The Vallarta – Cabo Compromise: Cruising the Mexican Riviera
Unlike most of the world, the idea of going on a cruise has never been entirely appealing to me. I get that they’re amazing in theory:
Travel? Check ✅
Saltwater? Check ✅
All you can eat? Che<nomnomnom>ck ✅
Swim up pool bar? Double check ✅✅
What lacks appeal, for me, is the lack of adventure. Days and days at sea with just 6-10 hours on shore to explore each destination just doesn’t seem like enough. I want to meander down the side roads, snack at the street stalls and find a sunny spot to sit and people watch without having to constantly check the time against the ships schedule.
What if I find a gorgeous and thought-provoking piece of street art? Or an outdoor artisan market with a million sparkling bits and bobs? Or a bartender with a dimple and a twinkle in his eye that lights up at my hilarious jokes?
You get the picture.
Despite all that, one of my best gal pals and I recently stumbled upon a 7 day Mexican Riviera Carnival Splendor Cruise a last minute deal that would have been a sin to bypass. And just like that, a few days later found ourselves mounting the ramp of a ship that was to set sail south from Long Beach Harbor along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Girl’s trip!
Fast forward just enough time to drop off our tiny bags in our tiny room and change into our tiny bikinis, we hopped straight into the pool (margaritas in hand, obviously) and started to plan out our options. The cruise ship of course had several excursions available for our stops in Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta – dolphin swims, snorkeling, kayaking, zip lining – the possibilities were essentially endless. Only problem was, of the 6-day duration, only 2 of them were opportunities to dock and explore.
My partner-in-crime-cruise had nothing but sun, fun and relaxation on her mind, so this was absolutely fine for her. The voyager in me, however, felt a little claustrophobic at the idea of such little adventure time. I mean, I love karaoke and cocktails on a boat as much as the next sane person, but this is the Mexican Riviera!
The Vallarta – Cabo Compromise
So, as any good pirate wood do, we came to an accord.
The Vallarta-Cabo Compromise. (ahem ©) 😉
The ship would first sail all the way down to Puerto Vallarta, where we agreed we’d sign-up for one of the advertised excursions – a secluded beach getaway complete with snorkeling, paddle surfing and a seafood buffet (yes please!). I mean come on, even a vagabond backpacker couldn’t turn that down!
We’d do Cabo my way. No organized excursions and no following an “expedition leader” holding a red umbrella in the air. We would dock, hop off and find an adventure.
Las Caletas, Puerto Vallarta
When the ship finally docked in Puerto Vallarta (FREEDOM!), we joined the herd to exit in a mass that would put Disneyland lines to shame. Packed together like sardines with the other excursion-goers and waiting for our group to be called, I would be lying if I said I was optimistic about the day ahead. Finally we were called, and our group of 15ish (thankfully smaller than many of the others) exited the ship and made our way to a catamaran. Now, this was more like it.
We set off along the coast to the hidden beach of Las Caletas. The journey was stunning, to put it lightly. Turquoise waters, a dramatic coastline with verdant green vegetation and impossible rock formations. A pod of dolphins dip and bob and weave their way around us and a group of kayakers wave up to us as they rest beneathe the shade of some high hanging cliffs at the shoreline. The Pacificos and Tecates are free flowing and the wind is in my hair. Looks like these excursions actually might be all they’re cracked up to be.
As we pull up and anchor, we’re greeted by what can only be described as paradise. A golden beach lined with palms and hibiscuses, hammocks and lounge chairs, and tranquil, clear waters reflecting the sunlight. We’re immediately led to the open bungalow-style dining area where the buffet awaits – fish, lobster, shrimp, salads, rice dishes and more. All with spectacular views of our stunning surroundings. Yep. These excursions are, in fact, all they’re cracked up to be.
We pass the rest of the afternoon in a haze of peace and blissfulness. Exploring the hills above our cozy concealed beach, spying on the brightly colored fish with our scuba masks, taking the standup paddle boards out for a spin and some serious siesta time on the hammocks.
Wait… Do I love cruises after all?
Cabo de San Lucas
The next day was mine.
After a night of kareokee, hot tubs and girl talk, we docked once again the next morning and disembarked at the port of Cabo. I felt the familiar electric rush that buzzes through me every time I arrive in a new city with no plan and little idea where I am.
My favorite drug.
We knew that the thing to do in Cabo was to snorkel beneath the infamous arch at Land’s End, so now we just had to find our way there. Scanning the docks, I set my sights on the small fishing boats at the opposite end of the ships. Jackpot.
We made our way peering in to find a friendly face and little luck. We came across a boat with a couple of young guys playing cards in a small patch of shade, fishing poles and snorkel gear visible (silent squeal of delight). Thanks to the last few years of living in Spain, I greeted them and made some small talk in Spanish. As Bogart might say, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
After a few minutes of aimless chatter, we asked if they were busy (no), if they had snorkel masks (yes) and how much they would charge to take us out for a spin at the arches (about 10 bucks each). We shook on the deal and they pointed us toward the nearest shop where we could score some cervezas to pass the salty sweet afternoon.
The rest of the afternoon slipped away in splendid, unplanned perfection. The fishermen delivered us, as promised, to el Arco – the distinctive rock formation that adorns 99% of Cabo postcards and travel brochures. Snorkels and flippers firmly fastened, we flopped into the clear cerulean Sea of Cortez and allowed the gentle ebb and flow to guide us through vibrant schools of fish glittering beneath the Pacific sun.
We befriended a few more locals who pointed out a family of siesta seals sunbathing on a rock just beside the arch and explained to us why El Arco is sometimes known as ‘Land’s End’ – because from that point of the tip of Baja California, you can draw a straight, uninterrupted line to Antarctica without a single land mass in between.
After a few laughs and a bit of cliff jumping with our newfound amigos, we eventually waded up to Lover’s Beach, where we feasted on the snacks that we-may-or-may-have-not have stashed away from the ships’ all you can eat buffet. Sand on my toes, salt in my hair, a full belly and a cerveza in hand. This, my friend, is the life.
The Vallarta – Cabo Conclusion
So, who won this round of two bad ass travel babes?
The luxury travel, always in fashion, organized excursion gal, or the spontaneous, go with the flow vagabond?
One of the reasons we travel is to step out of ourselves, to explore new perspectives and to view the world from a different light. If we become so accustomed to a certain travel style, we begin to close ourselves off to another dimension of discovery. I absolutely adored the relaxing day we spent in Las Caletas, and she soaked up every moment of hitchhiking to Land’s End.
So, who wins? Both, obviously. It’s the Mexican Riviera, after all – you can’t lose 😉 Mexico is always a good idea.
What’s Your Travel Style?
Are you more of a go-with-the-flow traveler, or do you prefer organized tours? Have you ever travelled with someone who had a completely different travel style than you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! And don’t forget to follow me for more on teaching English in Spain 📚 and adventures ✈ in the Canary Islands, Spain and the world 🌍!
Love & Light, Erica
© Erica Edwards and getupgetoutgetlost.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Erica Edwards and getupgetoutgetlost.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.