For Andres’ birthday this year, we decided to set out on a Mexican adventure to the west coast of the country, and the first leg of our trip was spent in Punta de Mita, a tropical seaside village nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Because this charming town is only an hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta, it’s incredibly easy to get to by rental car.
It’s important to note the distinction between Punta de Mita, where we stayed, and Punta Mita, a gated community of fancy resorts and luxury homes. Twenty years ago, the entire peninsula was known as Punta de Mita, until The Four Seasons built a resort and residential development in 2000. A few years later, the St. Regis was built. Both resorts and the luxury homes were enclosed to create the community called “Punta Mita,” and the locals who lived there were pushed to the southern side of the peninsula. Despite being sandwiched between these 5-star resorts, Punta de Mita remains a quiet, rustic beachfront town that is bursting with charm. We tend to avoid the stuffy atmosphere that resorts often create, so the town’s laid back lifestyle is what stole my heart right away. We’re not your big spenders or luxury hotel type of travelers. We’re more like your AirBnb, focus on outdoorsy adventures type of travelers, and Punta de Mita is the perfect destination for fun in the sun!!!
The high season is appealing to many travelers due to the area’s mild climate between the months of November through June. Temperatures remain in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s, and rain is a rarity. Being from Florida, we’re used to rain, heat & humidity, so taking advantage of the lower rates during July through October was a no-brainer. There were moments when I could feel the sub-tropical humidity start to creep in, but it was nothing a plunge into the perfect Pacific Ocean couldn’t fix. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought that this was considered off-season. You, too, can reap the benefits of the lovely low season through October.
Where to Stay:
Villas Las Olas:
Because Punta de Mita is a safe little town, Airbnb is a great resource to find lodging during your stay. After reviewing our options, Villas Las Olas was the standout choice for us. It was not only the most affordable at $77 per night, but it is also conveniently located just a block away from the beach. The property is essentially a compound of five 1 and 2 bedroom apartments. Our hosts, Lisa and David, live in one of the bottom units, and the others are rented out year-round.
Our apartment was large and open with exposed brick and beautiful tile throughout the space. Each apartment features a fully equipped kitchen, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. Lisa respected our privacy, but was also available whenever we needed to ask her for guidance. She offered to bring us coffee to our front porch every day, and since we’re not big coffee drinkers, she left us some delicious carrot cake muffins instead. Hammocks are scattered around the yard for you to enjoy, and there are also surf boards and boogie boards available to rent for $15 a day. On one of our last nights at Las Olas, Lisa made us a delicious dinner with a “cheeseburger in paradise” theme, and invited a few of her friends over to join us. Both the company and cooking were second to none.
With the exception of Lisa’s generous hospitality, her 5 rescue pups were the best part of our stay. Queen Bee Pumpkin, tough girl Pippy, sassy Sirena, sweet Biggie, & goofy Zion are some of the sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet. They were there to greet us with wagging tails every day, and Pippy and Biggie even joined us on our trips to the beach or walks around town. These pups love each other and love their life with Lisa and David! They will make your stay at Villas Las Olas even better than you could imagine!
What to Do:
Visit The Marietas Islands and La Playa Escondida:
Now, I should mention the number one reason why we originally decided to visit Punta de Mita and Puerto Vallarta in the first place: La Playa Escondida, also called Playa del Amor!!! Created when a bomb exploded during a military exercise in the early 1900’s, this beautiful beach is tucked away within a cluster of uninhabited islands a few miles off the coast of Mexico, known as the Marietas. I remember Andres showing me an aerial photograph of this majestic beach, and knew we had to witness it’s beauty in person. I started to research the location of La Playa Escondida and the best way to get there, and before I knew it, our trip to Punta de Mita was booked!
Over the past several years, visitation to Hidden Beach has soured. In 2012, it received 27,500 visitors, and that number soured to 127,000 in 2015, averaging around 2,500 people per day. These high numbers took a toll on the health of the beach and its coral reefs. As a result, the Mexican government put some much needed regulations in place in order to ensure the continued preservation of this unique destination. For starters, the number of visitors is restricted to 116 per day. The number of visitors cannot exceed 15 people at a time. The use of snorkel fins or masks is prohibited, and no diving is allowed. Every Monday and Tuesday of each week, the beach is closed for maintenance. But the real kicker is that your visit inside Hidden Beach is limited to 30 minutes.
There are a number of tour companies, departing from Punta de Mita, Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita, that can take you to La Playa del Amor. Punta de Mita is the closest to the Marietas Islands and, therefore, the shortest boat ride. After doing some research, I chose to book our trip with the Hidden Beach Snorkeling trip with the Mariettas Islands Tour Company, mainly because it departs from Punta de Mita. Their website also stresses that they only take small groups and focus on enjoying the beauty of the islands. Although snorkeling is not permitted inside or near La Playa Escondida, it is allowed in other areas of the Marietas Islands. We left from the Punta de Mita Marina, and the ride to the Marietas Islands was about 15 minutes. This was a major bonus compared to the 1 1/2 hour boat ride from Puerto Vallarta.
Prices for a trip to La Playa del Amor range from $70 to $150. Our tickets with the Marietas Islands Tour Companyr cost $110 per person. However, access to Lover’s Beach is never guaranteed because of the unpredictability of sea conditions, and if the water is too choppy to allow safe entry, you will not receive a refund. Entry into Playa Escondida must also be scheduled around low tide, but the Marietas Islands Tour Company does their best to time your visit to Hidden Beach appropriately. Punta de Mita is located on the tip of Banderas Bay, which is home to the humpback whale. From mid-December through February, humpback whales arrive to give birth. According to our guide, you almost can’t go on a boat ride during these months without seeing whales leaping out of the ocean. You may get to see baby humpbacks as well, and dolphins also frequent the water from March through December.
There was only one other couple in our group, and I became increasingly thankful that we decided to visit La Playa Escondida during low season. On our way to the islands, our guide, Jaime, explained some of the history of the Marietas to us. As a natural landmark of the Banderas Bay, the Islas Marietas are among the most important spots in all of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific tropics for marine birdwatching and it is a protected shelter for innumerable marine species. This makes the islands an even more unique a place to visit, but one that you must take care of and respect in order to safeguard the species that depend on this park.
As we got closer to these two mystical islands, Jaime explained that boats are not allowed to anchor near them in order to protect the coral, so we would be swimming about 200 meters from the boat to the entrance of Hidden Beach. He handed us life vests as we pulled up to the government boat that checks your wristbands, counts the number of people entering the beach, and provides the helmets you must wear through the tunnel. Jaime jumped into the water and the 4 of us followed. The majority of the swim was easy, but the current became stronger as we came closer to the 40 foot tunnel that leads to Hidden Beach. The tide was still fairly high, so we had to swim underwater for a few strokes in order to not hit our heads on the rocks above. One by one, we each ducked under, and Jaime was there to guide us every step of the way.
Approaching La Playa del Amor from inside the dark cave was a surreal experience. This exquisite little gem is stashed like a treasure amidst the Marietas Islands. The circle of light emitting from the ceiling of the beach like a chandelier got bigger and brighter as I swam to shore. You are completely encircled by rock and vegetation, and the turquoise waters sparkle like crystals. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel, a stretch of pristine white sand cut off from the world by a collapsed stone roof. Our guide took the time to take some photos of us and the other couple in our group. A few other people swam inside as we splashed around in the vivid waters. When it was time to leave, Jaime waved us over to grab our gear. Obviously, it was a bummer that we couldn’t spend more time inside this magical place, but we still felt incredibly lucky to be able to experience something so adventurous and beautiful all wrapped into one.
After swimming to the boat, we cruised around the Marietas. As we passed by these enormous volcanic rock formations, Jamie pointed out the different species of birds that call the Marietas home, including the blue-footed booby, which can only be found on the Islands of the Sea of Cortez and the Galapagos Islands. The Marietas Islands are a sanctuary for thousands of birds and they surrounding waters are a marine sanctuary teeming with fish, rays and an abundance of other marine life. We jumped out again to snorkel for a while in the crystal waters of the Pacific. We brought our own snorkel gear from home, but Jaime had masks and fins on board for the other couple in our group. The warm Pacific waters allow for snorkeling all year round, but the best time is from June through December, when the water temperature is 78-85 degrees and the visibility is best. The waters were a crystal blue mass of pure bliss. We saw vibrant schools of tropical fish, especially angel fish, puffer fish and parrot fish. Along with these vibrant colored fish, it’s not uncommon to also see moray eels, starfish, seahorses, and sea turtles.
On our last leg of the trip, we stopped by one last secluded area of beach to swim for a bit before we made the short journey back to Punta de Mita. We soaked up the last of our time in the magical waters of the Marietas and marveled at the beauty of Banderas Bay. The majestic Sierra Madre Mountains hug the golden shoreline and crystal blue Pacific waters. It was so easy to understand why scientist, Jacques Cousteau, fought so hard to protect them nearly 60 years ago. Where else can you visit a beautiful beach that is hidden at the center of a huge crater, where you can also observe a thriving natural bird sanctuary as well as amazing marine life?
Take a Day Trip to Sayulita:
Day trips from Punta de Mita are a breeze. One morning, we decided to spend the day in the surf town of Sayulita, which is only a twenty-minute drive from Punta de Mita. While Sayulita is known for its awesome surf, it’s also known for its relaxed hippy vibe, amazing food and incredible artisan culture.
With the combination of sunshine and bright pops of color, it’s nearly impossible not to feel happy in Sayulita! You’ll find brightly painted buildings and colorful pompoms all around town, which is a traditional Huichol adornment. Even the graveyard is a colorful work of art as they believe that death is as beautiful as life and their final resting place should reflect their life and spirit.
We sat on the beach for a while watching people paddle boarding, body surfing, and walking with their dogs. We were greeted by many people trying to sell us things, and ended up buying some beautiful gifts for ourselves and some family members. After that we decided to walk around the town a bit and find a place to eat.
There are plenty of Mexican delicacies, but my focus in was street tacos. Just good, down to earth, tacos. The Real Fish Taco slings fresh Mahi Mahi cooked to perfection with your choice of beer batter or grilled. You can’t go wrong with either, it’s just whatever you’re in the mood for. The delicate fish is served one a freshly made tortillas and topped with lettuce, pico de gallo and a special creamy, spicy sauce. This little spot is just steps off the beach in a little stand with the tagline “Fish Taco My ass… Get a Real One!”
We walked up the street and came upon a place called ChocoBanana. It was a cute little restaurant with all outdoor seating on the edge of the town square. I ordered their specialty, a frozen chocolate covered banana coated in coconut, and Andres ordered a banana shake. Both were delicious. Like mouth-watering memorable delicious. ChocoBanana also serves a variety of breakfast and brunch items, all of which looked amazing as the dishes came out to other tables.
Where to Eat:
I was excited for our trip to Mexico for a lot of reasons, one of them being the opportunity to eat a lot of authentic Mexican food. Luckily, there are several restaurants in Punta de Mita that can satisfy one’s taste buds.
Casa del Pintor:
At first, we only went to this place because it happened to be right around the corner from our AirBnB, and our host, Lisa, had recommended it. We had no idea we were stumbling upon such a gem.
For starters, the food at Casa del Pintor was delicious. Our first meal there we tried the pizza, which is made thin crust style. On our second visit, we had the breakfast. I ordered the potato omelette and Andres ordered the Mexican style eggs and french toast. We cleaned our plates, but the french toast was by far the best I’ve ever had…fluffy pillows of bread dusted in cinnamon and sugar and topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate.
The dining area is mainly outdoors, and features gorgeous mural paintings and mosaic tiling. Romantic lighting and beautiful plants add to the ambiance of this setting. The owner, Rupi, and his brother are so warm and welcoming. They make you feel like a friend, not just a customer.
Our Airbnb host, Lisa, knew we were on the hunt for authentic Mexican cuisine, and Rosa Mexicano was the first thing that came to her mind. We were greeted warmly by the front of the house and walked to our table that was nestled in warm sand and overlooked the ocean. Lights were strung across the dining area to add to the romantic atmosphere. Every employee seemed personally interested in making sure we had a great dining experience.
The salsa and guacamole were made at our table, which was a delicious way to start our meal. Our waiter guided us through each of the ingredients. The tomatoes, onions, serrano pepper and garlic had all been roasted beforehand to bring out their flavors. The avocado and fresh cilantro were fresh, and everything was made with this giant pestle and mortar. For our entrees, I had the chile relleno and Andres had the carnitas tacos. They were each uhhhhhmazing. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. Overall, we were extremely happy with the entire meal. We wanted an authentic Mexican meal, and this place delivered.
This is a popular spot among locals and tourists alike. Tables in the sand have a perfect view of the ocean and the surf spot El Anclote. Their food is also excellent. We went for lunch, and had the battered fish tacos and chicken burrito. Both we’re yummy, and the setting of the restaurant was serene and cheerful. I loved their colorful tablecloths and the views from our table was beautiful also. If you want a local flavor with a laid back style. La Cabana is the place to be.
The Blue Shrimp:
For Andres’ birthday dinner, we decided to give The Blue Shrimp a try. The venue has nice blue hue lighting around the restaurant with a casual yet upscale feel. Our table was overlooking the ocean, and we could see the Marietas Islands faintly in the distance. Our waiter brought us an amuse bouche of lightly seared tuna on a sprig of rosemary. It was bright, fresh and the perfect start to our meal. For our appetizer, we ordered the maple glazed octopus flavored with soy sauce, maple syrup and ginger. That dish was easily the most delicious thing I ate on our entire trip. Hands down! For my entrée, I ordered the shrimp scampi pasta because….carbs (don’t judge me). Andres, on the other hand, ordered the tuna burger. We both loved our entrées, but, like I said, the maple glazed octopus was our favorite dish by far.
Beyond the countless activities to do and delicious restaurants to enjoy, I also love Punta de Mita for its calm and isolated beach atmosphere. Instead of going out to bars and clubs, we took the opportunity to relax and have quality time together each night on our balcony below the star-filled sky. Lisa has lit the courtyard of Villas Las Olas with rope lights and lanterns. As we sat and listened to the night, crickets and geckos chirped in the distance.
Andres and I were on a mission to discover the Mexico that didn’t involve beachside resorts or mobs of tourists, and we accomplished exactly that! It was just five nights, but our trip to Punta de Mita was a game changer. It was gritty and real. It opened us up, and the world got a little bigger. If you’re looking for more authenticity, want a slower paced vibe, and are up for some adventure, go to Punta de Mita!
Read about the second half of our trip in my other blog post:
Check Out My GoPro Video of Our Adventures in Mexico!