It’s early in the morning and your Carnival Cruise ship is just about to let you disembark in Ensenada. You’ve now got 8 hours to see what was once a sleepy little Mexican town that used to entertain Hollywood royalty like Bing Crosby and John Wayne.
Those days are long past, but there are still plenty of things to do, if you plan ahead. And I am not just talking about walking around buying trinkets. With just a few emails before you leave home, you can ensure a great time and not have to spend all day schlepping around in a tour bus with 45 other tourists from your floating city.
This kind of independence is a day that drives tour operators crazy, but for those with just a hint of adventure in their DNA, is easily doable and just might give you a special day to remember.
For a buck or two, take the cruise ship shuttle into town. It’s less than a mile, but you’ll have a better idea where you are if you’ve never visited Ensenada before. Otherwise, you can always walk and take in the sights and sounds of the town.
As soon as you can, get a taxi. For half a day. Expect to pay between $50 and $100.00 for this, but it will be worth it. Tell him you want to visit the wine country, or the area known as the Valle de Guadalupe.
It’s about a 30 minute drive from the city, up the coast before heading inland north of El Sauzal. I’ve been visiting this valley since 1996. I can remember when many of the vineyards were just getting started. Now the area is famous for the great wines they produce.
The first town you’ll see as you enter the valley is San Antonio de las Minas. Tell your driver that you want to eat breakfast at Corre Caminos, a favorite of locals. Their breakfasts are great, served with wonderful salsa de chile de arbol, and it will give you a chance to unwind from the crowds of the ship.
Next up is a winery visit. This is where your homework comes in. Most wineries will be happy to give you a private tour and tasting, if you contact them ahead of time and make an appointment. All you have to do is send them an email a few weeks in advance, confirm it before you leave for your cruise and then show up.
You’ll get a nice private tour and tasting, no crowds and a chance to focus on a smaller winery that the other cruise ship denizens will never experience. Here’s a great site that has descriptions and contact info for many of the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley. One thing… if you don’t speak Spanish, make sure to ask in your email if they speak English. Many of the wineries do, so don’t be shy.
Once you’re finished at the winery, pack up your bottles and tell your driver to take you back into town. Have him drop you at the Mercado Negro. Pay him, tip him and thank him profusely. He’s helped you do something few others on your ship will have done!
I know that where he dropped you off translates “Black Market.” But don;t worry, it is just the name for the local fish market. If you’re lucky, you might be able to sample some smoked marlin or tuna right there.
Ensenada is a major port and fishing is one of their big industries. That means fish tacos are also one of their big industries. This is your chance to experience one of Baja California’s Classics.
Grab a seat at one of the local stalls and order up. Start with two, as you can always order more, and don’t skip the fish taco’s cousin, the shrimp taco. It costs a bit more, but as we say in Mexico, “vale la pena,” it’s worth it! Wash it down with an ice cold bottled Coke and you’re ready to move on.
If you are the shopping type, Calle Lopez Mateos, literally the main drag of Ensenada, offers plenty of options from jewelry to arts and crafts to pure Mexican kitsch. If you are the drinking type, and want to experience the mother of all Mexican Cantinas, as opposed to the lame imitations described here, check out Hussong’s. Be forewarned, it is nothing special. Basically four walls, a bar and maybe a mariachi or two.
If shopping or drinking are not your ideas for a great afternoon off the boat, take a walk back towards your ship and head over to the Museum of Baja California. This is a small but nice museum that showcases art from Baja.
It also boasts Cafe Tomas, one of the original coffee houses in Ensenada. The coffee is good, the smoothies fantastic and the WiFi is free. All in an uncrowded, air conditioned museum with some of the cleanest restrooms in Ensenada.
From here your ship is a short five minute walk. On the way back you can take a stroll through the Ensenada cultural center and your day will be complete. You’ll also reboard with the knowledge that you had a day unlike anyone else on the ship.That’s what discovering My Mexico is all about. Going the extra mile to get to know Mexico at a deeper level, whether you’re in Ensenada, Guadalajara or a small village in the mountains of Oaxaca.
[For more information on Mexico, off the beaten track adventures, or custom designed guided tours of such a great country, contact us!]