The Mexican Riviera—spanning hundreds of miles of beach resorts from Ensenada in the north to Puerto Chiapas in the south—is a vacation destination of staggering beauty and diversity.
Its myriad ports of call are as varied in character as the landscape they traverse. From huge cities to sleepy villages, shopping destinations to wildlife sanctuaries, rocky cliffs to lush jungles, Mexico’s Pacific coast has something for everyone.
Ensenada is the first stop for most cruises departing from Los Angeles. Known for its spectacular local wines and seafood, the city also lures travelers with its First Street curio shops, where you can pick up all sorts of quirky souvenirs and crafts for under $5. The city’s Malecón—a huge waterfront walkway perfect for people-watching—is home to the largest Mexican flag in the world, visible from miles away.
More adventurous visitors will love the adrenaline-pumping canopy tour at the nearby Las Cañadas Campground. This getaway out of the city also offers a water park and sport fishing lake, if zip lines aren’t your thing.
At the tip of the Baja peninsula, Cabo San Lucas has become one of the hottest vacation spots in Latin America. Known to most as simply "Cabo," it’s an area packed with innumerable golf courses, beautiful public and private beaches, and all the modern conveniences you’d expect from a world-renowned tourist destination. Must-see highlights include the spectacular rock formation El Arco, and the nearby Playa del Amor (Lovers’ Beach).
Just a brief drive from Cabo San Lucas, the city of San Jose del Cabo couldn’t be more different in feel. The picturesque town is graced with abundant 18th-century architecture and a quiet, peaceful ambiance. Positioned atop a hill near the central plaza, the Mission of San Jose del Cabo Church is a particularly charming glimpse into the past.
A little way into the Sea of Cortez, the cities of La Paz and Loreto offer quieter getaways with an emphasis on eco-tourism. Stunning kayaking, snorkeling, and diving locations will impress any wildlife lover, offering close-up encounters with many rare marine species. The local restaurants are top notch, but those who prefer to work for their dinner can go on sportfishing trips in search of yellowfin and marlin.
At the southern end of the rapidly growing Riviera Nayarit, backdropped by the scenic Sierra Madre mountains, Puerto Vallarta is the jewel of the central coast. Though home to scores of recently built shops, restaurants, and hotels, it is grounded in history and crowned by the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe—a majestic structure built over the course of nearly a century.
A number of distinct neighborhoods appeal to different palates. Close to the city pier, Olas Atlas is a haven for seafood lovers. Perfect for couples, the Zona Romantica is a welcoming, cobblestone-paved area filled with restaurants, bars, and boutique shops. As its name indicates, it’s the perfect place for couples of any orientation.
One of the oldest and best-known beach resorts in Mexico, Acapulco was once the destination of choice for millionaires and Hollywood stars. Today it’s still host to a vibrant nightlife, glitzy hotels, and numerous golf courses, but many of its best features are found elsewhere.
The famed cliff divers of La Quebrada are one such attraction, performing death-defying feats for passersby every day. Glass-bottomed boats take visitors on sightseeing tours of the nearby islands—Isla La Roqueta is particularly popular with snorkelers. The 18th-century fortress of El Fuerte de San Diego will appeal to history buffs—and those in search of an inexpensive, air-conditioned attraction.
Art aficionados will want to make a pilgrimage to the House of the Winds, where the painter Diego Rivera lived out his last years. The exterior of the house is host to one of his last and most impressive works, a 107-foot-long sculpture-painting, composed of seashells, stones, and glass, and depicting several Aztec gods.
Offering a more laid-back, small town feel, the purpose-built resort town of Huatulco is one of the highlights of coastal Oaxaca. Just a short bike ride away, the small village of La Crucecita is a great place to shop for traditional Oaxacan alebrijes—festively colored wooden or papier-mâché folk art sculptures of fantasy animals.
Huatulco’s beaches are quiet and clean, and the bays provide protected water for kayaking and snorkeling. Abundant green space makes for a charming atmosphere uncommon on the Mexican Riviera.
The southernmost stop on the Riviera, Puerto Chiapas is a jumping off point for tours of the Mayan ruins at Izapa, coffee-growing fincas, and the nearby city of Tapachula. The state of Chiapas is renowned for its unique and delicious cuisine; the coastal areas specialize in seafood, but other tasty treats include such unusual dishes as iguana tamales and armadillo stew. The last Mexican port of call for cruises continuing on to the Panama Canal, it’s a place rich with character and local color.