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The Best Things to Do in Ensenada on a Cruise

23 of the best things to do in port, along with some recommendations for all travelers

If you’re looking for things to do in Ensenada, Mexico, you don’t have to go very far if you’re arriving by cruise ship.  It’s only a short walk from the cruise terminal to all kinds of local attractions.   Here are my top things to do in Ensenada.

palm trees on sunny day near Ensenada sign by cruise port

You will spot the massive 300 foot flagpole with the Mexican flag waving proudly in the sea breeze as your ship nears the port.  This is one of the largest Mexican flags in the country, and some say it is THE largest.

Either way, it’s big, and a great reference point when navigating Ensenada.  Take a right at the flagpole and take a left after the 2nd intersection to go right into the downtown area.  The name of the main area of tourism along this stretch is called Avenida Lopez Mateos.

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If you keep walking passed the flagpole you will find all kinds of shops and eateries along the Malecon (paved seawall along the coast).

What’s it like in Ensenada?

The landscape of Ensenada is full of mountains, valleys, and beaches.  The city has a calm and chill vibe, in my experience, while the market along the Malecon is vibrant and full of both tourists and locals looking to shop, find a place to eat, or just hang out on the weekends.

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The Cruise Port of Ensenada

Ensenada as seen from Carnival cruise ship at sunset

Ensenada is one of the busiest seaports in Mexico, and it’s also a popular cruise destination.  Being able to accommodate two cruise ships at once, the port offers easy access to all the things to do in the city, being very close to the action.

Called by some the “Cinderella of the Pacific”, Ensenada provides a warm climate, popular with California residents as a perfect vacation spot that’s only a short trip from home.

Located on the northern part of the Mexican state of Baja California, the coastal city is only about 80 miles from San Diego.

As one of the deepest ports along the Baja Peninsula, Ensenada is also a navy base and an important commercial fishing port for the region’s exports.

Many cruises to Hawaii out of the U.S. will also stop in Ensenada as the closest foreign port to California, and you will see Mexican Riviera cruises to this port as well as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta.

overlook of Ensenada, Mexico at night

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Best things to do in Ensenada

From scenic coastal drives, lovely vineyards, and long-stretches of quiet beaches to savory street food and historic landmarks, a visit to Ensenada offers tons of variety for people looking for things to do and see… and taste.  Make sure you add some of these things to your itinerary when you visit Ensenada.

Check out some of the most popular attractions in Ensenada through our partners here.

 

Enjoy a free water show

fountain show in ensenada cruise port area

It may not be the Bellagio fountains, but the free water show in Ensenada is fun to watch and totally free.  Parque De La Bandera is a popular park in Ensenada, Mexico and it’s only a 10 minute walk from the cruise port.  Just walk toward the gigantic 150 wide Mexican flag and you will find it.  The show features synchronized fountains that are illuminated with vibrant colors.

The spouts of water spray to the rhythm of the music, and at night it’s even more spectacular.  Although if arriving by cruise ship you will probably won’t be able to see it at night.  It’s a great way to spend an evening in Ensenada and take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city if you are staying overnight, especially.

 

Shop along First Street Market

busy shopping market on first street and vendors in Ensenada

First Street Market in Ensenada is an outdoor market filled with vendors selling a variety of goods, including local handicrafts, jewelry, apparel, food, and souvenirs. The market is open every day from 9am to 8pm and provides a great destination for visitors looking to experience traditional Mexican culture. Shoppers can find unique items that are handmade by local artisans. Additionally, the market features numerous restaurants and cafes serving delicious Mexican cuisine.

 

Take a horse-drawn carriage tour

A horse-drawn carriage buggy in Ensenada

You will see these horse and buggy operators as soon as you walk into the city in Ensenada. There are several tour companies that offer these rides, allowing you to explore the city and its attractions from the comfort of a carriage that is usually covered. The rides usually last for about an hour and include stops at various points of interest. Some companies also offer private tours for those who want a more personalized experience.

If you’re planning on taking a horse-drawn carriage ride I would recommend doing it as one of the first things you do in Ensenada, as it gives you a good overlay of the city and what you will want to come back to later on.  Plus, it saves you from having to do all that walking and you’ll be in the shade the entire time.

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Check out Mercado Negro

Mercado de Negro in Ensenada for fresh fish

The Ensenada fish market, also known as Mercado Negro, is a popular seafood market located right off the main boardwalk of the Malecon. The market is known for its fresh seafood offerings, including a variety of fish, shellfish, and even octopus. You can buy seafood to take back or try it on the spot at one of the many street vendors. You can actually pick out the fish you want and have it prepared  fried up right there.

In addition to seafood, the market also offers a range of local products, including fresh produce, spices, and traditional Mexican food. The Mercado Negro is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, and it’s worth at least a walk-through so you can appreciate the smell.

Book an excursion in Ensenada through our partner here.

 

Visit Plaza Civica

Plaza Civica, also known as “plaza of the three heads” is a public square located in the center of the city.  The plaza was constructed in 1941 to honor three prominent figures from Mexico’s history: General Ignacio Zaragoza, Admiral Agustin de Iturbide and Don Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. The plaza features a bronze sculpture of the three historical figures standing side by side atop a large stone column.

You can also find several benches, trees and lush gardens surrounding the plaza.  On any given day you can find people taking leisurely walks around the area or enjoying a meal at one of the many eateries. There are also often performances held in the plaza from local musicians or dancers. Whether you’re looking for a place to relax or simply want to soak up some of Enseada’s culture, Plaza Civica is definitely worth visiting.

 

Visit Rancho Los Bandidos

If taking a horseback adventure along the hills of Ensenada sounds like a perfect day to you, Rancho Los Bandidos has you covered.   Rancho Los Bandidos is a family-friendly ranch located about 20 minutes from the Ensenada cruise port.   The horses are kept in great condition and the tour operators try to pair horses and riders based on experience.  So even with zero horseback riding experience you should have no trouble at all.

Not only are the views from these mountain trails spectacular, but your guide will teach you a lot about the region along the way as well.  So while you can see the city, cruise port, and valley below as you ride along the meandering trail, you will learn some history from these local cowboys.  Once back at the ranch you will be treated with chips and salsa, and you can buy some souvenirs as well.

 

Try the incredible street food

“The best street food in the world.”  That’s what the late Anthony Bourdain thought of the food from one particular food cart in Ensenada.  La Guerrerense Carreta offers fish tacos, seafood tostadas, and all kinds of other offerings at it’s now famous location.  Every morning the fish is purchased fresh from the local fish market, and this food cart is a popular place to eat.  It’s a must-try if you’re a foodie of any type, and you can see for yourself if La Guerrerense Carreta lives up to it’s fame.

The owner of the food cart is Sabina Bandera, and she and her family have run the food cart for over 60 years.  The family also owns a restaurant nearby called Sabina Restaurante if you want to sit down and try some foods not offered at the cart.

Tacos Fenix is another food cart in Ensenada that has some great fish tacos.  This vendor lays claim to the original Baja style fish taco, so you might as well try both locations to which you like better.  Try some ceviche tostadas and experience true Baja cuisine.

 

Take a boat tour along the coast

Ensenada marina with boats and cruise ship in background

Just take a walk along the Marina and you will find plenty of options for taking a boat tour along the coast of Ensenada.  Often you can find operators that charge as little as $3-$5 per person if you’re going on a charter with other people.  A private charter will cost more, but either way, exploring Ensenada by boat is a great, relaxing experience to get a feel for the area.   The fishing industry is a large part of the economy for the region and these boat operators know the area very well.  You can choose an informative, entertaining, or relaxing boat charter.  And if you have the time a sunset boat tour is pretty spectacular.

 

Hike El Salto Canyon

El Salto Canyon near Ensenada Baja California

El Salto Canyon is an amazing natural geologic formation located about 45 minutes from Ensenada.  The hiking trails are quite rocky and uneven and may not be suitable for everyone, but if you are able to go on this excursion the views are well worth the visit.  And depending on the climate when you go you may find some beautiful waterfalls.  These are rain-fed waterfalls so you have a better chance of catching them during the rainy seasons.

It’s about a 20 minute hike to the El Salto Canyon and once there it’s a pretty amazing sight.  The canyon features stunningly beautiful views of the surrounding landscape, as well as a variety of unique flora and fauna that can be observed along the trails. There are several lookout points throughout the hike, giving you an opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of nature.   You can even spot King Birds and red tailed hawks.    This is definitely one of the most over-looked of the Ensenada attractions.

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Visit Pai Pai Ecotourism Park

Less than an hour from Ensenada you will find the perfect place for animal and nature lovers.  And you may even get to pet a tiger cub.   Pai Pai Ecotourism Park is dedicated to preserving the local ecosystem and promoting sustainable tourism practices.  The park has a rescue program for animals in need and allows visitors to get up close and personal with exotic animals like tigers, leopards, and tigers.

You can purchases a package to spend time with one of three different age groups of these big cats: cubs, medium-sized cubs, and juveniles.  You will get to spend a few minutes interacting with these amazing cats, petting them, playing with them, and getting plenty of pictures.  If the cubs get too aggressive a handler is always right there to help, but you might get pawed at or nipped at a few times.

Not only are there snakes, lemurs, tigers, and llamas on the property.  You can also enjoy a zip line, bike on a tight wire, or jump on a trampoline.  The park even provides RZR tours along the hills of Ensenada.  With more than 40 activities available at the park, there are plenty of things for families to do.

Another ecological park you can visit is Cañon de Doña Petra Ecological Park.  This park is only a few miles away and while it doesn’t have as many wild animals and things to do, it offers some stunning views and natural trails to enjoy along the coastline.

 

Grab some lunch at Plaza Contenedores

Here’s something unique to check out in Ensenada.  This entire plaza is made from shipping containers and is full of wonderful restaurants.  And since it’s only a few minutes from downtown Ensenada it’s a place you can check out and still have plenty of time for other activities.

Plaza Contenedores is right on the beach, so as you eat your lunch you can soak in the gorgeous views along the coast.  The multi-level plaza offers everything from hamburgers and fish tacos to middle eastern food and pizza.  It’s a great option for a large group to eat since everyone can pick the restaurant of their choice and still sit together, kind of like a food court.

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See the views from El Mirador overlook

Great for spectacular views of Ensenada and a good hiking workout, El Mirador is one of the best places to view the city and coastline.  Some people will hike El Mirador just so they can grab a photo, since the overlook allows you to see the entire city, cruise port, marina, and mountains all around the area.

Besides the beaches and Malecon in Ensenada, El Mirador viewpoint is one of the more popular things for tourists to experience.  You can hire a cab to bring you to the base of the overlook if you don’t want to walk it yourself.  The views at night are really great if you’re staying overnight in the city.

 

Visit the Riviera de Ensenada Cultural Center

Riviera de Ensenada Cultural Center is a great place to learn about the culture and history of the region.  It’s also one of the most beautiful buildings in the area.  The building had been a hotel and casino (Hotel Riviera del Pacifico) since the 1930’s but today is used for all kinds of things.  A tour of the grounds will have you marveling at how well-preserved the building is as you appreciate the artwork and carvings in the ceilings.

Besides visiting the Ensenada Museum of History in the building to learn more of the culture and past of the region,  you can also explore the beautiful grounds and take in the stunning views of the harbor and surrounding area.

The beautiful Spanish architecture, tiling, and stately archways around the facilities are the perfect setting for all kinds of events, including weddings.  There is also a bar called Bar Andaluz on the property that is one of two in the city that claim to be the birthplace of the original margarita.

Al Capone had made use of the casino in its heyday and you can still see the tunnels he would use to access the downtown area from the building.  Part of the tunnel has collapsed but you can still see a good part of it today.

 

Visit La Bufadora, a natural blowhole

La Bufadora, about an hour drive from Ensenada, is an amazing natural wonder that is a popular attraction in the area. This breathtaking blowhole is one of the largest blowholes in the world, spraying ocean water over 100 feet into the air.

As you approach La Bufadora, you’ll be greeted by the strong sea air and the sound of crashing waves. The sound of the blowhole alone is worth the visit, as it booms and bellows with each wave that rolls in. But when you finally see the actual blowhole, it’s a pretty amazing experience.

In addition to the blowhole, there’s plenty to see and do in the surrounding area.  In fact to get to the actual site you may have to walk through a gauntlet of vendors selling all kinds of souvenir items on the roadside.

And if you want some beach time, there is a great beach right at La Bufadora.

You can book a shore excursion to La Bufadora along with a city tour with our partners here.

 

Visit Ensenada’s Vineyards

Ensenada wine country

Ensenada is home to some of Mexico’s most renowned vineyards and wineries. Visitors can explore the rich wine culture of this city by taking a tour of its many vineyards. Popular stops include La Escondida Vineyard, Monte Xanic Winery, Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards, Bodegas Las Nubes and La Cetto Winery. Each winery offers unique experiences that range from wine tastings and tours to sightseeing, dining and more. There are also a variety of activities available for visitors such as horseback riding through the vineyards, hot air ballooning over the valley or simply relaxing at one of the area’s many spas and resorts.

Valle de Guadalupe is one of the most popular destinations near Ensenada, Mexico. The valley, great for a day trip,  is home to lush vineyards, wineries, and many restaurants known for their fresh and local ingredients.  You can also explore the area’s hiking trails, mountain biking routes, or even go horseback riding.

The area around Valle de Guadalupe is full of activities for tourists looking for adventure or relaxation. For those seeking more active adventures, there are plenty of options including kayaking and snorkeling in Bahía de Todos Santos or exploring one of the many nearby beaches such as Playa Hermosa or Playa El Sauzalito.

 

Relax at the beaches of Ensenada

Ensenada is known for its great beaches, but not all of them are the same.  There is quite a variety of different types of beaches in the area to enjoy.  Some are better for surfing, others for snorkeling, and of course some have calmer waters great for just relaxing and cooling off.

  1. Playa Ensenada: This is the most popular beach in the area and is located close to the city center. It has a long boardwalk and is perfect for a relaxing beach day, with plenty of restaurants and bars nearby.
  2. Playa Hermosa: A quiet and secluded beach that is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing. This beach is closest to the cruise port, being only a few miles south of the downtown area.  Estero and San Miguel Beach are close by this beach as well.
  3. Playa Baja Beach: Surrounded by resorts, this is a family-friendly beach with plenty of access to modern amenities nearby. Not only is it a beautiful beach but you can engage in all kinds of water sports here as well like kayaking, snorkeling, and water-skiing.
  4. Playa En Rosarito: Located in a beach town and known for great surfing conditions and nightlife.  Playa En Rosarito is well over an hour from Ensenada to the north.
  5. Playa San Miguel: Another great surfing spot.  The water is shallow and clear but is quite rocky.  There are bathrooms on site.  This beach is very close to Ensenada.

All of these beaches offer stunning views and are a great place to relax, swim, and soak up the sun. Keep in mind that like most beaches in Mexico, they can get crowded on weekends and during peak tourist season.

Keep in mind that for some of these beaches you can take an Uber to get there, but for the way back you will have to walk a bit as the service doesn’t always reach out there.

 

Take a Surfing Lesson

As mentioned with some of the beaches above, there are many great spots for surfing in Ensenada.  Whether you’re a slightly experienced surfer or total beginner you can have a professional instructor teach you everything you need to know.

The excursion listed below is for surfing at Playa Hermosa and after some stretching and instructions will allow you to surf for about an hour.  All the equipment will be provided and Ensenada offers some great conditions for surfing.

Book your surfing lesson in Ensenada through our partner here.

 

Take a whale watching tour

Whale watching in Ensenada, Mexico is a popular activity for both tourists and locals. The city is located on the Pacific coast and is a prime location for watching gray whales during their annual migration. The best time to go whale watching in Ensenada is between December and April, when the gray whales are passing through on their way to their breeding grounds in Baja California. During this time, there are lots of whale watching tours available.   You might even spot some great white sharks while you’re out there.

 

Go on an ATV tour

ATV tours in Ensenada are a great way to explore the rugged terrain of the Baja California Peninsula. You can explore mountains, deserts, and beaches while enjoying breathtaking views of the Sea of Cortez. The tour usually starts with a briefing from experienced guides and then you can choose your own route through the desert. Tours usually last for two to three hours and you can choose to go for half day or full day trips. There are many ATV tour companies in Ensenada that offer different routes depending on your skill level and experience.

 

Visit the Todos Santos Island and see the lighthouse

Todos Santos Island is located just a few miles off the coast from Ensenada.  The island is home to a historic lighthouse, which stands out at the highest point of the island. The lighthouse was built in 1875 and offers visitors an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean and nearby islands. You can also explore nearby beaches and often catch some local wildlife on this secluded island.

 

Stop by Hussong’s Cantina

The building itself is a historical landmark in Ensenada.  Hussong’s Catina dates back to 1892 when it was first established and still lays claim to being the originator of the first margarita, a claim also made by the aforementioned Bar Andaluz.

 

Visit the Caracol Science Museum

The Caracol Science Museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics, from natural history to science and technology. You can explore hands-on activities, interactive displays, and educational films that help to explain the world around us. In addition to the permanent collections, the museum also offers various temporary exhibitions throughout the year.   This is a great stop for families on a cruise as it’s right across from the cruise terminal and has a lot of interactive displays that are great for kids.

 

Check out Museo Historico Regional

I already mentioned one history museum in the Riviera Cultural Center building, but this regional history museum is a great place for history buffs as well.   The building itself is an old jail with plenty of photo-ops of the old cells.  There is some artwork throughout and exhibits that show the examples of indigenous pottery and artifacts from the Kumiai and Pai Pai.

The old military garrison, then prison, and now museum is completely free to visit as well, so there’s another reason to put this Ensenada history museum on your to do list.

 

Book an excursion in Ensenada through our partner here.

If you’ve been to Ensenada before, I’d love to hear from you.  How do you like to spend a trip to Ensenada?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

FAQ on Ensenada

Is Ensenada walkable?

Yes and no. The city’s downtown area, in particular, is packed with restaurants, shops, and attractions that can easily be explored on foot. Additionally, Ensenada’s waterfront promenade offers a scenic walking route for visitors to enjoy.  But for many of the things on our list above you will need transportation.  I’ve visited Ensenada before without a car or taxi and just walked around and it was great, so it really depends on what you plan on doing during your stay.

How do you get around in Ensenada?

The most popular way to get around Ensenada is by car, taxi, or Uber. Public transportation is also available in the form of buses and trolleys. Bicycles are another option for getting around Ensenada, as the city has many dedicated bike lanes throughout the downtown area.  One fun way to get around in the city is to take a Tuk Tuk tour which is very affordable.

What are the best day trips from Ensenada?

1. Valle de Guadalupe: This scenic wine-producing region is a popular day trip from Ensenada. Visitors can enjoy tastings at some of the area’s many wineries, learn about the local wine-making process and explore the charming village of Santa Maria.

2. Todos Santos: Located about three hours away from Ensenada, this historic town is home to stunning beaches, art galleries and craft stores. Tourists can also visit La Bufadora, an impressive sea geyser located nearby.

3. San Felipe: This coastal town is located two hours north of Ensenada and offers visitors fun activities such as fishing, swimming and kayaking in its calm waters.

4. Tecate: Just over an hour drive from Ensenada lies Tecate, a small city known for its colonial architecture and hot springs. The surrounding countryside is perfect for hiking and biking.

5. El Sauzal: Located in the Valle de Guadalupe region, El Sauzal is a small town famous for its traditional Mexican restaurants serving delicious seafood dishes and homemade wines.

What is Ensenada known for?

  1. Wineries and vineyards – Ensenada is home to numerous wineries and vineyards, making it a popular destination for wine lovers.
  2. Scenic coastal drives – The scenic drive along the Pacific coast from Ensenada to Todos Santos is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike.
  3. Adventure activities – Ensenada offers a range of adventure activities, such as kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
  4. Great food – The city is known for its delicious street food, fresh seafood, and authentic Mexican dishes.
  5. Baja 1000 – Ensenada is the starting point of the Baja 1000, an off-road race that takes place in the Baja California peninsula.
  6. Beautiful beaches – Ensenada boasts some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in Mexico, making it a popular destination for sun-seekers and beach-goers.

 

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon got hooked on cruising after his first cruise on his honeymoon, and today he is always looking for cruise deals and reading information about the cruise industry. Jon lives in the foothills of North Carolina and wishes there were a cruise port that far inland. Jon can be reached at [email protected]
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