Marieta Islands, Mexico: A Day on the Water

Freelancer Bill Nestor explores globally to write about travel, golf, food, nature and lifestyles. This article originally appeared in the bilingual Sayulita Magazine.

On the Marieta Islands near Puerto Vallarata, Mexico, distinctive craggy cliffs, recesses and caves provide nesting sites and homes for a large number of seabirds.

Many of the ninety-two species of resident, nesting and migratory birds, including an abundant population of Blue-footed Booby, Red-footed Booby, Yellow-footed Booby and Brown Booby, can be observed here depending on the season.

Blue-footed Boobies (courtesy Punta Mita Expeditions)

Blue-footed Boobies (courtesy Punta Mita Expeditions)

Because the Marieta Islands are protected, marine life around the island is also diverse and abundant. The surrounding waters are fertile ground for whales, sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, dolphins and thousands of tropical fish.

The archipelago consists of two uninhabited islands — Long Island (40 hectares/98 acres) and Round Island (20 hectares/49 acres) — along with many small rocks and pinnacles spread over its 1,400 hectares (approx. 3,450 acres) territory. Located in the Pacific Ocean, just off the tip of Punta Mita (near Nayarit), it is visible from the St. Regis Resort and other coastal towns and locations.

The Marieta Islands were originally formed by volcanic activity during the Cretaceous Period, millions of years ago. In the early 1900s, the islands were used for military testing by the Mexican government. Repeated bombings and explosions created craters, which altered and added to the island’s unique rock formations. Years of weathering and waves have created hollowed out pockets of rock that, when exposed to the sea, form blowholes. The pounding of the sea as it meets land produces thunderous collisions and brilliant displays of ocean power.

Thundering waves pummel the islands (© Web Young)

Thundering waves pummel the islands (© Web Young)

After the military bombings were halted, as a result of public outcry led by legendary marine scientist Jacques Cousteau, the islands were formally protected. In 2005, Mexico officially designated it as a national park. Know known as Parque Nacional Islas Marietas, limits on fishing, hunting and human activity help preserve its flora and fauna and special character.

Historically, it is believed that pirates visited the islands and whale hunters used them as camps. The primary commercial use was the harvesting of guano for fertilizer. (Here, bird droppings are available by the ton.) Even today, the guano’s ammonia-like smell can sometimes be detected upon arrival when wind and weather conditions are just right.

Hundreds of people travel to the islands each day to look for whales, watch the birds and to enjoy swimming, snorkeling and picnicking, as well as scuba diving and fishing. Some visitors swim to the island’s “hidden beach” through a rock arch that separates the lagoon from the ocean. Beach access is dependent on the tide, wind and waves, as well as the number of people present at any one time.

Breaching humpback whale (courtesy Punta Mita Expeditions)

Breaching humpback whale (courtesy Punta Mita Expeditions)

Boats to Marieta can be chartered in Sayulita or Anclote, also known as the town of Punta Mita. St. Regis Resort helped me arrange a cruise with Punta Mita Expeditions. We enjoyed a comfortable 29-foot long boat operated by a seasoned captain and crew. The company showed considerable environmental awareness, knowledge of the area and appreciation of the ecosystem.

The journey took us near to rock formations carved by water and wind, and close to blowholes where we could feel the concussion of waves on land. We observed many hundreds of birds nestled amongst the land’s weathered features.  We were then treated to a catered lunch prepared by Chef Sylvain Debois’ staff at St. Regis Punta Mita.

Seabirds line the rocky shoreline (© Web Young)

Seabirds line the rocky shoreline (© Web Young)

The Marieta Islands are fascinating. A visit to this special place is a unique opportunity to enjoy a day at sea.

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