Paradise under a palapa in Yelapa

Story and photos by Rich Grant

Until a few years ago, Yelapa (yell-ah-pah) had no outside electricity and no roads. Today, power has come to this town of 700 people on Mexico's Pacific coast. And a tough, four-wheel-drive road has been hacked through the jungle, but almost all visitors still arrive by boat.

You can catch an hour-long ride by water taxi from the main pier in Puerto Vallarta. It's more exotic, however, to take a bus or drive along the rugged, cliff-lined coast six miles south to Boca de Tomatlan. (Remember Richard Burton steering his bus on a bumpy road around these parts in the classic movie, “Night of the Iguana.”)

This is the “end of the line,” the southernmost town on the 50-mile-long Bahia de Banderas (Bay of the Banners). From here, the paved road turns away from the sea and heads southeast, climbing up into the jungle and mountains. To the west are 50 miles of coast only accessible by water.

Boca de Tomatlan.Boca definitely feels like the end of the line. Jungle palm trees come to the edge of the bay, and the only sounds at the few, quiet waterside restaurants come from birds overhead or waiters popping open bottles of Pacifico.

All activity centers on the boat dock, where launches holding six to 15 passengers leave every hour or so for a string of beachside villages: Playa Las Animas, Quimixto and -- the farthest out and most popular – Yelapa.

It costs $10 for a roundtrip, 35-minute boat ride to Yelapa, and you get your money’s worth. The trip can get quite rough in heavy seas (prepare to get wet), but as you round a rocky point and get your first view of paradise, Yelapa appears like a dream.

Verdant jungle pours down to a turquoise-colored bay, where on a thin sliver of sand there are a dozen or so palapa restaurants…and nothing else. Many people settle in for the day here, snacking on grilled shrimp, fish and beer, while the waves lap up to their feet. Many never get to the nearby town, which is well worth exploring.

A jungle river divides the restaurants from the town (you can cross it by hiking a half-mile into the jungle to the one bridge, or just wade across the knee-high stream). Wander around town and you'll come across a couple of general stores, 20 restaurants, and 34 houses or small inns that take overnight guests. So including day-trippers it’s a lively enough place, but still so quiet you can always hear the birds, the surf and the occasional clip-clop of a local riding a horse. Judging by the horse traffic on the town’s only street, the locals don’t walk anywhere they can ride.

Water taxis come to Yelapa all morning and leave at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. We dined on fresh fish and vegetables at Domingo’s, one of the seaside restaurants, and other than occasionally having to lift our feet for a huge wave washing up under the table, it could not have been more peaceful.

More info on the town and accommodations: Visit

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