These are my recommendations for best shore excursions and tours in Ensenada and tips for shore day for cruiseline passengers. As an expat living here for 7 years, I interact with the businesses that provide services (it’s small big town here), and visitors enjoying the excursions are often massage clients telling me tales of their adventures. And I take excursions when my friends come down to visit, I have done most of these myself too. Acting like a tourist in your own town is a fun stay-cation;) I have my bias since I like healthy and outdoor activity. Many clients ask me for advice: so here it is on general tips, safety, and excursions:
Best Ensenada Tours and Excursions:
These tours linked here will give you personal service than larger tour providers I have seen (cruise websites) and get you back on the boat on time.
La Bufadora is a blow hole on the end of the geographic bay that protects Ensenada. Cool scenery on the way out there and the waves spouting up is fun by the ocean. To get from parking to blowhole, you will pass through an exciting barrage of souvenir vendors selling entertaining junk in a mexican carnival like style. I like to call it gauntlet. If you can can get through without a free sample of pina colada or candied nuts, or weird coffee mug or shirt, you win! But, people love it.
Lunch on water is nice. Price gauging. Go early if you can. If you have data and not a tight budget, catch an early uber to beat crowds.
ATV: Where can you ride ATV’s on street and ocean anymore? Not in CA for sure. I grew up with ATCs (three wheels) so I like riding. I am fan of Emiliano at ATV Ensenada because you get a guide and tour to Wine Valley. Just renting an ATV and letting people run free is a bit too much freedom. And some tear up my town. Please don’t do that. Emiliano at Ensenada
Zip line: Las Canadas is fun outdoor park. Zip lines are the best I have done here in Ensenada, and safer than Guatemala. Let’s face it, soo many rules in US that the adrenaline as been taken out of some adventure. These bridges and zips are killer fun. I don’t have a tour provider to recommend because I have always done this one solo.
Massage and Facial: Private pick up/drop off, great facilities, pricing at $98 a couple compared to about $150 a person on ship spa. Fit a massage in before or after your other tours. Yes, I am own Ensenada Massage, so I am biased, and this page is a service to my clients. Our #1 TripAdvisor Rating speaks for itself.
Wine Valley: It’s awesome, and awesomer than Napa and Sonoma because I can still pay rent after visiting. Sweet views, delicious food, and wine to lighten your mood….. Can you do it in an excursion day? Heck yeah, schedule a morning pick up private tour, lunch, guide. Ava at Valley Girl Wine Tours is the custom provider if you want to avoid tourist bus.
Scuba/snorkel/kayak: I have scubaed here and had great experiences in kelp forests. Keep in mind waters are pretty cold, and visibility is limited since we get good waves from pacific. Diego at Deep Blue Diver seems to have best operation in town. If your cruise passes through catalina, consider diving/scuba there. Kayaking is my preferred way to see the La Bufadora and the amazing cover there. You could see it from the bus window, but I like to get in.
Horseback Riding: Our guests have had great experiences with Chrystal’s Desert Trails ocean view rides on the beach, and Roseabella’s Valle de Guadalupe rides. Some of the other horse care and cleanliness practices on other tours may be different from North American standards, (this is partly why I recommend Chrystal and Roseabella).
We actually offer a massage and horse ride package too so you can easily get them both in and logistics are easy between horse ride and our massage studio.
Since Alcohol is a bit pricey on the ship and you won’t be driving, you may want to consider some drinks while on shore.
Craft Beer: Lucky Irish 4 is hot new addition to Ensenada Craft Beer Scene. Tons of craft beers on the killer Ocean Patio. 1pm opens
Cantina: A tavern rooted in Mexican heritage, Hussong’s stands alone as interesting experience. Other places on first street just aren’t as interesting. Tuesday and Thursday 2 for 1.
Interesting Dive Bar: La Cueva de Pirata. Just a block from cruise port, and totally for locals and late night musicians. So local that I am the only one to leave a google review. . . . .
Wine without leaving Centro: Santo Tomas wines, lunch place, and collection of
Cigar: Legit cubans at Habana with semi cool cigar lounge, better just light up and wander around. Are they legitimate cubans? I think so for these that are sold in the store - not the guys occasionally up and down the street. I am still investigating this. . . I usually smoke the mexican cigars since I am a tight wad.
Bike Tour of Ensenada: I have seen the business signs, but don’t exist easily for decent price.
Surf Lessons: Why not? Yes, I learned to surf here. Winter waves are plenty for beginners. Water is clean enough. Beach Playa Hermosa works well for beginners with an easy beach break. Guides are fun and equipment (boards and wet suits for cold winter water) new and reasonably priced. For higher level surfers custom tour on Request. Miguel at Surf Ensenada runs a pretty tight ship.
La Primera (First Street):
Just a block from the Harbor, this 5 block stretch is an area of Ensenada where the shops and vendors have been built up over the years for day tourism from the ships. At night it is a different scene. It’s a bit fun, a bit of a free for all of stuff for sale and guys offering tacos and beer and other items you might want to sell. Plenty of pharmacies, taverns, shopping, coffee shops. It’s a safe, nice stroll close to the ship, and entertaining. Skipworthy if you are more annoyed than entertained by cruiosities for sale, cheep beers, and crowds.
Best on First Street:
Casa Ramirez: They have high quality stuff from all over Mexico - a huge country with diverse culture. Visit and check out the stuff, ask questions of the knowledgeable staff. Street items are fun, usually much lower quality.
Best Healthy Stop: Hogaza Hogaza: German style bakery with fresh squeezed orange juice, keifer, amazing salads.
Tequila Tasting: Tequila Room. This is a cornerstone of first street. Angel speaks perfect English and gives great education on the amazing tequila culture of Mexico. Tastings are free and a bottle of high quality sipping tequila is good souvenir you can pack away as a memory.
Tacos (both fish, shrimp and steak) are great pretty much anywhere. La Guerrenense is pretty renowned tostada/ceviche spot.
At the end of First Street, and across the street from the cruise port, you will find La Riviera, a cultural center and beautiful gardens and architecture, supposedly built by Al Capone as a casino originally? Across the street you will see CEARTE, our free modern art museum.
Is Ensenada Safe?
Yes. Ensenada is as safe as LA. Don’t leave your stuff out for anyone to steal. Don’t get drunk and act inappropriately. I have never personally experienced crimes against my body or random violence. I have never been harassed by Ensenada police without an infraction (like running multiple stop signs). Yes, Mexico is has a drug violence problem, 1000 miles away from here. Mexico is a big place. If someone told you there was a rite in LA, would you cancel your weekend trip to Denver?
For cruise passengers, there is no place that within walking distance that is unsafe. Keep in mind Blancarte street does house gentlemen’s clubs and working ladies. Guys on the street may offer to sell you drugs.
Pharmacy’s here sell lots of stuff at cheaper prices. I have never heard of a problem of quality. What you are sold in pharmacy is the actual product labeled. Taking medication back Rule: . . . Not everything is available without restriction. Many medicines are controlled and the pharmacies are regulated, so no shady practices. You can bargain of course and prices.
Restaurants if you are still hungry:
da Toni - the best italian seafood spot in ensenada. Super authentic, and cute.
Planta Baja - great views/good dinner/right next to Baja Brews
Boules - great dinner spot. Off the ocean next to nice city park.
Please leave your questions, tips and experiences in comments, and I will update this post so it is useful and current!