The Marieta Islands National Park off the coast of Puerto Vallarta is teeming with natural beauty and the calm, warm waters are perfect for a day’s activities

A short boat trip from the beach city of Puerto Vallarta lies the Marieta Islands National Park — known as the Mexican Galápagos. As well as holding incredible natural beauty, some of the most wonderful marine life can be seen at the Marietas. The pristine islands are uninhabited and protected from hunting and fishing, so they are a haven for wildlife. 

Activities on the Marieta Islands

A child dives through fish while snorkeling at the Marieta Islands near Puerto Vallarta
The Marieta Islands provide a huge range of activities in the water for all the family

Visit the reserve at the marieta islands

The waters around Puerto Vallarta and the Marieta Islands are usually warm and the waves small, making them perfect for some watersports with the family. It’s not the best for surfing because the city is secluded in Banderas Bay, which protects it from breaks, but it is excellent for snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The kids will love to float on the tranquil sea and pop their heads underneath to spot the vibrant sea life.

Once at the Islands

Paddle boarders move through a large cave
The sanctuary is protected from fishing and industry, so they are now almost untouched

The two volcanic islands of the Marietas are small, almost untouched and a short boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. The sand is white and soft, and the water is turquoise. The Mexican government turned the islands into a national park following an international outcry. They had been used for military testing until the explorer, naturalist and broadcaster Jacques Cousteau raised the alarm.

Since then, the Marietas have relied on tourism for their protection. However, as the islands grew in fame, the number of visitors was damaging to the natural beauty and unique life that relies on the national park for conservation. Only a small number of operators are allowed to run tours to the islands and visitor numbers are now restricted — especially to the world-famous, hidden Lover’s Beach.

It is because of their location that the islands hold the range of life that means they are compared to the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The Marietas are found where three of the world’s major ocean currents meet. Currents moving north from Costa Rica, and south from the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean bring a huge range of life to the islands.

Wildlife That You Can See

Blue-footed booby hiding perched on rocks near Puerto Vallarta
The blue-footed booby is perhaps the most famous animal that can be found on the islands

There is a huge amount of biodiversity on the islands. They hold 92 different species of birds and at least 115 species of fish call their coral reefs home. The most famous bird that can be found here is the blue-footed booby, and the waters teem with manta rays, puffer fish and butterfly fish, sea turtles, dolphins and eels. If you visit between December and March, there’s a good chance you’ll see humpback whales on their migration, with the best months for whale watching being January and February.

The endangered blue-footed booby is very easy to recognize because of its feet. These are used during mating rituals where the male shows off just how bright his feet are and then struts around in front of the female he is trying to woo. He’ll present some gifts of the materials needed to build a nest and finally show off his feet again. The brighter the feet, the younger the male seabird is and he is therefore more desirable. It’s quite a show.

Discover tours and activities for all the family in puerto vallarta

Posted in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta
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