Best Culture in Ensenada During Your Mexico Cruise
Ensenada is best known as a sun and sea resort in the upper reaches of the Baja Peninsula along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. But don’t overlook its cultural opportunities, some just minutes away from the waterfront. Whether it’s folk art and pottery you seek, a wine trail, or an historic casino or mission, you can find them all in the Ensenada area during your cruise to Mexico.
The Riviera Cultural Center of Ensenada, originally built as a hotel and casino in 1930, was once a hangout for Hollywood celebrities and, reputedly, mobsters. Not only was it the world’s largest casino when built, its bar is also credited with inventing the Margarita, Mexico’s most famous cocktail. In 1948, one of the past owners, named Margarita, requested that the bartender concoct a new drink for her, and a Tequila-infused legend was born. While there are other claimants to the invention, one thing is certain: the small bar still serves excellent Margaritas. You can take a guided tour of the historic, ornate white building, which occupies a prominent perch in town. Its enormous landscaped grounds, entrances marked by arches and courtyards, and walls adorned with tiles are well worth seeing. It’s now used to house cultural events throughout the year (Blvd. Lázaro Cárdenas #1421, Colonia Centro).
The Galeria Perez Meillon, a local fixture since 1988, displays the work of master potters from the village of Mata Ortiz in northern Chihuahua. Mata Ortiz harbors some 300 master potters, who work in a distinctive style of thin-walled pottery using local clays and reviving an ancient art lost for hundreds of years. Gallery owner Adalberto Perez Meillon also carries other handcrafted indigenous art from Baja California: Pai-Pai pottery and Kumiai basketry as well as fine art works from well-known regional artists. (Centro Artesanal, Locale #40, Blvd. Costero #1094 at Av. Castillo, one block north of the cruise ship terminal.)
Baja Wine and Sun offers tours of nearby wine routes including the long-established but increasingly popular Guadalupe Valley and the Calafia Valley. The Guadalupe Valley tours visit three wineries – Baron Balche, Adobe de Guadalupe, and Bibayoff – the latter owned by a Russian family that came to the valley more than a century ago and is credited with pioneering the region’s vineyards. The Calafia Valley tours also visit three wineries: Casa Domecq, known for its brandies; L.A. Cetto, the largest wine producer in Mexico; and, for contrast, the small family-run Winery Dona Lupe. Both tours leave in mid-morning, last about five hours and include transportation from Ensenada, tastings at each winery, and bilingual guides (English-Spanish). Call 646-177 112 50 (011 52 646 177 12 50 from the U.S.) to set up a tour.
A beautiful wine museum, the Museo de la Vid y el Vino, is located in the Guadalupe Valley about 20 miles northeast of Ensenada on the highway to Tecate (Km. 81, Carr. Fed. Tecate-Ensenada). It traces the history of wine, how it’s made, and even offers wine tastings. The exhibits are all in Spanish, however, so unless you read the language, request an English-speaking guide if one is available to take you through. (You can also arrange a custom tour through Baja Sun and Wine.)
The Ensenada area is thick with the remains of former Dominican missions, but Mision San Vicente Ferrer was the largest and possibly most important in northern Baja, and probably the best preserved as well. Built in the late 18th century by two Dominican fathers, it served as a waystation for missionaries heading north into what is now modern-day California, and also was used by the military to defend the area. Its location in a fertile plain enabled it to be self-supporting and supply missionaries and military personnel with food. A wave of epidemics, however, wiped out most of the local Indian population and the mission closed in 1833. Don’t expect to see an entire mission if you go – it’s mainly stone foundations, some adobe walls from the compound, and partial remains of the church. The mission is located about 50 miles south of Ensenada and lies off the Transpeninsular Highway just north of San Ferrer; go west (right) on the signed dirt road near Km. 88 on the highway.
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Kimberly Wheeler joined the team at CruiseExperts.com in September 2014. Her role as a Social Media Marketer is to pass on the expertise of the agency to help travelers understand the world of cruising through blogging. Kimberly has an extensive background in Public Relations and Marketing and a passion for engaging the public. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism with an option in Public Relations from Fresno State University in May 2014.