Carnival Cruises: Excursions on the Mexican Riviera and Cabo San Lucus

27 Nov

The Excursions

Because I’m a lazy drifter, I’m going to lump all of our excursions in one Blog. Our cruise was a 9 day mexican riviera, it consisted of going to Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta (where Lea and I had been married less than six months ago!), two days in Cabo (I loved it there), and one day in Ensenada.


Manzanillo looks a lot like Puerto Rico in this picture

Giant Sailfish Statue, Manzanillo is said to be the sailfish capital of the world!

I’ll save you some time, if you can afford it you want to do a excursion in Manzanillo because the shopping there kind of sucks and there isn’t a whole lot to do there, you’ll be done shopping in a few hours and then will have to return to the ship otherwise.  If I go there again and it’s sailfish season I’ll probably rent a panga and try to get one.

Some famous arches

This was the coolest thing ever, this guy burns in artwork into coconut wood, he’s putting our name on it right now.  The other reason I bought this is because I thought it would make a bitchin tatoo

If you can arrange it, you want to do your excursions outside of the trip to save a lot of cash but you have to use common sense. If you go outside the ship excursions then you chance not making it back to the ship on time (they will leave your ass at the dock) or possibly you can be put in danger. The cruise ship makes it convenient, they arrange all the travel to and from your excursion and make it as safe as possible, but on the downside they charge you about 20-80% more, you’ll see what I’m talking about in a bit. Try to read up and do your research or at least follow some general guidelines.

When you get off the boat and go through the port there is a good chance there will be a bunch of guys offering excursions. Start your bargaining and work your way down the line to try to get the best price, what you want to do is figure out the lowest price you can get your stuff for and how long the excursion is because you don’t want the cruise ship to leave without you!

Puerto Vallarta

This is the place where Lea and I got married less than six months ago.  Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go to the all inclusive resort “Dreams” where we got married but we did get a chance to take a taxi into town.  We walked around looking for these beaded animals, PV is known for a certain indian tribe that makes these by hand, each is made of thousands of beads which are glued onto a block of wood resembling an animal.

Greedy fools getting free opal fragments in one of the stores

There was one part of town that had these neat metal statues of aliens that you could sit on or pose by.  Since the weather was so hot we found out rather quickly if you sat on them you’d burn your ass.

Metal statues of Aliens

Some octopus kind of thingy

Lea trying to climb up with the other aliens

This statue reminds me of Aquaman.  Aquaman is cool because he can talk to the fishes, although he gets no respect from me because he uses the fishes to fight for him and all he can do is throw water balls.

We walked around the shops and old churches and ended up at a familiar spot that we knew we wouldn’t get sick at, BUBBA GUMPS!  We especially chose this location because it was so freaking hot and they had air conditioning.

Having lunch and drinks at Bubba Gumps, Puerto Vallarta

Cabo San Lucas

Los Arcos “the arches” at Cabo

Cabo was probably my favorite destination, if you like water activities then Cabo is your place. There is also a ton of shopping that you can do, desert excursions, etc. When you get off the boat, if you are looking for a fishing trip go to the right of the dock and start walking down and chatting with the vendors. Right before you get to the end of where the guys are standing around with signs you’ll see some sportfishing booths and a bunch of pangas lined up on the docks. By then you should have bargained your way to figure out what you are going to spend. For snorkeling in Cabo the ship was charging 70$ per person. I got the guys at the dock down to 20$ per person for the exact same tour! We used a boat called “La Peque” but all of the pangas are pretty much the same.

Snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas

A nice mix of reef fish coming up to eat the bread the captain threw out

I really wanted to go on a snorkel trip in Cabo, when our cruise ship pulled up the water was a deep blue and calm. We didn’t book it on the ship and ended up booking it ourselves on the docks. In short time we followed the booking guy down the ramp and jumped onto the panga (panga’s are smaller 17-30′ fiberglass boats that are used for fishing and water taxi’s in baja). They are all booked as “glass bottom boats” but basically there are just large cut out windows on the bottom of the panga and on rare occasions can you actually see fish underneath, you are going to see more fish outside the panga as they swim by in the clear water. The captain we had gave us a tour of Los Arcos which had fantastic rock formations and shallow reefs. He showed us rocks shaped like scooby doo, skeleton heads, dinosaurs drinking water, one shaped like the baja penninsula, and caves. There were also two beaches, lovers beach and divorce beach. Lovers beach had a beautiful calm cove with blue water, divorce beach had a beautiful beach but was surrounded by signs cautioning against swimming there due to the raging currents and rough waves. At the end of the tour we were dropped off near pelican rock where we could snorkel as long as we liked. Before we started the captain threw some bread in the water and the colorful reef fish boiled all around us.

Pelican rock was an incredibly busy spot. There were scuba tank divers mixed in with glass bottom boats, “submarine” boats and kayaks and snorkelers mixed in between. I had not brought my own snorkeling equipment and really wished I had, I like stiff fins for diving deep and the rental stuff was the same travel type that you get at costco, it’s decent and will do the job but without a weight belt and those soft short fins flailing about I could only hit about 40 feet down most of the time. I’d still drop down on the scuba guys because they were in pretty shallow water, there is plenty to see all around the reef. In the shallows I saw a ton of sardinas

A huge school of Sardinas

(bait that looked like threadfin shad to me) and there were small jacks, milkfish and roosterfish tearing through the bait along with pelicans divebombing all around. The deeper reefs held all kinds of angelfish, wrasses and in the deep areas I made drops and saw schools of snapper to about fifteen or twenty pounds. I spent a lot of time with these fish and just like the ones in the wild, they would drop deeper and deeper as you got close to them, luring you into deeper depths.

Baby Roosterfish


Clown Hawkfish

This is disney’s boat, but I wanted to show you all the other boats running around by where the snorkelers are, watch out for them!!!

The scariest part was when I was breathing up on the surface and felt a sharp thud on my back, instantly I knew I was getting run over by a panga! I quickly ducked down and tried to figure out which direction the boat was moving, I knew I had to get deeper so I quickly flipped over and kicked the bottom of the boat to shoot deeper and sure as shit I saw the propeller spinning above me. Thank god I had moved quick enough and as I surfaced I saw the driver slow down to check if I was cut (I’ve been hit by a prop once before, it split my 1/4″ wetsuit and cut me almost to the bone), luckily I escaped injury this time but with the increasing boat traffic I decided to play it safe and head back to shore. Keep in mind, I am very conscious of where boats are when I’m diving. On this trip, every single drop I made I always looked up when I was coming back for air and many times I had to change my accent at an angle because I saw the boats coming underwater. This guy hit me when I was on the surface with my back to him, something I had not ever expected and I was only 6 feet from the edge of the rock, I was pretty pissed but again I’m just glad I was okay and that the boat was merely cruising through and not moving at full speed, if it were you might be reading about an accident in Cabo in the papers!

We spent some time in the sun and then took a short walk to lovers beach and then divorce beach.

Divorce Beach

I was amazed at the power of the waves at divorce beach, it would look calm for a second and then suddenly the swell would draw back and a huge wave would come crashing through, making a swirling pool around the reef. I would never even think of going in the water in those conditions. After we were tired of exploring we had the guy with the radio on the beach hail our panga from shore and in ten minutes he pulled up to the beach and we again headed back to the docks. There were lots of places to go shopping in cabo with two flea markets close by and lots of other shops mixed in. If you like to party and drink there were also a ton of bars in the area. There are also a bunch of places to eat and we rolled the dice and tried a fish taco truck behind the flea market, it was 6$ for 3 fat fish tacos and no one got sick :).

We spent the remainder of the day wandering around the town and shopping in the flea markets nearby as well as the small shops in town. I am definitely going to come back to Cabo, there is so much to do there and the front area has been developed very nicely.

Cabo: Mini Jeep Off-Road Desert Expedition

We booked this one on the boat and paid 110$/person, but if you go directly through Carisuva (it’s called the Rhino 4×4 tour on their brochure it was 65$/person plus 15$ insurance, and that included transportation. Martin was our guide, he spoke excellent English and he used to be a panga fishing captain so I spent a lot of time chatting with him about fishing). It’s a 4 hour duration but you are only driving the minijeep for about 1.5 hours. We really had a great time on this one, the mini jeep is basically a ATV with a steering wheel and a cage and two seats side by side, it’s like driving one of the cars at disneyland except they haul ass and can go over bumps like they are nothing.

Lea wanted to drive but I started driving first and after she saw how it was she declined, you have to be able to drive down steep grades and vary your speed around turns. Don’t let that deter you if you are meek though because there were a lot of people who were older and just took their time driving, it was pretty safe and there are two guys taking care of you, one in the lead and one that follows to make sure no one gets left behind. Most of the time you will be half throttle but there were a few areas that you could floor it and rip through the trail at full speed.

We got to spend some time at a deserted beach, it was absolutely fantastic with a lot of blue water surrounding us, if I had one complaint it would only be that we could have searched out a few more beaches, but other than that I’d highly recommend it as a cruise ship expedition or just an expedition when you are traveling to cabo.

Ensenada: La Bufadora and the Flea Market

I’m making a mental note to find the guy who owns this and kick his ass

We had the greatest weather on the cruise, it was warm and sunny around baja while my friends in southern California were freezing their butts off :). But when we arrived in Ensenada I was disappointed to see that it was raining and COLD. The storm had come from up north and it rained pretty hard but we toughed it out and decided to go into town.

The bus from the cruise ship to downtown was about 3$ round trip and while we were on the way the guide on the bus suggested that we do the Blowhole and flea market tour. It was 15$ and they would take us to La Bufadora (it means “the snorter”) which has a natural blowhole that spouts when the waves hit the side of the rocks/cavern. Afterwards we would get an hour or two to shop at the flea market which is in walking distance from the blowhole.

The blowhole itself is pretty amazing, we were lucky because the bad weather had brought some swell. When the waves hit the rocky shore it is forced into a gully and out the blowhole, the seawater shoots up about 40 feet or more! It was raining pretty hard but we took a lot of pictures before running for shelter. When we began shopping there were eager vendors who wanted us to see their shops. Get used to hearing “come here, we have a special sale today!” as they sell their wares. There were a lot of counterfeit bags, leather goods, clothes, jewelry, and food everywhere. We found one really neat shop that had a lot of dried fish, shark jaws, prehistoric stuff etc. It was like a little museum almost, althought it was a tad bit sad seeing all those dried up animals.

House of 1000 corpses

We walked in and out of each shop and bargained for different wares, then we ran for the bus where we could warm up.

When we got back to town we were pretty beat from the cold but Tom mentioned that there was a place called “Mercado Negro” (black market) in Milton Love’s book “Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast” which is an encyclopedia of pictures and stories about fish. The Mercado Negro was quoted as being a fish market with a lot of different fish for sale.

Since Tom and I are both Aquarists (marine biologists that take care of living collections of animals, read my “How to become a marine biologist” blog you dummy) we really wanted to check this place out. Our bus driver was nice enough to drop us off right down the street, we walked by a lot of fish taco shops and small restaurants into a small building with a familiar smell: dead fish!

Assorted reef fish and btw who the heck buys opaleye???

Squid and shortfin corbina

All kinds of clams were available

Black Sea Bass (it is legal to possess them there)

It wasn’t stinky at all, most of the fish and seafood was really fresh. There were Opah, pieces of tuna, marlin, shark, black sea bass, squid, clams, some of it fresh and some of it smoked. It was pretty much everything that you might come across in fine restaurants was present. The fishermen there were eager to show off their catches and asked us many times if we wanted such and such fish. We took some pictures and then found a bus to take us back to the ship where we could take long hot showers to bring up our core temperature.

All in all we had a great time in Baja and of course enjoyed the excursions. If I had one recommendation I’d say try to read up online about the different types, get a feel for the prices and then try to bargain your own. Once again keep in mind two things, 1. make sure the excursion gets back to the boat on time, 2. make sure whatever you do is safe!

And finally, here’s a video I shot while freediving with shitty rental gear in Cabo San Lucus


2 Responses to “Carnival Cruises: Excursions on the Mexican Riviera and Cabo San Lucus”

  1. Joe Acevedo November 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Wow Love your blog chris , Im going to be sure and subscribe , cant wait to read some WSB post this spring ,,,,,,,ciao … Joe Acevedo

    • oakpwr November 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

      Thanks Joe, hopefully I’ll have some wsb video on the new gopro this year, that’s my goal!

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