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Magical Marietas

Snorkel through a cave and discover A hidden island beach along Mexico's Pacific Riviera Nayarit coast



Without speaking or understanding a single word of English, Francisco intuitively knows exactly what we want.

And he delivers the sunshine, blue sky and turquoise water on a spectacular approach to Marietas Islands.

As he hops on the bow of the open-deck small boat with fins in his hand and a smile on his face, we deduce we'll soon be snorkelling to Hidden Island, a.k.a. The Love Island.

My wife and I are in the northern reaches of Banderas Bay, the gorgeous arch of water that brackets Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Bucerias and Punta Mita on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

The Marietas Islands are a cluster of small outcroppings that have been declared a national park for their sea and bird life and unique geography.

They are uninhabited, except for all those birds and the day-tripping tourists who arrive in boats big and small to play in this paradise.

As the motor is cut, Francisco again springs into action.

The aforementioned fins and masks are handed out and he surprises us with his limited English.

"Let's go," he says with a grin and the universal hand gesture for "follow me."

We spy colourful tropical fish as we snorkel over the coral heads and then make our entry to Hidden Island.

It's beautiful and eerie at the same time, as we swim in deep, dark water through a wide cave.

Then suddenly, there's a crater hole in the cave's roof, the sun streams in and there sits a pretty little beach sunken into the middle of the island.

It's called The Love Island because it's unrelentingly romantic.

Francisco expands his use of the English language with one word: "Photo?"

I hand him the waterproof camera and he snaps pictures of us in this idyllic setting.

The foray to Marietas Islands is the inspired suggestion of Gregorio Amezquita, the owner of Vallarta Rides.

His company is a preferred partner of Grand Velas, the luxury all-suites resort we're staying at.

He whisks us in his gleaming SUV an hour to Anclote Beach where silent, but smiling, Francisco and boat captain Abel are waiting.

The highlight on the half-hour ride to the island is following a mother humpback whale and her baby so closely we can hear them breathe and see the water ripple off their black bodies.

The side-trip to Marietas is one of the few times we venture away from the Grand Velas, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.

As the only five-diamond, all-inclusive resort on the Mexican Pacific, we find endless ways to be pampered and while away the time in luxury.

Our ninth-floor suite has a stunning view over the palm-treed pool complex, golden beach and ocean.

The balcony also features the ultimate indulgence, an outdoor shower.

At the spa, which is a member of the Leading Spas of the World, we submit to serenity massages and hot and cold plunge pools.

And the food: People come to Grand Velas as much for the restaurants as they do the premium accommodations, sun, sea and sand.

There are only six four-diamond restaurants in Riviera Nayarit and three of them are at Grand Velas.

Piaf is the signature French-themed eatery where the resort's executive chef, Claudio Hotter of Austria, whips up the duck confit and soufflé favourites.

Frida is named after the famous unibrowed Mexican artist and serves up zucchini margaritas in salt-and-crushed-chile rimmed glasses and Latin-inspired beef tenderloin.

Not to be outdone, Italian-themed Lucca does wonders with ravioli.

The Grand Velas has two sister properties nearby, the adults-only Casa Velas on Marina Vallarta Golf Course, and family-friendly Velas Vallarta.

Grand Velas is the highest-end resort included in the flight and all-inclusive packages from Canada to Mexico's Puerto Vallarta area by WestJet Vacations, Transat Vacations, Air Canada Vacations and Canjet.

Check out VelasResorts.com and RivieraNayarit.com.