West of Guadalajara, the snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta offers dramatic coastal rock formations and offshore islands to explore. Puerto Vallarta is located on the western edge of the Jalisco state, where Sierra Madre Occidental meets at the Bahía de Banderas. The best Puerto Vallarta snorkeling is from June to September when the water clarity can be over 100 feet with ...
West of Guadalajara, the snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta offers dramatic coastal rock formations and offshore islands to explore. Puerto Vallarta is located on the western edge of the Jalisco state, where Sierra Madre Occidental meets at the Bahía de Banderas. The best Puerto Vallarta snorkeling is from June to September when the water clarity can be over 100 feet with water temperatures from 78F-85F. The winter months (December to April) should be avoided since the visibility is low (15-45 feet) due to rain runoff and the water temperatures are cool at 68F-75F requiring wetsuits. Overall, the water off Puerto Vallarta provide habitat for diverse marine life including angelfish, parrotfish, damselfish, cornetfish, pufferfish, octopus, lobster, starfish, sea turtles, dolphins spotted eagle rays, manta rays (June to September) and whales (December - February). There are about a half dozen main snorkeling spots including (in order of popularity) Los Arcos, Islas Marietas, Punta de Mita, Playa el Ancolte, Las Caletas, Playa Los Colomitos, Quimixto, Chinas and Yelpa. While the first two are offshore boat-accessed snorkeling dives, the later snorkel spots are coastal shore-accessed (though snorkel charters will take you directly to them).
Easily seen offshore of Puerto Vallarta, the Los Arcos Marine Park is a rock formation that has natural arches. Located directly offshore of Playa Mismaloya in Banderas Bay, this site offers snorkelers the chance to swim through towering natural granite arches and caves. This boat-accessed snorkel spot can be quite crowded at times, especially if cruise ships are in port, with 40-60 other snorkelers in the water at any given time. There are plentiful and colorful reef fish, eels and seasonal manta rays.
Located northwest of Puerto Vallarta and west of Punta de Mita, the Islas Marietas is a group of small uninhabited islands with three main islands. Locally called the Mexican Galapagos, the Marietas Islands are a popular tourist destination because of the abundant marine life populations due to the islands being protected from fishing and hunting by the Mexican government as National Park Islas Marietas. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2008. The islands are a few miles off the coast and take about 75 minutes to reach by boat from Puerto Vallarta or a 20 minutes from the resort area of Punta Mita. However, visitors cannot legally set foot on the islands without permit. Currently, the Mexican government allows only a few companies to go to the islands and allows the landing of passengers onto one secluded beach with the necessary permit from SEMARNAT. With that said, in recent years there have been times where 250 boats landed per day with up to 2,500 daily visitors, which is way beyond the environmental capacity of 625 visitors per day. It is not recommended to take a rented motorboat (lancha) or a water taxi to the islands. Recently, the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, the national environmental authority in Mexico, may have closed the beaches to the general public, so make sure to check ahead if you plan to land. Some recent reports are that permitted boats are limited to only 8 guests each.
Within Islas Marietas, one of the most popular locations is the Playa del Amor (Lovers Beach) which is situated slightly inland in an open sun-drenched crater. Also known as Hidden Beach, it is only accessible at low tide by swimming through a short tunnel carved by the sea from the ocean side. The other main snorkeling spots is at Playa Nopalera. While snorkeling off Islas Marietas, you may encounter sea turtles, octopus, manta rays, dolphins and blue-footed boobies. In addition, from December through February, you may be lucky to spot some humpback whales and gray whales.
For the other snorkeling spots around Puerto Vallarta, most snorkeling tour boat companies can provide direct transportation that can be the quickest way to get there. Located south of Puerto Vallarta, the rocky coves of the Quimixto snorkel spot is only accessible by boat. The Chinas snorkel spot has numerous lava rock formations to explore. The Las Caletas snorkeling dive spot is popular with sea lions.
To reach the snorkeling at Puerto Vallarta by air, fly into Puerto Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR) located on the north side of the city. There are regular non-stop flights on United Airlines from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Newark. Many of the hotels run shuttle services from the airport to the hotel. Also, most of the snorkel charter tour boats offer complementary pickup from hotels, so there is very little reason to rent a car.
Overall, Puerto Vallarta is the 8th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 37 snorkeling dives in Mexico. Several of the better snorkeling spots are nearby Puerto Vallarta including Los Ayala and Manzanillo.
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