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Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

Sometimes those unplanned activities turn out to be the best memories of a vacation. When our family was in Puerto Vallarta recently, we were invited by the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit their onsite Sea Turtle Rescue Program. Of all the amazing things we did in this great destination, this was truly a very special experience. Releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta was a huge hit with our whole family – and it’s free and open to the public!

family at baby turtle release Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Those baby turtles at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta beach were so darn cute!

Releasing Baby Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

We’ve been fortunate to swim with sea turtles in several places around the world, including Kauai, Costa Rica and Playa del Carmen. Puerto Vallarta delivered a plussed-up experience that we will never forget. By the time the girls were nudging these little critters into the water, we were all smiles with maybe a few happy tears.

girl holding baby turtle at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta, Ava bonded instantly with her baby turtle as she prepared to release him into the sea.

In 2002, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a Sea Turtle Rescue Program on site at the hotel. The beach in front of the hotel is a rich breeding ground for Olive Ridley sea turtles, with hundreds of mother turtles crawling on to the beach each season to lay her eggs in the sand. Predators knew this too, and would prey on the eggs and baby turtles before they could make it into the water. Heartbroken from watching this happen, the folks at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta did something about it, working in conjunction with the National Institute of Fisheries and the Fishing & Marine Biology Station of the University of Guadalajara.

Puerto Vallarta Turtle Conservancy

Marriott Puerto Vallarta established a true Sea Turtle Rescue Program, hiring a trained staff and biologists to oversee the program. Each night during the season, which stretches from May – December, the team watches mother turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Once they depart, the team carefully extracts the eggs from their original nest and relocates them to a protected enclosure nearby. Safely buried in the sand there, the eggs can mature in their natural habitat and release around 100 baby turtles per nest. Once the babies start hatching in about 45 days, the Marriott team gathers them each night, releasing baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta warm ocean waters of  Banderas Bay.

baby sea turtle release with girl in Puerto Vallarta

Sophia named her baby turtle “Sophia”, and her namesake was soon paddling away into the sea.

Protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

It’s amazing to see all the baby turtle nests, organized in lines within the enclosure and labeled by date and number of eggs. Another number indicates the count of how many nests have been rescued within the season. When we visited the latest count was 871 nests this year alone! Figuring an average of 100 eggs per nest, that’s a total of nearly 90,000 eggs rescued in 2018. That is a LOT of baby turtles!

The rescue team carefully recreates the conditions of a turtle nest in the sand of the enclosure, carving a hollow jug-shaped pit in the wet sand about 12-14 inches deep. Inside, the eggs are carefully laid together with a small opening like the mouth of a jug – this is how the hatchlings exit to the surface.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Program at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta has been very successful. In natural circumstances, about 40% of the baby turtles might hatch and make it into the water. In this program, they release more than 95% of their baby turtles in Puerto Vallarta waters. After about 20 years, the mothers return to the exact spot on the beach where their egg was first laid – and they lay their eggs in that spot too. Nature is so amazing.

turtle hatchery at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Inside the turtle hatchery, this starburst-shaped hole in the sand is a turtle nest where the babies had already surfaced.

Baby Turtle Release

On the night we visited, Sophia and Ava were very lucky to learn that two baby turtles had recently hatched and were ready to be released. On a night in mid-season, there might be hundreds. We visited in November, at the end of the season when almost all the hatchlings had been released into the sea.

After scrubbing their hands vigorously with wet sand from the beach, Sophia and Ava were first allowed to each hold a baby in their cupped hands. Our new friend Cristina from the Marriott Puerto Vallarta told the girls to name their baby turtles – Sophia chose “Sophia” (go figure) and Ava chose “Gael”. Wishing them safe travels and with a tearful goodbye, the girls placed each baby turtle at the edge of the waterline.

baby turtle released on sand at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Baby Turtle Sophia makes her way to the water’s edge, planning her first swim in the warm Puerto Vallarta ocean.

From there we watched, waiting patiently for a gentle wave to come up the beach and give “Sophia” and “Gael” their first taste of saltwater. And we waited. Finally, a stronger wave made its way up the sand, and whoosh – little Gael was  swimming his heart out. We waved goodbye with no small amount of emotion. But Sophia the Turtle was still beached and waiting, so Sophia the Girl helped her out by moving her closer to the water. And just like that, the next wave carried her out to sea.

A Tearful Goodbye

We stood and watched the waves, imagining our new little friends swimming instinctively out to sea. Would they stick together? Would they go it alone? We prefer to believe that all their brothers and sisters were out there waiting for them, so they could swim together like those baby sea turtles in “Finding Nemo”. With a last wave goodbye, we walked back up the beach towards the Marriott for dinner.

Beach sunset at Marriott Puerto Vallarta

As the sun set, our little baby turtles swam away from the beach and off to adventures under the sea.

Celebrating Over Dinner at Mikado

At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta’s excellent Asian-inspired restaurant, Mikado, we celebrated the release of Sophia and Gael with a spirited dinner. Sitting at an exhibition-style kitchen surrounding a hot cooktop, we reveled as our chef put on a show with knives, fire and incredible feats of cooking showmanship. It was a delicious and entertaining meal, and Ava and Sophia even got into the act.

Cooking demonstration at Mikado Puerto Vallarta

Sophia got into the action, cooking us some dinner alongside her new chef friend (!)

First Ava and then Sophia took turns cooking with our chef, and they did a great job! Feasting on their hard work, we all enjoyed a delicious meal of many courses and lots of interesting Asian flavors. We highly recommend Mikado at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta if you get a chance to visit.

See You in 20 Years

Our family made a pact right then and there. In 20 years, we are coming back to the Marriott Puerto Vallarta to visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program at night. We’ll sit on the beach and wait for Sophia and Gael to return, as Sophia crawls up to lay her eggs and Gael stands guard from the shallow waters. Our turtle experience will have come full circle!

*For other things to do with kids in Puerto Vallarta, read our story Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts.

Bailey-Klugh family at Mikado Restaurant Marriott Puerto Vallarta

After our dinner at Mikado, they presented us with this amazing rendition of our logo made entirely from sugar. Wow!


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Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

*This post was sponsored by Visit Puerto Vallarta and the opinions expressed here are our own, as always.

The last time Triton and I were in Puerto Vallarta was before the kids were born. Part of a large group of 14 people, we rambled around the city en masse as we tanned, swam, feasted, caroused and slept. Largely in that order. Recently back for our first time to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we experienced a fun and more family-oriented vacation. It could not have been much more perfect.

Westin Puerto Vallarta pool at sunset

Sunset lounging by the pool at the Westin Puerto Vallarta – both beautiful and relaxing.

From the ideal weather to the fun activities and delicious food, our family fell in love with this sweet Mexican town. Truly, Puerto Vallarta won our family’s hearts. Our decision to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids was an ideal way to spend our Thanksgiving holiday.

Puerto Vallarta Won Our Family’s Hearts

As a family, we’ve visited quite a few destinations in Mexico, and there is something special about Puerto Vallarta. Maybe it’s the warm, swimmable ocean and fantastic undersea views. Or maybe we love the array of activities for families both in downtown and out on the water. Maybe it was the plentiful wildlife and colorful tropical birds. There are so many reasons to visit Puerto Vallarta with kids, we’re already planning to go back!

Here’s a few things that made our visit really special.

Boat Trip to Las Caletas

We really didn’t research our trip to Las Caletas very much. Hosted by Vallarta Adventures, the tours to this remote private beach are only reachable by boat. As we boarded the boat with about 200 other visitors, we got worried this was going to be “one of those” tours. Visions came to mind of men in Bermuda shorts and black socks alongside women in giant sunhats and zinc-covered noses. (Well ok, maybe there were one or two of those couples.)

Vallarta Adventures boat to Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Vallarta Adventures’ boat to Las Caletas was cozy but really fun. The entertainment was pretty hilarious (in a good way).

But my gosh, were we surprised when we skirted the coastline south of Puerto Vallarta and passed the famous Los Arcos National Marine Park. What came into view was a tropical paradise, and a huge one at that. We didn’t realize this private beach and playground was dedicated solely to our boat full of people. Suddenly, 200 guests seemed like a tiny number.

There is so much to do at Las Caletas. After settling into comfy lounge chairs on the beach, Triton and the girls swam out to a floating pier complete with hammock and umbrella. I stayed on the beach and nursed a gigantic piña colada, watching a flock of green parrots settled onto a nearby post. Kayaks, paddle boards, boogie boards, snorkel sets and even scuba equipment were all available for our use. Later, Ava and I walked up the stone stairways along the water until we reached another beach. Strewn with hammocks, this beach is restful and away from the laughter and happy squeals.

Las Caletas private beach Puerto Vallarta

The view looking North along the beach at Las Caletas, with the swimming beach on the right.

Around the bend further are the kids and teens areas, each with their own set of activities. Kids can play all sorts of fun games both in and out of the water. In the teen area, guests can zipline, ride the waterslide, jump onto a giant water pillow and more.

Even the food is great here, all included in the ticket price of $49 per person. Really, this place is a must if you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids.

man swinging hammock on floating platform Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta

Guests can swim out to several floating platforms off the beach at Las Caletas.

Tips:

  • Bring your own towels – they don’t supply them for you.
  • Sit on the main floor of the boat near the front left – there are surprises and you’ll be happy you did. Plus good views from the left side.
  • Tip the staff – they work hard to please.
Dinner at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant

For a truly nice dinner in downtown Puerto Vallarta, make advance reservations at the Iguana Restaurant at Casa Kimberly. This place ranks among the best meals and restaurant experiences our family has ever had.

family dinner at Iguana Restaurant Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

Everything about our dinner at Iguana Restaurant was fabulous. Look at that view!

I guess we should have expected something special when we learned Casa Kimberly is located in movie star Elizabeth Taylor’s former home. While filming The Night of the Iguana in Puerto Vallarta with her future husband Richard Burton, they fell in love with each other and this town. She bought this home high on the hills overlooking downtown and the ocean. To be discreet since they were still married to other people, Burton bought the house across the cobblestone street. They built a bridge between the two houses over the street to enable their midnight trysts – how Old-Hollywood of them!

Elizabeth Taylor painting at Casa Kimberly Puerto Vallarta

The Lady Elizabeth herself presiding over our dinner at Casa Kimberly, famous violet eyes and all.

The 5-star Iguana Restaurant is all white linens and china, with impeccable service and the highest quality of food and drink. Open air and with gorgeous views, the main dining room is elegant and casual at the same time. Serving delicious dishes with a hint of Mexican influence, the chef has created a broad menu even this kids were happy with.

But then came the mariachis – my family and friends know I am not a fan. However, these mariachis are another level. With at least a dozen quality musicians, this band put on a spectacular show that stunned us all. Even the vocals were exemplary, backed by a group of six violinists and the rest. Go. Go for the view, the food, the history of this building. And go for the mariachis. (I never thought I would actually type that sentence).

mariachi violinist Casa Kimberly Iguana Restaurant

The mariachis serenaded our table at Casa Kimberly’s Iguana Restaurant.

Tips:

  • Take an uber because it is very hard to find and some taxis even get lost.
  • The front entrance is unassuming. Pull the rope to ring the large bell and someone will come to open the gate for you.
  • Walk around the courtyard and gander at the old Hollywood photos and posters from Taylor’s own collection.
The Original Downtown Tour

Our family loves a good taco, and this food tasting and cultural walking tour of downtown Puerto Vallarta did not disappoint. We met our guide Shawnie of Vallarta Food Tours in the gazebo of Lázaro Cárdenas Park, and she handed us a map of the eateries we would visit. There were nine of them! From there, we were off to our first stop and our tummies were happy all day.

Taco stop at Bierreria Robles in Puerto Vallarta

Taco stop on our food tour – catch the tshirt on our guide in the back: I wonder if tacos think about me too!

I’ll go into more detail on another post dedicated to this tour, but suffice to say it was a fantastic collection of deliciousness. From street tacos to fresh seafood and everything in between, our taste buds were singing from start to finish.

A quick overview of our tour (the routes and stops can vary):

  • street tacos
  • aguas frescas
  • seafood tacos
  • local chocolates
  • ceviche tostadas
  • mole enchiladas
  • and much more
walking food tour downtown Puerto Vallarta

Our last stop on the food tour in Puerto Vallarta was a house-made candy shop.

Tips:

  • Eat a light breakfast that morning. The tour starts at 10:30 and supplies plenty of food.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. I wore flip flops which was a mistake.
  • Bring your swim suits. The tour ends back at the beach and you can take a nice dip.
Swimming with Dolphins in the Wild

At another location in Mexico, we had an unfortunate experience with captive dolphins. The girls were super upset at that place because the dolphins were kept in a swimming pool-like tank. In the case of Dolphin Tour by Wildlife Connection in Puerto Vallarta, the experience is completely opposite. These bottlenose dolphins are observed in the wild, part of a large pod numbering at least 60 members. Our guide and boat captain took us out to the bay where this pod lives, so we could observe them in their natural habitat.

They were majestic, and as we approached it seemed almost that they were welcoming us! Some dolphins jumped completely out of the water and dove back in, while others swim gently in the waves. We saw dozens of them, and at some points they were everywhere around us.

swimming with dolphins Puerto Vallarta

Dolphins swim off the coast Puerto Vallarta, and if you are lucky you can swim with them!

After the dolphins got used to our boat, we slipped into the water quietly so as not to disturb them. Armed with scuba gear and flippers, we swam out into the group. Playful as ever, they surrounded us and swam circles around our family – they were curious about these humans in their midst. We could even hear their calls to each other, that unmistakable high squeal. Some dove beneath us, encouraging us to come along. Others jumped in the air near us, daring us to do the same. Our favorites were the friendly ones that circled us, very close but never touching.

Of all the things our family experienced in Puerto Vallarta, this was a true highlight. Rarely do we see both our teen girls smile so broadly at the same time. Winning!

Tips:

  • Small boat. If you get a little seasick, prepare in advance with Dramamine or wrist bands.
  • The marina where the boat picks you up is random without good signage. It is directly across the street from the Westin Puerto Vallarta if you get lost.
  • Be respectful. Do not touch or try to feed the dolphins – they are wild animals and will not benefit from too much human interference.
If You Go

There are so many great places to stay and things to do when you visit Puerto Vallarta with kids. We wished we had more time to do them all!

Westin Puerto Vallarta from water view

From the water, the view of the Westin Puerto Vallarta architecture and grounds is impressive.

Our home base at the Westin Puerto Vallarta was an ideal location. Near enough to the airport that we could get there in 10 minutes, it was easy to arrive and exit. Downtown was a short uber or taxi ride, and the dolphin encounter is directly across the street. If your family plans a lot of activities in Puerto Vallarta proper, we suggest not staying farther north than Nuevo Vallarta. The drive times are long and you will have to leave your hotel very early to reach the excursions on time.

Westin Puerto Vallarta rates start at $108 USD.