For years, the tiny fishing village of Yelapa was a hidden paradise where new-agers, artists and the dreadlocked young went in search of peace and quiet and freedom from the masses. A town with no road access and limited cell phone service. But the secret is out. Travelers arrive daily on a water taxi from the Los Muertos pier in Puerto Vallarta, some just for the day, some for a night or two and others who come but never really leave.
The panga ride between Puerto Vallarta and Yelapa, from one end of Banderas Bay to the other, takes approximately 45 minutes. Behind the beach where boats land is a string of beachfront restaurants, some brightly coloured immensely charming tropical vacation homes and a village of steep paths, randomly laid out and all leading back into each other. This town of about 2,000 remains much the same, albeit with some new, larger houses built by foreigners and decent internet and cell phone service.
Because the small town is hemmed in between jungle and ocean, Yelapa has no roads or cars. There is now a cellphone tower and internet is relatively standard in most rental places. Places to stay run the gamut from downright luxurious to rustic and adventurous. The beaches of Yelapa are for the most part confined to the one large beach in the center of the bay. It can be busy with the arrival of day-trippers, but the sand is lovely, and the cervesa is cold.
If you have a few days, there is some exploring to be had. Behind the town of Yelapa, about five minutes walking is the ‘small’ waterfall, which at this time of year is really rather impressive. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, and the small restaurant/bar was packed with locals drinking beer and listening to music. Maybe not as tranquil as some would like but definitely a cultural juxtaposition that made me tap my toes.
Renting a horse and cowboying up to the ‘large’ waterfall is a beautiful two to three-hour return trip fjording across rivers and charging up well-worn paths. The trek can be done on foot, and a local told me she does it regularly in about 45 minutes. Our horses needed no direction or guidance, each clearly having made this trip before. Along the way, you pass cabins nestled into the jungle, homes, and farmland. It is a wonderful glimpse into the everyday of rural Mexico.
Once you reach the end of the trail, you have to navigate through a fence and walk 10-minutes through the jungle to the cascade. There are stairs cut into the descent to the water. Use them – carefully.
The water is cool and comes down with a considerable force. The little cove is safe to paddle around in, and the rocks along the bank are a great place to catch some sun and dry off for the trip back.
Pack a waterproof camera, snack, and wear your swimsuit. No baños to change in here.
Back in the town, there are some cute little cafes and places to poke your head in. There are breakfast spots, taco stands, and restaurants open for the evening. While I was visiting the host of our B&B cooked up a delicious coconut curry dinner for guests and a couple of local people who dropped by. The laid back casualness of the whole experience was an easy way to meet new people and share stories.
If you have a few days free there are some exciting day trips to be had out of Yelapa including sailing to the Los Marietas islands for a snorkel through an underwater cave to a ‘hidden’ beach, the chance to see the famous blue-footed booby and if the water goddess is on your side, maybe some humpback whales (Nov – Mar), dolphins, turtles and manta rays.
There are also other car-free towns along the bay that are easily accessible from Yelapa including Quimixo and Las Animas. Mostly though, Yelapa is a chance to let it all go. The paths are too windy to text and walk. This is the place to sit back, relax with a book, eat delicious fresh seafood and delicious homemade pies, to reach a little further into nature, and exercise your body and mind. From the adventurous to the hammock-hog Yelapa is a place that place where people say, “It’s the (insert town you missed out on) of twenty years ago.”
Take a water taxi from Los Muertos Pier. They run approx. 5 times a day from 9am – 5pm. You can buy your ticket directly at the pier. For a shorter boat ride, catch the bus or taxi to Boca de Tomatlan and take the water taxi from the pier in the town. The journey is about 15 minutes and costs about 70 pesos. Boats from here to Yelapa are more frequent. Tip: Don’t book a return ticket. Best to pay a one-way fare, so you have flexibility in when and with what boat you return on.
Where to Stay
As with much of Mexico, Airbnb seems to be the best place to find comfortable vacation rentals. Yelapa has a couple of well-established yoga/nature retreats as well as a few hotels including the beachfront La Lagunita.