Islas Marietas or Marietas Islands as we call it in English is also known as the hidden beach of Mexico, a must-see point when visiting Riviera Nayarit.
Many visitors and experts compare this paradise with Galapagos Islands; it is one of the most visited points in Nayarit.
It consists in 2 rugged and rocky islands and 2 islets:
- Maria Madre which has 144 sq km and is the biggest of all
- Maria Magdalena which has about 83 sq km with an elevation of 613 meters
- Maria Cleofas of 20 sq km
- San Juanito, which is only 10 sq km
The main islands, La Isla Larga and Isla Redonda are not accessible to tourists, and only biologists are allowed.
The islands do not have running water and electricity and are inhabited. Instead, they are a paradise for flora and fauna.
Also, Marietas Islands are a main source of salt, lumber, and maguey, which are the economic drivers of the state of Nayarit.
Marietas Islands National Park is a UNESCO site home to more than 92 species of birds and about 115 different types of fish.
About 16 species of birds reproduce on these islands.
There are two points of access to these islands: Playa Nopalera o the Isla Larga and the Hidden Beach or Playa del Amor on the Isla Redonda.
What makes Marietas Island so special
Without any doubt, Playa del Amor is the main attraction of the area.
It is a very romantic place, a hidden beach located in an open cave.
What makes this beach so unique is the fact that rock walls fully surround it.
In the following lines, let me tell you some interesting things about this island and this fantastic beach, things that you should know before you visit this place.
Interesting things about Marietas Islands
- Thanks to its location and landscape, the beach is also called the beach of love, as it attracts many travelers and couples looking for serenity. Nothing is more romantic than being on a hidden beach, looking at the blue sky, listening to the waves crashing to the rocks, and touching the soft white sand. It is the perfect place for a romantic getaway, to admire and explore the surroundings and breathe fresh air.
- This is not a natural landscape, but the open cave shape area of this beach appeared in the 20th century when the Mexican army tested a military bomb.
- At the beginning of the 21st century, the great scientist Jacques Cousteau fought and protested to stop the bomb testing at the hidden beach. His main argument was that bombing destroys this beautiful ecosystem. Fortunately, the Mexican authorities heeded his advice, halted the bomb testing, and instantly transformed the place into one of the most sought-after attractions in the area.
- The beach is located inside of a national park in Mexico, and according to national regulations, only 116 visitors per day are allowed to enter here. This means you will not have an overcrowded beach and can enjoy this place more.
- Marietas Islands are home to a national park and also this hidden beach, both extremely beautiful and interesting.
- The place is perfect for spotting endangered species an beautiful wildlife
- Marietas Islands hidden beach is accessible only by boat.
How were the Marietas Islands formed?
Islas Marietas are of volcanic origin and were formed many millions of years ago.
Experts consider that an underwater volcano erupted and formed the islands.
The volcano’s cone grew until it reached the top of the sea surface, and so the islands were formed,
Where are the Marietas Islands located?
Islas Marietas is located in the Pacific Ocean, right near the coastline of Nayarit, in front of Punta Mita.
Punta Mita is a small and charming fishing town that is located about 20-minute drive from Sayulita.
There are multiple tours available from the mainland to the islands, most of them starting in Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Nuevo Vallarta, and La Cruz.
Islas Marietas hidden beach
Definitely, the most iconic corner of these inhabited islands is Playa del Amor or Hidden Beach (Playa Escondida in Spanish).
It is an underground doughnut-shaped beach hidden in the rock.
The only way to reach this beach is by boat, and this is one of the very few areas where visitors can walk on these islands.
Marietas Islands are a protected territory; only biologists and scientists can walk freely here.
For visitors, there is an admission fee for entering the marine park.
The beach is invisible from the outside; to get to it, you have to swim through a water tunnel connecting the beach with the ocean.
Can I go to the hidden beach if I can’t swim?
No, swimming is the only way to get to Islas Marietas’ hidden beach.
If you are an inexperienced swimmer you can try to get to the island with a life jacket.
An important think that you should know is that you must pass a tunnel to get to the beach.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable going to the hidden beach, plenty of other beautiful beaches are in the area.
You should try Playa del Muerto or La Nopalera, both located on Isla Larga.
Important things to consider before visiting Marietas Islands and the hidden beach
The Island of Marietas is located inside of a national park, and all tourists and visitors must follow some very important rules.
You have to pay an admission fee if you want to enter the marine park.
In exchange, you will receive 2 bracelets, which you must wear the whole time.
You cannot use sunscreen if you plan to enter the water in the national park as the cream may harm the ecosystem.
You must also wear a life vest each time you enter the water and avoid freediving.
Climbing and jumping from the rocks is all prohibited.
You cannot consume any alcoholic beverage when visiting Marietas Islands is forbidden.
Besides all these rules, the beautiful Hidden Beach has a particular set of rules you have to follow.
First of all, adults over 65 years and kids under 10 cannot enter to the island due to safety reasons.
As swimming through the tunnel to the hidden beach can be challenging due to currents, and fins are not allowed.
You must also wear a helmet when crossing the tunnel.
Ensure you arrive early because just 116 guests per day can visit the beach.
As a guest of Hidden beach (Playa Escondida) you can spend here only 20 minutes.
In the waters around the island, diving and snorkeling are not allowed.
When is the best time to visit Islas Marietas?
Well, the good news is that Marietas Islands, Mexico is a year-round destination except for September and October.
These two months of the year are the period when strong typhoons hit the Bay of the Banderas.
For the best weather and good visibility, we recommend visiting Marietas Islands between November and March.
This is also the time of the year when the beautiful whales migrate to the north, so you will have really high chance to spot them on your tour of the islands.
What it is really interesting is that you don’t even have to pay for a whale-watching tour as you have this included in the tour to the Islas Marietas.
How to get to Isla Marietas Nayarit
Islas Marietas National Park is closely located to Riviera Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta, and Punta de Mita.
You can easily visit them during a day trip from these tourist attractions, while Punta de Mita is just 15 minutes boat trip.
It takes at least one hour and a half to get to the islands from Puerto Vallarta, but the time may increase depending on sea conditions and wind.
Plenty of tours leave from these destinations to Marietas Islands and Hidden Beach, and we recommend you book in advance, especially if you visit the islands during peak season.
You can choose a tour from Puerto Vallarta, which prices starting from 130 USD, or you can rent a car and take a cheaper boat from Punta de Mita.
If you are traveling on a budget, then renting a car from your destination to Punta de Mita is the right choice.
In about 40 minutes, you reach Punta de Mita from Puerto Vallarta, for example.
Get the best price for your car rental today
Once you reach Punta de Mita head directly to the fishermen’s wharf and try to find a boat that leaves for Islas Marietas.
Boats leave quite often from this small port to the islands, and the prices are considerably lower than a boat tour from Puerto Vallarta, somewhere around 80 USD.
For the best scenery, we recommend you to go to the islands in the morning or in the evening when the sun is setting as the view is simply breathtaking.
How long is the ferry ride from Puerto Vallarta to Marietas?
The ferry ride to Marietas Islands from Puerto Vallarta is 1 hour and 30 minutes long.
If you choose to depart from Nuevo Vallarta, the boat ride will last about 1 hour.
If you have seasick, make sure you have some pills with you.
How to get to Isla Marieta from Sayulita
Sayulita is a neighboring town, exactly like Punta Mita, where many local fishermen organize tours to Marietas Islands.
Marietas Islands tours in Sayulita are not that popular and so frequent, and the price depends on how good a negotiator you are.
The price should not exceed 100 USD for a tour.
The tours generally depart from the fishermen’s beach located on the southern side of the town, right near Si Senor restaurant.
How to visit Islas Marietas hidden beach
Islas Marietas is composed of 2 islands and 2 islets, and the tour packages vary depending on the tour operator.
The most popular tour among swimmers and water lovers is the one with the hidden beach included.
The tour prices generally vary, depending on the length of the trip, what you have included, and if it is with the hidden beach or not.
Bear in mind that if you want to get a tour with the hidden beach included, you need to book in advance with many days as the number of daily visitors is limited.
Another thing you must consider when booking the tour is the age of your group members. Visitors over 65 and under 10 years old cannot explore the hidden beach.
We strongly recommend you ask before booking the tour if the Hidden Beach is included or not in the tour.
Marietas Islands tour
1. Tour with Hidden Beach
From Nueva Vallarta: Marietas Islands Hidden Beach Tour is a very popular tour that starts from Nueva Vallarta and includes a visit to the Hidden Beach.
You will explore the Bay of Banderas, which is the second largest bay in America, on a boat with a max capacity of 15 people.
You have included a continental breakfast on board in the tour price, and an English-speaking guide will accompany you.
The first thing you will do once you get to Marietas Islands is to swim through the 80 meters long tunnel and reach Hidden Beach.
On the beach you will spend around 20 minutes, the maximum time the law allows to stay on the island.
Then you will explore some beautiful spots on these islands where you can snorkel and observe the stunning marine life from the area.
2. Tour with possibility of visiting Hidden Beach
From Puerto Vallarta: Marieta Islands Snorkeling Trip is a snorkeling tour where the hidden beach may not be included.
You will visit Marietas Islands National Park and explore the fascinating underwater world of the area.
On this trip, you will spot Moorish idols and damselfish, angelfish, parrot fish, surgeonfish, and balloon fish; the list may continue for a long time.
This is also a good place to spot sponges, corals, sea urchins, tunicates, and starfish.
With some luck and patience, you will spot sea turtles and dolphins.
If there are still free places, you might also visit the hidden beach of Playa del Amor.
3. Tour without Hidden Beach
From Vallarta: Marietas Islands Snorkel Cruise is an eco-friendly tour designed to explore the marine creatures and the ocean around the Marieta Islands.
You will not explore Hidden Beach in this tour.
You will board a catamaran and tour to the amazing Islas Marietas National Park.
On this tour, you will explore rocky caverns and arches by paddleboard or kayak.
You will go snorkeling or scuba diving to observe the rich marine life that lives inside the park.
Prepare to spot manta rays, tons of colorful fish, and beautiful sea turtles.
After that, you will head to Majahuitas Beach, where you can perfect your tan on a white sandy beach.
This is one of the most secluded beaches along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, so you must not miss it.
On this tour, you have included snorkel and kayak equipment, paddleboard, deli-style lunch, and open bar.
Where to stay nearby Marietas Islands
The closest hotels to spend the night when exploring Marietas Islands are the ones located in Punta Mina.
Punto Mita Suites & Hostel
Punto Mita Suites is one of the best budget hostels in the area, with a great vibe that offers services with conservationist criteria.
The property has a composting and recycling program and many other ecological practices.
Hotel Meson de Mita
Meson de Mita is a clean and budget-friendly hotel in the area, which stands out thanks to its fantastic staff and simple but beautiful decorations.
It is the best place where you can stay if you are looking for a quiet atmosphere.
W Punta Mita
The beautiful W Punta Mita is a luxury hotel with exceptional service and a modern ambiance.
You will find here first class facilities, including a beach, a pool and fantastic rooms.
Don’t miss their in-house ceviches as it is one of the best I have ever eaten.
Things to do in Islas Marietas
Marietas Islands tours will go around the different islands and may have different activities included.
I will list below the most popular activities from the area:
1. Explore the Hidden Beach
Of course, the main attraction of Marietas Islands Mexico is the hidden beach. Just 116 people can visit the beach per day, so make sure you reserve your spot in advance to enjoy a few moments on this beach.
Hidden Beach is not a natural beach.
The Mexican military actively created this fabulous beach through bomb training exercises conducted in the area.
When a bomb hits a cliff, this fabulous hidden beach appears.
To get to this beach, you have to swim from the boat to the beach, and a life vest is mandatory.
Flippers and snorkeling gear might be provided, depending on the inclusion of your Marietas Islands tour.
2. Snorkeling in Bay of Banderas
Snorkeling is extremely popular in the area. You will spot here colorful fish, sea turtles, corals, manta rays, and many other marine creatures.
There are many spots perfect for this activity, and each guide will choose the best snorkeling spot, taking into consideration the currents and the time of the year.
During snorkeling tours that don’t have the Hidden Beach included, you will most probably stop at a white sandy beach where you can relax and perfect your tan.
3. Wildlife in Marietas Islands Mexico
A diverse range of beautiful and unique species of plants and animals thrives within Marietas Islands National Park.
Among my favorite ones are the red-billed tropicbird and the blue footed bobies.
Between November and March, without any special tour, you can see dolphins and humpback whales.
You can also see sharks, turtles, manta rays, and orcas in the area.
The islands are home to more than 80 species of birds, so it is a good place to go for bird-watching adventures.
The authorities actively prohibit fishing inside the national park.
4. Diving in the waters around Marieras Islands
Due to its rich wildlife, Marietas Islands attract divers from all over the world anxious to see the beautiful corals and marine creatures that live in these waters.
The Bay of Banderas might not be the best spot for diving, but Marietas certainly are among the best diving spots in Western Mexico.
When you dive in the Marietas, you will have the opportunity to explore underwater tunnels, caves and arches.
The best time for diving in these waters is from May to December.
5. Hiking the Isla Larga
Once you reach Playa Nopalera, you can go for a small hike around Isla Larga. It is an easy and short hike that offers amazing views of the area.
The captain will tell you how many minutes you will stay on the island so you know how to organize your stay.
Many tourists will stay on the beach or go snorkeling, but this short hike will offer you stunning views of the Bay of Banderas.
On your way up, you might spot iguanas and maybe snakes, but no worries, as they are completely harmless.
6. Explore the fishermen’s town of Punta Mita
When you return from your boat tour to Marietas Islands, book a few hours for a tour of the beautiful town of Punta Mita.
Admire its colorful streets, walk around the town, and try some local seafood.
Zarandeado is my favorite, a BBQ flying fish that is extremely delicious that you will not eat anywhere else in the world.
You can even hire a local guide to take you around the town for less than 50 USD.
Tips to visit Islas Marietas
- Plan well in advance to secure a spot on a tour with hidden beach included
- If you have seasick, take some medication before jumping on the boat as you will go on the open ocean, and waves can be strong
- Pack with you swimsuit, towel, and a GoPro to catch some amazing scenes. A jacket or a light sweater is also good to have with you as in the open sea it can get breezy.
- Take some cash with you as most tour companies will charge you an extra 100 pesos conservation fee. This fee might not be included in the tour cost and must pay in cash on arrival at the dock.
- If you go snorkeling or diving, don’t touch the coral reef and the wildlife, and please, don’t leave anything behind on the water and on the island you will explore.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.