A vacation in Puerto Vallarta isn’t complete without a snorkeling trip to the beautiful Marietas islands. An ecological sanctuary that is a protected Mexican reserve, it is one of two places on earth where one of the worlds rarest birds, the Blue Footed Booby, makes its home.
The Marietas islands are a chain of three islands near the mainland at the north end of the bay. One of the most visited island locations is the place the locals call “La Playa de Amor” or Lover’s Beach. This is an inlet to the closest island through an arch which was carved in the rock by the pounding of the waves over the centuries.
Even if you spend only one day in Puerto Vallarta, you will constantly be asked by the timeshare hawkers if you want to enjoy activities like snorkeling for free, or at a reduced price. Of course this is not without a caveat – you must attend their presentation. And because your time is limited and valuable, you should pass on their offers, no matter how assertive they become. Just remember the phrase “no gracias (pronounced no grah-see-ahs).”
There are many local operators that offer half-day and full day snorkeling trips. These can cost an upwards of $70 per person , which sometimes include lunch or snacks and drinks. You can quickly spend close to $300 for a day of snorkeling with a small group of four people, including tip.
The best part is…if you are adventurous, you don’t have to spend nearly that much. Just follow this recommended plan!
Recommendation: A snorkeling trip to Punta de Mita With a small amount of planning and an adventurous spirit, you can do the same snorkeling trip the Puerto Vallarta operators offer for half the cost – around $140. If you are really frugal, you may even be able to secure a trip for even less. The trick is to ride the bus from the Puerto Vallarta marina, to the lovely little village of Punta Mita on the northern tip of the bay. This quaint little village is home to one of the best beaches on the Bay of Banderas.
To get to Punta Mita, expect to catch a bus around 11:00 AM in the Puerto Vallarta Marina area, near the Wal-mart/Sam’s Club on the north end of town. Cruise visitors need only cross the main street at the gas station after departing the ship. The ride up to the area from Wal-Mart is around twenty pesos each person (around $2 USD) each way. Make sure you let the bus driver know you want to go to Punta Mita, as other buses leave from this station for other points north like San Francisco and Sayulita. The ride is about forty minutes long and takes you through the towns of Mezcales, Bucerias and La Cruz. Once you arrive in Punta Mita, relax and enjoy lunch in one of the many beach front cafes.
[Interesting factoid – When riding to Punta Mita, you actually go from the state of Jalisco (pronounced ha-lee-sko), where Puerto Vallarta is located, into Nayarit (pronounced n-eye-ah-reet). When you cross the state line, you will be passing from the Central time zone into the Mountain time zone. This means you will arrive in Punta Mita around the time you left Puerto Vallarta. Conveniently, most shops observe Central time.]
The key to this trip is to negotiate with the local panga vendors in Punta Mita and secure a boat (the cost of which always includes snorkeling equipment) for a tour of the Marietas Islands. You will probably be approached by one of the locals on the beach asking if you would like to take a snorkeling trip or go on a boat tour of the Marietas islands. Most of the vendors speak fairly good English; and it is important to note that the boat captains may or may not speak English.
It is best that you agree with the vendor ahead of time that your boat captain have the ability to speak English if you do not know Spanish or are uncomfortable with someone who does not speak your language. This won’t be guaranteed unless you agree to this ahead of time. Even with the language barrier it is possible to have a great trip, as these boat captains are excellent at what they do.
A typical snorkeling trip to the Marietas islands lasts about two hours. Depending on the day, you should be able to secure the trip for between 750 and 1000 pesos ($70-$100 USD). This is the price for the boat and not a per person price!
Whenever possible, schedule trips on days when there are no cruise ships in port. These days are slow for the vendors and they are willing to come down on the price, as they know that their business for that day is more transient. You can check for cruise ship arrivals at http://www.infopuertolacruz.com. If you are arriving on a ship, hold out for the best price (typically start at around half of what the vendor wants and work up from there).
If the vendor presses for the higher amount for the trip, you should request an extra half-hour, for a total of two and one-half hours. If the vendor agrees to this, the trip should include a good tour around the two closest islands. The third and furthest island is very small and has very little to offer.
At this point even if there are only two of you going on the trip, you should only be into the it for 1100 pesos ($100 US) and if you add in lunch, depending on your frugality, as high as 1500 pesos ($140 US). The key here is, the more persons you have to split the cost of the boat, the lower the cost per person.
Once your trip is complete and you are back on dry land in Punta Mita, be sure to tip the boat captain. A customary tip is ten pesos per person on the trip. Of course, if you feel that your boat captain did an exceptional job, feel free to tip him a bit more.
The difference between taking this more adventurous trip on your own, rather than contacting one of the larger vacation activities vendors, is in the personalization of the trip. The larger vendors provide wonderful trips with lots of information. Their ability to provide a more personalized trip and direct face time is very limited due to the trip sizes. The large vendors will pack their boats with clients, sometimes as many as 100 persons or more, in order to maximize their profits.
You have probably heard people refer to trips like this as a “cattle boat” or something similar. First they herd you onto the boat. Then, you’re herded to the destination and then back. Working with the beach vendors will allow you to get a more personalized experience, at a lesser cost. In the end, the stories you share with your friends about your adventure in Mexico will be worth their weight in gold!
Once your adventure to the islands is complete, find your way back to the bus for the incredible ride back to Puerto Vallarta. You will most likely find yourself riding back with a vast array of locals. This part of the trip is always very interesting, as you never know who will hop onto the bus.
When you return home, the memories of your snorkeling trip in to the Marietas – the incredible azure seas and majestic granite cliffs – will linger for years to come. Every time you look at that picture you took on the beach, or hear stories of other peoples trips to Mexico, you will be able to tell the story of your experience taking the vacation plunge of a lifetime, snorkeling the incredible waters of the Marietas Islands.