As I stared down at the tiny Olive Ridley sea turtle snuggled into the half coconut husk in my palm, I was already dreading saying goodbye. She had just hatched that afternoon, and little did she know that breaking free from her shell was just the beginning of her journey today. A few moments later, I would gently tip her out of the coconut husk onto the beach and watch her — along with dozens of her friends — crawl toward the surf just as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
Some of the turtles sprint impressively, straight towards the water, instincts taking over. Others meander more slowly, in no apparent hurry to start the next chapter of their lives. Mine sat for several minutes right where I had placed her. She seemed entirely unsure of her new surroundings. Since we human participants in this ritual were advised not to touch the turtles directly with our hands, I eventually use the tip of the husk to give her a little nudge. And another. She was the last of her group to finally touch the water, but I took comfort in knowing that slow and steady wins the race. I silently asked the universe to protect her and guide her toward food quickly — these hatchlings only have about 48 hours to find their first meal — while everyone gave a round of applause for the minor roles we played in this important preservation effort.
To the Huichol — the Indigenous people who traditionally live largely in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in the Mexican states of Nayarit and Jalisco — the spiritual symbol of the tortuga is an important one: the animals are regarded as the earthbound helpers of the rain goddesses. But in 2004, the species of sea turtle that comes ashore near Puerto Vallarta was on the brink of extinction.
That year, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa donated part of its beach to create a permanent turtle nursery and employs a marine biologist to oversee the program, which includes gathering just-laid eggs from the beach each evening, spending the next 45 days caring for them, releasing them upon hatching, and educating hotel guests on the process. From June to December, all guests staying at the Marriott can share in paying respect to Mother Nature by joining the daily turtle release.
When the program launched, the sea turtle survival rate was only one in 1,000. Today, it’s skyrocketed to one in 100 and the species has advanced to the more-stable ‘vulnerable’ status. The Marriott estimates it has released 600,000 turtles over the last 17 years.
Sea turtle conservation isn’t the only reason this resort has become a popular destination for eco-conscious travelers. The Marriott Puerto Vallarta shows love to the planet and the local community with myriad sustainability initiatives.
In the restaurants, guests can enjoy plant-based dishes including veggie fajitas, vegan ceviche, and pineapple-tofu enchiladas, and the team is happy to accommodate other dietary needs, such as prepping gluten-free meals upon request. The vegetarian dishes aren’t merely an afterthought that will leave you feeling left out of the culinary fun while on vacation, but meticulously reimagined and skillfully executed versions of some of their most popular menu items.
Many ingredients used in dishes and cocktails throughout the Marriott’s seven restaurants and bars – from lemongrass to papaya – are grown in its on-site culinary garden. What isn’t grown on the property is purchased from local farmers and vendors. Buying locally not only helps keep more money within the community, but reduces the carbon footprint of transportation and ensures that ingredients are used at peak freshness.
Guests looking to shop ethically and take a little Huichol culture home can stop by the property’s own shop. I found clothing and handicrafts made by the girls of Corazon de Niña, a local nonprofit safe haven home that supports abused, neglected, and exploited girls. Additionally, look for Don Jose, a native Huichol displaying and selling his art and traditional beadwork at the resort. After much deliberation, I chose my souvenir: a brightly colored beach purse made by female inmates of a local prison — the monies they earn for their craft help ensure their children stay fed while they serve their sentences.
Much as Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, true tequila can only come from Jalisco. The Marriott Puerto Vallarta is the only Marriott in the world that produces its own brand of tequila. Taste the CasaMagna Tequila in the resort’s La Cava wine cellar or during a private, multi-course dinner pairing in the fragrant herb garden. The resort employs a tequila sommelier (who, ironically, was born in France), so guests can learn more about the history and culture of tequila while exploring each of the five bottlings this property produces along with a collection of other local tequila and mezcal labels.
I like to think my turtle will make her way back to the Marriott’s beach someday to lay her own eggs and continue the circle of life. Maybe I’ll get to meet her children or grandchildren on a future visit, and I can tell them all about their brave mother’s first steps into the world.