Given Puerto Vallarta's tropical location, enjoying up-close and personal encounters with wildlife is not only inevitable; it is an invitation, and an opportunity you should not miss while visiting Banderas Bay. From dolphin swims in controlled environments to casual iguana spotting along Isla Rio Cuale to birding expeditions to the Marieta Islands, there are plenty of opportunities for young and old to marvel at the vast variety of species you will encounter here.
Local activity providers offer a variety of tours and adventures during which you and your children can interact with local wildlife in a controlled environment, swimming with dolphins and sea lions, for example, even participate in special programs where you actually learn to train these impressive animals.
Banderas Bay witnesses the annual journey that enormous humpback whales undertake to reach our destination to mate and give birth to their offspring. Many companies offer whale watching tours that allow you to get close (within guidelines) to them.
In a similar fashion, sea turtles have been burying their eggs in our beaches for centuries, and many local hotels and eco tour companies sponsor special protection programs in which visitors can actively participate in egg collecting or in returning baby hatchlings safely to the ocean once they hatch.
Visitors that enjoy bird watching can take advantage of several eco tours that visit the nearby Marietas Islands, a protected natural reserve, where a number of local species can be sighted, including the endangered Blue-Footed Booby. (Only a few companies are actually authorized to disembark on the islands due to their convervation efforts, however.)
Given the fact that crocodiles populated the area before we did, it's not surprising that they live among us. They can be sighted from afar in several areas of the bay, and can be safely approached at Cocodrilario El Cora, a special crocodile research facility in Flamingos.
In addition, Estero El Salado, a protected estuary located in the heart of Puerto Vallarta offers canoe excursions through its canals, where crocodiles, turtles and many bird species can be sighted.
Nature is all around us. As such, chances are you will bump into any of the following creatures at some point in your visit.
Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) are large herbivorous lizards that can be sighted basking in the sun on treetops all over the bay. They are harmless for the most part, and much more friendly than black iguanas, commonly known as garrobos (Ctenosaura similis), listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world's fastest lizard.
Known locally as coatimundis or tejones, coatis are members of the raccoon family. They live high up in the trees, and although some colonies have settled in the vicinity of several open air restaurants and may seem harmless, they are best left alone and enjoyed from afar as they try to scavenge food for survival.
All three creatures (whales in season) can be spotted swimming about in the ocean all over the bay (mantas frequently breach into the air like dolphins do). They can also be sighted from the beach. When taking a water taxi around the bay, boat operators will usually slow down their pangas, or motor boats, for you to take a close look.
When you hear something you simply cannot describe, but something tells you it's coming from a tree, chances are it is a bird, and chances are it is a chachalaca. You will learn to love them just as we have!