The Marietas Islands are a group of small uninhabited islands a few miles off the coast of the state of Nayarit, Mexico, located in federal waters approximately 7.9 kilometres (4.9 mi) southwest of the peninsula known as Punta de Mita, in the municipality of Bahía de Banderas. The islands are a popular tourist destination because of the abundant marine life populations due to the islands being protected from fishing and hunting by the Mexican government. The ocean water depth around the islands is between 70 and 110 feet.
The Marietas islands were originally formed many thousands of years ago by volcanic activity, and are completely uninhabited. The islands are about an hour-long boat ride west-northwest from the coast of Puerto Vallarta or a 15-minute boat ride from the resort area of Punta Mita and are visited daily by hundreds of tourists. However, visitors cannot legally set foot on the islands. In the early 1900s, the Mexican government began conducting military testing on the islands since they were uninhabited. Many bombings and large explosions took place on the islands causing caves and rock formations to be created. After a massive international outcry, started by scientist Jacques Cousteau in the late 1960s, the government eventually decided to declare the islands a national park and therefore protect it against any fishing, hunting or human activity. Situated in a sort of open sun-drenched crater, this beach is affectionately nicknamed the “hidden beach” or “beach of love”. It is accessible only when the tide is low.
Protection by the government has created an environment conducive to the development of the marine ecosystem, and is a popular location for snorkeling and scuba diving. Not even during whale watching tours, people often report seeing sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, wild dolphins, humpback whales and thousands of species of tropical fish around the islands. The islands are also home to a few thousand birds, with species such as the blue-footed booby. Currently, the Mexican government allows only a few companies to go to the islands and allows the landing of passengers onto one secluded beach with the necessary permit from SEMARNAT.
From Punta de Mita, small boats do tours through the islands to see the wildlife of this region. From December to March, gray and humpback whales can be observed that come from Alaska to give birth off the coast of Nayarit.
It has been estimated in studies that the so-called “hidden beach” or the “love beach” can accommodate up to 116 visitors a day without degrading. The carrying capacity of the entire park is 625 visitors. However the actual number of visitors is typically three or four times this limit with more than 2500 visitors landing on it each day during 2016. During the Easter holidays more than 250 boats landed on the island per day, some of them carrying as many as 400 tourists. This has been due to recent interest in the Island. The number of tourists in 2012 was only 27,500, but this skyrocketed to 127,372 in 2015.
Things to do
- Islas Marietas Eco Discovery
In terms of pristine natural beauty and scenic seaside vistas, few areas in the world are richer than the Marieta Islands. Protected as part of Islas Marietas National Park, these natural wonders are home to a number of native wildlife species, as well as some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Mexico. On this tour, guides give you the opportunity to enjoy the natural majesty of the Las Islas Marietas at your own pace. Explore the serene seawater while snorkeling, kayaking, or paddle boarding. No matter what type of natural wonder you’re looking for, on the tour of Islas Marietas, the guides will make sure you find it.
The Bay of Banderas is one of the few places in the world that is a natural sanctuary for a profusion of natural land and sea life. Within the Bay of Banderas, there are few areas lusher in life than the waters surrounding Islas Marietas National Park. During the winter months, it is common to see humpback whales in the bay, since this is a centuries-old breeding ground and respite following their annual migrations. Dolphin encounters are a regular year-round occurrence. You may see them in large groups leaping out of the water or in pairs riding along near the bows of boats in the bay.
2. Rhythms of the Night –SAVIA
Deep in the heart of the steamy tropical rainforest at Las Caletas, near a crumbling pyramid, there is a mystical amphitheater where excitement is waiting for you. As the stars appear in the sky, the spirit world convenes here in a dazzling world-class show that will take your breath away. Conceived of, written and directed by Gilles Ste-Croix, co-creator of Cirque du Soleil, Rhythms of the Night – SAVIA is a celebration of spectacular acrobatic skill, pulsating rhythms, vibrant dance, amazing costumes and Ste-Croix’s breathtaking interpretation of the Aztec creation story.
SAVIA: The Legend of the 5 Suns is truly a feast for the senses. Great entertainment, food, and adventure await. As you take your place in the incredible outdoor amphitheater for a show at the pyramid under a serene starry sky, you’ll feel like you’re entering another time, another place. And perhaps you are, for each night in Puerto Vallarta, this is where the spirit world of the ancients once again comes alive!
An explosion of color, sound and spectacle, SAVIA tells a powerful story about the persistence of the human spirit using colorful imagery, music, dance and movement. Legend has it there were four civilizations of humanity prior to ours. Each new period saw the evolution of the human race, as well as its demise. These previous worlds were destroyed by tornadoes, fires and floods, yet rituals and sacrifices have kept the human spirit alive. From the bones and ashes of the ancients comes a celebration of the fifth sun and the unflagging hope for a better world. Rhythms of the Night dinner and show, with its intimate setting, vibrant story and stunning feats of acrobatics, are nothing short of magical.
3. Valarta Canopy tour
A canopy tour zip line tour is a pre-established route through a forested or other beautiful landscape, often with mountains and valleys making use mainly of zip-lines and suspended bridges between platforms that are built upon trees. Visitors are harnessed to steel cables all the time while on these tours, ensuring their safety.
Canopy tours have existed for a long time, but just recently have they become a tourist attraction and a popular tour in Mexico, Costa Rica and many other places around the world. Canopy tours in Puerto Vallarta are a truly thrilling ecological experience that offers you the unique opportunity to glide through the treetops on a network of cables suspended high above the jungle trails in the local tropical forest. The list of the main canopy zip line tours in the area includes – Canopy River, Canopy Los Veranos, Extreme Zip Line Adventure, Canopy La Vista, Mundo Nogalito Canopy, Las Animas Adventure Park and Rancho Mi Chaparrita, to name a few.
Why visit the Marietas Islands?
- Hidden Beach
Officially it’s called Playa del Amour, but visitors reckon Hidden Beach does the job better. After all, it’s tucked away in a cave underneath one of the islands and can only be reached by swimming through a tunnel. But what makes it really bucket list-worthy is the fact that the cave has no lid, opening it up to the sunshine – and savvy aerial photographers.
2. The snorkeling scene
With a snorkel and fins, the Marieta Islands are your oyster. There are more than 10 kinds of coral around these parts, reeling in the biggest load of reef fish in Banderas Bay. In winter, the kings of the ocean and humpback whales mooch through the waters.
3. The boobies
It’s not all about the amazing sea life. Around 100 bird species hang around the Marieta Islands, including a few record breakers. There’s the world’s largest colony of brown boobies, for starters, and the islands are also home to biggest swallow breeding grounds in Mexico.
4. The castaway vibe
Hidden Beach is the closest you can get to actually stepping foot on the Marieta Islands. And thanks to their uber protected status – they’re national park territory – only a few tour operators can weigh anchor in their waters. With all that peace and quiet, it’s hard to believe you’re only an hour’s boat ride from Puerto Vallarta.
5. The History
Way back in the early 1900s, the Mexican government used the Marieta Islands as a military testing site. These explosions carved out some of the caves and oddly-shaped rock formations you’ll see when you visit today. In fact, rumour has it that even Hidden Beach was created by one of these test bombs.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and set out for this paradise on the face of the earth!