Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 24, 2011

Yelapa: A Hidden Treasure on Mexico’s Banderas Bay

The idyllic little inlet in which Yelapa hides (Courtesy CasaGrace)

How many places are there, left in the world, like Yelapa?

I have no idea, but there can’t be many. And the number is certainly dwindling. I wonder, if Yelapa is “discovered” soon, how much longer will it remain as it is?

Where is Yelapa? Don’t ask Google; it doesn’t know. A search for a Yelapa map turns up nothing. Yelapa is within an area roughly defined as “Costalegre” (The “Joy Coast”), which comprises hundreds of miles of Jalisco state’s coastline, from Puerto Vallarta, to Manzanillo in Colima state.

"Discovering" Yelapa (Jerry Garrett Photos)

I “discovered” Yelapa in late 2010, quite by accident. I was taking a boat tour of beautiful Banderas Bay, off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My guide, Mario, pointed out that the south side of the bay is inhabited only by remote fishing villages, accessible only by sea. All roads around the bay, south of Puerto Vallarta, turn inland and away from the coast  about 20 miles out of town, at Boca de Tomatlan.

But the bay, surrounded by mountains, continues on for another 25 miles or so, to the Cabo Corrientes lighthouse (recognized as the southernmost point of the bay). A series of small villages dot the coast, each separated by a couple of miles of sheer cliffs into the ocean.

“No roads can go between the cities; it is too steep,” explained Mario. “Only the water taxis go to each.”

Boarding a Yelapa-bound water taxi.

The shallow-draft water taxis often roar right up onto the sand, and beach themselves. More elaborate passenger loading facilities are primitive, if not non-existent. (Water taxi rides should cost about $10 each way from Puerto Vallarta.)

Anyway, the last of this series of towns along the south coast of the bay – including Quimixto, Las Animas and Caletas – is Yelapa. It is located in a little bay-within-the-bay.

This little treasure features a sparklingly clear bay, a few houses hanging tenuously from the cliffsides, and towering mountains with lush tropical foliage.

“There are also two waterfalls here,” Mario advised.

I was interested. “Let’s land,” I said.

Yelapa's small dock; Cafe Bahia, at left.

Yelapa has a small public dock, adjacent to which there is a delightful restaurant, Cafe Bahia, which is run by Americans (Susan, the owner, is a Paris-trained chef) who offer a menu of fresh, delicious, organic ingredients. Most of the fare is grown locally. Very reasonably priced – entrees $3-$10 – but open only for breakfast, brunch & lunch.

After a short but satisfying detour at Cafe Bahia, the hike to the nearest waterfall, La Cascada, is resumed. It is less than a quarter mile up a canyon, behind the pier. Along the way, you pass several tiny but intriguing stores, bars, and one- or two-room B&Bs. There was also a craftsman’s shop along the way, where elaborate wooden bowls were fashioned from bits of local hardwoods; these are expensive souvenirs, and the artist wants cash (American dollars, preferably).

La Cascada waterfall

La Cascada, a delightful, narrow stream of water, is about 100 feet tall and surrounded by jungle. The quantity of water cascading down depends greatly upon whether it is wet or dry season (dry season seems to start in March and last through the summer). Orchids, butterflies and other exotic flora and fauna abound. Some visitors bathe in the small pool at the waterfall’s base. (A “public restroom” 30 feet up the hill left of the waterfall is a hoot.) A tiny cafe (not recommended, except for the view) is nearby.

To get about in Yelapa, you hike. There are no roads. There are no cars. (I told you this was an undiscovered paradise.) Some locals wanted to build a short cement block roadway; but enough people objected to it that the idea was largely abandoned. The chief beef? The blocks would be harsh on the hooves of the horses and donkeys that are the town’s principal form of transportation.

Yelapa's high-horsepower vehicles.

After visiting La Cascada, what’s next? Take the narrow pathway that winds around the hill above the south side of the inlet, on whose rocky hills hang the houses of most of the permanent residents. The pathway leads to the beach, where a dozen or so “restaurants” serve drinks and limited menus of Mexican specialties (including Yelapa Pie) in beach chairs set along the sea.

It is easy (and has been done) to while away an entire afternoon, sipping local beverages, idly watching the sun track across the azure sky, and concerned only that the waves might reach your chair.

Beware of the moonshine made in the area: Raicilla. The variety that I was offered tasted like the time when my blender’s motor seized up and leaked brown, burnt-smelling machine oil into my home-made frozen concoction.

Raicilla: Mexican moonshine

(Some reputable bottlers actually offer a spruced-up version of raicilla for sale in Puerto Vallarta; even cheap tequila, by comparison, tastes refined.) The raicilla made here comes from primitive-looking stills operating in the nearby mountains.

A second, much larger waterfall is located a few miles up the long Rio Tuito canyon. It is called “Catedral”, because of its size and elaborate elegance (again, depending on water flow). Donkey- and horse-back rides to the waterfall are offered; the prices charged can fluctuate wildly, depending upon how gullible the guides think you are. The distance is easily hiked in about 90 minutes; a couple of interesting cafes along the way provide refreshment and an excuse to give up.

Back on the beach, parasailing was offered on my last visit. It seemed a harrowing experience, as the tow boat must weave in and out of other watercraft moored in the narrow bay.

Rush hour in Paradise.

Fishing is said to be excellent between Yelapa and the Islas Marietas, farther out into Banderas Bay. We sighted a small whale, which came right into the harbor.

Day visitors leave by about 4:30 p.m. (that’s when the last scheduled water taxi – usually packed – departs for PV; later offerings to Boca de Tomatlan, from whence you can catch a bus back to PV, can go as late as 6:00 p.m.) The town, not that lively even at the height of the day, really gets rather sleepy. But the locals seem to gather at one watering hole or another each night for imbiding, inhaling and star-gazing (sadly, it is often foggy here in the early evening).

A Yelapa room with a view.

Overnight visitors have at least a dozen hotels, B&Bs and eco-lodges to choose from. Prices range from $65 (for a beachfront cottage, with breakfast) to as much as $300 a night. The high end is occupied by lavish Verana, a posh-not-really-roughing-it “eco-lodge”, high on the hills above the bay. How posh? It offers Yelapa’s only infinity pool. Verana often charges five- to seven-night minimums; those who can afford it say they would have gladly paid more. (Airport pickup in PV and delivery here is included.) But there are more affordable choices.

Hotel Lagunita is a series of rustic thatched huts, right on the beach, and probably Yelapa’s most-visited lodging establishment. It looked a bit too primitive for my tastes. But Yelapa is all about leaving “civilization” – and time – behind. Embrace what Yelapa offers, and you will get it; if you long for loud music, frenetic crowds and mints on your pillow, stay elsewhere.

Miss the last water taxi...

No matter how long a visit you plan to Yelapa, in my experience, you always leave wishing you had planned to stay longer.

Miss the last water taxi, and you will get your wish.

Jerry Garrett

March 26, 2011



  1. 2 couples from canada would like to stay for the entire month of February.
    We just need clean and safe accommodations. We want to cook our own food. How much would it cost and how far do we have to hike once we get off the water taxi. we would fly into Puerto Vallarta airport.

    • Hi Rob,
      Thanks for your question. The water taxi stops at three places along the bay at Yelapa. The first stop is the main dock for the little town. There’s a terrific cafe right there, so you can stop and plan your next move, if you like. The proprietor is an American, and all the staff speak English, so you can easily ask them for help. There must be a dozen small places within a 100 meters or less to stay. There’s a large eco-resort with orange roofs up the hill. I’ve never stayed there, so I can’t recommend it. But it looks nice.
      The second stop for the water taxi is about 400 meters to the left of the first stop. It lands you right on the beach, where there are several tourist-y beach bars. You can get off there and trudge through soft sand to a few places either side of there, but there really are no accommodations right at the location of the second stop.
      The third stop is at another dock another 400 meters or so farther left along the shore. At that location, there is the area’s largest eco-lodge. It seems to be very popular. We checked out the rooms and found them to be pretty rustic, but they are almost all right on the beach.
      If you like beach access, that may be the place for you. Most places have great hammocks in which to while away many peaceful hours! I hope this helps.

      • You can’t cook for yourself at the hotel. Most independently operated houses have stoves and refrigerators.

      • I hope I get to know Yelapa well enough to know which ones those are!

    • I am assuming that by now you have found GarciaRentals and have had the great experience of staying in Yelapa. We are 15yr visitors and have always stayed right on the beach with the Garcia Family apartments. Google garciarentals. David Lord is their booking manager and he is great.

  2. Try for a list of accommodations.

    • Thanks!

    • The site has been a great web site for finding a house to rent and much more info on Yelapa for many years.

  3. We (Canadians) rented a “house” for a month on Yelapa. It was up the hill from the dock and we found it on the internet. It had only knee walls and a palapa roof…it also had a second “house”, smaller… and was in the jungle, but it had a lovely view of the bay. We slept on a bed hanging from the ceiling with mosquito netting. The bathroom was adequate with shower, sink and toilet. I can’t remember if there was warm water or not.
    The kitchen and facilities were also adequate if you are willing to live simply.
    We loved it absolutely.

  4. Glad you enjoyed your time there. My first trip was in 1987 and was a similar story, but I remember no hot water. There was no electricity back then. We used a boiler if you were lucky enough to have one and burned coconut husks or bricks docked in “petroleo” and showered quickly!
    My house now has all the basics even hot water to the kitchen and ismt too much of a climb at all. I love the palapa but having to replace it every ten years, now for the third time (!) is a drag and it sheds, leaving a coating of “polvo”= dust everywhere. It may be time for a more permanent roof on Casa Sonrisa this time.

  5. hi

    two of us are coming on a budget for 3 weeks in November ……any recommendations for a cheap house……we do not need a posh condo

    many thanks
    Jeannie b

  6. We have been going to Yelapa for the last 13yrs. We stay at Garcia rentals. They are right on the beach. Out your front door and down the stairs to the beach. Beautiful views. Comfortable. Clean. Hot water. They are apartments with all the amenities. Reasonable rates and the Garcia family are wonderful people. They have an American manager. will get you to the website.

  7. Hi Jerry, thanks for sharing. We went there a few years ago and loved it. Came from Bicacde Tomstlan, loved that too.

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