Mexico has shown itself to be a resilient cruise destination. After hitting a rough patch because of security jitters and crime in the early 2010s, cruise visits to Mexico came roaring back in 2013 and 2014. With more security measures in place, more ships are calling in Acapulco in 2015 than at any time the past few years. The bustling historic port city of Mazatlan also survived security concerns and fully recovered, enjoying as much popularity as ever as a port of call.
Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises have the largest presence in Mexico. Carnival's home base for its wide-ranging schedule of two- to 13-day Mexico sailings is Long Beach, while Princess offers seven- to 10-day cruises from Los Angeles (San Pedro) and 10-day Mexico itineraries from San Francisco. Norwegian Cruise Line sails from Los Angeles on seven-day turnarounds and from San Diego on four-day cruises and some 11-day sailings. Holland America Line offers several seven-day itineraries from San Diego.
The short two- to four-day Mexico cruises from southern California typically visit California's Catalina Island and Ensenada, a port on the northern part of Baja California. The seven-day itineraries hit destinations that make up what's called the Mexican Riviera: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. A few of the lines' longer itineraries travel deep into the Sea of Cortez for excursions to Loreto and La Paz or farther south to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Acapulco.
(For more on cruises to Mexico's west coast, read Mexican Riviera Cruise Basics or Sea of Cortez Cruise Basics).
Here are some of our favorite excursions offered in the ports you find on a Mexican Riviera cruise.
Anyone visiting Acapulco must see the world-famous cliff divers plunge 130 feet into the Pacific Ocean. Ships calling at Acapulco offer various shore excursions that include transportation and, typically, a visit to historic San Diego Fort and a drink at the restaurant fronting the La Quebrada cliffs, which provide the best views.
Who Should Go: Everybody. This is a unique experience and great for families; even teens will be enthralled. Those with mobility impairments are accommodated in areas that are wheelchair-accessible.
Why It's Extraordinary: Divers climb the cliffs - by torchlight at night - and then soar outward to dive into an area that's about 10 feet square, timing their dives to the highest flow of the waves. The tallest platform is 130 feet above the water. You'll find yourself holding your breath and ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
Land's End Catamaran Sail and Scenic Drive
The rock formations at the tip of the Baja Peninsula are renowned worldwide, and this is a way to get up close and personal with them. Called Los Arcos (The Arches), these towering rocks straddle two bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. The scenic drive portion is short and takes visitors to a cliff-top restaurant with magnificent views over Land's End, Los Arcos and the Sea of Cortez.
Who Should Go: This tour is suitable for almost everyone, although because there are some stairs at the restaurant, it's not suited to guests in wheelchairs. It's particularly appealing to nature lovers and nature photographers.
Why It's Extraordinary: It's the best way to get a sense of the magnificence of Los Arcos. As appealing as they are from a distance, they are truly awe-inspiring close up.
Whale Watching by Zodiac
If you are adventurous and lucky enough to be in Cabo San Lucas during whale-watching season (mid-December to mid-March), this is the tour to take. You can find other whale-watching tours with larger vessels, but for a personalized experience, the Zodiacs and their guides provide the best option. (Zodiacs are inflatable boats that hold a small number of passengers, usually a maximum of 15). Captains take the boats a safe distance into the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific and find gray and humpback whales during their birthing season. Average cost: $90 adult and child.
Who Should Go: This trip is particularly suited to the adventurous nature lover who is not concerned about being in a smaller boat on the open seas; the photo ops are incredible. Children younger than 7 are not allowed, and boarding/disembarking is very difficult for completely non-mobile guests.
Why It's Extraordinary: With luck, you will see the blow spouts of whales right from your ship as you sail through this region, but to get within a couple of hundred feet of these creatures, at sea level, and watch them swim, jump and cavort, is an amazing experience.