a-marietas-ecotour

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2009 issue.

Food, Fun, Ecology and Memories That Last a Lifetime

A veteran guest on various day cruise “party boats” around North America, I was ready for a change from that type of excursion, which often includes rowdy crowds, rushed itineraries and, frequently, unexpected charges in these alleged “all-inclusive” tours. So when I heard about Vallarta Adventures’ “Marietas Eco-Discovery Tour,” a true all-inclusive eco-adventure that includes bird watching and extended periods of snorkeling, sea kayaking and beaching at the picturesque Marietas Islands, I was eager to experience it myself.

In true Vallarta Adventures style, check-in was organized and efficient. By 9 am, our catamaran arrived from Nuevo Vallarta, and we were indulging in our breakfast before we had sailed out of the Marina. The menu included those delicious Mexican sweet breads I can’t resist, fresh fruit, juice, coffee and bottled water.

About 9:30, Kimi, our effervescent, bilingual and 100% loco cruise director, officially welcomed us and started the fun. Kimi introduced the crewmembers one at a time, and each came out and danced for us in his own style. Even veteran Captain Pancho came out to “shake his booty.” The efficient crew subsequently passed out snorkel gear to all who were interested.

The only activity with an additional charge was scuba diving. After the dive master met briefly with all divers onboard, Kimi followed with the snorkel briefing, articulately and humorously providing many valuable tips but concluding by sincerely stating, “The safety of guests is our main priority!”

We arrived at the Marietas by 10:45, and Kimi related fascinating facts about this UNESCO-protected ecological reserve. As we slowly cruised around the volcanic rock islands, we learned that they are home to 85 documented species of birds, including the rare Blue Footed Booby, as well as lizards, snakes, bats and even large rats that dive into the water to fish for their food. The limited vegetation on the islands includes a few species of grasses, cactus and a couple of palms.

The reef below the surface is filled with approximately 150 species of tropical fish and various other exotic creatures, including sea urchins, starfish, manta rays, seahorses and eels. Also living in these clear, aquamarine waters are four species of dolphins. And between the months of December and March, they are home to various species of whales, which use our calm bay as a breeding and birthing sanctuary.

Once Captain Pancho had us anchored, the snorkelers jumped into the water, guided by Christian on an interesting snorkel adventure. He emphasized a second time not to touch anything while underwater, since just brushing against coral causes it to die. It can take 100 years for coral to grow a couple of inches, so we need to be very respectful of the underwater ecosystem. While we were snorkeling, some guests stayed onboard or went sea kayaking, while others took a panga (motor boat) around the island to a beautiful, sandy, white beach. There was plenty of time to do any or all of the activities without feeling rushed.

A delicious and healthy buffet lunch was laid out onboard as the activities were winding down, which was enthusiastically enjoyed by everyone. On the way back to Vallarta, Kimi kept us entertained and the bar remained open.

We arrived back in the marina before 4 pm, after a fabulous day both on and in the water. And that was supposed to be the end of this story, but I was intrigued to learn that after taking a pool diving lesson, one can do a shallow one-tank dive at the Marietas accompanied by a certified dive instructor. So …

The following Thursday, I met Gustavo at the Buenaventura Hotel for my pool lesson. He provided a thorough briefing, ensuring I understood everything. Once I was comfortable breathing and maneuvering underwater, he had me clear my mask while below the surface, take out my mouthpiece and then put it back in my mouth to clear it – scary but necessary training! We both felt confident that I was ready to transfer my skills to an ocean dive in the company of trained professionals.

Three days later, I returned to the Marietas. There were six of us onboard who were new to diving and anticipating our first dive accompanied by our excellent dive master, Oswaldo. At one point during our first few minutes underwater, I almost chickened out, but took a deep breath and continued on with the group. And that’s when I fell in love with diving!

The sights were spectacular, and I felt very safe with Oswaldo and my dive buddy, Vanya, who both were continually checking to make sure I was okay. We saw so many amazing sights! I even spied a Spotted Snake Eel, which seemed more scared of me than I was of him, to my relief. Our group did well for novices, so we explored underwater for 45 minutes at a depth of about 35 feet.

We were all exhilarated, proud and thirsty when we returned onboard, and Jose was waiting behind the bar with cold water and, of course, icy adult beverages. It was time to celebrate, and I decided at that moment to continue with my training and become a certified diver. And if I can do it, anyone can!

So, whether it’s bird watching, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, visiting a virgin beach or simply enjoying a completely all-inclusive day on the water, being pampered at every step, the Vallarta Adventures Eco-Discovery Tour is an excellent way to really “sea” Vallarta! www.vallarta-adventures.com.