Visiting Islas Marietas National Park

Just five miles off the coast of the Mexican State of Nayarit in the Bay of Banderas, lies a group of uninhabited islands named the Marieta Islands or las Islas Marietas in Spanish. Even if you aren’t familiar with their name, you have probably seen photos of the beautiful Hidden Beach, floating around on the internet and Instagram for awhile now.

These islands are Mexico’s Galapagos Islands. Two islands and two islets once used as target practice by the Mexican Military in the 1960’s, they were finally declared a National Park in 2005 by the government. Home to more than 44 species of plants and animals, visiting the islands gives you the opportunity to spot sea turtles, manta rays, tropical fish and dolphins. The islands are also home to thousands of birds, including the blue footed booby.

Whales

December through May, the Bay of Banderas is also home to hundreds of whales. Every year, humpbacks and gray whales come into the Bay as part of their yearly migration and to give birth. While there are tour companies that offer specific whale watching tours, you might be lucky enough to see them on your Marieta Islands tour as well.

Beaches

As I mentioned, the islands are home to one of the best known and photographed beaches, Hidden Beach or La Playa del Amor. Accessible only at low tide and to a certain number of people on specific days, visitors will see a crater type beach inside the island. You can only enter by kayak or by swimming into the cave.

In 2016 the government closed all features of the islands due to over use of the area and destruction of the coral. They initiated a huge clean up that lasted several months and is still ongoing. The islands have since reopened but have stricter visitation policies. They are closed entirely on Mondays and on Tuesdays, only certain areas are open. As luck would have it, Hidden Beach was closed on the Tuesday of my tour. It’s still possible to visit Hidden Beach, it’s just more difficult since only specific tour operators are allowed to go and visitors are kept to a restricted number on the days that it is open. Make sure to ask what’s included when you book your tour so you won’t be disappointed like I was. Even if you don’t get to swim all the way inside, you can still get a pretty good view of it from the bay.

The islands are very susceptible to erosion because of the structure and the type of rock they are made from so you cannot set foot on them with the exception of special permission on Hidden Beach. This is truly a fascinating place and an great opportunity to see a piece of Mexico that according to scientists, may not be around in years to come.

I used Vallarta by Boat for my tour. This is an all day tour that heads out around 9am and returns at 5pm. The ride to the islands was about an hour and half. It might take a little longer if you stop in Nueva Vallarta to pick up more passengers. The tour is offered in Spanish and English. Since there were a lot of whales that day, they stopped frequently to let us get a closer look.

Once at the islands, kayaks and stand up paddles boards were available for use. Other groups were taken to see the beach and caves. If you choose to swim by the caves, be careful to watch for sea urchins. You are not allowed to take your sunglasses or cameras with you when you get off the boat. I think a GoPro would be ok.

Lunch, included in the price of the ticket, was served and they opened the bar, after all the activities and tours were completed. Breakfast was also included but it was only a continental breakfast. If you are looking for something a little substantial, there are vendors and restaurants at the marina. Lunch on the boat consisted of three different salads and ceviche. You could buy snacks on board but I felt like they were a bit pricey. You would do better to carry something with you.

On the return trip, we stopped again when there were whales nearby. The crew went out of their way to make it a fun ride back. There were games, music and dancing if you wanted to participate. Don’t worry, there is a bathroom on the boat.

Southerner Says: Remember to carry some small bills to tip the crew.

Expect to spend around $80 USD for your ticket. If you leave from the marina in Puerto Vallarta, you will also have to pay a port fee of $25.50 pesos or roughly $1.40 USD depending on the exchange rate. There is also a fee to SEMARNAT, The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, for preservation of the park. I cannot remember how much I paid for this, but it’s your entrance fee to the park that everyone is required to pay and it’s a minimal fee. They will give you a bracelet to wear showing that you paid.

If you are in Punta Mita, you can hire a panga, or small boat to take you to the islands. You should be able to locate someone next to the Si Senor restaurant where all the pangas are tied up. There is a Cooperativo de Turismo office nearby where you can purchase the SEMARNAT bracelet as well but you should not have to pay a marina fee. The trip out to the islands is about fifteen minutes.  From Punta Mita the price of going out to the islands would have to be negotiated on an individual basis.

When planning to visit, please choose a reputable, ethical company or person that will abide by the requirements that have been imposed. You should also remember the “leave no trace take nothing but photos” practice is not restricted to borders.

If you are looking for other fun things to and beaches in the area, check out my post about Sayulita, Nayarit. Enjoy!

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