While exploring the surrounds of Puerto Vallarta and nearby mountains we spent a day in Yelapa, a small village tucked inside a cove roughly 30 miles south of Vallarta. Yelapa is unique in that it’s a beach town, yet no roads lead to it and it’s only accessible by boat. The lack of “mainland” access gives the small hamlet an island feel, and for years has protected it against major development.
About 100 local families call Yelapa home, with an additional group of U.S. and Canadian regulars during the high season. Yelapa’s “streets,” consist of winding narrow trails leading into the hills and a forming a maze of paths in town with cafes, small markets and tiendas closer to the shoreline.
Although it wasn’t necessary we reserved space on a water taxi the day before. These small boats seat about 20 people and leave every 30 minutes in the mornings and afternoons from Los Muertos pier, making the trip in about 40 minutes. The ride provides stellar views of Vallarta, Mismaloya and the Sierra Madre mountains behind Bahia de Banderas. Arriving Yelapa there are three stations in the small bay – the north dock which is mainly residential, the beach club in the center and the dock in the main village. We weren’t sure where to exit, so we hopped off at the beach and walked about 15 minutes into town via the hillside.
After finding our way back down to shore thanks some kids’ directions we ended up at one of the few open restaurants, “Cafe Bahia” directly in front of the dock where we had a wonderful breakfast of eggs benedict, black beans, corn tortillas and coffee.
An unexpected sight: When we found our way back to the shore we saw this enormous James Bond style yacht was suddenly parked in the bay. While impressive to see in person it’s quite ostentatious and out of place among the small boats and canoes in the small bay. I was told the owners harbor it along the coast a few days of the week to save on fees associated with docking in Puerto Vallarta. (Meanwhile a staff of at least 15 was milling about to make sure the likes of me didn’t sneak aboard for closer look.) Caste issues aside the helicopter was pretty damn cool.
A short walk up the Yelapa River is a cascade and pond, and a two hour hike further I’m told is a spectacular waterfall which is well worth the walk. Our feet needed a break so we chartered a horse and mule. I’m not exactly a skilled equestrian and my horse wandered off a different path before stopping and sticking his entire head into a local convenience store. We paid the gentleman 200 pesos each, (about $18,) to guide us and borrow his friend’s horses. This was way overpriced for such a short excursion but knowing our tourist dollars go directly into local hands makes it very well worth it. Later on I asked the same guy where can I could rent a sea kayak, and he pointed to the beach and said, “Sure you can take mine there that my kids are in.” and summoned his two youngsters into shore.
Above left: One of the small “streets.” Right: One of the fancier houses.
The village isn’t visually perfect. There are unfinished homes and foundations scattered about, and hoses are strung through trees and over the paths delivering water to homes without plumbing. You won’t find any five star resorts here, but from reviewing the local list of rentals I think I’d have no problem spending more time in this unconnected and relaxed hideaway.
To reach Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta: Visit the Los Muertos pier in the old town south of the Rio Cuale. Several water taxi operators are consolidated in one stand, and a round trip ticket is $25. Some of the resorts in Puerto Vallarta, like the Lindo Mar Resort, offer day trips to Yelapa to their guests or will at least provide discounted rates and shuttle services to the water taxi stations.
A cheaper alternative – take any city bus south on Highway 200 past Mismaloya to Boca de Tomatlan. Water taxis run more frequently between Boca and Yelapa, and are cheaper than from Vallarta.
Yelapa.info has plenty of details.
Several places rent rooms and apartments. Yelapa.info is an excellent one stop resource for lodging.
We saw campers on the beach, and along the river leading up to the small waterfall.