Off the Pacific coast of Central Mexico in the Bay of Banderas, two islands evade the eyes of most tourists. The Islas Marietas hold a jaw-dropping secret. Tucked a little way inland at the bottom of a crater, one of the islands hides a secluded beach, Playa Del Amor, that is the perfect setting for any dream getaway vacation. What makes the beach even more interesting is its history, taking it beyond being a tourist attraction and turning it into a place of pure wonderment and adventure.

An Explosive Past

Thousands of years ago, the Marietas Islands were formed when lava bubbled up from the Earth’s mantle and solidified on the ocean floor. The pair of volcanic islands is full of caves and pockets created as the lava cooled, giving visitors many places to explore. However,¬†their formation seems pretty tame when compared to how our secret beach was born. Playa Del Amor is located in a crater on the eastern island. The hole is the result of a bomb blast from the early 1900s when Mexico used the uninhabited islands as testing grounds for their military weapons. The many explosives created craters and caverns within the islands, one of which now houses Playa Del Amor.

In the 1960s, scientist Jacques Cousteau began a call to action for the protection of the islands. The resulting public outcry was enough to convince the Mexican government to designate the Islas Marietas as national park land. Since that protection was put in place, any activities that might disrupt the local flora and fauna have been banned, including fishing. As of May 9, 2016, all human interaction with the islands has been prohibited by the Mexican government, to protect the local ecosystem from further damage, so you’ll have to wait for the islands to reopen before you can visit yourself.

Human Footprints

The preservation efforts of the Mexican government made the Marietas Islands the perfect tourist destination. The reefs surrounding the landmasses, protected from fishing, boasted a wide diversity of aquatic life. Humpback whales migrated to the warm waters in the springtime to mate, which brought plenty of people out to whale watch. In addition to the humpbacks, sea turtles, dolphins, octopi, and rays were also commonly reported to have been sighted in the area. On land, the islands are home to a few thousand birds, making it a prime attraction.

According to experts, the beach itself can hold up to 116 people, and the entire island preserve maxes out at around 625 people per day. Any more than that and the islands begin to suffer from the traffic, facing issues with erosion, pollution, and disruption of wildlife. The 2016 ban on tourism in the nature preserve was the result of numbers well beyond the calculated maxima, with over 27,000 people visiting the islands in 2012 and nearly 130,000 visiting in 2015.

Restoring The Natural Beauty

Plans are currently underway to restore the island sanctuary to its original health and majesty. The Mexican government has initiated a project to regrow the coral in the reef, splicing young corals onto old ones to grow for a few months before transplanting them to the seafloor. The new coral will take the place of those that were destroyed by people visiting the islands over the years. The government is planning ahead and intends to reopen the islands sometime in the future, but with much stricter regulations on charter companies and with added protection to the local plants and wildlife.