I caught my breath as our boat rose above the breaking waves and away from the shore whilst our friendly and knowledgeable host shrieked with glee. The water was choppy and it was an exhilarating ride that took us to out to discover the Islas Marietas, an uninhabited archipelago offshore the Bay of Banderas on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
The islands, now protected by National Park status, were once subjected to military testing causing caves and rock formations to be created. We had fun trying to make out animal shapes including an elephant and a rhinoceros in the outlines of these rocks but as we drew closer we were treated to an array of the real bird and marine life that the islands have become a natural sanctuary for. The blue footed booby bird is the area’s most famous resident.
Brown and white of feather, they boast eye-catching blue feet with which they pull all the moves during their hilarious mating dance. Beneath, the water is swarming with tropical fish and during a spectacular snorkeling trip we also spot a sea turtle and a giant manta ray.
This engaging eco-tour courtesy of Vallarta Adventures is exactly what we needed to refresh us following our 10-hour flight from London. As the boat lands back on the sand at the Four Seasons, Punta Mita, in Riviera Nayarit, the 5-star luxury resort where we are spending the first part of our trip, we are ravenous at the sight of the freshly caught fish on display for lunch. Guests can choose a fish and discuss its exact preparation with the Executive chef Phillipe Piel but it’s a tough decision, Mexico really is food heaven.
There are simply not enough mealtimes in the day given the abundance of delicious menu choices and the vintage ice cream hut on the beach is a major hit for the kids. Aside from wonderful cuisine, The Four Seasons also offers an extensive menu of fun and engaging experiences for every member of the family including a local sea turtle release programme in which the hotel invests heavily.
A marine biologist is on hand to enrich us all with some amazing facts about these incredible creatures before we watch these tiny, newly hatched adventurers make their way towards the sea and the epic journey ahead. Everyone is enthralled and we stand watching as the sun sinks into the sea, feeling very small ourselves and full of hope for these intrepid little warriors.
© Punta Mita Resort – Four Seasons
There is also a renowned Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a recently established Anti-Gravity yoga centre which proves to be the most fun I’ve had in lycra in ages. Christopher Hamilton, a former broadway dancer who created this emerging aerial yoga practice, is on hand to show us the ropes, or in this case, the parachute silks which form the supportive hammocks from which we dangle. Endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow, herself a recent resident here, Anti Gravity is a suspension-led form of yoga/aerobic routine designed to relieve pressure on your spine and neck. It’s a brilliant way to destress and despite proving one of the most inelegant of the session’s participants, I practically float back to my room!
Meanwhile, kids can take part in a great variety of the fun activities in the Kids For All Seasons programme. Explore the indoor tree house which forms the root of the kids’ club area, whilst outside they can float along the lazy river which forms a moat around this area of the hotel. A basketball court, graffiti wall, DJ and surfing lessons will delight even hard to please teens and for anyone with any energy left, there are salsa lessons in the sand and piñata parties a plenty.
Just north of Punta Mita is Sayulita, a place which ought to come with a warning sign, once you’ve had a taste of this vibrant, bohemian beachside town you will almost certainly never want to leave. Until quite recently a tranquil fishing village and home to just 5,000 people, Sayulita has become a hippy-chic surfers’ paradise. The streets are a stunning riot of colour, strewn with Papel Picado, the multi coloured bunting which is considered a Mexican folk art, they float in the sea breeze which comes off the beach at the end of the cobbled road streets. Lined with relaxed restaurants, bars and boutiques you will wish you’d come with an empty suitcase to transport a little of this cool haven back home.
It’s not hard to see why this part of the coastline in the Jalisco State of Mexico has become one of the country’s most desirable family holiday destinations, the vibe is a lot more laid back than the attraction-laden Riviera Maya on the opposite coast yet there is so much to see, taste and do. The next day we arise early for one of the highlights of our trip, a tour of the Baie de Banderas set against a backdrop of mountains covered in lush tropical plants and vines in search of a bottlenose dolphin group. Puerto Vallarta offers numerous opportunities to swim with dolphins and assist vital research projects to help these creatures continue to thrive but our hosts, Wildlife Connections, offer something different.
If we’re lucky, we’ll have the chance to interact and swim with these beautiful creatures in their natural environment in the open ocean. Our guide is a professional biologist and our boat is equipped with a hydrophone to allow us to hear the dolphins’ communication. The shoreline is a long way from view by the time the boat’s engine slows and we are all super alert to the signs of a playful pod in the water around us. The dolphins do not disappoint, before long they have made themselves known to us as they flip flop in the waves and whoosh by under our boat.
Swimming with wild dolphins is an obvious contender for any bucket list but the reality of paddling away from the boat and out into these open waters is not for the faint-hearted! We are instructed how to move in the water, taking care to keep our bodies long and still and advised not to touch the dolphins as they swim around us. With our heads under water we can hear the sounds they make as we watch this sleek pod speed past alongside us. Even a jellyfish sting cannot curtail this extraordinary, unconfined display but it is a reminder that we are essentially the guests of the abundant creatures that live here beneath the waves and respectfully, we are soon aboard the boat again, aware that we have had a once in a lifetime experience with our wonderfully accommodating hosts.
The final leg of our experience brings us to the W Hotel Punta de Mita, in Riviera Nayarit, part of the Starwood Hotels group, it is a mix of cool and quirky opulence bursting with bright colours. Inspired by both local Huichol art and bohemian surf culture, from the neon features in the super cool surf-themed rooms complete with waxed boards for bed heads to the magnificent ‘Camino Huichol’. This colourful mosaic walkway provides a glorious spine leading from the hotel entrance onto a dramatic staircase which leads outside forming a spectacular bridge over the pool. Such is the hotel vibe you could easily imagine it as a catwalk and it’s hard not to feel like an extra on a glamorous fashion shoot but the W caters as much for families as it does the cool crowd.
Having eaten our body weight in delicious Mexican fare during our trip, we still find plenty of room for some of the delicious servings on offer at the W from the cool beachside shack, styled from a converted 1950s Chevrolet truck serving exquisite ceviche and burritos on the beach, to the Venuzu restaurant with ‘its festive vibe evocative of a Mexican town during a weeklong fiesta’. The tables are large and invite guests to mingle. There are various families holidaying en masse and it’s easy to see why it works. One of the unexpected highlights of our stay at the W was the excellent Kids’ Club which promotes young guests to play, learn and connect with like-minded new friends. There is an emphasis on inventive activities including papier mache and mask-making in the style of local Huichol art and we headed home with some very precious efforts stowed with care in our suitcase. They will serve as reminders of this wonderful slice of Mexican life which we will continue to conjure until we return.
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita
Rates for the October booking window start at £280 per night for a Casita room with Garden View
Marina Vallarta – Wildlife Connection
Thomson Airways offers return flights for a seven-night break in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from £665 per person. Price is based on flights departing in October from London Gatwick Airport.
To find out more or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop, thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.