As a native of San Diego, I recall the heyday of Mexican Riviera cruises leaving from our shores before the Great Recession, and it looks to be that such high times are coming back thanks in large part to Holland America Line recently increasing its departures to the region.
On board the Westerdam earlier this month, I found it a joy to return to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta to see the familiar ports from a new perspective. We specifically chose shore excursions that would allow us to rediscover the area and take a deeper dive into its culture and landscape. Sure, mainstays like flea market vendors remain on the surface, but to really know Mexico, travelers need to go beyond the beach tours.
Just outside of Cabo, San Jose is still a wonderful artistic colonial town to escape to for such purposes. In the end, we chose an excursion called "Discover Todos Santos." There, we went beyond the popular sport fishing and jet skiing to visit the quiet cultural center, cathedral and Hotel California, said to be the inspiration for the Eagles’ famed song.
We instantly fell in love with the timeless charm of the town as well as the hotel specifically for its uniquely intimate architecture and great restaurant where we enjoyed delicious chile rellenos filled with cheese, shrimp and scallops.
The next day we stopped at Mazatlan, where in the past we’ve played a fun round of golf at Estrella del Mar, but this time around we took an open-air bus tour of the city playfully called “Going Topless in Mazatlan.”
While not quite as fascinating as the day before, the sea breeze was nice to feel as we drove from the port to the Golden Zone and back again, stopping to allow enough time to grab a bite to eat for lunch. The area is known for its mariscos, and at Margaritas restaurant we ordered a coconut shrimp taco with guacamole on the side -- a tasty selection. Also stepping inside the local cathedral was an architectural delight, and a quick pass to see a cliff diver jump into the crystal blue waters below was exhilarating as well.
In Puerto Vallarta we stopped at Colonial San Sebastian, which at first sounded more worthy of its three-plus-hour round-trip drive than it may have turned out to be, but the chance to see something entirely different deep in the mountains was a treat if only for the tastings before arriving.
A bathroom stop at a restaurant and tortilla stand let us eat the best handmade corn tortilla I’ve ever had, a local tequileria enticed us to purchase its wonderful orange-flavored bottle for a chicken marinade, and a small drink of coffee was a nice final touch before exploring the town for a very brief hour.
Another lunch of regional flavors was a nice final sendoff before arriving back on the ship. In fact, the featured Mexican cuisine on board, from the poolside taco bar to the featured items in the main dining room, have been excellent estimations of their shoreside equivalents, praise I cannot always give to lesser ships.
In the overall process, Holland America Line has once again whet our appetites for all things Mexico cruising.
— Jason Leppert, TravelPulse. This article originally appeared at TravelPulse.com.