Avid Cruiser Voyages: The Mexican Riviera

This week’s Avid Cruiser Voyage is sadly one that teeters on the verge of outright extinction: a jaunt along the Pacific Coast’s Mexican Riviera.

A longtime staple of West Coast cruising, voyages to the Mexican Riviera were as varied and numerous as their more famous Caribbean counterparts. They ranged from quick, three-and-four-day jaunts from Los Angeles down to Ensenada, Mexico, and Catalina Island, California, to 7, 10, and even 14-day departures leaving from popular Californian ports like San Diego, Los Angeles and even San Francisco.

Large ships like Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas once routinely sailed from California to the Mexican Riviera, but that trend is quickly coming to an end. Photo © Aaron Saunders

By far the most common, though, were the weeklong departures from Los Angeles or nearby Long Beach, and San Diego. Only seven years ago, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean all offered a wide array of departures, mainly between October and April.

Unfortunately, due to short bursts of violence that have erupted in and near several popular ports of call, only a handful of Mexican Riviera sailings are now available — and that number continues to dwindle. It’s a shame, because these Pacific ports of call are some of the most versatile and beautiful found in Mexico.

Los Arcos, off Cabo San Lucas, is notable for its amazing sunrises and sunsets. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Nearly every itinerary included a stop in the popular resort town of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Located along the Baja peninsula, cruise ships would drop anchor off of the famous Los Arcos rock formation and tender guests ashore in this bustling destination.

Formerly a sleepy fishing village, Cabo San Lucas exploded in popularity in the last two decades, thanks to an influx of all-inclusive resorts and jet-set millionaires who flocked to the town for its warm weather, beautiful ocean and stunning sunsets.

Likewise, the mainland port of Mazatlan, Mexico was a history buff’s dream come true. The city is divided into two sections, with the “new” city — or Zona Dorada (the Golden Zone) located beyond the cruise port. Accessible by taxi or pulmonia, a type of open-aired, golf-cart style vehicle, the Golden Zone was Mazatlan’s shopping and beach mecca.

But Mazatlan’s Old Town was striking. The Pacifico Brewery, established in 1900, anchors the area near the cruise port and gives way to what is affectionately known as the Centro Historico. One of the most impressive structures here is the Teatro Angela Peralta, an opera house constructed between 1869 and 1874.

Mazatlan’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in the Centro Historico. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Another landmark dominating Mazatlan’s skyline is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Completed in 1899, this Cathedral was of great importance to the locals. A Jewish family living in the city at the time put up some money to finance its construction, and the people of Mazatlan repaid their kindness by placing the Star of David atop the Cathedral, making it one of the few Catholic churches to sport this traditional Jewish symbol.

The other major port on weeklong voyages is Puerto Vallarta. Formerly a sleepy town, director John Huston`s arrival in the early 1960`s to film Night of the Iguana in Mismaloya, just south of Puerto Vallarta, did much to change its fortunes, as did Elizabeth Taylor`s affair with Huston during the filming. While reporters came for the scandal, they stayed for the natural beauty of what would become one of Mexico`s premier resort destinations.

Take a stroll along Puerto Vallarta’s gorgeous Malecon. Photo © Aaron Saunders

After enjoying decades of popularity as a cruise destination noted for its warm weather, cultural highlights and, let`s face it, tequila, the Mexican Riviera has been on the decline for the past few years. Despite the occasional spate of violence in ports like Mazatlan, it is still a worthy destination.

If you can find a voyage that sails to the Mexican Riviera, jump on it. In a few years` time, these once popular ports of call may be just a distant memory for cruisers who recall a time when this superb region of the West Coast reigned supreme.

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