This most recent trip marked our fourth to the Punta de Mita/Puerto Vallarta area. So how come I had never heard of Las Islas Marietas (The Marietas Islands) before? The Marietas Islands are a group of uninhabited islands about 5 miles southwest of Punta de Mita. Occasionally called the “Mexican Galapagos” because of the stunning wildlife, like Blue Footed Boobies, plus beautiful coral, colorful fish, dolphins & humpback whales filling the water. The islands are a National Park protected by the Mexican Government who control the number of daily visitors.
Sailing to the Islands
There are a handful of tours operating daily to the islands. We chose to go with Ally Cat Sailing Adventures which left out of La Cruz Marina near Punta de Mita. We arrived at 7:50am for checkin and by 8:15 we were cruising out of the harbor with coffee and pastries in hand.
Our tour was very well run and included breakfast, snacks, lunch, an open bar, snorkeling gear, paddle boards, lots of music, and a knowledgeable & entertaining crew. Besides our three kids, there were only a handful of other teens and tweens on our cruise; the rest were adults. Our 7-year-old was definitely the youngest on the boat, but everything was perfectly suitable for him.
The crew was great with our kids and even let them steer the catamaran for a good chunk of the ride to the islands and back.
Searching for Whales
Our trip coincided with prime viewing for whales and dolphins (best time is mid-December through mid-March). Our guides had a good eye for spotting whales and redirected the boat several time so we could get a good look. They even cut the engines and stuck a microphone in the water so we could hear the repeating song of the humpback whales. The songs were so clear that there were some conspiracy theories circulating amongst the passengers that it was just a recording.
Many of the passengers (including our 11-year-old) enjoyed standing up high on the elevated platform on the back of the boat to get a better look at the whales & dolphins.
Las Islas Marietas
In the early 1900s, the Mexican government began conducting military testing on the islands. Many bombs & explosions went off which created caves and rock formations. After an international outcry in the 1960s, the government decided to label the islands a park and protect them from human activity.
Only a certain number of people can be on the islands at a given time and unfortunately the large tourism boats have lost the ability to take tourists to the famous “hidden beach” which is only accessible during low tide. Some smaller charter boats can take you there, but we opted for the bigger boat with more amenities & activities for the kids.
Once we arrived at the islands we anchored offshore and boarded a smaller boat which took us over to the island. The boats were not allowed on the beach so we had to jump off the boat and swim to shore. It wasn’t very far (maybe 10 yards or so) and we were all required to wear life jackets while in the water. The disappointing thing for me was that I had not brought a dry bag for my camera so I couldn’t take it on shore. The waves were choppy and the water above my head so there was no way I would have been able to get it to the shore safely.
TIP: If you go, plan ahead and make sure you have a dry bag or waterproof case for your phone so you can get pictures.
Blue Footed Boobies and Hidden Caves
This is where we saw the Blue Footed Boobies – and Yellow Footed ones too! Our guide showed us a hidden sea cave only accessible during low-ish tide. We swam around the corner of the island and straight into the cave! We had to be careful to time it so the waves didn’t push us into the rocks, but we all made it. Then he showed us a tunnel we could crawl through to get back to the original beach we started on (without having to go back into the water). It was really fun!
We could have spent a lot more time exploring, but since there were more groups coming in our group had to leave (the tour operators can get fined if a park ranger catches too many people on the island at a time).
We swam back to our boat and then it dropped us off in the area below where we got to snorkel along the coast. We swam through some rock tunnels and were able to see lots of fish & coral. After about 45 minutes following our guide around, we had to swim about a quarter of a mile back to our catamaran. We were wearing life jackets, but there was a decent current which made it slightly more difficult to get back. But our kids did great and worked up an appetite for the lunch waiting for us back on the boat.
After leaving the islands, our crew put up the sail and turned on the music while everyone basked in the sun. As we approached the mainland, we docked in a little cove and had a chance to get out and enjoy the water. All 5 of us climbed up onto the platform and jumped from what felt like 2 stories high.
The kids had a great time on the lily pad.
Our 11 and 7-year-old loved taking out the stand up paddle boards. My 7-year-old asked me to go with him, but then I turned around and he was out in the water without me!
As we were leaving the cove to head back to the harbor in La Cruz, our crew threw a cargo net into the water and told the kids to jump on. They loved being pulled along by the boat. It wasn’t moving very fast and I sat and watched just to make sure we finished with the same number of kids we started with! They said it was kind of like sitting in a hot tub with all the bubbles.
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