Little Known Riviera Nayarit Islands Dazzle Visitors With Their Rare Wildlife, History And Even A Hidden Beach

Little Known Riviera Nayarit Islands Dazzle Visitors
With Their Rare Wildlife, History And Even A Hidden Beach

Most often heralded for its nearly 200 miles of golden coast, Riviera Nayarit is also home to beautiful, remote islands full of wildlife and adventure, each offering a different “off the beaten track” experience.  Islas Marietas and Isla Isabel represent ecotourism at its best since both are protected Unesco biosphere reserves. Cultural immersion, Mexico’s earliest history and very unusual culinary traditions make a visit to Mexcaltitan a “must” when traveling to Riviera Nayarit.

Islas Marietas

In an area made famous by Jacques Cousteau, Islas Marietas is a cluster of islands that is rich with wildlife.  A federally protected nature reserve, the islands are accessible only via an approved tour company such as Vallarta Adventures and visitors will be guided via a medium sized, high-bow boat, known throughout the region as a panga.  Those traveling to Islas Marietas are likely to encounter the same wildlife that impressed Jacques Cousteau himself. 

Formed by volcanic activity, these islands are home to literally thousands of birds and are surrounded by first-class diving opportunities.  Octopuses, sea turtles and colorful tropical fish await the divers and tourists who visit these islands. 

For the more adventure-oriented, one of the Marietas Islands has a hidden beach, only accessible by swimming through a tunnel.  On the other side of this tunnel lies an incredible sight: Playa Del Amor.  Partially shaded by the natural overlay of the island walls, this cave-like opening is a beach experience like no other in the world.  Only a few companies can grant access to this beach, creating an intimate experience that is sure to weave its way into your travel stories for the rest of your life.


A journey to Mexcaltitan transports guests into a world full of mystery, history and rare cultural experiences.

On a motorboat leaving La Batanga 30 minutes from the town of Santiago Ixcuintla (a 1 hour journey from San Blas), visitors will travel past estuaries, islets, coves and mangroves en route to this island of legend.  Birds, alligators, turtles, fish, shrimp, lobster, oysters and mussels call this area home and it is no surprise to see live fish being caught and cooked on the sidewalks on this tiny island, just one square mile in size.

The history of Mexcaltitan is shrouded in mystery.  The island is rooted in ancient Mexica (Aztec) history and many believe that it is the birthplace of modern day Mexico.  Evidence throughout the island points to moon worship and ancient Mexica (Aztec) prophecies refer to this man-made island north of Mexico City as the inspiration for what was once one of the most powerful cities in the world.  It is said that Mexcaltitan served as the blueprint for Tenochtitlán (modern Mexico City) as is evidenced by the narrow streets and ability for the city to function under rising water levels.

Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Mexico” Mexcaltitan features high sidewalks that allow pedestrians to navigate the island even during times of high water levels which can flood the streets of Mexcaltitan.  It is this inherent duality of water-land that makes this fishing community so special, especially when it comes to fresh seafood cuisine.  It is not uncommon to find nameless restaurants offering fresh shrimp ceviche with ingredients caught right outside their very doors.  Another local favorite is prepared by laying the shrimp catch-of-the-day out on the sidewalk to dry naturally in the sun.  After the shrimp have dried, they are consumed in entirety, head and all, and pack a crunch similar to that of a traditional Mexican tostada (tortilla chip).  Whatever the treat is, visitors to Mexcaltitan can rest assured they’re eating fresh and authentic local cuisine.

Visitors will find no cars on this island (but can travel via boats in the canal) and there is only one hotel, also nameless, which makes this island a cultural treasure for its serenity.

Isla Isabel

Created by underwater volcanic activity, Isla Isabel is a small 1.21 square mile island only 43 miles off the coast of San Blas.  A National Park and Biosphere reserve, this hilly island features dramatic rugged cliffs and breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. 
A nature reserve, Isla Isabel is noted for rare and beautiful birds that flock to this natural sanctuary which protects them from predators that would otherwise be a threat to their species.  Due to the delicate balance of nature, visitors are limited to very short stays, normally only a handful of days. Similar to the world-renown Galapagos Islands, eco-tourists will find rare nesting birds such as the Red Footed and Blue Footed Boobies.  Many species of birds on the island rely on Isla Isabel as their sole breeding ground, making it a pivotal resource in the natural life cycle of the region.  Because they do not often interact with humans, the birds of this island are unafraid of them which results in the rare ability for birding up close.

Two and a half hours by boat from San Blas, Isla Isabel is one of the world’s best kept secrets by the diving community.  Yellowtail, manta rays, whales and beautiful coral await the recreational diver looking for a gorgeous dive in a natural paradise.  Coral reefs are not common in this area of the world, making Isla Isabel even more unique.  Even the boat ride will quench the thirst of eco-tourists: during the mating season, it is possible to sail past docile whale sharks and large manta rays, even northern humpback whales!

Uninhabited and undeveloped, Isla Isabel is strictly for eco-tourists who value roughing it in the name of a pure experience with nature. Those who wish to stay overnight should be prepared to sleep in tents and adventure companies such as Nayarit Adventures can provide itineraries including supplies and transportation to facilitate this immersive experience.


About Riviera Nayarit
Mexico’s newest destination, Riviera Nayarit, stretches along 192 miles of pristine Pacific coast framed by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains just ten minutes north of accessible Puerto Vallarta International Airport.  The region extends along the entire coast of the Pacific state of Nayarit including the resorts of Nuevo Vallarta, the historic colonial town of San Blas, exclusive Punta Mita, picturesque fishing villages, miles of serene beaches and spectacular Banderas Bay.  Riviera Nayarit offers countless activities, such as: PGA golf courses, luxury spas, whale watching, turtle release, zip lining, surfing, bird watching, international cuisine, and the local artwork from the traditional Huichol tribe. Riviera Nayarit is recognized as a “Virtuoso Preferred Destination.” The region attracts and satisfies vacationers of all tastes and budgets with its wide range of accommodations including chic luxury resorts, eco-tourism boutique hotels and quaint B&B inns. For more information, visit or follow Riviera Nayarit’s Fan Page on Facebook.

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