A Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco’s Unspoiled Coastal Fishing Village

by | Last updated Jan 12, 2021 | Mexico, Travel Blog | 4 comments

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Yelapa is an old fishing village tucked into a small cove in the Bandera’s Bay. Only reachable by boat from nearby Puerto Vallarta or Boca de Tomatlan, Yelapa boasts an attractive scene where no cars, only four-wheelers or donkeys and horses, frequent the narrow, winding streets.

“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

 

I didn’t know much about Yelapa before going, although friends in San Pancho told us tales of cute palapa huts, waterfall hikes, and apparently the tastiest beach-side, homemade pie. It sounded like a mellow, tropical dream.

And it was, as we discovered over the busy Easter weekend holiday. Our town of San Pancho became a congested tourist hub, so together with a group of friends, Paul and I made the trip to Yelapa for a short but sweet, good-vibes-only weekend.


Here’s everything we learned about how to get to Yelapa + what to do in Yelapa for a memorable 2-day trip!

  • How to Get to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta / Boca de Tomatlan
  • What to Do in Yelapa in 2 Days
  • Visiting the Cultural Museum in Yelapa
  • Hiking to the Waterfalls / Cascada de Yelapa
  • Best Yelapa Restaurants for Lunch or Dinner
  • Where to Stay in Yelapa

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Watch our Yelapa video!

How to Get to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta / Boca de Tomatlan

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 to Yelapa via this option which is ideal if you don’t have the means to drive to Boca to Tomatlan.

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.


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!

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

The view on Yelapa town from our Airbnb

What to Do in Yelapa in 2 Days

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.


For us, we spent the better part of those 2 days in Yelapa…

  • Lounging on the beach with either a piña colada or strawberry margarita in hand
  • Hiking to the town’s small waterfall (15 minutes) and also hiking to the bigger waterfall (2 hours)
  • Eating homecooked breakfast on our balcony
  • Touring the narrow, cobblestoned streets
  • Visiting the cultural museum of Yelapa
  • Buying snacks from the mini markets
  • Eating for lunch and dinner in different local hot spots

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

Yelapa’s town waterfall (short hike)

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 on-shore.

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.

Visiting 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.

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

The colorful plaza near the museum

More about the Yelapa Museum

The museum just recently had its grand opening on March 8, 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!!

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

Yelapa Waterfall (long hike)

Hiking to the Waterfalls / Cascada de Yelapa

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!

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!

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!

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

Frijole soup!

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!

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

Weekend in Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico | Bucketlist Bri

Yelapa beach to the left, Yelapa town to the right

Final Thoughts: Yelapa – Jalisco’s Unspoiled Fishing Village

I could easily whisk myself back to enjoy a few more days in Yelapa. We weren’t there nearly long enough to really uncover hidden gems, but a 2-day trip 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. Yelapa is the perfect weekend getaway!

Any questions or thoughts just drop them below in the comments!! Thanks for reading! xo, Bri

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4 Comments

  1. Steve Bennett

    Hi Brittany and Paul,
    I first discovered Yelapa about ten years ago; on the same first trip to San Pancho. A delightful place to visit for a few days. You definitely missed out by not having a “Pie-Lady” experience.
    From Yelapa, a local Toltec man took us on a boat trip around the southern end of the bay – maybe an hour or even 90 minutes south – to a tiny village with a bar and a restaurant on the beach. Best seafood meal I’ve ever had. I have no idea what this tiny place was called but it was fabulous to be guided to it by an indigenous man.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Steve, sorry I didn’t see this before! I can’t imagine how different it must’ve been back then. How beautiful a place! Ahaha – yes, we sorely regretted not having pie, lol. If I’m not mistaken, the women I met at the museum – her grandfather was a Toltec. How neat! Would love to go back. xoxo

      Reply
    • Lori

      I’m looking to
      Head to Yelapa for 3-4 days in December. Trying to find a great lodging. Any suggestions? 2 people need at least 2 beds.

      Reply
      • Bri

        Hi Lori! You’re right, I need to include where we stayed in Yelapa! I checked some listings and here’s the best results for 2 travelers with 2 rooms:

        Casa Papaya – beachfront
        Casa Bahia Bonita – also beachfront with more reviews
        Casas Garcia – views of bay and beach with typical style
        Hotel Lagunita – features bungalows and a sweet beach bar!
        Casa Berita – on the town side of the bay

        You’ll love Yelapa!! Hope you enjoy your holidays xx

        Reply

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.