Couples will feel at home at one of Nuevo Vallarta’s resorts. // © 2013 Grand Velas Rivera Nayarit
The Yucatan Peninsula may boast famous islands such as Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, but the emerging Pacific Coast dazzles visitors with a few pristine gems of its own. Riviera Nayarit, a 200-mile stretch of coastline just north of Puerto Vallarta, is typically known for its spiritual retreats and surfer-packed beach towns, but the region’s island adventures are becoming part of its identity as well. Three islands — Islas Marietas, Mexcaltitan and Isla Isabel — are rich in history, rife with activities and are enchanting jewels just off the coast. Send your clients to one or all three of the remote, eco-friendly islands that offer an off-the-beaten-path experience.
The cluster of islands known as Isla Marietas was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in the late 1960s. Located in Banderas Bay, the islands were officiated as a national park in 2005 and, to this day, remain a top attraction for nature lovers. The island’s wildlife has not changed much since popularized by the renowned oceanographer, and visitors can still see the land in a way that Cousteau did. This UNESCO-appointed archipelago was formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago and is home to almost 90 species of birds (Islas Marietas is a nationally protected bird sanctuary) and a variety of marine life.
One of the island’s unique highlights is the “Hidden Beach” or Playa de Amor, a well-preserved beach that is tucked away inside the rim of an open crater. To visit Playa de Amor, visitors need to swim through a tunnel that opens up to a cave-like opening.
The islands are federally protected and are only accessible with an approved tour company such as Vallarta Adventures in Nuevo Vallarta or Punta Mita Adventures in Punta Mita.
The sleepy, historic town of San Blas is the starting point for several memorable excursions, including a day trip to Mexcaltitan. It is chock-full of mystery, history and a rare cultural experiences. The adventure begins with a motorboat ride departing from the town of La Batanga. The ride is scenic, navigating through estuaries, islets, coves and mangroves before arriving on the tiny island. Animal lovers may get a chance to see birds, alligators, turtles, fish, lobster and fish in their natural habitat.
History lovers are fascinated with the island’s Aztec roots, but everyone finds love for what is considered the “Venice of Mexico” with its high sidewalks, water-land duality and inherent beauty. Visitors can see fishermen at work and sample some of their fresh catch (shrimp ceviche is a popular choice) before heading back to the mainland.
This sliver of an island just 43 miles from the coast of San Blas was created by underwater volcanic activity approximately 1 million years ago, producing a natural biosphere reserve and national park. It’s only 1.21 square miles and, unlike the other islands, Isla Isabel is known for its rugged cliffs. The island is notable for its rare bird species, including Red-footed and Blue- footed Boobies.
Divers can also satisfy their curiosity with a 2½-hour boat ride to explore the island’s diverse marine life, from yellowtails and manta rays to whales. With a little luck, visitors will get a glimpse of whale sharks and even humpback whales during mating season. Coral reefs aren’t particularly common in this region, so it’s more of a highlight for those who are familiar with diving in Banderas Bay.
The island lacks a strong tourism infrastructure, but those who wish to stay overnight can bring their own camping gear or rely on an adventure company, such as Nayarit Adventures, for transportation and supplies.
Where to Stay
Hotel Hacienda Flamingos is a former hacienda-style mansion built in 1883, which became a hotel in 1955. The property is a short drive to beaches.
Four Seasons Punta Mita is conveniently located close to Punta Mita Adventures, a top tour operator. The five-star resort also has its own 55-foot yacht that guests can charter for a private tour.
The 42-room Hotel Garza Canela is a comfortable hotel in San Blas with a terrific restaurant, Delfin.