to Alaska (and vice versa). These ships are in Royal Caribbean’s Vision or Radiance Class.

Mexican Riviera cuisine

Family eating in Mexico

Mexican cuisine is one of the most beloved in the world, and arguably one of the best aspects of cruising to Mexico is sampling fresh, local food.

Seafood is by far the most popular choice for those cruising the Mexican Riviera, as many of the cruise ports along the coast are known for their abundance of fresh seafood. With savory ceviches, endless shrimp, and grilled fish with chili marinade, you won’t go hungry if you love seafood.

Non seafood-lovers will also be impressed by the cuisine found in the Mexican Riviera, with birria (meat stew), tacos al pastor, and chilaquiles popular throughout the region.

Don’t forget to enjoy your meal with a cold glass of an agua fresca, a fresh fruit juice found all around the country.

What to bring on a Mexican Riviera cruise

Packing for a Mexican Riviera cruise can seem complicated due to the different weather patterns you’ll experience throughout the cruise. While you’ll be visiting warm beaches and jungles, you’ll also be sailing up the coast of Baja California and Mexico, which can be prone to chillier temperatures, especially in the winter months.

Related: The Ultimate Cruise Packing List

If you’re traveling the Mexican Riviera in the summer months, packing won’t be too different from what you’ll pack for a Caribbean cruise, outside of an emergency lightweight jacket and jeans for chilly sea days.

The winter months will likely encounter nice beach weather while in port, but you’ll want to pack a few long sleeve shirts and jackets during this time of year for sea days.

As far as footwear is concerned, be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, whether tennis shoes or sturdy sandals. If you plan on visiting the beach, flip flops are preferred, and you’ll also want to pack formal shoes for dinners and events onboard.

Mexican Riviera cruise packing list:

  • Swimsuit
  • 6-8 t-shirts
  • 3-4 shorts
  • 1-2 pairs of jeans
  • 3-4 semi-formal outfits for evenings onboard
  • 2-3 sundresses
  • 2-3 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 lightweight coat
  • 1-2 pairs pajamas
  • Flip flops
  • Sturdy sandals
  • Tennis shoes
  • Formal shoes
  • Water-resistant daypack

Related: The worst cruise packing mistakes to avoid

Cost of a Mexican Riviera cruise

Booking a cruise to the Mexican Riviera can be an affordable way to discover Mexico’s Pacific coast, culture, and beaches. You’ll often find competitive prices on a cruise to the Riviera, especially when considering the cost of flying to Mexico yourself and staying in a resort for a week.

Related: How much does a cruise cost?

You can expect to see the total price of a 7-night Mexican Riviera cruise on Navigator of the Seas between $900 and $2000 for two people in an interior cabin. Total costs will depend on the time of year, with summer months and holidays much more expensive than the off-season.

You’ll usually find cheaper Mexican Riviera cruises from January through April (excluding spring break), during fall (excluding Thanksgiving), and in the first two weeks of December.

Additionally, you may find that excursions along the Mexican Riviera are often more affordable compared to excursions in more expensive destinations like Alaska and Europe.

Mexican Riviera cruise FAQ

Do I need a passport to cruise the Mexican Riviera?

Royal Caribbean’s Mexican Riviera cruises are closed-loop sailings departing from the Port of Los Angeles. Because the cruises start and end in the United States, a passport is not required. Guests without a passport must bring a state-issued ID and birth certificate in order to board the ship.

However, cruising with a passport is always recommended even when not required. On the chance of any unexpected problems (missing the ship in port, emergency evacuation, etc.) it’s always better to have a passport than be stuck in a foreign country without one.

What kind of currency should I bring?

US dollars will be widely accepted at ports along the Mexican Riviera, although you may choose to get pesos from an ATM once in Mexico. If you choose to pay with US dollars, make sure to have an idea of the current exchange rate to avoid being overcharged.

When paying with US dollars, you’ll receive change back in Mexican pesos. It’s a good idea to have small bills with you (i.e. don’t pay for a $5 meal with a $50 bill). 

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