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By: Dave Helgeson

Riding Ports of Call on the Mexican Riviera

Welcome to the jungle.
Welcome to the jungle.

When a cruise ship docks at a Mexican port of call, it is like dropping a sugar cube into an ant hill. “Hey Señor, do you want a ride in my taxi”? “Señor, come and look at my stuff, what do you want to buy?” You can’t blame the locals for trying to make a living in an impoverished third world country. However, it does wear on you until you just want to get on your ATV and ride. Well, if you didn’t pack your ATV in your suitcase, not to worry.  Guided ATV tours are available for your enjoyment. On a recent Mexican Riviera cruise, the opportunity to go ATV riding was available at each port of call. The ports were: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. We chose to ride in Puerto Vallarta as we have been there before and didn’t have the energy to resist a thousand sales pitches from the local vendors. After riding in Puerto Vallarta and talking with other cruise passengers that rode with other vendors there and the other ports, I can offer the following suggestions when riding in Mexican Riviera cruise ports.

Rolling down the river.
Rolling down the river.

The first decision you will have to make is, do you deal directly with the Mexican rental company or book through the cruise line? Booking through the cruise line is like buying a hot dog and a coke at a major league sports stadium. It is convenient, but it would have been cheaper to go to the store yourself. Cruise lines take a large cut of the sale when you book through them. Dealing directly with the ATV rental company will save you the money the cruise line normally earns plus some. It also means that you may ride with a smaller group other than with a throng of fellow cruise ship passengers. However, there are three things the cruise lines offer that you need to consider. First, is peace of mind; the cruise line guarantees not to leave port until you are back on board; second, your transportation to and from the ATV rental leaves from or very near the cruise pier, and third, if the ship can’t make port due to weather or other factors, your rental fees will be refunded.

Next is to find out what kind of machines they are renting, and most important--find out if they have a governor on them. You can’t satisfy your need for speed with a governor limiting your ponies. The rentals my wife and I rode were ungoverned semi-automatics. My wife rode a Honda 250, and I was placed on a Honda 350.

Sweet dual track
Sweet dual track.

Plan for your ATV trip before leaving home: This means packing clothes you won’t mind getting ruined and old shoes you can throw away. You will get dirty and hitting the water in fourth gear assures you will get wet!

When you arrive at the rental company, they may break you into groups based on riding experience. Based on what I saw, anybody reading this will probably qualify as an expert.

Taking a break.
Taking a break.

Many in our group were first timers; some had ridden a time or two before. Very few rode on a regular basis. My wife chose the intermediate group as she normally rides a fully automatic machine, but after riding and viewing the skill level of others in the group, she should have classified herself as expert. Expert riders were given the larger displacement machines and were left to ride at the back of the pack. Being in the back of the group meant a less watchful eye from the guide and a little more freedom to pick your own path. This also allowed you to fall behind a little to let the dust settle.

Heading out on the asphalt.
Heading out on the asphalt.

Our tour consisted of a luxury bus ride to the rental company in the country side, instructions from the guide, helmets, bottled water, a bandana (to keep the dust out of your mouth and nostrils) and a pair of scratched goggles. I chose to skip the goggles and ride with my sunglasses. The tour started on the asphalt, but quickly turned onto a dirt road through farmland. After passing through a small village with rustic cobblestone streets, we entered a river bed with just enough water to keep things interesting. We followed the river bed, gradually making our way back towards the starting point, then popped out on some nice dual track and finally the paved road we started on.

Time to play
Time to play.

All in all it was a fun ride and much more exciting than shopping the tourist traps, which some on your ship will consider a recreational activity.

To find an ATV rental company in Mexico, just Google: ATV rental and the port of call.

If you want to book through the cruise company, just check out the shore excursions on their website.

Adios amigos, and I hope to see you on the trails.

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