Mexico's Subterranean Beach
White sand beaches and beautiful blue water are de rigueur in Mexico. But Playa del Amor is far and away the best beach Mexico has to offer. Located in the Marieta Islands, an hour long boat ride west of Puerto Vallarta, this secret beach is invisible from the outside but can be detected from the air through a gaping hole in one of the islands. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel - a wide, sandy cavern with the blue Pacific waters rushing in.
Also known as the Hidden Beach, it can only be accessed by swimming or kayaking through a tunnel that connects it to the Pacific Ocean. The 80 foot tunnel is about six feet above sea level, so you can get to the beach without scuba gear or even holding your breath! Tides can sometimes be treacherous at the Pacific side so you might be better to approach it from the Sea of Cortez side. Once you emerge from the tunnel, you'll be greeted by an almost perfectly circular hole in the earth that lets the sunlight stream through onto the soft white sand, turning the water into a Crayola shade of turquoise.
The Marieta Islands are an archipelago, believed to have formed centuries ago due to volcanic activity in the area. An archipelago is a chain of land formations formed by underwater volcanic eruptions and they themselves are natural wonders, but it was a different kind of explosion that created the Hidden Beach. Beginning in the early 1900s, the uninhabited islands were used for military testing by the Mexican government. As they have always been completely uninhabited, they were considered ideal for this purpose. Weapons and artillery were tested and while it was a safe distance from Mexican citizens it was not so safe for Marieta topography. Test bombs are the suspected cause for many caves and rock formations on the island, including the Hidden Beach.
In the 1960s, after years of research and efforts to legally protect the archipelago, scientist Jacques Cousteau led a protest against harmful human activity on the islands. In 2005, the islands were finally named a national park, Parque Nacional Islas Marietas, making swimming, kayaking, sunbathing, and other forms of recreation the only activity. Fishing and hunting are forbidden.
While the extensive military testing damaged flora and fauna of this tropical paradise for decades, many years of peace have replenished the islands' pristine waters and marine life.
The waters are well known for their varied sea life, so keep an eye out for brightly colored corals, fish and other inhabitants—you may spot striped sergeant majors and iridescent green and blue parrot fish. Seals hang out on the rocks a bit farther out, and you might also catch sight of the odd whale. Humpback whales travel down to Mexico in the wintertime to breed.
Water-taxis and glass-bottom boat tours leave from Cabo San Lucas marina and Playa Medano regularly for the short rides. It has been said that going to Cabo without visiting Lover's beach or Playa del Amor is like going to Venice and not going for a romantic gondola ride. On a practical note, there are no beach bars or bathrooms but vendors are usually present. However, it's always best to bring your own snacks and plenty of water.