7 Most Beautiful Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports

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The western coast of Mexico is so well known for its beautiful beaches and stunning coastline that it’s called the Mexican Riviera. Not be confused with the Mayan Riviera along the Yucatán Peninsula, the Pacific’s Mexican Riviera receives millions of visitors each year.

Mexico’s western coastline runs for hundreds of miles, and distances between cities can be wide. With 20 cities to choose from, the area is both geographically diverse and culturally abundant. Because it’s so vast, most savvy travelers enjoy the Mexican Riviera by embarking on a cruise as it’s one of the most convenient ways to take in most of the area’s breathtaking landscapes.

Most Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports include a stop at Cabo San Lucas to visit the southern arch.

10-15 days of Mexican Riviera cruise ports

A cruise is arguably the best way to see multiple different destinations along the Riviera, and it will also get you closer to the water than anything else you could hope to experience.

Pick the one that suits your vacation style and sit back and let the captain do all the hard work while you take in the gorgeous coastline from the top deck.

Many major cruise lines offer Mexican Riviera itineraries. The most popular Mexican riviera cruise ports are Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, and Salina Cruz.

Ports may vary, but we hope this guide can help you start customizing a plan that fits your trip. No matter how many days you have to explore, we’re sure you will enjoy your tip along the beautiful Pacific Coast of Mexico.

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Where do Mexican Riviera cruises begin?

Depending on the cruise line, you will embark in either Los Angeles or San Diego. It’s important to know your embarkation port so your shuttle or taxi will drop you at the right one.

Los Angeles has two ports: the World Cruise Center (in San Pedro) and the Long Beach Cruise Terminal (in Long Beach). It can take more than an hour to get to either cruise port from LA International Airport (LAX).

  • Princess Cruises and Norwegian sail from San Pedro
  • Carnival Cruises sails from Long Beach.

San Diego also has two terminals: the B-Street Pier & Cruise Ship Terminal and the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier. Most cruises depart from the B-Street Pier & Cruise Ship Terminal. Both terminals are approximately 10 minutes drive from San Diego International Airport (SAN).

These cruise lines sail from San Diego:

  • Carnival Cruise Line.
  • Celebrity Cruise Line.
  • Crystal Cruises.
  • Disney Cruise Line.
  • Holland America Line.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line.
  • Princess Cruises.

Even if it’s a 10-minute trip to the terminal, we’ve experienced enough unforeseen travel delays to recommend arriving a day or two early. You don’t want to miss the boat!

Might as well take advantage of your time in these Southern California cities before departing on your cruise.

  • If in LA, pay a visit to Griffith Park or walk along Santa Monica Pier.
  • If in San Diego, visit the famous San Diego Zoo with this skip the line ticket. Or, relax along Black Beach while you watch the locals ride the waves.

Places to stay

TIP: Buy travel insurance before your trip. It’s a small expense that pays off big if there’s a last-minute cruise cancellation or if one of your bags goes missing.

the famous beverly hills hotel along rodeo drive

Mexican Riviera cruise ports in Baja California

1. Ensenada

When you finally arrive in Mexico, your first stop will likely be Ensenada in Baja California. Take a stroll along the Malecon, the boardwalk running from the local fish market and ending at a city park. If you’re lucky, you might see some sea lions or watch the local fishermen bring in their catch of the day.

Ensenada is famous for its wine. As the Napa Valley of Mexico, it attracts wine connoisseurs from all over the world. If you like wine, you must pay a visit to one of the many wineries. With wine come cheese and delicious foods. Pay a visit to one of the local markets or La Cava de Marcelo, pack yourself a picnic and head out to the vines. Bodegas de Santo Tomas (use Google Translate on this Spanish-language website) is the oldest winery in Baja California. It started all the way back in 1888 and they still give wine tours today.

Cactus in foreground with a view to the water in Ensenada mexico

2. Cabo San Lucas

Some cruises choose their first stop further south from Ensenada, in Cabo San Lucas. It’s at the tip of the peninsula and boasts beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife.

A highlight of the town is the Bay of Cabo San Lucas. There, you’ll witness sea life such as sea lions, colorful fish and pelicans. Rock formations form arches and rigid shapes in the water. Many will snorkel or go diving along the edge of the peninsula.

TIP:  Be sure you’re on the deck on the approach to Cabo San Lucas. You don’t want to miss this picture-perfect scene.

Marina waterfront with Lorenzillo's bay side restaurant

3. Mazatlán

If your cruise itinerary allows time to venture a little further inland, take the opportunity to visit Mazatlán, a historic little coastal town known for its incredible seafood. Known as the Pearl of the Pacific, Mazatlan endured some tough times with the drug cartel a few years ago, but now it’s experiencing a second wind as a key tourist destination.

A trip to Mazatlan must include a stroll to the historic center of Old Mazatlan. It’s one of those rare spots where the food is great, the history is fascinating and the local shops and boutiques are to die for.

Or, if none of that sounds appealing to you, you can seek out the Sea of Cortez instead for swimming and snorkeling. Even better is a nice zip-line tour with a tequila tasting!

rugged Mazatlan on the mexican riviera cruise port list

Central Mexican cruise ports

4. Puerto Vallarta

Speaking of beaches, the midpoint of the Mexican Riviera cruise ports is Puerto Vallarta. If you are interested in culture then you might prefer to spend some time getting to know the history or to try to experience some traditional Mexican street theater.

If you are into museums or galleries, there are quite a few for you to check out, but a few of my favorites include the 4D Art Museum and the Galleria Dante. Puerta Vallarta is host to many art and design boutiques where you will find beautiful hand woven and naturally dyed textiles.

TIP:  Since food varies greatly by region in Mexico, a food tour in Puerto Vallarta exposes you to this coastal regions delicacies.

View of Puerto Vallarta cathedral and out to the pacific ocean

5. Manzanilla

Both Puerto Vallarta and Manzanilla are surrounded by white sand beaches. The beaches and gigantic coastal cliffs make for relaxing hikes and beach side rests.

surfing a pipeline wave at a mexican riviera cruise port

Southern Mexican Riviera cruise ports

6. Zihuatanejo

Towards the end of your cruise, you will likely port in cities like Zihuatanejo or Acapulco. Both cities are home to world-class luxury resorts and abundant sea life. Dip your toes in the Pacific, book yourself a cabana and take in the last few days of sunshine from the beautiful white sand beaches.

If you are into surfing then you must pay a visit to Troncones. The beach is located just north of Zihuatanejo and has a reputation for being one of the best spots to find waves in the area. It is also perfect for beginner surfers. There are decent waves year round but like most other surf destinations- the spring and summer months are most popular. Hit up some of the local surf shops to rent some gear if you don’t have gear of your own.

Sunset on the ocean side town of Zihuatanejo

7. Acapulco

During these final few days, you will want to pick up a few gifts for the people back at home. Check out the local markets, boutiques and street vendors for artisan made goods. Some of my favorites in the area include the many local galleries and street vendors. Just make sure that you pack as light as you can so that you still have some room in your suitcase.

TIP:  Acapulco is famous for its Cliff Divers. The iconic way to enjoy it is a sunset show with dinner and drinks. CHECK PRICES HERE.

Overview of Acapulco bay

Tips for planning your Mexican Rivera Cruise

As you can see from our guide, ten days along the Mexican Riviera cruise ports will allow you to barely scratch the surface of what the region has to offer.

What about days at sea?

Many of the longer cruises have “days at sea” built in. These are the days that you will want to spend relaxing, refreshing and truly enjoying your trip. What that looks like is up to you.

While many people will be hitting the deck and enjoying an expensive cocktail poolside, we consider this the perfect opportunity to explore the ship. Scope out the secret destinations in the morning. Who knows what you might discover? Cruise ships may have 1-3 main pools which are sure to be full on “sea days,” but you might find a spa pool or Jacuzzi in a part of the ship that’s less crowded.

What to eat in Mexico?

When on land, a lot of people prefer a more active vacation, but it can also be a lot of fun to eat your way through the restaurants. Seriously, we could quite happily spend the mornings meandering along the back streets of our current destination and then spend the afternoons and evenings eating our way through town on a food tour.

And as far as the coastline is concerned, the Mexican Riviera offers many opportunities to dine with a view of the ocean or be served a cocktail right on the sand.

TIP: If you are a vegetarian, we have a guide to Mexican Vegetarian food!

these beef enchiladas with typical rice and beans are a perfect choice of foods in mexico

With so many beautiful and interesting places to explore we suggest taking a cruise first to cover the most ground. Once you have paid a visit to the entire coast line it will be easier to plan a destination based vacation for your next trip to the region. Maybe you’ll want to book a few days in Cabo or visit one of the quieter surrounding destinations. 

Like with other long trips, a visit to the Mexican Riviera calls for a certain amount of blank space within your itinerary. We recommend leaving yourself a bit of wiggle room in your schedule because there will always be little things that come up and change your plans. Talk to the locals and vacation spontaneously. That is one of our favorite ways to vacation.

Snap lots of pictures and have a great trip!

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ⓘ RELATED: Best Things to Do in Cozumel, Mexico

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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. “Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.”

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