Mexico's Riviera Nayarit
Credit: Tourism Riviera Nayarit

“Hold on and watch your head. Hold on and watch your head! Watch your head!”

I can hear our guide intensifying his instructions — though I think he is calling out to someone else in our party as I lead the group from the beach into the sea cave. I have a good four-to-six inches of headroom and I’m more worried about my footing on the slippery sea floor. Water up to my chest, my one hand is firmly holding a GoPro and the other is sliding along against the cavern wall. Then I hear it — the sound of waves echoing down the cavern in front of me, slapping up against the walls and clearly coming right at us.

“Oh crap.”

A surge of water lifts my feet from the floor and smack — head into the rocks. Luckily the undercurrent had me off balance first, lessening the impact. Hope nobody saw that.

Regaining my footing and now fully appreciating the cavern and the movement of the tides, I enter into the main, larger cave that has two feeders connecting. The rocks are worn from decades of ocean tides — it’s stunning, and I take a moment to imagine what the first people to discover this area must have thought. After a short stay, we make our way back to the hidden beach, returning the way we entered. This time I’m holding on and watching my head.

Located in the middle of the Marietas Islands, in Riviera Nayarit Mexico, the hidden beach is spectacular. I’d heard about it, I’d read about it — but I’d never been. Pictures and words just don’t do it justice: an amazing sandy beach, in a cavern, hidden within an island. And it proves a lovely spot to relax and take in the sights until it’s time to go to get our fins and snorkels back on and return to the boat.

The tide had lowered a bit as the morning progressed, so we can easily swim out through the tunnel that we originally needed to dive through. As we exit the cavern, we see a big party-boat catamaran coming in with its 80-plus guests. I’m glad we arrived in the morning; smaller guide operators like Punta Mita Expeditions can get you out early, well before the crowds.

Before we reach the boat, our guide signals to look into the water. The island drops off fast and the sea floor transitions from a rainbow of bright coral to deep blue-green in a matter of metres.

I follow our guide on a quick dive near the drop-off. The colours of the fish in this part of Mexico are amazing and these islands provide perfect habitat to attract them. The corals — and the island itself — are protected, so it is important to keep your distance. As I surface, I take a moment to peer at the island’s cliffs. Birds are everywhere! I’m told these are blue-footed boobies — a bird that can be found in only two places on Earth: here, and on the Galapagos Islands. And they have seriously bright blue feet.

Back on the boat, we pull away, making room for more catamarans. Just when I think we are done for the morning, out come the stand-up paddleboards. After a quick tutorial, we are sent on our way to explore the area. It had been a while since I was on a paddleboard, so it took a few minutes and a few wipeouts to get the rhythm back.

Though visitors are permitted on the hidden beach and in the caverns, we cannot paddle ashore to further explore the island — as what was once a destination for camping, hiking and picnicking is now a totally protected National Park. (Someone started a fire on the island and shut down access.) This is for the best though, as the island is beautiful and often the sheer volume of tourist masses can unintentionally ruin such natural wonders.

An hour later we are back on the boat and making our way to the mainland, hoping to see the humpback whales we had watched on our way out. The only thing I regretted about the day was not taking a longer tour with a kayak — which just means there is yet another reason to return.

If You Go:

Access Riviera Nayarit Mexico via Puerto Vallarta airport; contact Punta Mita Expeditions at puntamitaexpeditions.com.

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