Puerto Vallarta – A Commitment to Nature
by Lisa Coleman
Making its home on Mexico’s glorious Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta has always been one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The city’s unique mixture of modern amenities and old-world charm has long been considered its most alluring feature. But if you look beyond the seaside beauty, you’ll find Puerto Vallarta’s most impressive attribute – nature.
In recent years, the appeal for travelers has been a more “natural” one. The world has certainly become more ecologically conscious, and Mexico is keeping in step. This level of consciousness has created a travel phenomenon known as “ecotourism.” The focus is on nature-based attractions and activities that have little to no impact on the environment. The goal is to give visitors have a chance to not only relax on beaches and sip margaritas, but to also have a chance to get close to the supreme works crafted by Mother Nature herself. Puerto Vallarta has all the ingredients to be the quintessential ecotourism destination. From mountains to the sea, the ecosystems in the area offer biodiversity unlike any other in Mexico. Encircled by the Sierra Madre Mountains that hug the shores of Banderas Bay, Vallarta is highlighted by rivers, streams and jungle terrain, a haven for marine life and wildlife of all kinds.
The ocean is a symbol of freedom and the ultimate undiscovered element of nature. It’s also host to perhaps the ultimate wildlife experience – watching the world’s largest mammals at play. From December to April, migrating Humpback whales can be found in the waters off the shores of Puerto Vallarta. These gentle giants (weighing up to 30 tons) are protected inside Banderas Bay’s huge natural refuge and have made it their breeding ground for thousands of years. It is not uncommon to see these beautiful creatures breaching out of the water and instructing their young on the ways of life.
By June (through September) the focus changes from nature’s giants to some of the sea’s most precious infants. The plight of the sea turtle has always been a tangible example of “survival of the fittest.” Statistics say that only 1 to 2% of baby sea turtles will mature (which takes 8 years), but in Vallarta, the conservationists are making every attempt to up those odds. The natural habitat for the “Golfina” sea turtles is the stretch of beach that lines Banderas Bay. The turtles usually lay their eggs in the sand at night and return to the sea. The Sea Turtle Preservation Project has patrols that search the beaches during the hatching season and bring the fragile eggs to one of several nurseries established to help increase the mortality rate. Once the eggs arrive at a nursery, there are places in holes similar to one that the mother turtle would make and then covered with sand. In 45 to 50 days the eggs will hatch and struggle begins. They the turtles are usually born at dawn and will be released into the sea the same day by wide-eyed children, and equally thrilled adults. Vallarta’s program has been very effective and since 1993 most nurseries have released more than 10,000 baby turtles each.
Water sport enthusiasts will find several other eco-friendly possibilities. Think beyond jet skis and try your hand at sailing or surfing. The waves north of Puerto Vallarta have the perfect break for beginners, and there are several surf camps and schools for children and adults alike. Several all day sailing tours will show you basics and let you interact, or you can just go along for the ride and enjoy the sunset. Sea kayaking along the shoreline or around the Marietas Islands will show you an entirely different perspective. Floating quietly in the bay will give you a chance to feel a part of the surroundings, observe one of 366 species of birds, and maybe even have a chance to see some dolphins or sea lions at play. The pacific bottlenose, spotted dolphins and spinner dolphins all make their home in Banderas Bay. Snorkelers and divers will discover giant manta rays, underwater caves, and profusion of underwater life.
Nature here is lavish, and not just limited to the sea. There are a growing number of specialty tour providers throughout the city offering a full range of ecologically sensitive excursions including birdwatching, hot air ballooning, jungle jeep tours, botanical horseback safaris, Sierra Madre expeditions and visits to archeological sites. Guided walking, hiking and biking tours in the mountains and jungles will take you to primitive villages and remote waterfalls. These adventures are designed not only to be a visually beautiful experience, but educational as well. Having a chance to encounter nature first hand gives travelers a different perspective of Puerto Vallarta and Mexico.
From an ecological perspective, the native people have a tremendous impact on the land. They cling to their cultural identity and strive to keep Mexico as it was thousands of years ago. In Vallarta, it is the Huichol Indians who still bring their ancient ways to modern day life. Said to be direct descendants of the Aztecs, the Huichols have strong traditions and rich mythology that is mirrored in their handicrafts and artwork. Excursions are available (via one-hour air charter) to visit this fascinating civilization in a remote mountain village called San Andres Coamihata. It remains an important political and religious center for the tribe and will allow visitors a rare opportunity to step back in time.
For thrill seekers of all ages, Puerto Vallarta’s canopy adventure is a must. Suspended high above the jungle floor and gliding through the treetops on a network of cables, this is a true eco-experience. Forty-five minutes from downtown Vallarta, you will find yourself immersed in biological paradise filled with tropical flora and fauna. Trained guides with an impeccable safety record will brief you on procedure and get you situated in your gear. With you at all times, the guides will assist while you zing from tree to tree and make your way across 14 observation platforms, 11 horizontal traverses, two hanging bridges, and finally rappel to the jungle floor. A breathtaking encounter to say the least!
Puerto Vallarta is unmistakably one of Mexico’s gems, and their commitment to maintaining the magnificence of their natural resources will keep it beautiful for years to come. Come for the beaches, fun and sun, but challenge yourself to see another side of Mexico. Feed your soul with the magic of Puerto Vallarta’s nature.