Aquatic Adventures in Puerto Vallarta
The most popular aquatic draws in the Bandaras Bay are the Humpback Whales, which use the Bay to mate in the winter months. They migrate south from their feeding grounds off the coasts of Alaska, Canada and the Pacific U.S. The first whales arrive in mid October and the last ones usually leave in mid March.
The largest numbers of whales can typically be seen during the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February. At least 300 whales visit each winter; some staying only for a day while others stay for as long as five weeks. They breed and give birth in the Bay, but they do not feed. The whales often break the water’s surface in playful behavior called breaching, along with some good fin and tail slapping. Sometimes they can be caught in dramatic courtship battles during which 2 to as many as 18 males will push, shove and strike each other for the right to get close to a single female. A courtship can last for many hours before the strongest male wins the right to breed with the female.
There are many whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta. Mexico has some strict laws in regards to whale watching, such as keeping a distance of 30 meters for a maximum of 30 minutes and not separating a group. Please be conscious and make sure that your tour guide practices responsible whale watching!
Snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay offers a couple of good snorkeling opportunities.
Equipment is readily available for rent, and no special permits or skills are required. Most of the large inclusive hotels provide snorkeling classes in their pools and they often include complementary use of the equipment. Some hotels even offer shuttles to the prime destinations.
The best time for diving and snorkeling in the bay is in the winter months when the water is significantly more clear than in the summer months. There are several snorkeling tours that will take you out on a boat. Dave’s Been There Tip: Remember that Mexico is NOT a litigious culture, and everything is at your own risk!
The easiest spot to access is the underwater protected ecological zone off the Los Arcos Rocks just south of Puerto Vallarta. The area consists of a cluster of rock formations with towering arches and a major underwater cliff that brings Plankton near the surface and therefore attracts enormous numbers of tropical fish. The tropical marine life here consists of angelfish, damsels, parrot fish, lobsters, puffer fish and the occasional visits from mantas and stingrays. The primary shove off pint is in Mismaloya and there are many ways to get here, by skiff, car, bus or hotel bus.
Las Islas Marietas
The best diving/snorkeling in the area is at the Northwest edge of the Bay at Las Islas Maretas which requires a 20 minute boat ride to the group of three islands. The area was recently declared a protected Marine Reserve giving protection to the dolphins, sea turtles, friendly giant manta rays, hundreds of tropical fish and the coral reefs that abound here. Prices are very affordable at $40-$50 per person.
Fishing in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is renowned for it’s world-class billfishing. Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish are all prevalent in the Bay as well as Tuna, Red Snapper and Sea Bass. Fishing season continues year long but the conditions are generally best during April to July and October to December.
In November Puerto Vallarta hosts the International Sailfish Tournament.
When fishing on a boat in Mexico, anyone with a rod and reel needs to have a valid fishing license whether they are fishing or not. On charter boats the licenses are covered by the boat owner, and charters can be arranged dockside at the Marina Vallarta or at the co-opertative on the Malecón. The going rates are around $25-$40 per person per hour for trips of 2-3 hours minimum.
No licenses are required when fishing from the shore.
Surfing in Puerto Vallarta
Surfing in the Banderas Bay is limited due to it’s calm waters; however, just north of the bay there are world class waves during the Summer and Fall seasons. With water temperatures of 75-78 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer, wet suits are not needed.
Good waves can be found in San Blas and Sayulita. The longest waves can be found in Matanchen Bay in San Blas, which once held the world record for the longest surfable wave, which traveled over one and a quarter miles. See our section on San Blas in Chapter 7 for more details!
You can take surfing lessons from select vendors on the beach in each town.