Wild World

An eco-tour operator shows visitors the other side of Ixtapa

By: By Michael Lowe

The Details

Adventure on the Island tour: $76 including the water taxi, equipment and lunch

Availability: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and upon arrangement

Commission: 25 percent

Isla Ixtapa’s rugged coastline // (c) Michael Lowe
Isla Ixtapa’s rugged coastline 

While Ixtapa is known for its soft, sandy beaches and luxurious spa resorts, those traveling off the beaten path with a guided eco-tour may realize that there is even more to appreciate.

When I recently visited the region, I discovered Adventours, a guided ecological tour operator that takes visitors away from their glamorous hotels and multi-million-dollar spas, and exposes them to the wildlife and tropical natural areas that are often overlooked by tourists.

The 20-year old company is owned and operated by local ecological expert and trained biologist Pablo Mendizabal Reyes and offers four eco-excursions, with activities that range from biking to birding to crocodile-watching.

The Adventure on the Island ecological excursion is the most inclusive of Adventour’s four tours and begins with an easy four-mile bike ride on mountain bikes. Although the tour starts in Ixtapa’s hotel zone and follows a well-maintained, 10-year-old, paved bike path, it quickly winds its way from the tourist-congested roadsides into the tree-lined Aztlan Ecological Park — a vast 1,600 acres, home to over 320 species of birds.

Even at the beginning of our tour, Ixtapa’s greenery quickly surrounded us, creating canopy-esque tunnels as bright-red mangrove crabs scuttled across the pavement and roadside hawks dove between the trees. Giant white Morpho butterflies floated overhead, mimicking the tranquility of the naturally preserved environment around us.

Midway through the bike path, a lookout point seemed to reveal the range of the Ixtapan habitat. An 800-acre mangrove swamp — home to crocodiles, frogs, toads, and small mammals such as the coatimundi — occupies the foreground, while vultures fly against the backdrop of the looming Sierra Madres.

Once we were outside the reserve, we locked our bikes near restaurants on Playa Linda and were led to the infamous crocodile pit where clients can observe the creatures in their natural habitat, drifting through the water or basking in the sun. Families of green iguanas crept through the treetops and, depending on the season, cattle egrets can be seen feeding their newborn chicks.

From Playa Linda, a 10-minute water taxi took us to Isla Ixtapa, a resortless island occupied only by a handful of restaurants. And after no more than a minute’s rest, the adventure continued. Our guides gave out life vests and instructed us on kayaking techniques. They took our group along the waves and around the north side of the island to Ixtapa’s unique coastal rock formations, which are inaccessible by land. There, we could see where the sedimentary and volcanic rock formations broke away from the shore and formed solitary islets that now tower over the breaking waves.

The adventurous travelers in our group explored caves hollowed out by the pounding waves along the cliffs’ edge as blue-footed boobies watched from above. The more wary kayakers enjoyed the breadth of the scattered rock formations, but from afar.

Once we returned to Varadero Beach, we weren’t on solid ground for very long before our flippers were fitted and snorkel gear was handed out to us.

After a brief introduction to snorkeling, we headed off shore where the fish are so abundant they can even be seen gathering where the waves hit the sand.

Just offshore, we could see how the protected reef swept out into the turquoise ocean waters. Cortez rainbow wrasse and damselfish (think Dori from "Finding Nemo") are just some of the more prevalent species your clients might find when they explore Isla Ixtapa’s bountiful reef ecosystem.

The tour guides dove to retrieve sea cucumbers and brittle stars for us to hold. If luck will have it, your clients may spot a sea snake scurrying into the reef or a sea turtle floating along with the current.

After a long day of activity, we took a lunch break under a palapa, enjoying a meal of freshly caught red snapper, shrimp and lobster with lettuce, tomatoes and fresh tortillas. Afterward, the extra-weary opted to lounge in a hammock for a brief nap.

We returned to Playa Linda via water taxi and biked back through Parque Aztlan for one last moment in nature before reemerging into Ixtapa’s hotel zone, just in time for a well-deserved spa treatment.