Sometimes the best plan is none at all – that’s how you discover a private, lovers’ beach on the Islas Marietas
“Islas what?” I ask. “Islas Marietas, bonita, a secret beach in a doughnut hole.” My new buddy clearly enjoys this mad Spanglish mix I’ve all been embracing for the past three days in Puerto Vallarta. Even those who never make it further than “dos margaritas, por favor”, start sprinkling their speech with things like “señor”, “bonita”, “me gusto” and “gracias” when in Mexico.
There are three of us, Jaclyn, Cynthia and I, and together we make one fully functional Spanish speaker. To maximise our “halo Espanol” superpowers, the girls and I have been sticking together. We jump in a car and head home. Islas Marietas won’t surface in our Puerto Vallarta life until one lazy afternoon three days later.
“Islas what?” Jaclyn asks. “Islas Marietas.” I had to do some Googling to refresh my memory. We’ve been contemplating whether we should give in and finally do something touristy. Just 40 minutes from our rented house lies Punta Mita beach. From there, we could make it to an island which is shaped like a round, glazed doughnut with a hidden beach in the middle. It sounds like an adventure and no one plans adventures, right?
Ten minutes later, the three of us are sitting in a car, singing along to Enrique Iglesias’ Bailando. Trust me; if this story was fictional, I would have come up with a less stereotypical song for a Mexican road trip.
We arrive at Punta Mita late in the afternoon. By this time all prudent tourists have already taken their trip to the doughnut island, returned to their hotels and are sipping on their second cocktail. Yet all the vendedores – the boat salesmen – stay on the beach, hoping for an occasional afternoon catch. We are their target.
“Just 2000 pesos, bonita, I take you anywhere,” shouts one.
“Señor, too much!” Cynthia quickly does the calculation and translates the breakdown back to Spanish.
“Now, now, you must go now, there is no option later! Chicas, you need to take a private boat! Only 4000 pesos for you and your friends,” screams another.
We weren’t going to paddle to the island ourselves and seriously needed a motorboat. However, faced with 30 passionate salesmen we lost our bearings – it was too much to handle. We had to escape what felt like a battlefield. So here we are sitting on the sand of Punta Mita, staring at the Pacific. The Islas Marietas are somewhere over the horizon. We have no ride, and no plan.
Sometimes no plan is still a plan. We lie under the sun for half-an-hour and out of nowhere arrives a guy that we hadn’t seen during the Battle of the Punta Mita. He quietly sits beside us and gazes out to sea. He continues looking away. As he starts speaking it feels as if he is about to offer something illegal. “Islas Marietas,” he says. “I have two other tourists and a boat, you wanna join?”
Of course, claro, we do! 30 pairs of eyes scowl at us walking along the beach to his boat.
It turns out that this guy is the boat’s pilot. As we speed towards the horizon it finally feels like the journey we’ve been looking forward to – the sun sparkles off the sea and the wind is in our hair. A pack of dolphins follow us along. They jump out of the water and show us their glassy backs. Punta Mita is known for rich marine life and the Islas Marietas are often compared to the Galapagos Islands. We had heard you can even see a whale, but we’re not hoping to see any – we still are couple of months away from their migration period.
On the horizon, the Islas Marietas are growing every second of this speedy ride. The coasts are rocky, yet the seals who have made it their home don’t mind. We pass them by, gazing into the caves eroded by thousand of years worth of water colliding into stone. You can only guess where these lead. But one day, someone discovered that swimming though one leads to a hidden beach, and named it Lovers’ Beach – that is where we are headed.
Imagine a doughnut coated with green syrup, with half-blue, half-yellow glaze spilled into the hole. That’s probably what the island looks like from above. But all we can see from the outside is just another round rocky island. Depending on the tide, the cave leading to the hidden beach may be completely under the water or, when the water level falls, there may be a thin layer of air between the surface and the ceiling. We are lucky and the tide is out. I would not have managed this four metre swim underwater.
Following an ancient tradition, we are asked to leave all our non-waterproof devices on the boat. It’s believed that this ritual will help you to be present in the moment, to forget about digitally capturing memories and enjoy this hidden gem.
I swim through the cave from the open sea, always heading towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It opens onto a tiny, beautiful beach. No wonder it is called Lovers’ Beach; it is just the right size for two. But in the mornings, we hear, it gets crowded. Now, it is just the three of us and the two other tourists we shared our boat with. No phones, no more vendedores, even the dolphin pack have stayed outside. As for the whales…
After what seems like no time, we swim back through the tunnel and climb into the boat for the return trip to Punta Mita. As it gathers speed, our pilot suddenly changes course. It seems like few boats are gathered on the the sea about a kilometre away. And finally, we see what has attracted everyone’s attention. It is off season and seeing a whale surging through the waves alongside our boat was never the plan. But no plan is the best plan.