The Marietas Islands, the Mexican Galapagos

Hidden Beach | National Park | Why are they important? | How to get to the islands | Important tips | Where are the Marietas Islands?

The Marietas Islands, are without a doubt one of the activities you should put on your short list of tours and adventures to enjoy during your stay in Puerto Vallarta or elsewhere in the Banderas Bay area.

Aerial view of the Islands

They are a small group of uninhabited islands a few miles off the North coast of the Banderas Bay (closest town is Punta de Mita - see the location map), with two main volcanic islands dating from around 60,000 years ago, one called Isla Redonda (Round Island) and the other Isla Larga (Long Island, no relationship to NY).

¿Las conoces? / Do you know them?Islas #Marietas y la Playa del Amor, más: #Marieta...

Posted by Puerto Vallarta Mexico on Tuesday, January 5, 2016

These islands are a real natural treasure, at least what was left of them, as in the early 1900's they were used as targets in military bombing exercises, something that would have continued, had it not been for the intervention, of, among others, Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the 1960's. Since then they have been protected from overfishing and human activities, including bombshells...

Marietas Islands, Nayarit, Mexico

The Hidden Beach (Lovers' Beach)

The islands are now relatively famous for what is known as the "hidden beach" or Lovers' Beach (playa del amor), which can be detected from the air through a crater in one of the islands.

This underground beach was, as you can imagine, concealed from view for quite some time and was actually found thanks to, no less, those very bombs that were destroying the island, talk about a mixed blessing...


You could get into the crater by either jumping off the ledge on top and into the sea below (not recommended and actually forbidden) or swimming through a short tunnel carved by the sea from the ocean side and into the crater, where you'll be able to land on this incredible beach. It's scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Three views from the Hidden Beach, The Marieta Islands
Views from the Marieta Islands (Click to enlarge)

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve & National Park

A natural landmark of the Banderas Bay, the Islas Marietas are among the most important spots in all of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific tropics for marine birdwatching and it is a protected shelter for innumerable marine species.

This wildlife refuge has since April 25, 2005, been known as "National Park Islas Marietas", and a "Reserva de la Biosfera", that is, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, since 2008. This makes it even more unique a place to visit, but one that you must take care of and respect the established rules to safeguard the species that depend on this park (CONANP, 2008).

Home to several endangered bird species such as the Blue- Footed Boobie which can only be found on the Islands of the Sea of Cortez and the Galapagos Islands.

The Marieta Islands, the hidden beach, aerial views
The Marieta Islands (Click to enlarge)

Great diving through caves and tunnels, and visiting “Lovers' Beach”, accessible only by an exciting surface swim through an archway and tunnel.

The Marietas Islands have a total surface area of 1383 hectares, of these 1305 are open to tourism. The island offers nesting, reproduction and resting area for seabirds, fish, marine mammals and 78 hectares of coral reefs.

The Blue Footed Booby - Photo: José Carrillo

Why are the Islands important?

The Marietas Islands are a crucial nesting, refuge, reproduction and migration area for at least 92 species of birds - native and migratory - and at least 6 of them nest on the island.

It shelters the largest breeding colony in Mexico of the white-capped marine swallow (Anous stolidus), the band-tailed swallow (Sterna anaethetus), as well as the largest population in the Pacific Ocean of the interesting laughing seagull (Larus atricilla).


A total of 115 species of fish, sharks, and rays have been described, plus 10 mammal species including dolphins and whales. There are also more than 200 species that are part of the coral reef and 11 reptile species including iguanas, lizards, rattlesnakes and sea and earth turtles.

Take into account that the islands are part of a conservation and management program, so visitors are recommended the following:

  • Do not feed or touch the wildlife on the island
  • Don't make loud noises and help avoid disrupting the natural behavior of the island's creatures.
  • Obviously, you can not catch, disturb, remove or destroy wildlife and their eggs or other elements related to them (eggs, nests, etc.) Please do not take anything off the islands.
  • Do not destroy nests, feeding sites, resting or reproduction areas on the island.
  • No extreme sports on the island, this includes rock climbing.
  • No bonfires or open fires on the island, if you smoke, take the cigarette buds with you, as well as any garbage.

So now you know, if you want to visit a unique place, with unique nature and underwater sea life and the hidden beach, you can book a tour with a number of companies.

We have a short list of highly praised tour providers here.

How to get to the Marietas

We recommend traveling with a reputable tour company, we do not recommend renting a motorboat (lancha) or water taxi to take you there, first off there are environmental concerns, secondly the local Environmental Offices need to approve those that travel to the place, third, they must know the area well, tides and other issues (medusas for example) that could stop you from accessing the beach.


If you insist, the best option for a DIY trip would be to go to Punta de Mita, Anclote Beach, there you'll find motorboat owners that can take you there, the distance is around 5 miles.

There are options that take you there from Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías and elsewhere, but the price and time at sea will go up. In the case of a trip from Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta, the sailing time is around 1 hour to 1 hour and twenty minutes.

Marietas Islands close to Puerto Vallarta

Some important tips for your trip

  • Take snorkel gear, the fish and biodiversity there are impressive.
  • A kayak is a cool option to get to the beach if the tides are low.
  • Take into account the tides, if the tide is high, the tunnel might just be dangerous to swim through.
  • Also, take into account the sea and waves, that might also block your safe passage to the beach.
  • A reputable tour company will take these things into account.
  • If you go in a small boat from far away, you may just get seasick and you won't enjoy the trip at all, do take this into account too.
  • It's a very popular tour, so don't wait until the last minute to reserve, it might just be sold-out.

More on the Los Arcos Marine Park and other scuba and snorkel sites.

Marietas Islands Location Map


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