Punta de Mita Day Trip: Exploring Islas Marietas and the Hidden BeachBy Susannah Rigg
The Islas Marietas (Marietas Islands) are a collection of islands found off the coast of Punta Mita that appeared in the ocean as a result of volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The islands have never been inhabited, though they were a popular spot for locals to have a picnic or cook-out until a 1997 fire compelled officials to declare them off-limits.
The group of islands, comprised of two small islands and two larger ones, was declared by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 2008, which means that the islands and a three-kilometer area around them are protected. It also means that visitors are monitored and fishing isn’t allowed in the area.
Good news for visitors: These levels of protection and control have led to an increase in fauna on the islands and their surrounding waters. The caves and coral attract a large variety of fish and marine life, and the bird population, which includes the famous blue footed booby (which really does have blue feet!), has also increased significantly.
These natural treasures and the proximity of the islands to Punta de Mita make Islas Marietas an attractive day trip for thousands of visitors each year.
The best way to see the islands is by taking a chartered tour, like those offered by Vallarta Adventures. The tour operator can pick you up right at Hotel St. Regis (and at some other points around Punta de Mita).
You’ll head out to sea in a motorboat, keeping your eyes open for dolphins that love to play in this part of the ocean. The islands are 15 minutes offshore, so you’ll be in the water with your snorkel in no time.
Your guide will lead you to caverns and corals that surround the islands, pointing out fish and other marine animals. It’s likely you’ll see the brilliantly blue and yellow colored surgeon fish and the angelfish with its distinct white stripe, along with as many as 115 other species of fish that live around the islands.
Bird lovers will enjoy approaching the islands by boat and observing the number of avian species found there. While the blue-footed booby is a favorite, there is also the brown booby, which has one of the largest nesting colonies of this species in the world on these islands.
Trawling around the islands, you’ll also have the opportunity to see a mini blowhole, a kind of marine geyser that blasts streams of water into the air when waves hit the rocks.
If you didn’t get enough physical activity snorkeling, you can pump up the adrenaline again by hopping on a paddleboard. If you find your balance, you can explore the area’s waters from a different point of view.
Another important attraction of the Islas Marietas is Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach), also known as Playa del Amor (Love Beach). This beach is, as its name suggests, is partially hidden, nestled inside a rock, and is only accessible at low tide. It’s believed that the unique geography of this beach was shaped — literally — by the Mexican army, which tested bombs here decades ago.
Despite its name, plenty of people have “discovered” the beach, and a surge in tourism raised concerns about erosion of the rock. At present, only 116 visitors per day are allowed beach access.
Some tour operators, including Punta Mita Expeditions, have made the decision to approach the beach only by boat, but not allow offboarded passengers to visit. This will allow you to admire the beauty without leaving footprints, ensuring future generations of travelers can also enjoy this natural wonder.