Mexico is a unique country located between North and Central America, known for it’s beaches, diverse landscape of mountains, deserts, jungles, tequila, cactuses, mariachi singers and salsa. The country’s East coast is bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and Mexico’s West Coast, known as the ‘Mexican Riviera’, meets the Pacific Ocean. During my time onboard ships as a crew member between the years of 2000 and 2006, I spent the majority of my time along the stunning West coast of Mexico (and Alaska – See My Great Alaskan Adventures). However, I was fortunate enough to travel both the West and East coasts of Mexico and I will talk about both within this post.
Tourists flock to Mexico not only for it’s idyllic beaches, but also because it is rich in history. Impressive ancient ruins such as Teotihuacan (Aztec) and Chichen Itza (Mayan) are scattered throughout the country. Mexico was the site of several civilizations such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. The Aztecs were a civilization with a rich mythology and cultural heritage located in central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. They called themselves ‘Mexica’. Their capital was Tenochtitlan on the shore of Lake Texcoco, which is now the site of Mexico City. The repuplic of Mexico and Mexico City actually derived their names from the Mexica people.
Some of the best food I have ever eaten was in Mexico. From their amazing huge servings of nachos with homemade chunky salsa, to their sizzling fajitas and mouth watering burritos, I was in heaven. Thanks to the country’s perfection of tequila, their cocktails are also pretty amazing. I may, or may not have tried all of them.
Mexican West Coast – Mexican Riviera
Again, I may be biased, but I still believe that the best way to see this coast of Mexico is via a cruise ship, particularly due to the long distances between the west coast cities of Mexico. Ships will usually depart from San Diego, CA and head down the west coast of Mexico and around the Baja California Peninsula in Northwestern Mexico, stopping at Cabo San Lucas, located at the tip of this peninsula. The Baja California Peninsula’s land mass separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California and it is one of the largest peninsulas found in the world. The ship will then usually head further down the west coast as far south as either Acapulco or Zihuatanejo.
Cabo San Lucas
This was my first ever port in Mexico and I will always remember it fondly. Us crew members enjoyed visiting the large silver markets ashore and then taking a water taxi out past El Arco ‘the Arch’ to ‘Lovers Beach’, only accessible via boat, where we would relax for the day.
I was also able to join a tour onboard an old pirate ship. I helped steer the ship, hoisted the sails, and of course just sat back and relaxed as we sailed to a beautiful spot in the marine park to enjoy the amazing sun-drenched climate of Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta is a resort town which lays in the heart of the Banderas Bay and offers the best of two worlds: tradition and top notch, state-of-the-art resorts. Along the Malecon boardwalk, you can find an endless supply of contemporary sculptures, lounges, nightclubs, restaurants and bars, guaranteeing a great night out.
Puerto Vallarta’s historic, cobblestoned center is also home to the beautiful church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
Just a month or so after my now-husband and I began dating, his parents came onboard for a Mexican Riveria cruise. They took us out for dinner along the boardwalk to get to know me better and my father in law secretly arranged for a live Mariachis band to play for me. Before dinner that night we visited the most amazing tequila tasting distillery, where we were able to taste various rare and flavoured tequila. We discovered years later that this experience cost my poor father in law an absolute fortune! But we will never forget it.
The amazing beaches and sun also meant that a relaxing day was always guaranteed. Beaches such as Las Caletas and Yelapa are the ones you do not want to miss and of course, don’t forget to order a cocktail on the beach!
El Eden Eco Park is the location where some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Predator” was filmed in the jungle, just outside of Puerto Vallarta. The movie set was turned into a restaurant and bar, and from here you can take a Canopy tour or a trekking tour into the jungle to visit some of the recognisable areas where the Predator movie was filmed, including the Misalamoya river. I’d recommend you wear insect repellant as the sand flies were VERY friendly. My husband found out the hard way.
Acapulco is a resort city set on a large bay backed by high rise buildings and the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. Made famous by the jet set in the 1950s and ’60s, Acapulco is known for its high-energy nightlife and beaches.
The cliff divers of La Quebrada are a group of professional divers who dive off the face of a cliff, 35m into the sea below. Timing is crucial as the depth of the water can vary from 6-16 feet, depending on the waves! The divers perform daily shows for the public.
There is a restaurant at the top of the cliffs overlooking the cliff divers. This is where my husband and I had our first dinner date together in November 2000. We had a prime view as we watched the night show. The divers threw themselves forwards and backwards from various heights off the cliff with the grand finale being a dive from the highest part of the cliff holding a flaming torch (shown in the video below at around the 3:20 mark).
Every time we visited Acapulco, we would go out for dinner and try another one of the great restaurants along the main strip. We found some great ones indeed and it was always nice to eat something other than cruise ship food for a change. Eventually, us crew members would usually always ended up at Carlos n’ Charlies, a restaurant/bar where the atmosphere was always enjoyable. We had many fun nights here, trying out more of those amazing cocktails.
Acapulco was also where I enjoyed a crazy fun crew booze cruise through the bay with a great group of fellow crew members. Good times.
We also frequently visited the CiCi Water Park in the city of Acapulco, where I had the opportunity to swim with dolphins, which was amazing!
The Shot Over Jet Boat in Acapulco, Mexico was also an experience to get the adrenaline pumping. The boat shot through the shallow waters and mangroves of the Puerto Marques Lagoon, the stunning backdrop from the early Tarzan movies (there’s me in the back screaming.. hehe).
To get a better feel of all this town has to offer, don’t linger too long in the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone), Mazatlán’s touristy area. Instead head straight for the city’s character filled old town and its gloriously unrefurbished malecón (one of the longest seasfront walkways of the world). Here you can view magic sunsets from the various bars and restaurants.
Zihuatanejo is somewhere I have wanted to visit since watching the movie, Shawshank Redemption. Andy, was an innocent man who was wrongly imprisoned for many years. He manages to escape and fled to Zihuatanejo.
Andy Dufresne: [in a letter to Red] “Dear Red. If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?”
Unfortunately I had to work on the one and only day we visited. Here you can see me in my lovely uniform (not!) with beautiful Zihuatanejo in the background…
Copper Canyon, in northern Mexico, is a series of massive canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. Popular for hiking, it gets its name from the copper-green hue of the canyon walls. The famous Chepe train connects the region via over 80 tunnels and nearly 40 bridges. I spent all day on this rickety train travelling from the South to the North of Mexico to visit this amazing canyon and it is an experience I will never forget.
Mexican East Coast – Caribbean
Mexico’s Caribbean coast is full of treasures, from spectacular white sandy beaches and offshore reefs to some of the most beautiful Mayan ruins. Unsurprisingly, much of the region is also full of tourists, who come from around the world to soak up the sun and unique Mayan-Mexican culture.
The pier on which the cruise ships dock here leads directly into a picturesque resort. Crew were able to use these facilities free of charge. At that time, the closest town to where we docked was Mahahual, about three kilometeres away. A small fishing village with soft sandy beaches, grass thatched palapas, and a coral reef a short distance off-shore. However, now a new development is being created directly inland from the port named New Mahahual, which is now bustling with cruise ship passengers when ships are in.
My parents in law also came onboard for another cruise to discover the East coast of Mexico. Here in Costa Maya, I went ashore with them to discover the amazing Chacchoben Mayan ruins. Settlement by the Mayan people at this site is estimated at 200 BC, and the structures located there date from 700 AD. Unbelievable isn’t it? Especially when my home country of Australia was not even discovered until 1700 odd years later!!
Veracruz is a large port city. Although I was unable to go ashore here as I was working, my husband was able to enjoy all this city had to offer, including a large carnival during new years day. This city is known for it’s carnivals and parades particularly during February when the Veracruz Carnival festival is held. This carnival is one of the largest in Mexico, filled with parade floats, intricate and colorful masks, music, and dancing.
One of the most popular vacation destinations in all of Mexico (and the world), Cancun attracts troves of tourists, particularly spring breakers, every year.
Just 200km from Cancun lies the amazing Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities of it’s time and today it is probably the most well known of all mayan ruins.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a resort city located about an hour south of Cancun. Playa del Carmen offers access to the same azure waters of the Caribbean, but without the crowded party scene. And if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime underwater experience, Playa del Carmen is the spot for you; a number of agencies offer scuba diving and snorkeling tours of the nearby Great Mayan Reef (the world’s second-largest reef system) and a variety of local underground freshwater caves.
The island of Cozumel is located in the Caribbean Sea, directly out to the East from Playa del Carmen. This is a very popular cruise ship port of call and famous for it’s diving possibilities due to the reef, lagoons and submerged sculptures. This is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. You come here to relax, dive and eat lobster (or in my case, more nachos!). But when the ships arrive, it’s a busy place to be!
My time spent in Mexico was extremely enjoyable. The food alone warrants another visit!
However, the past ten years have been hard on Mexico. Mexico’s powerful drug trafficking organisations have escalated in their violent drug related crimes since 2007 and the global financial crisis in late 2008 caused a massive economic downturn in Mexico. Unfortunately due to these reasons, cruise lines have now cut various ports such as Mazatlan and/or Acapulco from their itineraries.
The country is slowly recovering, but it may not be the same. Certainly not as safe. I think I may have seen it in it’s glory days, and I can only hope that it still remains to be just as glorious as I remember it to be.