One of the most popular cruise itineraries is a journey along the west coast of Mexico for either seven or 10 days, generally leaving from and returning to Los Angeles, or in some itineraries San Diego. This is often looked at as a chance to get away from the realities of work or school and simply have a chance to relax in the warm tropical sun of winter. These cruises are normally offered from late fall into mid spring, as it becomes very hot and uncomfortable during the summer months. Summer is a season for tropical monsoon rains, and the west coast is subjected to repeated hurricanes similar in intensity to those of the Caribbean.
The best time of the year to book such a cruise is between late November and the end of April. The weather is difficult to predict, but during the Northern Hemisphere winter, even in these tropical latitudes, temperatures are slightly lower, generally in the low to mid 80’s. And the humidity levels are also lower despite the slight chance for rain occurring, especially on the northern edge of the coast where weather fronts that impact California sometimes trail as far south as the Baja California Peninsula. But it is not likely that you will experience an entire day of rain, as the weather patterns are such that brief thundershowers are the norm. It is, however, during the Northern Hemisphere summer months this area comes under the threat of hurricanes, which can be quite severe.
For those of us living in North America or Europe, there is a certain mystique regarding the culture and lifestyle of México. We often think of it with reference to its adobe buildings, tile roofs and Baroque church towers, and town plazas where Mariachi bands stroll in the evening. Many of us living in the United States and Canada are well acquainted with the flavors of Mexican cuisine and find them quite captivating. And we are drawn to images of ancient cultures such as the Maya and Aztec through the remains of their ancient cities. Yes, México is indeed a glamorous country. But it is also a country beset by many socio-economic problems, not the least of which is poverty and drug trafficking. In the past few years, we have continuously been warned about the dangers of traveling in México because of gang wars between the drug cartels, kidnapping of tourists, and other horrific acts. Suffice it to say that if you cruise the west coast by ship, you are far less likely to become a victim of such crime than you are if you travel by air or road and stay in hotels. At major tourist sites, and when touring with a group in a coach, you are no more likely to experience any criminal acts than you would be in other parts of the world, including today’s Europe where acts of terrorism are becoming more frequent.
When traveling in México on your own, or even if you venture away from the ship on your own, here are the important tips that can make a difference between a safe visit and ending up becoming a victim:
- Never enter the poor barrios or market areas without being accompanied by a licensed guide.
- Never walk down dark or narrow streets on your own.
- Do not dress in an ostentatious manner when out in public.
- Do not wear expensive jewelry or watches.
- Keep your camera or handbag close to your body.
- Do not count out large sums of money in public.
- Only use reputable taxis that have been called for in advance from a hotel, restaurant, or shop. It is not good to hail a taxi on the street.
- Do not walk alone at night.
Here is just a brief description of what is each port of call has to offer:
- Ensenada, Baja California – A fishing and tourist oriented community of more than 500,000 that is somewhat of a near-border town. It does have hillside villas overlooking pounding surf and a central plaza where locals congregate.
- Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur – A modern and elegant resort city at land’s end, the southern tip of the 1,000-mile-long Baja California Peninsula. The water is azure, the hillsides are covered in tall cacti, and there are floral plantings almost everywhere.
- Mazatlan, Sinaloa – This is a large mainland city of over half a million. It has white sandy beaches and high-rise hotels, but also a historic district with traditional buildings dating to the 1700’s and a spectacular Baroque cathedral.
- Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco – Made famous by the movie “Night of the Iguana,” this resort has its old town district with whitewashed houses topped by red tile roofs, and also its modern quarter with gleaming high-rise hotels and apartments, all facing a turquoise bay and backed by lush tropical hillsides.
- Manzanillo, Colima – A city that is both an active fishing port and retirement getaway topped off by the exotic Las Hadas Hotel, one of the most glamorous of establishments.
- Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Guerrero – A combination of the old fishing village of Zihuatanejo with the modern, planned resort of Ixtapa next door gives you the best of both sides of México.
- Acapulco – The largest city on the west coast of México with over two million inhabitants, Acapulco today is a somewhat faded lady, no longer the prized resort it once was. But it is still a fascinating city to visit.
- Puerto Chiapas – This is a new planned container port that enables cruise ships to bring guests to the most southerly state in the country. It is the various interior ancient ruins and traditional towns that are the main draw for coming to Puerto Chiapas.
Remember that México is a great country filled with historic sites, romantic architecture, and distinctive cuisine and music. Yes it has been beset by a wave of crime, but if you are careful as a visitor, you should be fine. Observe the cautions I noted earlier and enjoy the richness of the country’s many layers of culture.
There is an expression that Mexican people use so often when they proudly talk about the glories of their country, putting aside the negatives and thinking only in positive terms. They will always end any proclamation about their country by adding, “Viva México,” which translates to “long live México.” This statement is meant to convey pride, conviction, and a love of nation.
Submitted by Dr. Lew Deitch: www.doctorlew.com
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.