Yelapa is an old fishing village tucked into a small cove in Bandera’s Bay. Only reachable by boat from nearby Puerto Vallarta or Boca de Tomatlan, Yelapa boasts an attractive scene where there are no cars—only four-wheelers or donkeys and horses frequent the narrow, winding streets.
If you want to go on a day trip from Puerto Vallarta or escape to a hidden cove out in the Banderas Bay, then Yelapa is the place to be!
“Yelapa is a unique community—’one of the few remaining on Earth where the original inhabitants still reside on, own, and control their own land.’ As a comunidad indigena, Yelapa is a land grant or reservation legally set aside and protected for its indigenous people. The land is held collectively by the community. Outsiders may not buy any land but they may long term lease it.” -Palapa in Yelapa Project
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I didn’t know much about Yelapa before going, although friends in San Pancho told us tales of cute palapa huts, waterfall hikes, and the tastiest beach-side homemade pie. It sounded like a mellow, tropical dream.
While there are plenty of things to do in San Pancho to keep us busy, we took advantage of Semana Santa to escape the crowds. So, together with a group of friends, Paul and I made the trip to Yelapa for a short but sweet, good-vibes-only weekend.
Yelapa remains off the beaten path—think waterfall hikes, eating pie on the beach, horseback riding, and more!
Read more below to find out how to visit Yelapa and what to do there for a memorable 2-day trip!
How to Visit Yelapa, Mexico
How to Get to Yelapa From Puerto Vallarta
Getting to Yelapa is a breeze (literally)! You can only reach Yelapa by boat from Puerto Vallarta or from Boca de Tomatlan.
Taking the water taxi to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta:
- Departs: Los Muertos Pier in PV
- Times: 11 am, 11:45 am (except Sundays), 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm, and 5:30 pm
- Cost: 380 pesos roundtrip
You can take the boat directly from Puerto Vallarta on a day trip to Yelapa via this option which is ideal if you don’t have the means to drive to Boca to Tomatlan.
Taking the water taxi to Yelapa from Boca de Tomatlan:
- Departs: Boca de Tomatlan Pier/Beach
- Times: 8, 9, 10, 11:00 am and 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6:30 pm
- Cost: 200 pesos roundtrip
Either option will get you safely and quickly to Yelapa. Carry-on baggage is included in the price. If you need further assistance, speak to the boat staff or email Sergio at, sergioyelapa @ hotmail (dot) com
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the salty breeze and beautiful landscapes!
Don’t want to DIY? You can also visit Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta with this tour!
If you have car transport, you can drive past Puerto Vallarta all the way to Boca de Tomatlan, which is another small coastal fishing village. Driving there will take roughly 45 minutes. Once in Boca de Tomatlan, you can park your car in a secure family-run lot for a fee.
Where to Stay in Yelapa
We stayed in an Airbnb in Yelapa, but there are quaint thatched-roof bungalows and private villa accommodations in Yelapa. If you’re traveling during the off-season, there’s no need to book ahead.
However, if you’re planning to visit Yelapa in December around the holidays, it’s wise to book in advance. After all, you don’t want to take a boat across the Bahia Bay just to find out there’s no vacancy!
- Casa Papaya – Beachfront casa with large open-style kitchens and clean rooms
- Casa Bahia Bonita – Beachfront studios surrounded in greenery
- Casas Garcia – Offers awesome views of the Yelapa bay and beach with typical style decor
- Hotel Lagunita – Features bungalows and a sweet beach bar! One of the most popular places to stay in Yelapa
- Casa Berita – Sweet, family-run casitas on the town side of the bay with close proximity to the museum and town waterfall
Things to Do in Yelapa (2 Day Itinerary)
Much of what Yelapa has to offer lies hidden in the winding streets.
The hip cafés and bars, the cultural museum, the decorated central plaza, the town’s popular waterfall (and the faraway waterfall), the school, basketball court, and let’s not forget the historical Yacht Club.
You can also go paragliding in Yelapa, snorkeling, hiking, horse riding or go out dancing!
There are lots of nature activities to do just as much as there are lazy beach activities.
- Lounge on the beach with a piña colada or strawberry margarita in hand
- Hike to the town’s small waterfall (15 minutes) and also hike to the bigger waterfall (2 hours)
- Explore the narrow, cobblestoned streets
- Visit the cultural museum of Yelapa
- Drink a delicious michelada
When you first arrive in Yelapa it’s common to go, “Ooh, aah”. Don’t be ashamed. We all did it too!
The bay is dotted with swaying water taxis and parked fishing boats. Lush green hills overlook the bay’s inviting, sparkling water. On the far left of the bay sit palapa huts camouflaged with the shady palms.
Straight down the middle is the beach, you can’t miss it. Colorful umbrellas line the sandy shore. In the ’60s, there were only makeshift palm huts to cover boats and paddles pulled onshore.
To your right sits a dainty pueblo with colorful facades, irregularly placed. Like a game of Tetris.
Yelapa managed to keep government greed from taking away their land and constructing hideous hotels, which is why Yelapa is left largely “unspoiled.“
Not one 17-story concrete building impedes your view. All the land belongs to the people. They fought for it, and the history is all recounted in a touching way inside Yelapa’s cultural museum. Obviously, it’s on the list as one of the top things to do in Yelapa.
Visit the Cultural Museum in Yelapa (El Museo de Historia, Arte y Cultura de Yelapa)
The first thing I recommend doing in Yelapa is going to its History, Art, and Culture Museum. Yelapa isn’t just any coastal town. It was settled by four main families who came down the mountain from the Chacala indigenous community. The land remains rightfully theirs.
“Yelapa is a unique community—’one of the few remaining places on Earth where the original inhabitants still reside on, own, and control their own land.’ As a comunidad indigena, Yelapa is a land grant or reservation legally set aside and protected for its indigenous people. The land is held collectively by the community. Outsiders may not buy any land but they may long term lease it.” –Palapa in Yelapa
Yelapa’s history is so rich and somewhat mysterious. Entrance only costs 50 pesos for foreigners, so it’s definitely a budget-friendly activity to do in Yelapa.
A group of dedicated people labored for many months and years to make the Yelapa museum what it is today. It’s very much a symbol of the strength and resilience of this community.
More about the Yelapa Museum
The museum opened in March 2019. It houses a collection of photos by Lisa Law, who fell in love with Yelapa while living there during the late 1960s. There’s also a collection of donated objects that are decades old, donated by expats and Yelapa’s original 4-5 families.
In its center, the museum also boasts archaeological and historical artifacts which are undated but presumed to be from the Aztec period.
I didn’t know about this latter detail while touring the museum, as there was no sign. Instead, just as I was about to leave, the woman who handed me my ticket told me a story.
From what I could understand, her grandfather (maybe great grandfather?) was from the mountains. He and a group of others explored and found Yelapa and discovered lobster for the first time from fishing in the bay. She said once they realized that fishing was much easier labor than farming, they migrated to the coast. Apparently, no one occupied the land at that time which made them think they were the first to discover what is now known as Yelapa.
At least they did up until they started unearthing objects, like preserved kitchen utensils and sculptures, which indicates the presence of a living community but from many, many years ago. She said no one really knows exactly how old, although they assume they can date up to 1,000 years, as they were similar in shape and design as artifacts found from the Mayans. She concluded that they are trying to partner with the government’s corresponding agency to make tests and finally clarify from whom and when these objects came.
If you go to the museum, you’ll have to ask her about her story! I’m not 100% sure of our translation (haha we were both swapping English and Spanish). But this is what I remember from what she shared with me. Interesting, in any case!!
Hike to the Yelapa Waterfalls
You can’t take a trip to beautiful Yelapa without going to the waterfalls!
There are two cascades to enjoy in Yelapa: one is a 10-minute walk in town and the other is a 1 hour 15 min+ hike into the jungle. We did both!
Yelapa Town Waterfall
The Yelapa waterfall inside the pueblo is a popular tourist attraction for incoming boat tours.
Large groups come to take photos and stay usually for 20 minutes before going back. When a tour group is there, it feels quite overcrowded. There is an on-site restaurant for refreshments and on the way, you’ll pass several families selling local goods.
The waterfall, while nice, is small and, in my opinion, is not spacious enough to swim. Still, it offers a refreshing dip for anyone wishing to cool off on a hot day!
Yelapa Big Waterfall
The larger waterfall of Yelapa requires a bit of a workout (roughly 1.5 hours each way).
Just follow the trail out of the town and follow the signs. The hike is easy enough to do in sandals (at least for me it was fine). You’ll cross several river crossings and lots of local homes. It was one of the highlights of the trip!
Go early in the morning, pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy a refreshing swim at the base of the falls. Definitely worth the effort!
Best Yelapa Restaurants for Lunch or Dinner
Yelapa is such a tiny town it might surprise you with all of its great places to eat!
Since we were only there for two days, we definitely took advantage of both lunch and dinner to eat out in the town.
Here are some of the best places to eat in Yelapa, according to locals and expats:
- Pollo Bollo – a local hotspot serving fresh grilled barbecue chicken and fish dishes (awesome portions!)
- Café Bahia – a waterfront café (pueblo side of town) offering Mexican fare with fresh seafood, soups, homemade baked goods (and yummy tamarindo margaritas)
- Café Eclipse – an internet café serving up authentic Mexican breakfast and good coffee.
- El Manguito – a well-priced restaurant overlooking the bar with great drinks!
- Chico’s – one of the best beach bars serving fresh seafood, tacos, and drinks at a fair price.
- Oasis by the River – riverside café under a thick jungle canopy serving up local dishes and live music! (the food here wasn’t my favorite but it’s a quaint spot for drinks and live music).
Bonus Snacks & Drinks!
Let’s not forget, Yelapa is famous for the homemade pies (which we so sadly missed out on). The “Yelapa Pie Ladies” can be found roaming the beaches and streets between 12-4 pm. Make sure to ask around if you can’t find them!
Micheladas Vicky is a must-stop corner bar if you like Mexican michelada drinks. Make sure to grab one on your way back from the town waterfall!
I could easily whisk myself back to enjoy a few more days in Yelapa. This 2-day itinerary was perfect for relaxing and exploring Yelapa’s unique community and culture! If I get the chance to go back, I’ll definitely seek out some lemon meringue pie from the Pie Ladies, and most definitely take another hiking trip to the waterfall.
Before you go, make sure to check out my other guides to the Riviera Nayarit.
- Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
- Ultimate Guide to Sayulita
- Ultimate San Pancho Bucket List
- Where to Stay in San Pancho
- Best Hotels in Puerto Vallarta
Any questions or thoughts just drop them below in the comments!!