Four years ago I had the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta for the first time to celebrate one of my favorite people as he stepped into his 40th year around the sun. It was my first trip away from my little family since I became a mom and, though I was anxious about leaving my husband and kids for that trip, the anxiety quickly melted away when I took my first step into that beautiful sunshine. The lush landscape, the sound of waves crashing, the vibrant colors of the “motherland” instantly set my mind at ease. Though I didn’t create the full agenda of that trip I was able to spend a good deal of time enjoying nature and the ocean. Witnessing momma humpback whales as they nurtured their young in the sheltered coastline of Banderas Bay, I knew I would have to return with my family back so I could share the splendor of that place.
I am thrilled to say that I was able to keep my promise to myself when I returned with my family this January. Getting to bask in warm sunshine I was able to let the tropic air rehydrate my parched winter skin. It had been particularly wet and dark in Seattle, so a respite of sunshine was called for to thaw out and renew my spirit.
This visit was to be a little atypical- it began with a search for BIRDS. We were excited to discover that just an hour’s boat ride away, was an area that French naturalist, Jacques Cousteau, referred to as the Galapagos of Mexico. Marietta’s island is the home of several sea birds that are often categorized as endangered. These include Blue-footed Boobies, Frigates, and a variety of gulls. Due to the delicate ecosystem this area has been designated as a National Park by the Mexican government since 2005. To revitalize and protect the wildlife, they manage visitation allowing only 116 visitors to the “hidden beach” per day!
Luckily we found a tour with two open slots departing the very next morning. Due to the strenuous swim required to get to the island, most tours allowing beach access are only available to passengers 12 and older. Each group is also limited to 20 minutes on shore and we are prohibited from venturing past the actual beach area. Despite the rough waters and exhausting swim we were so happy for this experience. We were met with a breathtaking landscape that felt untouched by human hands and rife with stunning wildlife. It was an experience to behold. From the beach, we witnessed the spray of a juvenile humpback whale with its mother on one side, and a diving Booby hunting for a meal on the other. Mix in the salt air and sunshine, it truly felt like paradise!
During our time there, we had the privilege of observing an exciting array of birds:
- Blue-footed Booby
- Brown Booby
- Brown Pelicans
- Magnificent Frigatebird
- Military McCaw
- Great tailed Grackle
- Great Kiskadee
- Snowy Egrets
And many more not pictured.
In addition to bird finds, we observed a number of iguanas sunbathing in trees and got to see a lot of whales! On one of our whale watching tours we came across a baby humpback with their mother. The baby was clearly in distress. Luckily, one of the savvy crew members noticed my larger telephoto lens and pulled me aside to ask if I would photograph the young whale to discern what distressed it. With the closeup shot, we were able to confirm it was trapped in a net. Then, the crew sprung into action. They alerted a conservation group while we remained near until the rescue team arrived to free the baby whale.
It was satisfying to have a small part in something so meaningful. In addition, seeing the beautiful creatures up close was inspiring. It was also eye opening to witness the considerable impact we humans have on fragile ecosystems. Being fully aware that not all such situations end so positively was quite humbling. We were thankful to have had an opportunity to help our gentle friends. The experience was even more meaningful because we were able to share it with our kids. It spurred great discussions about the impact we humans have on the world around us and our responsibility to be better stewards of our fragile environment.
In summary, if you are looking for a tropical vacation that is lush, full of fantastic food, nature and eco tourism opportunities…Puerto Vallarta is sure to have something for you!
Things to Note:
- There are many resort style accommodations in the area. If you are looking for a less commercial feel, consider the neighboring town of Sayulita. Nestled right on the beach, it has more of a surfer vibe. Here are some places to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
- Nuevo Vallarta is about 30 minutes from Puerto Vallarta proper and will require a cab or uber to get into town.
- Many tours depart from the marina area of Puerto Vallarta and it’s easy to grab a cab or uber from town.
- The Malecon in Puerto Vallarta is full of dining options and fantastic shopping.
- Please check out our resources page to learn more about the equipment we used to take these shots!