Located about 15 miles southwest of Puerto Vallarta and secluded in a remote cove between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains, Yelapa is an ideal getaway for any intrepid adventurer exploring the state of Jalisco. Its remote location makes it extremely popular among travelers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta, and its picturesque jungle landscapes and cascading waterfalls make it a hit among hikers.
If you happen to be anywhere in the region, this stunning locale is not to be missed.
A Quick History of Yelapa
The name “Yelapa” is believed to derive from an old Native American word meaning “where two rivers meet the sea.” This seaside town is a quiet fishing village that makes up one of the lushest bioregions in the world.
The community was founded by four families about 150 years ago. Today, it remains one of the few communities on Earth that’s still owned, inhabited, and maintained by the original residents and their descendants. Only about 1,500 people call Yelapa home, and it remains unsullied. There are no roads, no cars, and no ATMs, and infrastructure is minimal. It’s like a beach community frozen in time, and that’s exactly what makes it so appealing.
Why Visit Yelapa?
Yelapa is truly a sight to behold. It’s replete with towering trees and tropical flowering plants, and it comprises a tropical dry broadleaf forest with a rainy season that lasts almost half the year. In addition to boasting one of Mexico’s most beautiful and easily accessible waterfalls, it’s also a great place to get up close and personal with a wide range of tropical wildlife like iguanas, land crabs, and wild parrots.
Where Is Yelapa, Mexico?
Unless you’re prepared to hike over the unpaved Sierra Madres, there’s just one way to get to Yelapa, and that’s by boat. You can book a day cruise, which drops you off at the shore for 3 to 5 hours, or you can take a water taxi and explore the area at your leisure.
Water taxis are available from Playa de Los Muertos and Boca de Tomatlan. From Tomatlan, you can expect a new taxi to arrive hourly. The fare is 90 pesos, and the journey takes about 30 minutes. If you’re traveling from Los Muertos, the journey is about 45 minutes. Just look for the water taxi station along the shore. You’ll generally see a line of people waiting for tickets.
Be aware that water taxis stop running at 5:00 p.m., so unless you’re planning to stay in Yelapa overnight, you’ll want to return to Puerto Vallarta before that time.
What to Bring to Yelapa
One of the most important things you’ll need to bring is bug repellent. This is an active tropical biosphere, and you will be surrounded by exotic insects. Sunscreen is also essential, even during the rainy season. Since you’ll be spending most of your time outdoors in a tropical locale, it’s recommended that you have at least an SPF 30 sunblock ready to go.
If you plan to hike, bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots. If you just want to enjoy time on the sand, bring a comfortable pair of sandals. If you’re traveling during the rainy season which lasts from June through October, you’ll want to bring an umbrella and/or poncho and dress accordingly. Note that Yelapa receives the most rain in August.
Other essentials include:
- A high-quality camera
- A sun hat
- First aid essentials
- A light sweater
- A blanket
- Swimwear (if you plan to swim in the ocean or in the natural pool beneath the waterfall)
Finally, make sure to bring pesos with you. There are no ATMs in Yelapa, and many businesses do not accept credit cards or American currency. While this is slowly changing in response to rising tourism in the region, it’s still important to be prepared.
Things to Do in Yelapa
Hiking: Yelapa is extremely popular among hikers. In fact, when you arrive at the cove, you’re just steps away from the foot of the main hiking trail. Just head south along the beach until you see signs marked “Yelapa Waterfall Trail.” Then just follow the path. It’s about a 2.5-mile hike to the main 150-foot Yelapa waterfall, and the terrain is mostly level. Along the way, you’ll pass a pedestrian bridge, rich jungle landscapes, quiet homes, and wild horses. When you reach the larger of the two waterfalls, you can take a swim in the natural pool that lies beneath.
Horseback Riding: Technically, Yelapa offers mules—and not horses—for rent, but the mules are a popular attraction. As you get started along the hiking trail, you’ll see the mule owners and guides walking up and down the path, offering rentals for around $20. It’s a great way to explore the jungle if you’re not much for hiking or you’re just looking for a unique experience.
Snorkeling: If you take one of the day cruises that leave from Los Muertos or Boca de Tomatlan, you’ll have snorkeling and other watersports gear provided for you. If you travel by water taxi, however, you’ll need to bring your own snorkel. It’s well worth it, though, as the waters are calm and the marine life is truly unique. You’ll see an abundance of tropical fish including rainbow runners, African pompanos, and roosterfish. The region is also home to some of the biggest yellowfin tuna in the world. Just watch out for jellyfish.
Fishing: As previously noted, Yelapa is home to an array of exotic and tropical fish, and they’re always biting. The best fish aren’t located right on the shore, though. To enjoy the best fishing that the cove has to offer, you’ll want to book a Yelapa fishing charter tour from Los Muertos or Boca de Tomatlan.
Kayaking: The calm waters of the bay provide the perfect conditions for a relaxing morning or afternoon kayak. Again, rentals are scarce in the area, so you’ll need to bring your own kayak if that’s how you want to spend the day. Just don’t forget your sunblock and sunglasses.
Relaxing: This is one of the main reasons why people come to Yelapa. Most of the beaches in Puerto Vallarta are crowded with boisterous tourists, but Yelapa remains a calm oasis set apart from the resorts. You can bring a blanket and your favorite book and just listen to the crashing waves as you stretch out on the sand and bask in the serenity.
Eating: When visiting Yelapa, make sure to bring your appetite. There are several eateries right on the sand and along the hillside, offering delicious gourmet food and unobstructed views of the beach and the Pacific Ocean. The town is also famous for its “pie ladies,” women who sell fresh, delicious pies right on the beach. Ten kinds of pies are available, including chocolate, banana cream, lemon meringue, coconut, apple, and pineapple.
Places to Eat in Yelapa
Cafe Bahia: Located right on the shore and featuring ample outdoor seating, Cafe Bahia is popular for its all-day breakfast entrees. They’re famous for their fresh fruit platters, omelets, quesadillas, and seafood salads (pictured above). They even offer a Sunday brunch that includes eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available. (Trucha 6, 48440 Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico)
Ray’s Place: Located in the upper reaches of town, Ray’s is regarded by locals and tourists as the place to eat in Yelapa. The seafood dishes are out of this world, and the birria (marinated meat) tacos are legendary. You can even dine out in the courtyard and enjoy the beach surroundings. (Junto a la Iglesia, 48440 Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico)
Cafe Eclipse: Open for breakfast and lunch, Cafe Eclipse is a cozy beachside eatery whose menu options include seafood, sandwiches, chilaquiles, omelets, and hotcakes. They’re also well-known for their tortilla soup, which is among the best in the region. Closed on Sundays. (Vela 6, Col. Centro, 48440 Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico)
Chico’s Beach Club: Chico’s is one of the newer eating establishments in Yelapa. Fresh seafood offerings include fish, octopus, and shrimp, but the restaurant is better known for its extensive cocktail menu and live music. It strives to create the ultimate beach club experience, and it’s the best place to get a drink when you’re lounging on the beach. Closed on Tuesdays. (Playa Yelapa, Yelapa 48440, Mexico)
Places to Stay in Yelapa
Hotel accommodations are limited in Yelapa. A few small boutique hotels are available, but they tend to book quickly and offer few amenities. And since most local businesses are closed by 5 p.m., there’s no nightlife to explore.
Instead of booking hotels in Yelapa, most visitors opt instead to take a day trip to the fishing town and then return to Puerto Vallarta before sunset. Neighboring Puerto Vallarta is home to a wealth of more comfortable accommodations. Puerto Vallarta luxury villas are becoming especially popular because they offer total comfort and privacy near the beach.
Is It Safe to Visit Yelapa?
Yelapa is one of the safest places to visit in Mexico. Because it’s completely secluded and inhabited by a small number of long-time residents, it’s not a place where you need to look over your shoulder. The only time you’ll need to exercise some caution is when you’re on the hiking trail, as the route can be a bit rocky. You should be in good health and comfortable walking long distances if you decide to follow the hiking trail to the Yelapa waterfall.
Final Yelapa Travel Tips
Yelapa, Mexico, is the perfect travel destination for those who have time to explore and who aren’t content with the crowded tourist destinations. Best of all, it’s easy to get to Yelapa by water taxi, so there’s no reason not to check it out. Just make sure to:
- Give yourself at least 4-5 hours to explore
- Return to the mainland by 5 p.m. to avoid getting stranded overnight
- Bring pesos and plenty of sunblock
- Don’t miss the amazing Yelapa waterfall!
Finally, don’t forget to kick back and have some delicious pie on the beach. Yelapa is an excellent place to create memories and stories, and we’re confident you’ll be eager to return during your next visit to Puerto Vallarta.