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Ensenada, known as Baja's "Love Boat" port, is no longer a sleepy resort town. Each year, some 4.5 million visitors descend on this seaside city 68 miles from the border, joining 325,000 residents. Fishing, processing and shipping have made Ensenada Mexico's second busiest port.
It's quite a change from 1542 when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the sheltered bay in his quest for the mythical Northwest Passage, or sixty years later, when Sebastian Vizcaino named the area Ensenada de Todos los Santos after All Saints' Day. Over the centuries, many have left their mark here, from Spanish missionaries and Russian settlers to gold miners and gamblers.
The result is eclectic mix -- from Mexico's oldest winery and Baja's first cantina to a plaza featuring statues of national heroes. In addition to expected attractions like the large tourist shopping area and fish market, Ensenada also offers the unexpected - an elegant Prohibition-era casino and a blowhole that spews water sixty feet into the air.
Ensenada is an informal city dependent on fishing, shipping and tourism. Among the highlights are fresh seafood, cantinas, crafts shopping, sport fishing and winter whale watching. Beaches are located north and south of the city.
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Other Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports:
Acapulco • Cabo San Lucas • Catalina Island • Ensenada • Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo • La Paz • Manzanillo • Mazatlan • Monterey • Puerto Vallarta
Spanish is the official language, with English spoken throughout the tourist areas.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Mexico's currency is the peso, divided into 100 centavos. In addition to the peso, US dollars are widely accepted in Baja, as are credit cards. ATM machines for withdrawing pesos are available in several downtown banks.
Margarita: Hussong's Cantina (Avenida Ruiz 113), the landmark watering hole, serves small but potent margaritas from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships share an industrial harbor with commercial and sport fishing fleets, shipping containers and tankers.
Ensenada's cruise dock features a market with numerous vendors. In addition to souvenirs, there's a pharmacy and liquor store.
The cruise ship pier is within easy walking distance of Avenida Lopez Mateos, the main tourist zone for shopping and dining. Alternatively, taxis and shuttles are available at the dock to take passengers on the short ride downtown. Taxis are also available at corner stands along Avenida Lopez Mateos.
Riviera del Pacifico: Standing inside this elegant Spanish/Moorish building, one can imagine Bing Crosby crooning to Xavier Cugat's Orchestra. Originally owned by boxing champ Jack Dempsey, this former casino catered to Americans during the Prohibition. Today, it's a cultural center, used for weddings and receptions and mariachi and dance performances.
Mercado de Mariscos (Malecon at Av Alvarado): Admire the day's catch, including yellowtail, tuna, albacore and marlin, at Ensenada's popular outdoor fish market by the sportfishing pier.
Avenida Lopez Mateos and Boulevard Costero: These two parallel streets near the waterfront are lined with shops, from Mexican liquor and duty free perfume to woven blankets, leather goods, pottery, and silver jewelry. Among the nicest for Taxco silver jewelry are Los Castillo and Mario's Silver Shop (Lopez Mateos 815 & 1090). For black pottery of Oaxaca, there's Colores de Mexico (Lopez Mateos 1094) and for Mata Ortiz pottery, Galleria de Perez Meillon (Centro Artesanal, Blvd. Costero 1094).
Plaza Civica: Known locally as Three Heads Park, this shady plaza features giant, gold painted busts of three of Mexico's most revered heroes -- Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez and Venustiano Carranza.
Been There, Done That
Dive, snorkel or kayak the sea caves and sea lion rookeries at Punta Bunda (www.labufadoradive.com) near La Bufadora are an excellent spot for water sports. Dale's La Bufadora Dive Center, a Canadian operator, takes divers out on three boats. Five miles offshore are the two Islas de Todos Santos, where strong winter surf attracts professional surfers.
Watch gray whales: From December to March, these magnificent leviathans pass through Ensenada on their annual migration to and from the warm Baja lagoons. Half-day whale-watching excursions leave from the sportfishing pier (Malecon at Av Alvarado). Sea birds, sea lions and harbor seals are an added plus. In addition to trips by Gordo's Sport Fishing (www.gordos.8m.com) and Sergio's Sportfishing Center (www.sergios-sportfishing.com), the Science Museum sponsors guided tours.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, enjoyed between 1 - 4 p.m. Restaurants catering to tourists use menus printed in English; local eateries combine Spanish and English. No menus are necessary for the popular street vendors selling churros (deep fried dough dipped in sugar and cinnamon) and fish tacos.
Seafood: For fine seafood and dramatic ocean views, reserve a table at Punta Morro (1.5 miles north of the city at Punta Morro Hotel 800-526-6676).
Mexican: Hungry vaqueros head to Bronco's for breakfast, lunch and dinner where mesquite-grilled steaks are the specialty (Av Lopez Mateos 1525).
Happy Hour: Near Hussong's Cantina, Papas & Beer (Av Ruiz 102) attracts a rowdy college crowd and stays open until 3 am. For a quieter setting, visit the Bar Andaluz at the Riviera del Pacifico.
Brunch: The restaurant at Las Rosas Hotel is a local favorite, serving Mexican and international dishes (north of town on Highway 1, 174-4360).
Staying in Touch
Several downtown Internet cafes offer affordable access: Internet Cafe (Av Juarez 1449-8); La Casa de Internet (Av Madheros 275 at Calle 3); KFE Internet (Av Riveroll 724). Typical charges are $3 to $5 per hour.
Best Choice for Movie Buffs: Foxploration, 20th Century Fox's working movie studio is located in Rosarito, an hour's drive north of Ensenada. Props, sets and costumes are on display from movies like Titanic and Planet of the Apes. At Cinemagico, visitors try their hand at film-making and special effects. Duration: 5 1/2 hours. Price: $29 for adults; $24 for children.
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: Feel the ocean spray from La Bufadora, one of just three continuous tidal blowholes in the world located south of town. Caveat: while the blow can be dramatic, Mother Nature does not always cooperate. Price: $25-$27.
Best Choice for Golfers: The rugged coastline twenty miles north of Ensenada supplies a dramatic ocean views at Bajamar, dubbed "Pebble Beach South of the Border." The twenty-seven-hole, Scottish links style layout includes the Lagos, Vista and newer Oceano courses. Duration: approximately 5 hours. Price: $97 - $125.
For More Information
On the Web: www.bajalinks.com, www.escapist.com/baja and www.baja-web.com
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