Islas Marietas are a group of uninhabited volcanic islands just eighteen miles off the northern coast of Banderas Bay that comprise a protected marine sanctuary. A trip to Islas Marietas takes approximately one hour from Puerto Vallarta. A few operators on the northern part of the coast also offer tours, and the trip from that area takes only about twenty minutes. The Islas Marietas diving and snorkeling here is some of the best in Mexico and in all of Central America.
The Islas Marietas and the waters that surround them are very similar in make up to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, and you will find much of the same marine life and birdlife in both places. The volcanic islands themselves are barren and rocky, with hundreds of caves, arches, and grottoes carved out by the waves and fringed with coral reefs. Some of these formations were also created by the Mexican Army, which used the islands for artillery testing. It was the outcry raised by famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s that stopped this practice. As your trip to Islas Marietas approaches the islands, you will begin to notice a veritable treasury of birdlife, including graceful frigate birds, pelicans, terns, and gulls. The rocky islands are stained white with the guano of birds, and often thousands of brown and blue footed boobies (the same comical birds you will find on the Galapagos) can be seen.
Marietas Islands Snorkel
No one lives on the islands, and it is not possible to go ashore (although it is not unknown for tour operators to land on one of the beaches ). Many of the tour operators offer a variety of activities here, including snorkeling at Islas Marietas (less expensive than scuba diving), kayaking serenely along the shore. There are some small beaches, but the government regulations prohibit landing at them. You aren’t allowed to touch the fish or wildlife, but many of the fish are so accustomed to divers and snorkelers that they swim right up to you, often brushing against you. Nesting areas for the birds and sea turtles are rigorously protected, but turtle also will swim right up to you, and the birds are apt to dive into the water right next to you.
Snokeling Marietas Islands
Daylong diving tours generally include all equipment, a gourmet picnic lunch, and the assistance and instruction of PADI certified divers. Both kayaking and snorkeling are very rewarding, as the waters are so clear that you can easily spot a variety of fish, starfish, and stingrays from the surface. You are also apt to see dolphins skimming the surface, and the islands provide a protected nursery for humpback cows and their calves (in pods as large as 50 or more individuals) and nesting sites for sea turtles. Whale watching is best from November through March, and sea turtles nest here from June through December. Islas Marietas diving takes you deeper, and reveals seahorses, tuna, marlin, barracuda, wahoo, and sailfish. Islas Marietas fishing is not allowed immediately off the islands, but the waters for hundreds of miles around are superb for sport fishing. Many of the fishing operators will make a sightseeing trip to Islas Marietas during fishing tours.
For more experienced divers, Islas Marietas diving is possible at night. Located about 1,800 miles north of the Galapagos Islands (which lie right on the equator), the water here is colder, and wetsuits are usually advisable—especially for night dives and during the North American winter.