Independent, active families will treasure their time at this eco-friendly villa compound and turtle conservation area.
We clicked off our flashlights and were enveloped in darkness, the only light coming from the reflection of the stars and moon off the sea. We’d set our plastic bins down in front of us in the sand and the scrabbling and scratching noises became more pronounced. As I look down at the moving mass of tiny leathery flippers and jagged-edged shells in my bin, I could see the turtles were hell bent on moving out.
We gently tipped over the bins and began to spread the baby turtles out along the waterline. Some ended up facing the water and began to run for it, using their thick long flippers and stout back legs to propel themselves into the foamy surf. Others faced backwards, and with an uncanny instinct, turned a quarter turn, stopped, and sensing some ancient innate knowledge, turned again and began to clamber toward the water.
A few babies seemed confused and tired, and I couldn’t help but think about their long journey ahead. Our protection gave them a head start that they wouldn’t have had if they had hatched in their nests and had to run across the sand past voracious crabs and predatory birds on their way to the surf. But even with a secret nighttime release they would somehow have to maneuver their tiny bodies through the crashing waves and out into the open water. Only 1% would survive to return and lay their eggs.
The stretch of coast we were working on is called Costa Tortuga, or Turtle Coast, because it is an important nesting ground for Olive Ridley sea turtles that have lumbered ashore here for centuries to lay their eggs. About a two-hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta, the coast is somewhat undeveloped and hosts several turtle camps that have been set up by the Mexican government to help protect the Ridleys and other species of turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches.
Luckily for us, the turtle camp shares the beach with a secluded collection of comfortable villas that can be rented by the day or by the week. The villas’ manager and owners help support the turtle camp, and their guests can participate in turtle conservation projects. Called Playa Las Tortugas, the twelve-villa complex is a new development that is in the process of expanding, and it is doing so carefully and conservatively. The complex is set back much further from the beachfront than the law requires, and more than 45% of the development will be kept as open space in the form of beautiful tropical gardens.
It has the broad white-sand beach of the Pacific at its front and a protected 1,100-acre saltwater tidal estuary that is home to more than 120 species of birds along one side. Homeowners in the development sponsor a number of projects that benefit local villagers, such as helping local children to further their educations.
Playa Las Tortugas is a far cry from the cheek-by-jowl high-rise hotels of Puerto Vallarta and other touristy Mexican beach towns. First of all, its stretch of beach is virtually uninhabited and you’re likely to have the beach to yourselves. You won’t find a kids club, sports desk, bar, or restaurant on its premises. Many families pick up a rental car and take care of themselves.
The resort’s brightly colored stucco villas are tucked amidst the lavish landscaping and shady palm trees – the property was a coconut plantation before being turned into the resort community. The villas are spacious and very attractive, combining traditional Mexican and Mediterranean influences in such details as the use of open floor plans, palapa-roofed decks, and abundant use of Mexican tile.
The villas are two to four bedrooms with one or two stories, and most bedrooms have their own private bath. Many of the homes have a third-floor rooftop terrace, and all are complete with gas grill, tiled counters with bar stools, tables and chairs, and chaise lounges. Kitchens are well outfitted with every convenience, and all villas have TV’s, VCR’s and/or DVD’s, and stereos with CD players.
Turtle Patrol & Other Recreational Activities
In the spring and summer, guests can be part of a nighttime turtle patrol to scout for females coming onto the beach to dig a nest and lay their eggs – the hatching begins in the later summer and continues through the fall. With the supervision of the wildlife workers from the turtle camp, they capture eggs as they are laid and tuck them into sand-filled Styrofoam coolers to be incubated in safety at the camp.
Over the last few decades, poachers have decimated the turtle population by harvesting eggs and illegally selling them, as turtle eggs are believed by many Mexicans to be an aphrodisiac. By incubating them in a protected environment, the eggs are given the chance to develop and hatch. Starting around mid-summer and continuing into the fall, the eggs begin to hatch, and guests can help clean the “nests” to get the babies ready to be released that same evening.
There’s plenty more to do besides patrol the beach for laying female turtles and release the babies at Playa Las Tortugas.
Guests can take the resort’s canoes or kayaks into the adjacent estuary and paddle about to see birds like herons, egrets, pelicans, and storks. Ask the staff for directions, and paddle through the estuary to a cove containing a line of thatched-roof open- air restaurants where you can order freshly grilled whole fish while you watch Mexican children play in the waves.
Playa Las Tortugas has a swimming pool in the midst of its gardens, and you can make arrangements through the office to ride horseback on the beach; take surfing lessons; or have a massage.
Playa Las Tortugas is located about two hours’ north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit. To get there, you can rent a car from the Puerto Vallarta airport or arrange transportation in a taxi, and the price varies depending on the number of people in your group.
There are a few small towns in this Costa Tortuga neighborhood, but the nearest doctor is about 35 minutes away from the villas and the nearest hospital about 45 minutes. Phone and internet service are available at the office in the villa complex. Calls may be made from the office and many digital and GSM cell phones from the U.S. operate here, but check with your cellular provider in advance to arrange service in Mexico.
Playa Las Tortugas is a place for outdoorsy families looking for the chance to get away from it all, but still have the benefits of space and comfort. It really is more a collection of private homes in a planned community rather than a resort.
Many families stop on their way from the airport at the supermarkets and big box stores in Puerto Vallarta to purchase food and other supplies. Others hire a local Mexican cook through the Villas, and enjoy excellent traditional Mexican fare.
For more information, call 800/320-7769 or visit www.playalastortugas.com
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.