Snorkeling, Stingers and a Blue-Footed Booby with Vallarta Adventures

When I went to the L.A. Times Travel and Adventure show, I made sure to stop by the Mexico and Puerto Vallarta booths for any tips or insider knowledge that might help to plan our upcoming All-Inclusive getaway.  As easy as it was going to be for us to lay on the beach all day, Bob and I knew we wanted to get out of the resort at some point and take a tour.  The representatives at the travel show handed me dozens of brochures about different activities in Puerto Vallarta.  After looking through all the options at home,  I decided to wait until we arrived in Puerto Vallarta to book an excursion.

Problem: With snorkeling, zip-lining, whale watching, boating adventures, and off-road safaris, we didn’t know what type of tour to do.

Solution: Vallarta Adventures.

The resort had about seven different tour companies positioned to sell you anything your heart could desire. We met with Vallarta Adventures and within minutes were sold on the snorkeling and boat trip to Marietas Islands, a government protected national park and huge bird sanctuary. The pictures looked gorgeous (as any tour groups photos should) and without much deliberation, we signed up for the tour.

With an hour boat ride to the Islands and the first dive spot, an hour to snorkel or kayak, and an hour or so to sunbath or swim in the ocean, the tour is set up pretty nicely.  After a delicious breakfast spread of homemade pastries and fresh fruit, you leave the marina bound for Marietas Islands.  My mom reminded us to take Dramamine and I’m so thankful she did. The boat was pretty steady and we found a great spot on the top deck, but I still got a little queasy. As we were making our way out to the islands, dozens of birds decided to fly around the boat and out to sea with us. They took turns diving into the water and catching fish below us. It was almost like the birds were putting on show – each dive becoming more and more dance like and each bird coming up with a bigger prize.

As we got closer to the islands, the crew started telling us about the history of the islands. They were formed by volcanic eruptions creating steep cliffs and caves.  Once inhabited by pirates and used as shelter by whale hunters, these islands were used as target missile target practice by the Mexican Army, which reconstructed over 70% of the islands’ natural landscape.  In 2005 Las Marietas Islands were named a national park and are now preserved for the animals and wildlife in the oceans.

In addition to the ocean life, there were hundreds upon thousands of birds perched on the rocks and hundreds more flying around the rocks. (It was definitely a sanctuary for them, and a beautiful sanctuary at that.) The rocks of Las Marietas are home to one special bird called the Blue Footed Booby that was previously thought to only inhabit the Galapagos Islands.(We were lucky to spot one right when we pulled up to the side of the rocks- the feet are really blue!)

The Blue-Footed Booby Bird (the one in the middle)

The rock formations were gorgeous and the waves crashing and dramatic blow holes added mystery to the islands. Bob and I probably took 200 photos just at this part- we were so excited to try out the new camera and experiment with different settings.

As our boat anchored and we all got ready to put on our snorkel gear and jump into the water, I felt exhilarated. I always feel a rush of excitement as I’m about to jump into the ocean- especially with snorkel gear where I could see anything swimming under me!  Immediately after jumping in, I was shocked…well stung actually.  There were hundreds of tiny jelly fish in the water. Other people were getting stung too, I could hear little screams and yelps as I keep swimming through the water to get closer to the rocks and reef. (I remembered the dive instructor of our Great Barrier Reef tour telling us that jelly fish usually aren’t near reefs or rocks because the currents push them away. This made me swim faster than I ever, to get far away from those damn stingers!)

Underwater shot with the only fish we saw

Once we got away from the jellies and peered down into the water, we were disappointed.  The visibility was maybe three feet and, even though the dive guide pointed out different fish and a shark (yikes!), I didn’t see anything but a few small fish that were swimming near the top. I know the guide hated that the water wasn’t clear too because he tried really hard to make sure everyone saw something- anything. He brought up a few starfish from the bottom and different shells, and, although it was nice that he was trying, I was still let down that we couldn’t see anything on our own.

After snorkeling around one side of the island, a smaller speed boat took groups to a sandy beach on the other side of the island. The water was somehow super clear by this new beach, and we wished we had our snorkel gear.

The ride back to the marina was pretty long, but this is where the crew shown brightest.  While everyone was eating lunch and drinking the (included) adult beverages, the crew put on dance music and started their entertainment.  As for me, after being in the sun all day I really just wanted to take a nap! All said and done, the trip wore us out!

The Pros:

  • By far the best part of this tour was the crew. They were friendly, helpful, entertaining and really wanted everyone to have a good time. And, they didn’t try to sell you anything additional- which is my pet peeve with organized tours.
  • The tour provided breakfast and lunch, with adult drinks served on the way back from the Island. All the food choices were really fresh and really good (delicious pastries and fruit in the morning and sandwiches, fruit and potato salads for lunch).
  • We were the ONLY tour group at the site. (When we went to the Great Barrier Reef we had three other tour groups near us.)
  • On the boat trip out to Marietas Islands, the crew pointed out lots of different species of birds and were able to take the boat super close to the islands to get the best photos possible.
  • They have wetsuits available if you feel more comfortable wearing one in the water.
  • Kayaks are available for anyone to use (although they don’t have enough for everyone to use at the same time).

The Cons:

  • Well, this is a snorkeling trip and I have to say, the snorkeling conditions just weren’t that great. This could happen at any dive site, at any time- I know- but it definitely effects your snorkeling experience if you can’t actually see anything in the water!
  • Because of the current and conditions in the water, a lot of stinging jellyfish were in the water. Within minutes of getting off the boat, I was stung probably twenty times. They were small jellyfish, but still- swimming through the water, I was constintly twiching from stings.
  • They didn’t have the most up to date equipment (like self-clearing snorkels) but what they had was really clean.
  • The tour company leaves from the marina which was about 45 minutes away from our resort. It was great that they could pick us up from the resort, but travel time just getting to and from the marina was about 1.5 hours of the day- which is a lot of your time.

The awesome crew

If I were to do it again:

  • I would call the morning of the tour to check the water conditions and if they weren’t great- I’d reschedule the tour. I love snorkeling but if you can’t see anything in the water, it’s not worth it.
  • I would wear the wetsuit provided by the tour company. I like snorkeling in just my bathing suit because I feel more connected to the water and animals (I know I’m weird), but with the possibility of jelly fish, I’d rather be sting free than one with nature.
  • Bring tip money for the crew (we had some money on us luckily, but it’s something you might overlook)
  • More sunscreen. We put tons on before we left the resort, but by 3pm we needed another full application. We stayed under the roof for the late afternoon which totally saved us a mean sunburn.

Do you like to snorkel? What is your favorite dive spot?