Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports – Highlights and My Favorite Experiences

Cabo Mexico

Sailing along the golden coast of Baja California has long been one of the most popular cruise itineraries – just watch reruns of “The Love Boat” if you don’t believe me. So when Crystal Cruises approached me about sailing with them in this near perfect part of the world, I very quickly accepted. Sailing from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles, most of the trip was along the shores of Baja California, an area that was completely new to me. Over the course of a week I enjoyed the many ports of call and experiences offered, but especially these highlights of my Mexican Riviera cruise.

Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Pre and Post Cruise

Since Puerto Vallarta is on the other side of the continent, I decided to arrive the day before the start of the cruise. No matter where the cruise leaves from, I always try to arrive at least a day before in order to make sure there aren’t any complications. Too many people have trips ruined every year because of a flight delay or cancelation, and I don’t want to be one of them. Checking into a comfortable resort on the beach, it was an easy way to settle into the relaxed vibe of the region and to start enjoying myself a little early. After the cruise ended in Los Angeles, I added on a couple of extra days in Anaheim where I occupied myself with a certain cartoon mouse. Wherever I take a cruise though I tend to add on days both before and after the trip; it’s a great way to extend the vacation and to see new places.

Mazatlan Mexico


The first stop on our cruise aboard the luxurious Crystal Serenity was Mazatlán, across from the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula. I didn’t plan an organized excursion in advance, although my partner did coordinate a golf outing for the day. While he was off hitting the links, I set out with map in hand to discover what the city was all about. With the help of my butler onboard the Serenity, as well as the shore excursions staff, I had a great idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, starting with El Faro. An easy walk from the cruise port, the hike up to the top of hill where this famous lighthouse is located wasn’t as easy, but certainly was well worth the effort for the best views of the city. El Faro is the highest lighthouse in the Americas and the panoramic views of Mazatlán and the surrounding region can’t be beat. I then walked into the historic center of the city, to wander amongst the colorful colonial-era buildings and to enjoy the festive atmosphere that only the Christmas season can provide. It was a fun day out and a great introduction to the city.

Todos Santos Mexico

La Paz & Todos Santos

I actually didn’t see the city of La Paz while the Crystal Serenity was docked nearby. Instead, I booked a Crystal Adventures Shore Excursion so I could spend a day exploring the colorful town of Todos Santos. Todos Santos is most famous for the Hotel California, which may or may not have been the inspiration for that famous song by the Eagles. Turns out though that’s the least important reason to love this small town. The process of the organized tour with Crystal couldn’t have been easier, and from start to finish I was well taken care of by both the guide and crewmember who joined to ensure everything was ok. After a bus ride through the surrounding desert, we arrived into the oasis town of Todos Santos, everyone excited to see as much as possible. Walking around the old historic core, the vibrant colors of the buildings and the incredible wintertime weather all left me completely entranced. Turns out I’m not alone, Todos Santos has been quietly gaining a lot of attention by tourists in the know and even the Mexican government named it a Pueblo Magico, one of just 100 or so communities around Mexico recognized for its natural beauty, cultural richness and history. I’d never heard of this small town along the coast before, but I know it’s a spot that I won’t soon forget.

Camel Cabo Mexico

Cabo San Lucas

I’d wanted to visit Cabo San Lucas for a very long time and I was thrilled that it was one of the ports of call along the Mexican Riviera. I was also very excited for the shore excursion I booked through Crystal, a chance to spend the day outside of the city at a unique desert adventure center. Located along the Pacific Ocean is an unlikely sanctuary that introduces visitors every day to rescued camels. I’m always very hesitant about animal related activities because, to be honest, most aren’t responsible. This sanctuary is different though and they’ve brought camels from various parts of the Americas together to give them a better life and to share their stories with tourists like me. It was a fun day out and about and one of the best ways to better appreciate the high desert landscape of Baja California. After the excursion, I spent some time exploring the massive marina in Cabo before rejoining the ship for some much needed rest. One quick thing to note, this was the only port where we had to tender – take smaller boats to the port – and I was overall very impressed with the process. Believe it or not, but not all cruise lines manage the tendering process very well, but the wait time to return was short, the lines well organized and they even provided refreshments on the dock for passengers to enjoy before boarding the tender. Overall it was a very well organized and even pleasant experience.

La Jolla San Diego California

San Diego

Through a few strange quirks of fate, this was my third time visiting sunny San Diego in 2018, and I certainly wasn’t complaining. Over the course of those visits I have come to know and love both San Diego and the many communities surrounding it. Repeat trips also meant that I knew exactly what I wanted to see and do during our day in port, starting at the U.S.S. Midway Museum. The Crystal Serenity docking location was next door to the Midway in downtown San Diego, providing me with the perfect opportunity to finally visit this amazing facility. The U.S.S. Midway entered into service in 1945 and served the country until it was decommissioned in 1992. That wasn’t the end of its long life though and in 2004 it opened as a museum along the San Diego waterfront and quickly became one of the city’s top tourist sites. I spent the entire morning exploring the many aircraft and exhibits onboard the Midway and a whole day could easily be devoted to this remarkable museum. They’ve done an outstanding job in telling both the story of the Midway as well as modern U.S. history and I know that it won’t be my last visit. For the afternoon though I knew exactly where I wanted to go, one of my favorite spots on the planet – La Jolla. This ritzy coastal suburb is one of the country’s poshest communities, and with good reason. The views of the sunny California coast can’t be beat, and those views also make for the ideal lunch backdrop. After enjoying a leisurely meal, I wandered around a little, strolled by the waterfront and just enjoyed being there. Sometimes in the travel experience that’s enough; there doesn’t have to be a schedule or timeline and that laid back attitude helped me enjoy every second of the day spent in and around San Diego.

Crystal Cruise Ship

Traveling with Crystal Cruises from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles on a Mexican Riviera cruise was one of the best trips I enjoyed in 2018. The service and attention to creating a personalized travel experience for their passengers doesn’t stop at the gangway, it extends to the destination experience as well. With the help of onboard crew members and organized tours, as well as plenty of time exploring independently, I truly feel that I made the most of my voyage and can’t wait to see where my next cruise with Crystal takes me.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

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