There are many spots around Puerto Vallarta where you can go snorkeling and discover the underwater life of the beautiful Banderas Bay. This bay is home to bottlenose dolphins, eels, and manta rays as well as schools of colorful tropical fish, and even whales. Although the Pacific doesn't quite compare with the Caribbean coastline for clarity and visibility, it's still worthwhile to strap on a mask, snorkel, and some fins, and marvel at all the fascinating life that dwells under the surface of the ocean.
Los Arcos (which means “the arches” in Spanish) is the name given to a trio of rocky islands in the ocean about 12 miles southwest of Puerto Vallarta, off the coast near Mismaloya and Las Gemelas beaches. These small islands have tunnels, passageways, and a variety of arch formations in the rock that shelter a variety of marine life. The area is a government-protected marine reserve and is one of the most popular sites for snorkeling near Puerto Vallarta. Water conditions and visibility can vary a lot, but on a good snorkeling day, you may be able to see angelfish, clown and pufferfish, eels, manta rays, and sea urchins. Because of its popularity, Los Arcos can get crowded especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the winter.
How to Get There: The easiest way to reach Los Arcos is on a snorkeling or sightseeing tour and there are many. Serious snorkelers may prefer to take a private boat and get an early start rather than going on an organized excursion. Jet’s Boat Tours offers a private Los Arcos excursion. Or if you’re on a budget, you can grab a bus to Mismaloya beach and hire a panga (water taxi) from there. You’ll need to bring your own snorkel gear, though.
On the northern edge of Banderas Bay, about 20 miles northwest of Puerto Vallarta, there’s a group of four islands (two large and two small) called Las Islas Marietas (the Marietas Islands). These uninhabited islands are located where three water currents converge and therefore have an abundance and great variety of bird and sealife, making it an excellent spot for both bird watching and snorkeling.
How to Get There: You can take an excursion such as Dressel Divers’ Marietas Island Excursion or Vallarta Adventures Marietas Eco Discovery to the Marietas Islands. Or, you can hire a private boat. The boat ride from Puerto Vallarta takes about an hour, or you can take a bus or car to Punta de Mita, and hire a boat from there.
Colomitos is a tiny beach in the Banderas Bay, to the south of Puerto Vallarta, just past Boca de Tomatlán. The beach has rocky outcroppings on either side and you can see hundreds of fish swimming around the rocks. There is a great variety of tropical fish and other sea life in this picturesque cove, as well as colorful plants and tiny urchins. There are no facilities on this beach, so you'll need to bring all your gear with you.
How to Get There: Hire a water taxi to take you to the beach, or you can hike there from Boca de Tomatlán. The hike will take about 45 minutes. Eco Tours Vallarta offers a Hiking and Snorkeling Combo Tour that visits this spot and provides snorkeling gear.
The lovely Majahuitas Cove is farther along the coast, past Las Animas beach but before Yelapa. Surrounded by lush jungle, in this small, sheltered cove you can get a glimpse of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, tropical fish, and more. It’s a hotspot for spotted eagle rays, octopus, and even eels. There are no public facilities here, so if you go on your own, bring your own snorkel gear and anything else you may need for the day.
How to Get There: Take a sailing trip on the Marigalante pirate ship that includes a stop for snorkeling at Majahuitas, or join Vallarta Adventures's Yelapa & Majahuitas Tour. Alternatively, hire a water taxi to take you there and arrange a time for them to pick you up later.
Yelapa is usually as far as most tourists go, but the beach there tends to be crowded and there is a fair amount of boat traffic coming and going, so the conditions aren’t the best for snorkeling. Go a little bit farther from Yelapa’s main beach and find Playa Isabel (near Casa Isabel) which offers decent snorkeling, or go even further to Pizota, to the next village along the coastline. Because of its location, Pizota receives few visitors and has great snorkeling conditions.
How to Get There: Take a water taxi to Yelapa, which is usually where the water taxis turn around and head back, but you can ask the driver to take you to Pizota. Just make sure to arrange a time to have them come back for you! Alternatively, charter a boat with Mike’s Charters and Fishing to take you there and while making some other stops along the way.