Boats from above, while parasailing

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Top choice in Puerto Vallarta

Home to a small fishing community, the picturesque beach of Yelapa hugs an emerald coastline backed by jungle-shrouded mountains. The remote coastal village, which sits on Puerto Vallarta’s southernmost cove, is best reached by boat. In recent years Yelapa has seen an ever-increasing stream of day-trippers turning up, but it reveals a much quieter side after the last water taxi returns to Puerto Vallarta and the busy beach empties out in the late afternoon. An overnight stay allows you to appreciate the town with fewer visitors around and the laid-back vibe makes for a refreshing change of pace from bustling downtown Puerto Vallarta. 

Boats from above, while parasailing
Boats from above in Yelapa, Mexico ©Whitney Johnson/Getty Images


Yelapa has some excellent places to stay, many perched on jungle-covered hills overlooking the cove. Accommodations range from budget-friendly apartments and small family-run hotels to luxury guesthouses and wellness retreats tucked away in the surrounding tropical mountains. Rates increase significantly during the high season from December to April and should be reserved months ahead; Casa Vista Magica and Casas Garcia provide good value. Some places have rooms with an open-air setup, meaning you get refreshing ocean breezes but also a fair share of mosquitoes, so don’t forget that insect repellent.  

Eating and drinking

For a small village of just 1,500 inhabitants, Yelapa has an impressive number of eating options. Numerous palapa (thatched-roof) seafood restaurants overlook the beach and river that cuts through town, while west of the river you’ll come across about a dozen hillside cafes, taco joints and family-run eateries serving traditional Mexican cuisine and gringo-friendly fare. Taquería los Abuelos draws praise for its fish tacos served on blue corn tortillas, Ray’s Place does Sunday birria (a local goat stew fave) and Domingo’s grills pescado zarandeado (a regional grilled fish dish), which goes down nicely with a michelada cubana, a Bloody Mary-like beer cocktail. After the meal, look for one of Yelapa’s so-called “pie ladies,” who roam the beach carrying delicious coconut, banana and lime pies on their heads.

Pacific Coast
Pescado Zarandeado (Zarandeado grilled fish is a popular dish served in Yelapa ©Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock/Lonely Planet

Sights and activities

There’s not a whole lot to do in Yelapa so most people make it a point to visit one of two cascading waterfalls with natural pools. The nearest fall takes just 15 minutes to reach from the beach and it’s a simple uphill walk through town with plenty of signs along the way to point you in the right direction. However, due to its fairly easy access, the Cola de Caballo (Horse Tail) waterfall can get very busy, especially during peak tourist season and even more so when cruise ships roll into Puerto Vallarta.

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, set out on a hike to a remote waterfall outside of town. Pick up the trail on the west side of the river and head inland along a path that requires several river crossings. Once you get past the second crossing, the trail is well marked, though you’ll have to do some rock scrambling on the final stretch. Keep in mind that the river may be more difficult to cross during the rainy season from June to October. The hour and a half hike through the tropical jungle leads to a swimming hole with a waterfall, albeit a smaller one than the Cola de Caballo, but with any luck you’ll have the place all to yourself. Bring a bathing suit, hiking sandals, snacks, insect repellent and plenty of water. 

Both falls can also be reached on horseback. Fannys Restaurant (on the beach) rents horses for outings to Cola de Caballo (US$20) and to the waterfall out of town (US$30). 

Aside from swimming at the waterfalls and relaxing on the beach, you can keep yourself pleasantly entertained on a stroll through town along hilly paths overlooking the cove, or there’s always the option of renting a kayak and exploring the coast in and around Yelapa. You’ll also find a fair share of yoga studios in the village, but some close during the low season. 

How to get there

Accessible by water taxis or private boats, Yelapa is a 45-minute ride from the Playa de los Muertos pier in downtown’s Zona Romántica. The round-trip water taxi fare costs M$380. The shared motorboats run at least four times daily and often more frequently in the high season. For departure times, inquire at the Yelapa water taxi office in front of the pier. Water taxis also depart from Boca de Tomatlán, a fishing town about 16km (10 miles) south of downtown, where they leave on a more frequent basis (hourly from 8am to 6pm) and are slightly cheaper at M$300 round-trip. Alternatively, you can hire a charter boat to Yelapa, or, if you’re pressed for time, book a tour to the village that makes a diving or snorkeling stop at Los Arcos, a national marine park teeming with tropical fish. Ecotours de México rents private boats and runs wildlife-watching excursions led by English-speaking naturalists. 

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