Welcome to the first post in a series of four posts which will look at the ports of call for the 28-day Panama Canal cruise which I was onboard earlier this year. In this post, I will cover the first three ports in a little more detail than the summary post here “28 Day Panama Canal Cruise Summary.

Looking for the other parts? Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

After departing San Diego, the ship was at sea for two days before arriving into Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the first of three ports in Mexico to start the cruise. The other two ports are Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas. I was excited to visit Mexico, with such a different culture to other countries I have visited.

Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Cruising into Puerto Vallarta, you would think that it is just like any other city. Especially in the predawn, where you can just see strings of lights around the shoreline. Even after the sun had risen it looks just like any other city. There are buildings, road’s, and cars driving around. Along with all the natural sounds and looks of activity, you would expect anywhere.

However, it is when you get closer that you start to see what the differences are. The mix of vehicles is vast from new to quite old. The streets are a patchwork of different surfaces from bitumen, concrete, and even cobblestones. But possibly the most prominent difference is the architecture. Some of the newer buildings have a familiar look. There is a very local flavour to the vast majority of buildings.

A local building between Puerto Vallarta and The Tequila Factory, built of brick, with Red Tile Roof.

Puerto Vallarta was host to my first tour. The tour seemed like a shopping experience of sorts. However, I did get to see some of the countryside. We started with a drive and short walk through the town area of Puerto Vallarta. There are some interesting sights to see as well as one of the local churches.

The vast majority of the countryside here is rather dusty and dry. Almost everything is covered to some degree in a layer of dirt, turning it a shade of brown. It was also here that you see the greatest distinction between the new and old. On one side of the road a house ready to fall down and the other a brand new shining service station. At the Tequila Factory, the process of refining and processing the raw agave is explained. Of course, this was followed by what most were waiting for, the sampling of various tequilas.

Raw Agave ready for baking before being extruded.

Huatulco – Mexico

Huatulco is a much smaller town, about one-fifth the size of Puerto Vallarta. With nothing too inspiring in the tour offering here, I was happy to make this a beach day. With a warm sunny day, this turned out to be the perfect option.

The Beach in Huatulco, Mexico

Before heading to the beach, I enjoyed a short walk around the town area to see what was around. The area has a very relaxed feel, kind of like a getaway from the city. A lot of bars/cafes, all overlooking the beach, a lovely open air church, and a small group of shops. The most prominent feature was the strong security presence. A mixture of police and security personnel was mostly carrying machine guns. Whether this is just a show of force to put tourists at ease or if there is some real threat I am unsure. However, I think it alarmed just as many people as it put at ease.

Open-air church, near the beach in Huatulco, Mexico

I did stop at a small cafe here for a couple of drinks and a chance to access my emails. Of course, the beach was calling so time to the ship and change into beachwear. The sun was shining and the air and water temperature both around 28 degrees Celsius it was the perfect way to finish the day.

Puerto Chiapas – Mexico

The final port in Mexico before heading further south was Puerto Chiapas, which was quite different to the first two ports. The first thing you notice is how much greener everything is, which is due to a more southerly location and a more tropical climate. Its location is also one of the most southerly points in Mexico, just 30-40 minutes from the border with Guatemala, which we got to see on the tour I was on.

I choose a tour here called Mayan Tree of Life and Chocolate Discovery. The first part of the tour was a visit to two Mayan sites. The first site is a collection of stone carving’s which depict a few different scenes, including the Mayan Tree of Life. The second site was the Izapa Ruins which is a grouping of stone and earth pyramid shapes with flat tops. Both sites were kind of interesting, and I am glad that I managed to get on the tour even though it was a last minute choice.

Izapa Stela 5, The Mayan Tree of Life, although it is quite worn.

Izapa Ruins, located in the Mexican state of Chiapas

The Second part of the tour was the Chocolate Discovery. After a short ride on the bus, we arrived at the centre of a nearby village where they demonstrated the local very manual process for making chocolate. This process does create a different style of chocolate. Nothing like the mass produced product that we buy in the supermarket. However, it did have a very similar taste, just a different texture.

The items used in the chocolate making process in Mexico, along with crushing the cacao beans.

Still To Come

Visiting these ports has been a fantastic way to see a new country without the challenges of figuring out transport and hotels locally. There are three more parts to come which will cover the port visits in Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Fort Lauderdale, Aruba, Costa Rica, Mexico and returning to San Diego.

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