Yelapa’s unrivaled popularity in Puerto Vallarta’s South Shore makes this hip and mellow fishing town more than deserving of its own entry among our Community section. Nestled into the southernmost cove of Banderas Bay, this village with a South Seas feel is a nature lover’s delight and a refuge from the complications of city living—electricity and telephone service recent additions to its very kick-back lifestyle.
In the past the people of Chacala and El Tuito, two towns in the Cabo Corrientes municipality, would come down to Yelapa to sell oil coconuts and rubber to the large ships that anchored out front. After traveling up and down the mountains for years, some families finally decided to settle down in the area during the thirties. Later on, in 1964, when the movie The Night of the Iguana catapulted Vallarta into international fame, Yelapa became a tourist destination and its people abandoned the old trade to devote themselves to the happiness of their visitors.
When it comes to sneaking away from Puerto Vallarta’s pace, Yelapa is as close to paradise as it gets. And for those new to the region, you will soon appreciate why the likes of Bob Dylan, David Crosby and Hilary Swank have been spotted there over the decades.
Seeking refuge at this laid-back village by the sea is as simple as hopping on one of the water taxis that aim for it on a daily basis and enjoying the picturesque 45-minute coastal ride. Water taxis depart to Yelapa on a regular basis from Los Muertos Pier, Boca de Tomatlán and can also be arranged from Mismaloya.
Additionally, many local day-tour cruise companies feature outings with that stop in Yelapa for a few hours, making it easy to take a glimpse of the town if you are in a rush.
Where to Disembark?
More than likely, if you get there by water taxi, you will be offered an option of where to disembark upon reaching Yelapa. Yelapa has two docks, one right on the beach, and one in town. Boat owners frequently make deals with beach restaurant owners, such that they will drop you off right in front of their eateries hoping that you will favor them over others. No harm done. But if you need assistance getting on or off the boat, or find the boat-to-beach jump too daunting, particularly on a windy day, consider the docks. Additionally, if you are staying overnight, and your housing is near the point, you may also ask to be dropped off there.
Culture: Arts, Music, Cuisine
Given its appeal among the artistic crowd, a wide range of courses can be taken in Yelapa, such as, Spanish, yoga, writing, drumming, meditation, art, and those that are mind-body-spirit related among them. Yelapa is also home to a number of artisans that sell their wares on the beach or at their homes.
While the majority of restaurants in town offer basic, no-frills food, there are a couple that definitely raise the bar when it comes to fine cuisine is concerned. This goes hand-in-hand with the town’s overall nod to all things organic and environmental pursuits.
Beyond the traditional cantinas, bars catering to the local crowd, there is not much nightlife or live music going on in Yelapa, although occasional live music performances are organized by those living in town. Also, the Yacht Club becomes a very popular gathering place for visitors and locals, all dancing together to the sounds spinned by a local DJ.
Neighborhoods & Neighboring Regions
While Yelapa is probably divided in all sorts of neighborhoods in the eyes of its dwellers, there are four basic areas to be concerned with. The beach area features a few palapa eateries and a beachfront hotel. It is possible to walk from the beach to town. However, both are divided by the El Tuito River. The river flow is easy to cross on foot most of the year, but is not as manageable during the summer rainy months.
Most of the town can be accessed through the main “road” which is only wide enough for the occasional four-wheel motorcycle and horses, used locally to transport everything from groceries to luggage. The walk through town is hilly and good traction shoes are advised. The walk to the waterfall also originates in town. It’s very manageable, and the 20-minute leisurely walk will end at the foot of Yelapa’s waterfall. Upon arrival, a small eatery serving basic food and refreshing drinks is usually open for business.
Beyond the center of town, and the dock, Yelapa continues along its bay to the point, where privately-owned homes and a few small cottages for rent are located.
Other lodging options and a few eateries are located up river, in the opposite direction from the center of town.
Pretty much all of Yelapa is easy to handle on foot. However, keep in mind that you’ll have to carry around all of your belongings, whether traveling for the day or overnight, unless you rely on assistance from your host or the occasional horse owner riding by.
- If you are in Puerto Vallarta for the first time, a trip to Yelapa is a must, whether you get there by water taxi, or enjoy it as part of a day cruise. The contrast will amaze you!
- Doña Cheli and Doña Agustina, local pie makers, will compete for your pesos on the beach, selling pecan, coconut and other pies by the slice. You will undoubtedly bump into them, and enjoying their pies is a rite of passage.
- Walk to the 65-ft. waterfall. It’s a short distance. And if children offer to lead the way, trust them. After all, like everybody else, they are looking to make a buck.
- If you are in town overnight on a Wednesday or a Saturday (in season), dance the night away at the Yacht Club in one of the most eclectic cultural melting pots you will experience in the entire bay.
- Walk along the beach to the end of town and enjoy the scenic view of the entire bay, including Punta de Mita, at the opposite end.
- Try raicilla, the local moonshine. You won’t find it at the store, but it will be offered to you at most eateries along the beach.
- Paragliding is big in Yelapa, and a couple of locals offer instruction and equipment, should you wish to glide from the nearby hills and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Yelapa Bay.
- Another unexpected yet popular activity in town is croquet. Yelapa has its own Croquet Club that has organized annual tournaments for over two decades.
The beach in Yelapa features several palapa-style restaurants that offer basic Mexican fare. It is fairly swimmable, and, depending on the time of year, it can be complemented by the peaceful waters of the El Tuito river that separates the beach from the town, contained by a sandbar as it reaches the ocean.
Where to Stay
Accommodations are abundant with prices to suit every budget, consisting primarily of privately owned bungalows. There are a couple hotels in town as well. If you come on a day trip and stay on the beach you’ll enjoy it, but miss the things that really make Yelapa an intriguing, even magical place.
Seven Yelapa Must-Brings
Ready for your first Yelapa overnight? Packing these handy essentials in your bag will make a difference.
- Flashlight: Electricity abounds, but an unexpected power loss, a frequent occurrence in Yelapa, can turn a serene star-lit walk back to your palapa from your favorite restaurant into more of an adventure than you bargained for.
- Lighter: Along the same lines, chances are that the place where you’re staying will be well stocked with candles. Don’t get caught without a lighter or matches to light them!
- Ear Plugs: “It can take several nights for some visitors to get used to sleeping to the sound of crashing waves,” commented palapainyelapa.com’s Brad Wollman. Also, depending on where you’re staying, you do not want a nearby cantina’s jukebox to disrupt your ZZZs.
- Insect Repellent: If you are popular with mosquitoes, you’ll be glad you brought your favorite brand of insect repellent. Yelapa veterans recommend spraying your bed and mosquito net in the evening.
- Extra Batteries: Yes, chances are that you will find batteries in Yelapa. Then again, chances are you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg for them.
- Good Soles: Good traction on your hiking boots or all-weather sandals will make a difference should you go exploring up mountain trails or around the rocky surf breaks.
- Cash: There are no ATMs in Yelapa, yet.