Many folks find the idea of captive dolphins disturbing; others cherish the opportunity to interact with these intelligent creatures that communicate through body language as well as an audible code we humans have yet to decipher. Decide whether you support the idea of captive-dolphin encounters, and act accordingly. As these gregarious mammals are fond of bow-surfing, most bay-tripping boats will encounter dolphins as they motor along, providing more opportunities to see dolphins as well as leaping manta rays and other sea life.
Dolphins are abundant in the bay year-round, though not 24/7. Dolphin encounters limit the number of humans per encounter and usually allow just two visits a day. Call before you arrive or early in your stay to book.
Dolphin and Sea Lion Discovery. For both the Dolphin Encounter ($79) and the Dolphin Swim ($99) at Dolphin Discovery in the Sea Life Park you spend about 30 of the 45-minute experience in the water interacting with dolphins. In the Royal Dolphin Swim ($149), you still get only 30 minutes in the pool, but, with a higher ratio of cetaceans to humans, you get more face time. It's an expensive outing, and the memento photos really jack up the price (you're not allowed to take your own snaps, and they photograph each family member individually). To get the most bang for your buck, plan to spend the day at the water park. The entrance fee of $18/$14 for adults/kids to Aquaventures Park is included with dolphin program. Aquaventures Park, Carretera a Tepic, Km 155, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, 63732. 322/297–0724; 866/393–5158 in U.S.; 866/793–1905 in Canada. www.aquaventuras.com..
Aquaventures Park. Kids can plummet down one of 10 enormous waterslides, play on playground equipment, and indulge in junk food at the obligatory snack shops while their parents swim or relax around the pool. On the property are the dolphin and sea-lion discovery adventures. Carretera a Tepic, Km 155, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, 63732. 322/297–0724. $18. Tues.–Sun. 10–5.
Wildlife Connection. This Mexican-owned company uses two-motor skiffs equipped with listening equipment to find pods of dolphins in the wild blue sea. You can then jump in the water to swim with these beautiful creatures in their own environment. The most common destination is around the Marietas Islands. The cost is $76 per person for a three- to four-hour tour; tours are conducted April through December only. There's no guarantee, however, that the dolphins will stick around for the fun. There's also a combined tour ($80 per person) searching for both whales and dolphins between December and March only. Calle Francia 140, Dpto. 7, Marina Vallara, Puerto Vallarta, 48310. 322/225–3621.
Several organizations, including Greenpeace, the Humane Society (U.S.), and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, have spoken out against captive dolphin encounters, asserting that some water parks get dolphins from restricted areas and that the confined conditions at some parks put the dolphins' health at risk. Consider putting the $100-plus fee toward a snorkeling, whale-watching, or noncaptive dolphin encounter, where you can see marine life in its natural environment.