Gem 1Mickou/
A big favourite with Canadian travellers, Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit is known for its 320 kilometres of golden coastline that sprawl along the Pacific Ocean.

And while the area may be perfect for some sun-soaked lounging, the region’s islands provide plenty of off-the-beaten-track adventures for those that just can't bring themselves to lie around on the beach all day.

With their protected Unesco biosphere reserves, the islands of Islas Marietas and Isla Isabel showcase ecotourism at its very best, while the ‘Pueblo Magico’ of Mexcaltitan highlights the country’s earliest cultural traditions and history.

Gem 2Steve Jurvetson/
Islas Marietas

This island was made famous by conservationist Jacques Cousteau, who started an international outcry over the military testing that was taking place on the island in the 1960s. As a result, Cousteau helped to preserve the impressive wildlife that lives on this uninhabited island in abundance.

Access to the island is only permitted through an approved tour company such as Vallarta Adventures, which takes visitors to the island in a traditional high-bow boat called a ‘panga’. This island is world renowned for its impressive diving opportunities, and divers often spot octopuses, sea turtles and a variety of colourful tropical fish.

Marietas Island has a wonderfully-hidden beach. This oasis is accessible only by swimming through a tunnel to the well-kept secret of Playa Del Amor. However, only a select few travel companies are granted access to this secretive beach.

Isla Isabel
Gem 3Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau
Located just off the coast from the Riviera Nayarit’s historical colony of San Blas, Isla Isabel is just over one-and-a half kilometres long. This island is a National Park and a biosphere reserve that features dramatic, rugged cliffs that boast some of the most stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Isla Isabel is home to flocks of rare and beautiful birds that are protected from predators in this natural sanctuary. Many of these birds rely on the island as a permanent nesting ground, which makes it an important part of their natural life cycle.

Due to the delicate balance of nature on the island, visitor stays are limited to only a few days at a time, and because of the limited number of people, the birds are not afraid of humans. There are no luxury five star hotels, so an Isla Isabel adventure is strictly for eco-tourists who are willing to rough it in tents.

Isla Isabel is home to what is considered to be one of the best-kept secret diving locations in the world. Sea creatures like yellowtail manta rays and whales wait just off the coast for the adventurous diver to discover.

Just a 30-minute boat ride from the vibrant city of Santiago Ixcuintla, the island of Mexcaltitan is shrouded in mystery and rich in history dating back to the Aztecs.

The man-made city provides travellers with a rare look at the cultural history of the people who once lived there. The island has since been reclaimed by much of the indigenous wildlife, but people do still thrive.

Much of the history about Mexcaltitan is lost in the annals of time, but many believe that the blueprints of the ancient city served as a basis for ‘Tenochtitlan’, a metropolis that is nowadays known as Mexico City.

The island’s natural mangrove swamp is home to birds, alligators, turtles, shrimp, lobsters and mussels, so it’s not unusual to see fisherman pulling succulent fish from the waters and cooking them right on the sidewalk.

What make this city so special are the especially high sidewalks that allow people to move about even at times of high water – a feature that has earned the city the fitting nickname of the ‘Venice of Mexico’.