Escape to Yelapa
Published May 27, 2008 - (Updated Aug 30, 2013)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2008 issue.
It’s easy to take Yelapa for granted, at least for those who live in Puerto Vallarta year round. After all, 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. See Yelapa through the brush strokes of first-time visitors or those who have chosen to settle there, however, and the canvas reveals with eloquence a compelling reminder: 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.
Nestled against the southern shores of Banderas Bay and cuddled by a bay of its own, Yelapa is synonymous with uber-relaxation. Chef/restaurateur Susan Pasko couldn’t have said it any better: “Yelapa is one of those places that unfolds slowly. At first, it appears as though there’s not a whole lot going on. But if you’re patient, you’ll notice a lot more. The natural beauty is extraordinary.” Having trained in Paris and worked at top restaurants in San Francisco and New York, Susan escaped to Yelapa shortly after 9-11, roughly about the same time as electrical service made its much-anticipated debut. Today, her smile and the scent of freshly baked bread are some of the first signs upon disembarking at Yelapa’s pier that you’ve reached a friendly place — “camp for grown-ups,” some people call it. Her recently opened Cafe Bahia, located right on the pier, is one of several seasonal restaurants worthy of exploration and a perfect location to people watch while you enjoy her unique blend of “Mexican flavors, California style.”
A similar story is shared by yoga instructor Judith Roth www.yogainyelapa.com, who wanted to be closer to nature and contribute to the local community. Several years ago, she began introducing local kids to yoga on Yelapa’s sidewalks, literally, until there was no space left to spread enough mats for everyone. Her current studio, where several classes are offered during the week, is a favorite spot among visitors and locals seeking to pamper their bodies and mingle at the same time.
Stories like theirs abound in Yelapa, a place where the communion between Mexicans and foreigners is tightly integrated. Foreigners frequently “godparent” local children and participate in their lives, nurturing lifelong bonds. Visual artists and musicians have also sought refuge in Yelapa’s quiet and inspiring surroundings.
Things to Do
So, what’s in it for you? Yelapa is as much about its people as it is about its attractions. If you choose to hang out at any of the beach eateries and work on your tan while you sip a margarita, chances are you’ll come across Doña Cheli and Doña Agustina, otherwise known as the “Pie Ladies,” who bake Yelapa’s trademark pies on a daily basis and work the beach selling pecan, coconut and lemon hedonism by the slice. In town, a visit to the local waterfall is a must. On the way to the waterfall from the beach, stop by Casa de la Imaginación www.yelapa.org, the local children’s community center, where volunteers from all over the world create a nurturing cultural exchange environment through recycled art, language skills, music and environmental awareness. If you look up at the sky and see adventurous creatures gracefully paragliding from the mountains, the experience can be yours by contacting Aldo, through Brad Wollman’s very useful website, www.palapainyelapa.com, where you will find many other activity options, not to mention a variety of alternatives for overnight stays, short and long term.
Popular eateries include Pollo Bollo, which literally means “chicken bun,” the aforementioned Cafe Bahía, and La Galeria, a cozy bistro tucked away high in the jungle, with the most spectacular night views of Yelapa bay. And if late night romping is your thing, nothing beats the local Yacht Club, where tourists and residents dance the night away to a funky blend of music, from reggae and ‘60s rock to current beats.
To Stay or Not to Stay?
While a day trip to Yelapa will give you a perfect glimpse into the pace of a typical Mexican fishing village, seasoned locals are quick to remind us of its rustic nature. Indeed, being so close to the jungle and its inhabitants may not be for everyone, not to mention that, depending on your place of origin, it may take you a couple of days just to wind down and truly appreciate Yelapa’s tempo.
Located right on the beach, Hotel Lagunita features over 30 beachfront rooms and a unique swimming pool shaped out of local boulders, perfectly blending with its surroundings. Local concierge Brad Wollman offers expert advice and a variety of overnight options all over town, many with built-in kitchenettes and other amenities. Of course, if complete privacy and non-stop pampering by the jungle are what you need, you must consider Verana, a chic boutique hotel located high up on the Yelapa hills, featuring seven unique casitas designed more like a fi lm set than a conventional hotel.
Water taxis travel from Los Muertos pier to Yelapa and back several times during the day, thus providing the option of a day trip. Smaller boats can be boarded at Boca de Tomatlán, 30 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta by car. Visit www.palapainyelapa.com for more information. Additionally, day cruise providers, such as Vallarta Adventures, offer all-inclusive excursions on larger vessels, but with shorter stays.
By the way, we’re not including specific information about these places because you will not need it! In a town where last names are seldom used, the best way to discover these and many other Yelapa experiences is by asking locals for suggestions. The mingling will pay off, and you will end up with a richer understanding of the enduring allure of this quiet little town.
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.