The once-sleepy fishing village at the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula is now a hub for everyone from celebrities to students on spring break. The cruise tender dock is at the Marina of Cabo San Lucas, which is a deliberate convenience since most of Cabo’s daytime attractions are ocean-centric. The town’s other claim to fame, the wild beachfront bar scene, is just a 15-minute walk on the waterfront from the marina or a quick water-taxi ride away. Here’s our list of things to do when you cruise to Cabo.
It’s the living, gleaming, golden-sand, tequila-sozzled image of everyone’s Mexico party fantasies. This beach is the center of action all day, with parties happening simultaneously at a dozen restaurants, palapa-thatched bars and hotel patios. It’s bikini babes and bros, beach umbrellas and sun loungers, small watercrafts and stand-up paddleboarders somehow co-existing; it’s cheap tequila at jam-packed beach clubs, and vendors trying to sell everything from parasailing to yarn bracelets. If you only have a couple of hours and you want to see Cabo at its excessive best, come straight to this beach and prepare to be overloaded.
At the very tip of the Baja Peninsula, this is the top destination for sailing excursions and marine-life sightseeing, especially because it encompasses so many elements. The iconic sight is El Arco, a dramatic jagged rock formation that juts out of the sea.
Nearby is Playa del Amor, AKA Lover’s Beach, a very picturesque (though not exactly romantic) beach with no commercial developments. Must-dos: bring a cooler or drinks on ice, make return arrangements with your driver, and only swim on the Sea of Cortez side that tends to be a bit calmer. Don't swim on the Pacific side. The beach is accessible by water taxi for those who don’t want to do an organized excursion. There is also a sea lion colony at Land’s End. Other sights include Pelican Rock and Neptune’s Finger.
Three of the popular sailing catamarans — Cabo Mar, Tropicat and Pez Gato — are all operated by Pez Gato Cabo, which partners with many of the major cruise lines. A much smaller boat experience is a glass-bottom tour. Roger’s Glass Bottom Boat Tours gets high customer ratings and is definitely a more intimate experience with smaller boats and fewer people.
Strong swimmers and athletes can also opt to kayak the shoreline of Land’s End and see the sights that way, either just renting them at Medano or joining a guided kayak tour. Cabo Outfitters offers many half-day kayak tours.
Gray whale migration season is one of the most exciting things to happen annually in Los Cabos, and it lasts from December until the end of March. Many different watercrafts head out to find whales; they range from double-decker motor boats and masted yachts to fast powerboats and small inflatable hard-hulled rafts. The waters off Baja are not Caribbean-calm, and when searching for whales, boats go fast, so especially in small boats, this is not a relaxing activity. It’s high-energy and often full of splashes, with a huge adrenaline rush of awe almost guaranteed when a whale comes into view.
Of the many boat operators, Whale Watch Cabo is the only company dedicated to whale watching, and it consistently earns rave user reviews.
Nearly all land-based adventure excursions from the Cabo cruise port lead to the private Wild Canyon Ranch overlapping a UNESCO biosphere. Whether you sign up for a UniMog tour of the Baja outback, a zip-line adventure through the canyon, off-road mini-buggies through the mountains, or the giant “Sling Swinger” over a canyon, this 284-acre adventure park is where you’ll get your adrenaline fix.
The park also contains the Los Cabos Canyon Bridge, billed as the longest wooden pedestrian bridge in the world (walk or ride an ATV across it). For younger children and guests who don’t want the big thrills, this park also has an animal sanctuary and offers camel rides on the beach. Cruise ships sell different activity packages and passes to the park.
If you’re wondering where the art and culture, gastronomy and generally more grown-up scene in Los Cabos might be hiding, well, it’s all secreted away in this charming and authentic town, which is the counterpart to Cabo San Lucas. It’s located about a 25-to-30-minute drive away, taking you along the tourist corridor where most of the luxury hotels are. With a pretty plaza, historic church, artisans’ plaza and thriving culinary offering, San Jose is absolutely worth the journey if you want to experience culture beyond bar crawls. That especially holds true for anyone who hopes to purchase some high-quality folk art during their port stop.
Cruise ships’ city highlights tours will generally make a stop in San Jose del Cabo. It’s always a big decision of whether to take a longer trip to town independently, since taxi rides can be extremely expensive (upward of $50 each way) and bus rides usually require a 15-minute walk to a stop and then some stress trying to catch the proper bus. Plus, these are public busses with no A/C. That being said, a lot of cruisers make the trek because San Jose is such a popular destination.
Fishing enthusiasts know Cabo as “The Marlin Capital of the World,” but there’s more bounty in these waters than just marlin. The region is famous for sport fishing, the waters teeming with tuna, wahoo, mahi, sailfish and other big game fish. This is a great place to try sport fishing for the first or 10th time.
There may be a dozen sport-fishing charters vying for cruisers’ attention at the Marina in Cabo, but the best of the bunch is Pisces Sportfishing. Not only is this a well-reputed and customer-reviewed outfit, but also it has a great record of conscientious conservation.
Combining a Baja history lesson with the rugged outback off-roading that this entire state is known for, this ATV journey to a tiny native village is unlike any other Cabo shore excursion. It is dusty and physically challenging, but also exhilarating because of the mode of travel, and fascinating because of what you’re seeing. Participants go off the beaten path and into the desert, up and over dunes, through riverbeds and along beaches. Tours typically make multiple stops, including at least one hidden beach. The main stop is the village of La Candelaria, which is a tiny but still functioning town that maintains the ways of indigenous people from three centuries ago — specifically keeping harmony with nature and balancing Christianity with ancient magic.
Of the tour operators that go to La Candelaria, Cactus ATV Tours is well-regarded, especially with active travelers and families that include teens. While not partnered with all major cruise lines since this is a niche activity, the operator offers transfers from the cruise ship to the ATV pickup/starting point.
The water-propulsion jet devices that shoot people 20 feet in the air have started appearing in beach tourism hotspots only over the last five years. This particular version doesn’t have jets coming out of arm nozzles like the predecessors did. Instead, people stand on a board that’s connected to a personal watercraft power source. This provides powerful propulsion water jets that shoot straight down from the board. Hands and arms are left free, which many people say helps with balance. The inventor of this model, who coined the term “flyboarding” for it, says it’s board sports meets acrobatic diving meets flying. Most cruise lines have Cabo Flyboard as their preferred activity partner.
This pristine and protected bay is one of three places that catamarans and other boat excursions bring guests for snorkeling. The water is clear for the Pacific (though still colder and rougher than the Caribbean) and teeming with colorful fish, coral, curious sea turtles and even a few dolphins on a lucky day. Beautiful Chileno Beach — a local favorite — is within swimming distance from where the boats anchor.
Cabo Adventures is among the many companies that do boat tours to Chileno.
Cabo Dolphins is a good interactive experience for kids, but given the enclosed environment and city-center location, it's a little contained for grown-ups — especially those who have done dolphin swims in the sea. There are different levels of encounter, ranging from limited contact in shallow water to “Trainer for a Day” five-hour immersive sessions. All cruise ships offer this excursion, and they all happen at the same place. If you see Cabo Adventures selling dolphin encounters as part of an activity package, don’t be confused. They’re sister companies.
If you need any more proof that Cabo lies in an ecological wonderland (and you shouldn’t), head an hour north into the Sierra de la Laguna. This pine-oak forest rises from the arid Baja California peninsula and is home to more than 450 plant species, about 50 of which are unique to the area. Visitors ramble in areas covered with native coral trees and frangipani; the more adventurous will head straight up the mountainside, passing by the occasional waterfall and through lush pine. As you approach the peaks, hawks and falcons soar above on thermal currents. Their view of the Baja coastline below is now yours too. And it’s stunning.
It is possible to find some authentic Mexican pieces within the loud, colorful jumble that is the Marina Mercado. You’ll also be able to negotiate on silver jewelry and oversized vases or pick up a straw hat and some gloriously colored Mexican art souvenirs.
And if you’re looking for a less busy experience, try Plaza Bonita. It has the same tourist clientele, souvenirs and local wares for sale, but in a more relaxed indoor-outdoor harbor-side setting.
For serious gifts, international fashion or a soupçon of bling, try Puerto Paraiso, Cabo San Lucas’ luxury shopping mall. Indoor water features and graceful plumed palm trees lend a feeling that you’re actually in San Diego, California. And many of the shops (Hugo Boss, Harley-Davidson, Sergio Bustamante) support that illusion. But tucked amongst the international retailers are some swimwear boutiques and souvenir shops that are purely Cabo.