Sailing to Islas Marietas, Riviera Nayarit Mexico
Secrets, Discovery and the Islas Marietas
By Frank Hosek
As I leaned forward from my lounge chair that was strategically situated under a wide umbrella, a black wetsuit-clad surfer broke away from his fellow bobbing associates as he anticipated a slow roller that had caught his eye.
With practiced ease, he rose upright into an open stance just as the wave crested into a white peak.
As I was halfway convincing myself that I should experience the relative simplicity of surfing, the wave upended his board sending him tumbling into churning waters as the surfboard shot upwards restrained only by his ankle strap.
I eased my way back into the comfort of my chair and grasped the cool glass of Pacifico beer dripping with condensation and tilted it towards my lips. The balmy trade winds belied the heat of the sun’s rays.
“I thought you were going to take surf lessons” my lovely wife, Kathy, smirked. “Maybe tomorrow”, I demurred.
We were relaxing on the beach of Secrets Bahia Mita Surf & Spa Resort and its sister property Dreams which had just opened in August 2021, on the western shore of Mexico.
Located in Nayarit State it is roughly a 45-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta airport by bus. We had arrived the day before, a Thursday, escaping a cool Midwest spring for a 4-night getaway. Seeing the Islas Marietas was one of the highlights of our visit.
Cut into the hillside, with the Sierra Madre Mountains in the background, framed by jungle and facing the deep, blue Pacific waters of Banderas Bay in the foreground, Secrets Bahia Mita provides spectacular views in all directions.
The sprawling all-inclusive resort is laid out in an open-ended, quarter-moon concept with one side of the property reserved for its adult-only guests (Secrets) while the other side provides for families (Dreams).
Each has its own restaurants, lounges, and pools, however, the Secrets guests have free-flow access to the entire property.
There are nine sitting restaurants representing all types of cuisine, plus a rooftop bar, sports bar, beach bar, swim-up bar, coffee shop, and night-time speakeasy. So much, in fact, we simply could not explore all of it in our short visit.
On the first evening, we found the open-air Olio restaurant. This rooftop dining terrace overlooked the ocean as well as an infinity pool.
The breeze off of the Pacific provided a natural respite from the setting sun as we enjoyed fresh seafood that was both eye-pleasing and delicious, Cerveza, and superb views before retiring to our room.
Our Preferred Club Junior Suite was spacious and had a private balcony with a whirlpool overlooking the resort and pools, with views of the ocean. Secrets has six pools (infinity, water decks, and rooftop). The pools were a hub of constant activity, with games, music and a continuous hum of voices in fun.
We found the beach to be more relaxing. The path leading down to the beach is somewhat steep and a little rocky which tended to keep the crowds small.
Although the view is stunning, the waves seemed a bit intense, which proved great for the many surfers but kept the less daring of us on the sand.
The nearly half-mile-long beach provided a nice walkway each morning, allowing us to explore the various “treasures” that had washed ashore overnight. From the beach, we could see a pair of islands in the distance that seem to beckon us.
Saturday, Lupe, our boat’s bartender, looked at my waxen face brought on by a lack of sea legs and swore he could fix me up as he mixed together sparkling water, lime juice, and a tablespoon of salt.
Meanwhile, behind us, Pablo strutted across a gently rolling deck in a purple silk jacket and, through pursed lips, did a credible lip-sync of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” while doing his best imitation of Mick Jagger.
It had not turned into the day I had imagined when we had left the La Cruz de Huanacaxtle marina early that morning.
A group of 30 of us had boarded the Vallarta Adventures catamaran on an overcast morning for the Eco-Discovery Tour of the Islas Marietas.
The Islas Marietas or Marietas Islands are the pair of islands that had beckoned us which are found off the coast of Punta Mita in the Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags).
The rocky pinnacles had risen from the ocean floor as a result of volcanic activity thousands of years ago.
Islas Marietas Bombed by Mexico
Once a military testing ground, the Mexican government flung bombs and explosives onto the islands, creating caves and craters.
But by the 1960s, a grass-roots campaign that included Jacques Cousteau induced the government to stop bombing and declare the islands a national park and a picturesque destination for both tourists and natives alike.
The spacious, single-deck catamaran motored its way out of the marina into the calm blue of the Pacific waters.
We settled onto padded benches lining the perimeter of the boat while others grabbed plastic deck chairs and relaxed as our guide, Pablo, introduced himself and the rest of the crew while we enjoyed the 40-minute-long ride to the islands.
As the soft Pacific winds blew the clouds away, a brilliant sun broke through and began to warm the day. A few gulls paced us as a porpoise burst from the waters across our bow. On the horizon, we could see our destination.
UNESCO in 2008
The islands were declared by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 2008, which means that the islands and a three-mile area around them are protected. It also means that the ebb-and-flow of visitors is closely monitored and fishing isn’t allowed in the area.
Pablo informed us that The Marietas, sometimes referred to as “Mexico’s Galápagos”, are now home to over forty species of wildlife and plants. Many seabirds, including Frigate birds, pelicans, and rare blue-footed boobies, use the islands as a feeding and breeding ground.
Included in the trip was the opportunity to snorkel or kayak near the islands. Kathy does not swim and my previous snorkeling adventure had ended with mixed results. We chose the kayak.
As the skiff loaded with intrepid snorkelers made its way to a roped-off area designated specifically for them, we slid onto the kayak and paddled our way around the foremost island in Isla Marietas.
The sun-bleached rocky outcrops with its layer of wind-swept grass rose above our heads as we neared an active blowhole, which would send a geyser of water into the air when waves would barrel into the cavern beneath an opening in the rocks above.
We continued, following the craggy coastline as we viewed the many birds roosting and flying overhead and seeing an occasional fish swim by through the clear waters before being called back for the return trip.
Isla Marietas’ Love Beach
Another attraction of the islands is its’s Hidden Beach, also known as Playa del Amor (Love Beach).
This beach, as its name suggests, is partially hidden, nestled near the interior of the island, and is only accessible at low tide by swimming through a cavern.
Due to concerns of overcrowding, today only 116 visitors per day are allowed beach access which needs to be granted weeks in advance. Needless to say, the beach remained hidden from us.
Crew Puts on a Show
Once aboard and on our way back to port, lunch was served buffet style and the open bar began to flow. By now, my aforementioned affliction had crept over me, brought on by the rolling of the idled catamaran, precluding my sampling of either.
At the same time, the intrepid crew appeared in their hilarious rocker costumes with accompanying air guitars and lip-synced us all the way back to port.
That evening, back on solid ground, we dined with friends at Portofino’s, their Italian-Mediterranean-infused restaurant. In between courses, we got to know our server, Rudolpho.
He explained to us that he had been in the service industry for over 20 years having worked his way up from dishwasher to head waiter. He spoke of his joy in meeting new people and perfecting his English vocabulary.
He went on to tell us of a new resort that was breaking ground further up the coast and how he hoped to obtain a position there in order to be closer to his 81-year-old mother who lived alone.
His brothers & sisters had all moved away, many to the states, and he wished to see her more often. Of course, we wished him luck and our best to his mother.
Friendly Locals of Course
Rudolpho was just one of the many we came into contact with, all of whom were incredibly friendly and wonderfully polite.
On our final evening, the staff put on a huge fiesta in the center court, complete with traditional Mexican dishes (buffet style), string lights hanging above, and a stage show which celebrated their culture.
Above us, the moon hung in the cloudless night sky like a bright orb as the resort below embraced the enveloping shadows.
The ocean made its presence known as waves crashed onto the beach. We lingered on our balcony, unwilling to end the night but happy in the knowledge of the secrets we had learned.
More Info on Isla Marietas and Secrets Bahina
Secrets Bahia Mita Surf & Spa Resort is located in the Nayarit State of Mexico. It is roughly a 45-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta airport
Frank Hosek is an Illinois-based Director of Human Resources who revels in traveling with his wife, Kathy. He enjoys discovering new experiences, meeting the people that make those experiences enjoyable, and sharing their adventures. He is a freelance writer for newspapers and travel websites.