Extraodrinary Hidden Beach in Mexico: Everything You Need To Know

If you are thinking of somewhere tropical and unique to visit in your holiday, Mexico's Playa del Amor, also known as Hidden Beach, is a "secret corner" that will amaze you with its extraodrinary and stunning features.
October 25, 2021 | 14:18

A gaping hole in the surface of the lush green island opens onto a secret beach, with ample shade, sun, and crystal-clear water.

Playa del Amor, commonly known as the Hidden Beach, is a feature of one of the Marieta Islands, located some 22 nautical miles west of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at the mouth of Banderas Bay. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel: a wide, sandy cavern with the blue waters of the Pacific rushing in. The Marieta Islands is a group of uninhabited islands formed by underwater volcano eruptions. They are natural wonders, but it was something other than the volcanic activity that brought the burrowed beach to light.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

This secret beach is hidden inside an ancient volcanic crater and is completely invisible from the outside. It is accessible only by sea and can be reached only by small canoes, by swimming or by tunnel located between ocean and the rock, leaving a narrow space of 6 meters during low tide.

Its formation is said to the result of intense volcanic activity that over the millennia has formed the entire archipelago. It seems to have occurred due to the explosion of a bomb. In the early twentieth century these islands were deserted and subject to various military exercises by the Mexican government. The opening is also attributed to an explosion, which now gives life to this unique underground tower.

In the 1960s, scientist Jacques Cousteau led a protest against harmful human activity on the islands. In 2005, the islands were finally named a national park, Parque Nacional Islas Marietas, making swimming, kayaking, sunbathing, and other forms of recreation the only activity, and prohibiting hunting and fishing around the islands. Also, later on, the park was designated as a UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve. Extensive military testing damaged flora and fauna on the island for decades, but many years of peace have replenished the islands’ pristine waters and marine life.

Islas Marietas | © Christian Frausto Bernal/Flickr
Islas Marietas | © Christian Frausto Bernal/Flickr

The Hidden Beach is invisible from the outside and is only accessible through a long water tunnel that links the beach to the Pacific Ocean. There is approximately six feet of space above water level, so visitors can arrive at the beach by swimming or kayaking. The islands remain uninhabited but are frequently visited by tourists who come to enjoy the diverse marine wildlife and the unique tropical Eden of Playa del Amor.

Paradise found

Photo:  OrangeSmile.com
Photo: OrangeSmile.com

Travellers must first embark on a 60-minute boat ride and then kayak or swim through a long water tunnel that links the Pacific Ocean to the beach.

After absorbing the surroundings and a couple of pinches to make sure this is real life, there's an abundance of beachside activities to enjoy. The flora and fauna make it the perfect spot for nature enthusiasts and there are coral reefs for picturesque snorkelling. There's also a sandbank for sunbathing and plenty of shade for the hotter days.

Caving expeditions often warrant an explanation of their history and natural formation. This hidden love beach is no different. Unfortunately for the dreamers out there, this cave has a more sinister past.

 Photo: OrangeSmile.com
Photo: OrangeSmile.com

Many believe the sunroof that formed this attraction was the result of bombing practice by the Mexican government during World War 1. As the Marieta Islands were (and still are) completely unoccupied, they were seen as the perfect spot for military testing in the early 1900s.

Other attractions

While the ‘hidden beach’ of the Islas Marietas grabs all the attention, this uninhabited archipelago (chain of islands formed by underwater volcanic eruptions) actually has much more to offer, particularly in terms of wildlife. Although the rumoured military testing wiped out many creatures, they have steadily replenished their stock (so to speak) over the past few decades of relative tranquillity and the islands now house hundreds of plant and wildlife species, including the amusingly named blue-footed boobies.

Yet one of the biggest draws is undeniably the wealth of enchanting marine life that can be spotted in the coral reefs around the island; you can potentially spot anything from dolphins to eels and turtles, and even humpback whales between December and March.

Blue footed booby on Islas Marietas | © Terri Bateman/Flickr
Blue footed booby on Islas Marietas | © Terri Bateman/Flickr

Controversy and closure

There was some controversy in recent years due to the sheer volume of visitors that were landing on the sandy shores – official figures put the number as somewhere in the region of 2,500 visitors daily – and as a result the Islas Marietas were, to the dismay of many, closed temporarily in May 2016. This was in an attempt to prevent coral degradation and the amount of oil pollution in the surrounding waters, as well as to reduce the physical degradation of the island itself. Studies have shown that there should only be a maximum of 625 visitors landing there daily, but this figure was tripled or quadrupled in practice.

Rumours circulated on social media that the government was selling the islands, though this was quickly dismissed and the islands were in fact reopened in August 2016. In order to undo some damage, coral will be replanted, the number of visitors will be strictly limited to just over 100 per day and diving is no longer permitted.

How do you get there?

 Photo: El Universal
Photo: El Universal

While the Islas Marietas are technically under the jurisdiction of the state of Nayarit, they are arguably a more popular destination for tourists in the coastal Jalisco town of Puerto Vallarta. In fact, the boat ride to reach them takes little more than an hour and there are a selection of companies and schedules to choose from. You can also depart from Nuevo Vallarta (Nayarit), La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bucerías and Punta de Mita though. If you do decide to visit, plan in advance to get a spot on a tour (access is no longer permitted on Mondays and Tuesdays) and follow the guidelines to minimise damage to the environment.

The islands are an hour long boat ride northwest from the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There are ample tour companies that provide day excursions to the Hidden Beach. Wristbands to the "hidden beach" are limited and must be reserved a few days in advance. Several tour companies can provide the trip for about 1500 pesos each. Tours can also be made without the hidden beach which are still fun for about 500 pesos each.

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