MARIETAS ISLANDS, MEXICO
HIDDEN BEACH DISCOVERY
Marietas Islands: all you need to know about our own mexican Galapagos
An iconic natural site you shouldn't miss, when visiting Puerto Vallarta.
Marietas Islands National Park and UNESCO site
Islas Marietas is an uninhabited archipelago a few miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta formed thousands of years ago by volcanic activity.
It’s in these intricate rock formations that many species find their home, under and above the water.
A surface of 20 square miles, at Marietas Islands the biologists counted 92 different species of birds (16 of which reproduce there) and 115 kinds of fish.
It’s only in recent times however, that the islands were granted the “title” of National Park.
Before the biodiversity of Marietas was brought to international attention, the islands were used as a military training zone by the mexican government, using the islands as a bombing testing site.
In the late 60s a group of activists led by Jacques Cousteau started a battle to have the islands protected by any human activity, leading finally in 2005, to the proclamation of the islands as a Protected National Park.
They are now home to diverse flora and fauna as well as marine species, leading UNESCO to declare the islands a World Heritage Site.
CONAMP (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Marinas Protegidas) is the government entity in charge of regulating human interaction around the islands.
Only a limited number of permit holders are allowed to access the islands whose areas are monitored everyday, all day, by park rangers.
La Isla Larga y La Isla Redonda
The 2 main islands, known as Isla Larga and Isla Redonda, are not accessible inland.
Biologists are the only ones legally allowed to walk the islands.
For the visitors instead there are just 2 points of access, the beautiful white sand beach called Playa Nopalera (on the Isla Larga) and the very famous Hidden Beach, also known as Playa del Amor (on the Isla Redonda).
Hidden Beach, also known as Playa del Amor
Flora and fauna at Marietas
Many species of seabirds use the islands as feeding and breeding grounds, reason why there is no access permitted inland.
The world famous blue footed boobies, which can also be found on Galapagos islands, nest and reproduce here.
Marietas Islands, a bird sanctuary by all means, are home to 92 different species of birds; the biggest population in Mexico of the laughing seagull is settled here on the islands.
A wide variety of corals at Marietas (12 different species) is home to a large diversity of reef fish; 115 different species have been counted so far.
Eels, sea turtles, manta rays, puffer fish, butterfly fish, angel fish,sergeant majors, damselfish, grouper, snapper; the variety in sea life around Marietas is astonishing.
The archipelago is located in a zone of confluence with three ocean currents: the California current, the Costa Rica current and the water masses of the Gulf of California. This allows the cohabitation of marine species from the center and south of mexican pacific with those originally from the gulf of California.
During the winter months humpback whales arrive in the Banderas Bay and can be observed while visiting the national park.
The past decade saw an exponential increase in popularity for the Marietas until a very dangerous point was reached; human activity around the islands was seriously compromising the health of the ecosystem there, obliging the mexican government to take action.
Since the day the islands were proclaimed a national park, the access there has been only permitted to boats owning a specific permit released by CONAMP; in 2012 this same entity stopped releasing new permits, giving in this way a limit to the amount of people who can possibly access the islands daily.
In May 2012 the most damaged area of the National Park, the Hidden Beach, was temporarily closed for 6 months to allow time for coral replanting.
Old rules were enforced (like no fishing in the area and no free diving) and new rules were introduced, with park rangers patrolling the islands to assure that.
Buoys were installed around Marietas to restrict the access of tourists to specific parts of the national park, sunscreen is strictly prohibited when there and use of life jackets is compulsory in the water, for safety reasons of course, and to prevent people from free diving.
The most impacting rule, when the Hidden beach was reopened 6 months later, was to limit the entrance to the area to only 116 visitors a day.
The Hidden Beach
Definitely the most iconic corner of the islands, Playa del Amor, generally known as the Hidden Beach, is an underground doughnut shaped beach carved into the rock.
Many the stories around its origins, this unusual formation is the result of both man and nature activity.
The interior limestone layer of the rock eroded over time, creating a small cave and leaving a sturdier experior shell.
As the cave grew in size, the roof was unable to support its own weight and collapsed.
Through an opening, waves washed out debris and brought in sand until the beach was finally formed.
The years of explosions and bombings led by the mexican goverments might have then helped in the process of creating the Hidden Beach as we know it now.
Invisible from the outside, to reach Playa del Amor, you have to swim underneath and through a water tunnel linking the beach and the open water ocean.
Important things to consider when visiting Marietas and the Hidden Beach
Marietas Islands is a protected national park and all the visitors need to follow few but very important rules.
An admission fee is required for everyone entering the marine park; this comes in the form of 2 bracelets that you will have to wear the whole time.
To preserve the ecosystem there sunscreen is not allowed in the area, tourists are required to wear life jackets at all times when in the water to avoid freediving and no climbing on the rocks is allowed.
Also, it’s forbidden to consume any alcoholic beverages when visiting Marietas.
On top of these restrictions, the Hidden Beach has its own set of rules to follow.
For safety reasons kids younger than 10 and adults over 65 years are not admitted there; the swim to the hidden beach can be challenging with currents, most of all considering fins are not allowed to get there and the use of a helmet is compulsory.
Last, the 116 guests allowed there everyday are permitted to 20 min only on the Hidden beach where no snorkeling or diving is allowed.
Now that you are ready, hop on a boat and explore the islands´natural beauty.
Definitely an experience not to miss when visiting Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita area.