The Hidden Beach of the Marietas Islands: Our Spectacular Day in Beautiful Hell

Off the coast of Punta Mita lies a group of small, uninhabited islands. Formed thousands of years ago by volcanic activity, today they are protected by the Mexican government. But this was not always the case. In the early 1900s, bombs from military testing caused craters and caves. Eventually, this stopped and now only about a hundred visitors a day are allowed to visit the star attraction: the Hidden Beach or Playa del Amor—the beach of love. We had to go.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I arrived at the St. Regis Punta Mita three days ago. (More on this heavenly place in a future post.) Brother has been talking about the possibility of taking a boat to see something called the hidden beach since we first planned this trip. I heard the word beach and was sold. So while SiL and I were sunning ourselves at the pool on day 1, he talked to the resort concierge to get the deets. Reporting back, he told us that we would have a fifteen-minute ride to the hidden beach, stay there twenty minutes, get back on the boat, spend a few minutes riding the boat around the island while a guide told us about the ecology, then go to another beach and stay there an hour or so, then come home. We would probably be on the boat alone, but at most there would be twelve people total. SiL often suffers from motion sickness, but it sounded fairly easy and she said she would load up on Dramamine.

Yesterday, hidden beach day, I woke up and felt slightly off and maybe a little queasy. But, I’m not a morning person and figured that and several days of atypical food was probably all it was. So we headed out. A taxi picked us up, and we drove the one mile to the boat pick up point. Instructing us to wait in front of the tour shop, brother headed to a nearby cash machine. A man called SiL and I inside, asked us if we had paid already (yes), attached bracelets to our wrists, and told us to go wait by the water. On white rocks. Where it was 1000 degrees. We waited. Brother soon joined us, and it was the three of us waiting.

I interject here that my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins have lived along the Florida Gulf since before I was born. Even though my dad was in the military and it would sometimes be a couple years in between visits, I have been riding in boats (and other random vessels) all my life. I am also heat tolerant, and run most days.  Plus, the water is my mother ship. I was not worried.

Finally, it was time to board.  Sixteen passengers including us clamored onto the boat. So much for “probably just you but at most twelve.” Our group sat together on a bench near the front for about 10 seconds until the boat captain told brother and SiL to move up a row so others could sit there. Not cool, but whatever—they moved. This is when things went to hell. I started feeling very sick. Within moments, the captain was yelling in Spanish. I gathered from the commotion that he was instructing everyone to put on life jackets. Guides started tying life jackets around waists. Fortunately they paid no attention to my inaction on the life jacket front. My vision became blotchy, and I shut my eyes. No point trying to see when you cannot. I started sweating and the boat started moving.  I contemplated my situation while I hung onto the rail and tried to tune out the Spanish yelling that was. not. stopping. Even though I thought I was likely going to die or pass out or both, I worried that all the other passengers would think I was drunk or hung over, and that I would make a spectacle if the boat had to return to shore. I also did not want to make my brother and SiL miss the trip. I opened my eyes and I could see nothing. Unconsciousness would be with me soon. I said my brother’s name. He moved back to the seat next to mine and called something to the captain. We slowed, a Pepsi bottle appeared in front of me. I hate Pepsi. It was nectar of the gods. I might still die but at least the sugar granted me the ability to see. I said I would keep going. The guys in charge needed no urging and sped off. I laid my head in my brother’s lap and he pressed the cold bottle against my neck. You overheated, he said.

A few minutes later we were near the islands. At this point, the young guide at the front of the boat revealed himself as the English translator for us, the only Americans. Brother moved back to his seat so he could see how SiL was doing, and I moved next to him. The new seat was in the sun and I realized my mistake within seconds and decided to move back. A few seconds was all it took for a girl to take my much needed rail seat and refuse to budge. I sat in the middle, next to her. She took out a huge bag of nacho cheese Doritos and began passing them back and forth with the girl on my other side. In between chips, girl 2 held her phone three inches from my face and snapped photos of the islands. I put my head in my lap so they could reach over me more easily.

Finally, we were at the hidden beach. We prepared to deboard. Nope, the guide said, the beach is too full. We must come back. The tour portion would come first. The boat sped off.  I sat and waited and didn’t listen to the English-speaking guide, who hailed from California, telling my brother and SiL about the island. There was a commotion behind me. Another young woman was stripping off her coverup to reveal her teeny cheeky bikini.  She shoved me aside and bounded across three rows to perch by the young man. The English translation quickly dwindled as the two of them began chatting in Spanish.

The boat stopped again. Snorkel masks were handed out. I pulled out my sunscreen, and prepared to put it on until the guide saw me. No sunscreen allowed, he said. I resigned myself to a sunburn and put it away. (Note to self, never again use the concierge as my only information source.) We jumped out and bobbed up and down in the waves. I felt semi-cured by the cool water. SiL felt motion sick. The boat was called back, she got into it, and the captain sped off with her and two other women who had decided to stay behind.

Brother and I swam to the coral rocks and looked through our masks at the pretty and colorful fish. Our guide directed us along through the water, and I swam and swam, barely keeping up. Eventually, the boat reappeared. With SiL’s head hanging over the side. I was no longer the only sickie in our family. The captain liked the other two women, SiL told us after we were all back on board. He sped around jumping the waves the whole time you were snorkeling. It was terrible.

At least the next stop would be the hidden beach. Except it wasn’t. We pulled up to another, non-hidden beach and again jumped out of the boat. SiL spent some time on shore, and began feeling a bit better. We got back into the boat, which was now strewn with Fritos, since apparently the Doritos were gone. Then we were off again.

Finally, it was hidden beach time. We pulled up to what looked like a cave, and were told to jump out. No one had told me about the swimming-through-a-cave-to-get-there part of this excursion. No worries, they gave us plastic helmets to wear. Again we swam and swam, but this time with a major current, and a rock ceiling several feet above our heads. We got to the lowest part, where there was about a one foot span between water and cave, and a wave pushed brother’s head into the rock. (He was fine.) Grateful for my helmet, I managed to duck under without incident.

We arrived at an astonishing, circular crater. Gentle turquoise waves rolled onto white sand. Our guide pulled out my brother’s phone, which he had carried for us in a waterproof tube, and took our photo. Then his would-be paramour appeared, offered her own camera, and began rolling around in the sand in various sultry poses while he snapped pictures. We sat on the sand, soaking in the spectacular beauty, until it was time to go.

The swim back to the boat was slightly easier for me, but not as painless as it was for our boat mate, who held onto a life preserver while the guide pulled her along with him. She draped herself on the bow of the boat for the ride back, and the pair shared an intimate bottle of water. Apparently, they don’t call it the beach of love for nothin’.

I spent the rest of the day in my suite recovering. Would I go through that again? No way. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

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