Puerto Vallarta is a town on the opposite side of Mexico from the island of Cozumel. Situated on the Pacific coast (western coast) of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta is sheltered by the Sierra Madre Mountains. The town is famed for its nightlife and quaint cobbled town center. Here you will find the iconic church of “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe). This coastal resort overlooks the Banderas Bay in the Pacific Ocean. Water activities are popular here, and Puerto Vallarta snorkeling spots are on many people’s “must-do” lists when they travel here.
The climate in Puerto Vallarta is warm and tropical all year round. The dryer winter months are the times that attract more visitors to the region. The summer months between June and October are hotter and see more rain though the water temperatures are higher. Whenever you go, snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta is popular all year round.
There is an abundant array of marine life in the waters here. This attracts lots of people to Puerto Vallarta, snorkeling, hoping to catch a glimpse of more than 500 species of beautiful tropical fish. Including tuna, marlin, seabass, and manta rays. Look out for majestic turtles, and several species of whale and dolphin too.
Los Arcos National Marine Park
First on the list, we have Los Arcos National Marine Park, in Banderas Bay. Los Arcos is located just twenty minutes from Puerto Vallarta by boat. Los Arcos was declared a protected marine park in 1984 because of the abundant ecosystem found here. You can travel here with one of the snorkeling tours or you could hire a panga for a more leisurely and private experience.
Judging from its popularity, this area could offer the best snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta. The beautiful granite rock formations (Los Arcos/The Arches) that tower out of the water are home to caverns and tunnels under the water. Snorkel through them, if you dare. At Los Arcos there is an abundance of marine life to be found in the rocks and the coral. Or stick to the open water if you prefer.
Keep your eyes open to spot iconic angelfish and pufferfish, boxfish, sea turtles, eagle rays, and lobsters – and the odd paddleboarder and diver too. Los Arcos National Marine Park is popular with experienced scuba divers because of the wall that extends under the water for almost 250 meters.
If you spot a clownfish you might find them familiar. That’s because Nemo was a clownfish! You can see penguins and pelicans in this area as well. As mentioned, this is a popular spot. If you want to beat the crowds of boats, scuba divers, and other snorkelers, try to time your visit to avoid the tours.
Tip: a panga is a type of small fisherman’s boat used as a water taxi. You won’t have a problem finding one in Puerto Vallarta. They normally charge by the hour (anything from $25 to $50) with a minimum charge of around four hours, but feel free to haggle.
Las Islas Marietas
The Marietas Islands National Park in Banderas Bay is about sixty minutes by boat from Puerto Vallarta. Bird lovers will be impressed with the large number of different species that make their home here on the islands. See if you can spot the amazing Blue Footed Booby (pictured above)!
If you go snorkeling here you will find that visibility tends to be better at Marietas Islands than at Los Arcos. Although you can expect to find similar marine life, there are many coral species here and a high number of tropical fish. Look out for manta rays and the gorgeous yellow damselfish. Islas Marietas is also home to the infamous and heavenly Hidden Beach.
Hidden Beach is nestled in a crater, and you can only get to it by swimming through a tunnel when sea conditions are good. This crater is thought to have been formed quite by accident, when the military was running bomb tests here in the sixties. You could argue if it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t exist today. However, the bomb tests were eventually stopped after Jacques Costeau discovered what was happening. A protest movement started by Costeau led to the military testing being banned from the area. Because of this, we now have this precious and protected ecosystem that is so important to so many species of land animal and marine life.
The Mexican government restricted access to Islas Marietas as recently as 2016, as it was becoming overrun with visitors, and the delicate ecosystem was being harmed. Restrictions are still in place today to help preserve this stunning area that was declared a protected park in 2005. Snorkeling tours here will be able to advise you on the best time to go and whether you can access Hidden Beach. Personally, we think this is among the best snorkeling spots to visit while in Puerto Vallarta.
Tip: in the winter months, it is possible to spot humpback whales around Islas Marietas, and various species of dolphins can be seen all year round.
Majahuitas Cove is on the southern shore of Banderas Bay. It can be reached from Puerto Vallarta by boat in under sixty minutes. This could be one of the best places to snorkel in Puerto Vallarta if you want to avoid busy crowds. Marine life thrives in the waters of this sheltered cove with its shallow reefs. Expect to see colorful parrotfish, spotted eagle rays, giant damsels, mantas, and more. You may even see stringrays, or octopus or eel, and if you are lucky, a sea turtle. Jellyfish are known to frequent areas around Puerto Vallarta though, so be careful. Pay particular attention around the start of the summer season.
Traditionally this lesser-known Puerto Vallarta snorkeling spot was more popular with locals than tourists. Now though you can take snorkeling tours to Majahuitas so you may not find it as secluded as you would like. Although it is unlikely to be as crowded as places like Los Arcos. There is only one small hotel in the vicinity so the chances of it being quiet when you go as quite high – especially if you visit off-season.
The water in the cover here is calm and shallow enough that if you have never snorkeled before you will feel quite safe here. It’s a lovely place to relax, and the beach was voted as one of the Top 11 deserted beaches in the world.
You can visit Majahuitas Cove onboard a pirate ship if you fancy it – an experience with lots of activities including a pirate show. Something fun to do if you are with the family perhaps.
Tip: you must see the Yelapa waterfall when you are in this area. Many tours combine the two.
Colomitos Beach is roughly halfway between Los Arcos and Majahuitas, on the southern end of Banderas Bay. This is another beach that can only be reached by boat. Although you can hike through the jungle if you wish. On a boat, from Puerto Vallarta, it takes around forty minutes. Happily, no snorkeling tours currently visit here. So this is one of the best places to go snorkeling if you would like to avoid crowds of people. So hire a panga and be on your way. Hiring pangas can be expensive, especially if they have a minimum charge of four hours. If you want to snorkel at Colomitos Beach, you can travel to the nearby town of Boca de Tomatlan first. Then hire a panga from there. It will be a lot cheaper than hiring one all the way from Puerto Vallarta.
Colomitos beach is tiny – probably why it is not popular with tour companies. The beach has a sandy bottom and a pretty rocky coastline. Remember your snorkel gear because beach facilities are limited to one restaurant here and it is unlikely you will be able to hire any once you arrive. Once there get ready to spot a variety of tropical fish such as damsels, sergeant majors, reef cornetfish, eagle rays, and moray eels. Keep your eyes peeled for butterflyfish – they are beautiful!
After the small seclusion of Colomitos, if you fancy hiking on for two miles, you will get to Las Animas Beach. Here you will find a wider choice of places to eat. But mainly, it is another beautiful spot where you can snorkel, with the mountains and jungle as your background. If you don’t want to hike there, you can wave down one of the passing pangas from the shore at Colomitos. They will get as close to the beach as they can but you may have to swim out to them. If you have a camera or a phone with you then remember to take a waterproof bag.
Tip: you can hike to Colomitos beach through the jungle from Boca de Tomatlan if you like – approximately one mile. You will encounter all sorts of wildlife – all friendly, you are unlikely to encounter any deadly wildlife here.
The final place we are going to look at for snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta is Las Caletas beach. Las Caletas is a secluded beach, also in the south of Banderas Bay, and it can only be reached by boat. It is most famous for being the home to film director John Huston after he discovered it on a filming trip. He actually leased the land from the Chacala Indians.
Today, it is a little piece of paradise waiting to be discovered (again). Because Las Caletas beach is on private land there is currently only one boat company that has the authorization to dock there. This means you can only visit Las Caletas through them. Not a problem if you don’t mind being on a guided tour. The biggest problem might be having to leave when the tour departs. Having just discovered a piece of paradise, you may be reluctant to let it go.
You’ll enjoy it at Las Caletas beach for sure. Just over half a mile of coastline is broken up into three lovely beach areas. The water here is lovely and clear. You will see lots of colorful tropical fish, and if you are lucky you might see some sea-lions. When you are not snorkeling, you can try other water activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding. On land, you can go hiking or even try clay modeling. If you prefer something more low-key then just chill out in one of the beach hammocks and enjoy a drink while gazing into the Pacific until it is time to leave.
As beautiful as this place is, we don’t think it offers the absolute best snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta. But overall, the allure of this private beach is quite special, which is why we thought it was worthy of a mention.
Tip: you can hire power snorkel gear at Las Caletas beach. Take your snorkeling to another level as you are propelled through the water at speed. A great snorkeling experience to try (age seven and up)!
Is Puerto Vallarta good for snorkeling?
Yes, Puerto Vallarta is good for snorkeling. It doesn’t really compare to places like Cozumel where you could be snorkeling with whale sharks in waters with amazing visibility, but snorkeling is still a popular activity here. Beautiful sights surround you, wherever you snorkel in Puerto Vallarta, both in and out of the water. With the Sierra Madre Mountains in the background and some of the most colorful fish right in front of your eyes, you’ll feel like you are in paradise. You’re guaranteed to see some stunning marine life and, fingers crossed, sea turtles and huge manta rays too. But if snorkeling is your main aim then Cozumel would be better.
What time of day is best for snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta?
First of all, the sea conditions should be your first concern. Only go snorkeling if it is safe to do so. Assuming sea conditions are good then you might want to choose a time of day that will allow you to miss the bulk of the crowds. Find out what time the snorkeling tours arrive in the area/s you want to visit and then avoid those times! Most tours will arrive in areas early to mid-morning. If you are taking a panga you should ask the advice of the skipper as they will know the best times to go. But either really early morning or mid to late morning is probably a good time. In the afternoons the sea can get a little rough, making it harder to snorkel but this will depend on the time of year you go as well.
You could explore the beaches and snorkeling spots around Puerto Vallarta in a couple of days, depending on how much time you want to spend in each one. If you prefer a more individual experience then hire a panga for a day. If you do this with a friend or two it could work or quite cost effective.
Visiting two or three areas to allow you to snorkel at leisure could be the best way for you to experience this lovely part of Mexico. If you don’t mind arranged activities then booking a tour could be a great way to explore the coastline. All in all, if you are looking for a Mexican experience that is a little more traditional than some of the flashier resorts found in Mexico then Puerto Vallarta shouldn’t disappoint.