Planning to visit Cabo San Lucas on a cruise? We visited this popular port on Mexico's Baja Peninsula with our kids (ages 12 and 14). Here are our tips on what to expect, fun things to do, and ways to make the most of your limited time.
This was my first trip to Cabo San Lucas. Honestly, Cabo's party vibe isn't our style and except for Land's End, the landscape was drab. However, I loved snorkeling here and I wouldn't mind coming back for a longer stay now that I've sampled what this resort destination has to offer.
Here's what you need to know to plan a great day in Cabo San Lucas on a cruise.
What to Expect
Cabo San Lucas is a resort city located on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula on Mexico's west coast. The climate is hot and dry.
Cabo San Lucas is a tender port, which means that you'll need to take a smaller boat from your ship to the marina. Three large cruise ships were tendering passengers to shore on the day of our visit, so it was crowded!
I felt safe walking around the Cabo San Lucas marina with my children. We planned our activities in advance, stuck close to the busy tourist zones and did what we could to discourage pickpockets. We had no trouble at all.
It helps if you can speak some Spanish in Cabo San Lucas, but most locals in the tourist zones speak at least some English. Our tour coordinator who met us at the office spoke fluent English. Our boat driver spoke as much English as I speak Spanish (not much), but we communicated well enough.
The Mexican Peso is the local currency. You may be able to use US Dollars in some places, but you may pay extra for the convenience. I bought pesos from my bank about a week before our trip to cover our tour tips, plus some extra. It's also smart to use a credit card because you'll get the best exchange rate available. Make sure your card doesn't charge a fee for foreign transactions.
Time was our biggest challenge to visiting Cabo San Lucas on a cruise. We only had a few hours to get to know the city, and it wasn't enough.
Top Things to Do
There are a lot of things to do within walking distance of the cruise port. These include tours, shopping, dining, museums, spas, beach, wildlife and more. Here are our favorites.
I wasn't wowed by the scenery at Cabo San Lucas, but Land's End is the exception. There is a natural arch here that is dramatic and beautiful, with sea lions lounging on rocks and beautiful sandy beaches nearby.
Cruising around El Arco (the arch) was included in our snorkeling tour. We booked our independent tour in advance through cabosanlucastours.net, but it would have been pretty easy to book an excursion from our ship or find a boat tour once we arrived at the marina. We also got a pretty good view of Land's End from our cruise ship.
Snorkeling and Diving
Snorkeling is one of my favorite water activities. I've tried it in lots of places, and Cabo San Lucas is the best so far. The water was clear and the tropical fish were abundant.
Most of the better snorkeling tours didn't fit our limited schedule. So we booked a shorter, less expensive tour close to the marina. My 12-year-old son struggled to reconcile his snorkel mouthpiece with a bulky orthodontic appliance, and it didn't take long for the rest of us to scratch our snorkeling itch, so a shorter tour worked well for my family.
We booked our tour through Cabo San Lucas Tours at cabosanlucastours.net. They subcontracted through Cabo Eagle Divers at eaglediver.com. Check out both sites to find the snorkeling or diving tour that is best for your family.
Cabo San Lucas is a fantastic place to go whale watching in the winter. You may also see dolphins, which is just as fun. The best time to see gray and humpback whales is December-March. Alas, we visited in April, so we did not go whale watching in Cabo San Lucas.
You might see whales outside of peak season – we saw some on this cruise – but I've been on expensive whale watching tours where we saw nothing at all. It's a bummer.
I've also been on tours when we've seen lots of whales and it's amazing. So, book a whale watching tour in season. There are several to choose from in Cabo, including Cabo San Lucas Tours.
Spotting local wildlife like sea lions, pelicans and crabs won't be the #1 activity for most families, but it was a fun bonus for us. We saw these animals on our snorkeling tour and while walking around at the marina.
My teen daughter and I had fun browsing the shops at the marina. The cruise ship zone isn't usually where you find the best shopping, so I'm sure that we just scratched the surface of shopping in Cabo San Lucas.
We wanted typical tourist stuff and we found lots of it. I negotiated a price for a colorful ceramic Christmas tree ornament at an open stall in the Mercado Marina. We picked up inexpensive t-shirts and Mexican vanilla at a large souvenir shop. We browsed the nicer Plaza Embarcadero mall just beyond that.
When we first booked our cruise, we thought that Cabo would be our beach day. Then we researched local beaches and found that most are not safe for swimming, so we used our time for snorkeling and shopping instead.
Medano Beach would have been our top choice. It is 2 km from the marina and frequently recommended as one of the better swimming beaches. It has lots of amenities and activities close by.
3 Ways to Book Tours
Those guys selling tours at the marina are probably legit… However, I prefer to research my tour options, operators and costs before the trip to make sure I'm getting exactly what I want for a competitive price.
Here are three easy ways to find a good tour for snorkeling, diving, whale watching, horseback riding, zip lines, camel safari, etc in Cabo San Lucas.
- Book a cruise excursion – Let your cruise line do the work for you. This is traditionally the most expensive option, but Carnival is now offering a low price guarantee. The biggest upside is that the ship won't leave without you if your tour gets back late. The biggest downside is that a cruise excursion will probably be crowded.
- Book through a trusted tour outlet – Local businesses sell tours through Viator.com and TripAdvisor.com. You can get ideas, read reviews and book the tour directly through the site.
- Online search – It's easy to search “Cabo San Lucas tours” online and get a list of tour providers and reviews. This option may take more work, but you might pay less and avoid the crowds.
We found Cabo San Lucas Tours through a TripAdvisor review. I read lots of reviews, looked through the company's website, and exchanged a few emails before I booked through their website.
We didn't book a private tour, but my family had the whole boat to ourselves while similar boats nearby were full. I assume that those were the official cruise excursions.
Related: 15 Tips for Perfect Shore Excursions
Cabo San Lucas is a sun-soaked destination with a party vibe. It's an excellent place to enjoy water tours like snorkeling or whale watching. Double check that your tour will include a quick visit to Land's End, and I think that's the best way to spend a few hours in Cabo San Lucas on a cruise.
I hope that our experience will help your family plan a great day in Cabo San Lucas.