If you are looking for a bargain basement cruise then a repositioning cruise is definitely the way to go.
However, some of the ports on a repositioning cruise are often industrial ports and a fair way away from tourist attractions which can at times make it difficult to find things to do on a budget.
So this Norwegian Sun South America cruise review covers DIY shore excursions for those who might otherwise waste a day sitting around on the ship.
We mostly managed to find things to do on the ports that excited us.
Here are our review of the ports of the Norwegian Sun repositioning cruise from San Diego to Valparaiso, Chile.
NCL South America Cruise Port Reviews
Huatulco, Mexico was a fantastic port as the ship literally pulled right up at a gorgeous swimming beach (Santa Cruz Beach) with shops and restaurants lining the water. We went to Bahias beachfront restaurant and got some beers for 25 pesos a piece (about 1.2 USD – what a bargain!). While they did offer free wifi, this was only available far away from the good beachfront view. If this beach isn’t your cup of tea and you would like a more secluded beach away from the hoards of cruise ship passengers, there are numerous other beaches in close proximity including:
- La Entrega Beach (about a 5 minute drive away) – a popular choice for snorkeling and also has a lot of restaurants;
- Maguey Bay (about a 8 minute drive away) – a calm, clear water beach with a lot of restaurants and a view to die for; and
- Playa Bocana (about a 15 minute drive away) – a good surf beach.
We were personally happy to stay at the beach close to the cruise terminal as it was quite picturesque and we aren’t too bothered by the cruise crowd. Remember to bring your snorkel with you if you intend to go snorkeling at any of these beaches!
Tip – Things are always cheaper if you pay in pesos rather than USD. If you need to buy something from the supermarket, they can give you change in pesos.
Puerto Chiapas, Mexico
This wasn’t our favourite port as it was an industrial port quite a long way away from tourist attractions. We decided to take it easy and just go for a stroll outside the gates of the port and have a beer at a local restaurant (20 pesos or less than $1 USD each – gotta love Mexico!). The port itself is decent and has a pool and a bar which the crew of the ship seemed to thoroughly enjoy. You could buy a beer by the poolside for $3 USD and use the pool. It was also possible to buy internet at this bar for $5 USD an hour but we heard reports that it was very slow. The other option for internet at the port is at the local convenience store. If you purchase a beer for $2 USD you can access their internet for free. What was cool about this port was that there was Mexican dance performances in the main tourist arena.
If you are up for a bigger day, alternatively you can visit the Izapa ruins from this port. You can get a collectivo taxi into the city of Tapachula from the Marina (which you can see from the boat) probably a 30 minute walk or short taxi ride away. If you haven’t been to Mexico, this city might be interesting enough as it is a traditional Mexican city but not much more than that. The collectivos cost around 15 pesos for the 30 minute ride into town. You can hail down a collectivo from the far side of the road right outside the marina’s entrance gate. From the city of Tapachula, take another collectivo for 15 pesos to Izapa. These leave from the main terminal two blocks form the zocalo, or main park in Tapachula. If you need extra help you can ask the tourism office across from the church. To return to Tapachula, wait on the same side of the road as the entrance to Group F for a collectivo.
Note: The Izapa ruins are not the best or most spectacular ruins in Mexico so if you have been to other Mexican ruins, I would recommend a relaxing day in this port. Further, the town of Tapachula is not particularly special but would be interesting if you have never visited a traditional Mexican city before.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
In this port I would highly recommend taking a day tarip to the UNESCO world heritage site and arguably the best colonial city in Central America, Antigua – a 17th century city surrounded by volcanoes with Spanish baroque architecture. One of the nicest pieces of architecture in the city is a baroque white & yellow church known as La Merced which is a key part of Antigua’s Semana Santa or holy week with parades and rituals. Many of Antigua’s Spanish colonial buildings were restored following a 1773 earthquake that ended Antigua’s 200 year reign as Guatemala’s colonial capital.
We thoroughly enjoyed travelling to Antigua and wished we had longer to enjoy this great city with cobble stone streets, pastel churches, great coffee & food and locals dressed in traditional clothing. If you visit the Plaza Central Park in the centre of the city, locals will swarm you, hoping that you will buy one of their many souvenirs which include colourful scarfs, bags & table runners. It is also possible to get your shoes shined for very little while in Antigua so wear or bring any shoes you want shined for the day!
You can purchase a DIY shore excursion on your cruise line for $40 USD or you can take the local transportation for $4 USD per person return. One important thing to note with this port is that Antigua is at least a 90 minute drive from Puerto Quetzal and closer to a 2 – 2.5 hour drive if taking public transport. We chose to take the local transportation not only to save money but also for the local experience. To catch public transportation, exit the cruise terminal gates and flag down a collectivo style van/taxi from the street directly outside the port terminal. These are vans filled with locals. It costs 10 Q or $1 USD to get to the town of Escuintla. They accepted a $1 USD note from us because we had no local currency but this is a little risky so better to have some local currency if possible. From Escuintla you need to transfer to a chicken bus to reach Antigua (another 10 Q or $1 USD). The right bus should say ‘Antigua’ on the top and leaves at the same place you got dropped off but you may need to ask a local (as we did) & people were more than happy to help! I would 100% recommend taking the local buses for the experience if you can manage to get off the ship as soon as it docks and you are careful not to cut yourself too fine in returning to the ship once in Antigua.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
We have previously travelled to Costa Rica so in Puntarenas we decided to just relax in a beachside bar for the day. We were lucky not to arrive in Puerto Calderas (where some cruises dock) which is about 10 miles or 16 km south of Puntarenas and to arrive directly in the centre of Puntarenas. This was great as taxis are very expensive in Costa Rica and there was unlikely to be a reliable public transport system.
As you exit the cruise port, there is an arts and crafts market running parallel to the beach where you can buy local souvenirs such as flutes, clothing, beach gear, coffee & goods from local artists. The town is directly located on a black sand beach lined with bars (most of which offer free wifi if you make a purchase). We walked along the beachfront area and then found a great modern bar called Capitan Moreno with wifi and $2 USD or 1200 Colones Silver Imperial Beers.
If you feel like having more of an active day & haven’t visited Costa Rica before, I would suggest booking a tour outside of the cruise ship as they are 1/3 of the cost. A safari through the Tarcoles River to see the crocodile is particularly popular (and I can affirm that there are a lot of crocodiles in this river from a previous trip to Costa Rica). Alternatively, take a zip-lining tour through the gorgeous Costa Rican rainforest or visit the cloud forest of Monteverde. A tour is really necessary to these locations due to time restrictions as having a car is the best way to get around in Costa Rica.
In Salavery, Peru we only had until 3.00pm on port so a lot less time than other ports. Salavery is the port closest to the city of Trujillo (about 10 miles away) which is founded by the Spanish conquistador Pizarro & the second largest city in Peru. The main touristic options at this port are to explore the city of Trujillo or one of the two main archaeological sights in the area: Chan Chan & Huacas del Sol and La Luna.
Sadly, what you will notice in Salavery is that this area of Peru is very poor & people can live in housing with just a tarp for a roof.
The cruise ship offers a shuttle to Trujillo for $15.00 USD pp return. However, if you are happy to explore the city of Trujillo by yourself you can reach the city for around $5 USD one way per taxi (note: it will require some negotiation!) If you are a lover of colonial architecture and design, the city of Trujillo is a good choice. If you choose to visit Trujillo you can enjoy the various colonial mansions, the cathedral and the city hall in Plaza Armas. The town is also located amidst the breathtaking Andes foothills. While you are walking around town look out to buy some hand-made leather shoes which Trujillo is particularly famous for.
Out of the archeological sights, due to time restrictions, I would recommend picking either Chan Chan or Huacas del Sol and de la Luna to maximise your time and experience. If you are particularly interested in visiting both, you can get a cab for around $5 – $10 USD per leg of the journey (e.g. port – Chan Chan). Alternatively, you can take one of their local buses to either of the archeological sights from the city of Trujillo. You are able to get a collectivo called “Campiña de Moche” from the corner of “Ave. Las Incas” and “Atahualpa” to go to Huacas del Sol and de la Luna . It only costs 1.50 soles one way but it takes around 1 hour on the collectivo. Due to the lack of time at this port, I’m not sure that this is a viable option unless you left very early in the morning as soon as the ship docks.
We decided to visit the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna due to holding the #1 spot on tripadvisor (tourists seemed to prefer the site to Chan Chan). Furthermore, we appreciated the inclusion of the guide at this location. We paid $5 USD for the cab each way to the archeological site. However, it did require asking a few cab drivers!
Unfortunately, currently, you cannot enter the Huaca del Sol. The guide explained that the reason for this is that necessary restorations have not been able to take place to allow tourists to enter due to limited monetary funds. Despite this, we particularly enjoyed touring Huaca del la Luna and seeing the largest mud structure on the South American continent. The desert climate is responsible for preserving these mud structures for hundreds of years. This site is also an older civilisation than Chan Chan being constructed during the Moche period, over 700 years before the Chimu civilisation and Chan Chan. The sight consists of two pyramidal temples, in close proximity, only around 500 metres apart. At the site you can view multiple layers of the pyramid structure yet still a large portion of the site is still hidden under the ground. Archaeologists are unable to undercover the sections of the pyramid & tombs below the ground as it would cause the visible parts of the temple above the ground to crumble. Despite the ‘great robber’ having looted and destroyed a large portion of these pyramids, they were still great to see and had original artwork from the Moche period still largely intact.
What is particularly good about these sites is that a guide is included in the entry price of $4 USD pp or 10 soles. However, as the guides are volunteer students and don’t get paid a small tip is greatly appreciated. The guide also explained to us that this civilisation believed in ‘gods of the elements’ such as sun god, earth god etc. The Moche people would battle for the king and the loser of the battle would be sacrificed for the gods. The main reason for these sacrifices is due to the city being located in the desert with dry conditions – the solution being to sacrifice people to appease the gods.
The other archaeological sight in the area, Chan Chan, arguably the more famous site being a UNESCO world heritage site, is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest mud city in the world. One of the most incredible features of Chan Chan is extensive size of the city. Chan Chan was once home to over 60,000 Chimu people who lived around 1300 A.D. and preceded the Incas. The city at one time was a very rich city with a great deal of gold, silver, and ceramics. The city of Chan Chan was preserved until the Spanish came when the majority of the treasures of Chan Chan were taken by the Spanish or by looters. The price to enter Chan Chan is also 10 soles or $4 USD and there is an additional fee of 40 soles if you wish to hire a guide. Due to time restraints, we did not visit Chan Chan.
Callao, Peru (Lima)
As the port of Callao is an industrial port and no one is permitted to walk on their own to the exit of the cruise port, the cruise line provide a free shuttle bus that will drop you at the exit of the cruise terminal. Callao is located 15 km west of the historic centre of Lima. As an alternative option, Norwegian provides a shuttle directly into the Miraflores area of Lima at a price of $15 USD pp. If you want to save some money however, you are free to make your own way to the city centre. We decided to take a taxi as you can get a taxi for between $5 – $8 USD for the entire cab to Miraflores. The alternative is to take a public bus into the city which passes through Av. Dos de Mayo in Callao and ends in Plaza Bolognesi near the center of Lima. We had 4 people in the cab so we split the cost between the four of us and it was very affordable.
The only problem with this port is that the Callao area is a little dodgy and you need to be very careful walking around on your own in the area (we later learned 2 cruisers got robbed in this area). The roughness of the area was clearly evident to us when we attempted to walk 100 metres down the street (away from the taxis targeting cruisers at inflated prices) and police officers and streets merchants stopped at in our tracks and started making gun motions with their hands. At this point, our new Swedish friends, who had agreed to join us for the day, were looking very regretful of their decision to join the suicidal Aussies determined not to get ripped off by the cabbie mafia. However, we eventually had a fantastic day after we hastily jumped into a taxi (screw further negotiation!) and arrived in the beautiful Miraflores area. I would highly recommend spending your day in this area of Lima as it is just beautiful! In the end, we had a fantastic time walking the Miraflores Boardwalk, drinking cheap beer (10 soles for 1 litre) & trying pisco shots.
The great thing about this port is the cruise ship drops you directly into town so there is no need to get a taxi or transportation in this port (aside from a short shuttle ride complimentary of the cruise line). We spent our day just walking around this quaint little town, having a look in the many shops, going for a coffee & of course having a beer (or two)!
Arica is also a great stop for shopping at cheap prices! At the local markets in town (directly as you exit the shuttle bus) you can find much the same souvenirs that are sold in Peru but at even cheaper prices. We managed to buy ‘Karl the Llama’ at a bargain basement price at this port. Many of the ladies on the cruise ship also went wild in the many clothing stores here as they offered great prices.
While the town wouldn’t of course be comparable to the likes of a big city, we enjoyed having a look at some of the quaint architecture the city had to offer including this darling church pictured below.
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Coquimbo itself so the best thing to do at this port of call is to go visit the cute nearby town of La Serena. You can get a bus (number 1 or 2) there for $1 USD from the street Juan Melgarejo.
The town of La Serena is far bigger than Coquimbo & much more picturesque. When you are walking to the town centre of La Serena from where the bus drops you be sure to visit Lighthouse Coffee shop for fantastic coffee & great food! There is no wonder it is the #1 rated place for coffee & deserts in La Serena. The coffee shop was also interestingly decorated in a very hipster style so its definitely worth checking out while you are in town.
Overall, we really enjoyed the town of La Serena. From looking through the markets in the centre of town & the many souvenir shops to checking out one of the nicest buildings in town, the Catedral de La Serena, spending a day in La Serena is a day well spent!
Although many people are not particularly fans of Valparaiso, we really enjoyed our final port. Our Swedish friends told us before arriving that this port was the ‘Berlin of South America’ and seen as Berlin wasn’t our favourite city in Germany (Sorry Berlin) we weren’ initially very excited about coming here. However, Valpariso really did exceed our expectations.
Valpariso is a hipster’s paradise. Walking up the narrow streets in Valpariso lined with colourful houses & tasteful graffiti to reach a great view at the top was really an unexpected treat. Valpariso was a real artsy place with interesting boutique shops, funky cafes & bars in true hipster fashion only selling craft beer. One thing that did surprise us about Valparaiso was that prices were a little higher than the rest of Chile so expect to pay slightly more here if you wish to dine in hipster paradise, especially if the hipster restaurant also boasts fantastic views of the city!
How to get the best price?
If you are flexible with dates, you can search cruisedirect by month for all sailings. You can get a repositioning cruise to South America for as little as $399 USD pp on cruisedirect . What we like is that the site is quite user friendly and you can search cruises by price. If you can, it is usually best to wait until last minute to book your cruise as the price *usually* drops quite substantially close to the time.