Yelapa is an adorable small town twenty miles south of Puerto Vallarta. It is still fairly undiscovered and a nice escape from the touristy feel of walking along the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta. There are only about a dozen beach bars/restaurants in the town and everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming.
There are two places in the Puerto Vallarta area to catch the water taxi: Los Muertos Pier in Puerto Vallarta and a bit farther south in Boca de Tomatlan. In Puerto Vallarta, Los Muertos Pier is located in Old Vallarta (La Zona Romantica). We opted for Boca de Tomatlan because the time worked better for our departure, so we just grabbed an Uber from Puerto Vallarta to the pier at Boca de Tomatlan. The ride was about 40 minutes, but all along the coastline and just beautiful. The coastline reminded us both of travelling along through the rainforests and along the coastlines of Hawaii, with a more stunning view at every turn. The Uber ride only set us back 250 pesos, plus the round trip boat ticket is about half the price as from Puerto Vallarta, at 140 pesos roundtrip (from Puerto Vallarta is 300 pesos roundtrip).
We arrived at Boca de Tomatlan pier a little unsure of what to do. We just stood around with all the locals who were headed out to Yelapa for their work day or to deliver supplies. We were worried about buying a ticket, but it turns out that you just pay at the end of each ride on the boat. (We did hear that if you pay round trip ahead of time to save your ticket for the way back so you don’t end up paying double). No one else on the pier seemed worried, they were all relaxed, laughing and enjoying their morning coffee or pastries they had brought with them. Everyone was smiling at us, the two crazy Gringos who were up at 9 am on vacation.
The boat ride from Boca de Tomatlan pier to Yelapa was about 30 minutes. The boat was a small fishing boat with an overhead tarp. We piled into the boat and were given life jackets to wear. All of this was done without a word of English or Spanish, you were just supposed to know what to do. We just copied the locals and feigned confidence upon taking our seats. The boat ride was a mix of amazing views, with lush green vegetation, plenty of interesting birds and trees to observe, and salt spray mists as we sped along our way. Our boat made one quick stop to pick up a few people at another small beach and then it was just around another corner to Yelapa. When you arrive to Yelapa you can opt to get off at the first dock, or you can attempt the more fun version of hopping off the side of the boat when it pulls right up to the beach.
Upon arriving to Yelapa you will take in the gorgeous views of the beach town with the mountains in the background. The beach is a long stretch of bright yellow sand and a row of boats in front of some local restaurants. There isn’t much to the town of Yelapa, but as you turn the corner in the water taxi, you’ll see why people love to escape here. It is very quiet, peaceful and probably just the way Mexico looked before all the tourists invaded it.
We decided to go visit the Yelapa Waterfall first. We walked along restaurant row and were greeted multiple times. A kind waiter exchanged information of where to go for the promise of returning to his bar for a drink later. He pointed us in the direction of a river and explained that we needed to cross it. He also mentioned that there are horses you can take, but we opted for the more fun route of just walking straight through it. We headed off in what we thought was the correct direction, only to be confused about where to cross the river. We round another local who had just caught a dozen barracudas in the ocean who pointed us in the right direction. A little skeptical, and worried about being eaten alive, we forged our way across the stream. The water hit us mid-thigh at its deepest point and we were able to make our way across, keeping all of our belongings dry.
Once you cross the river, it’s a well-marked dirt and cobblestone path up to the waterfall. You pass through a town that had markets and restaurants; keep trekking past a few vendors selling handmade crafts. Finally, you will reach the waterfall; by taking the earliest boat from Boca de Tomatlan, we were able to have the place all to ourselves! You can take a dip in the waterfall if you’d like. Since we were there early, we were treated to one of the locals, an older man who was mumbling to us in Spanish, taking his morning bath in the stream below the waterfall. We also met an adventurous little boy who was climbing up the waterfall rocks and jumping into the pool below (not recommended!). We took a refreshing swim in the waterfall, grabbed our Instagram pictures and dried off before the next group of tourists had even made it to town.
Hungry from our adventure so far, we thought we’d grab a beer at the great little restaurant right at the summit. They had plenty of cold beers and a full menu. Our waiter told us to try the guacamole; he had just picked the avocados from his garden that morning–sold! It was every bit as amazing as it sounds. The chips were homemade and the guacamole was the perfect mix of lime, fresh avocados and pico de gallo, cilantro and salt.
We then headed back down the same path to Yelapa’s main beach. I had read about the little old ladies who bake fresh pies everyday and walk around with the pies on their heads, selling them on the beach. Unfortunately we were there during “low season” and the ladies were not out strolling the beach. However, they did still bake the pies for the nearby restaurants so we were able to try these famous treats. Our waiter, Jorge, at Tino’s Oasis restaurant kindly obliged to bringing us a few slices of pie on his head while saying, “I just want to make you happy.” We tried the coconut pie, chocolate pie and cheese pie. While you might be thinking the cheese pie is just like cheesecake; it is not. It is pie that actually tastes like cheese! If you’ve got an adventurous palate, you should try a slice.
Yelapa’s beach was a great place to lounge around for the day. We also tried our waiter’s famous drinks the tamarind margarita and the passion fruit margarita that had the local moonshine (raicilla) in it. Raicilla is apparently twice as strong as tequila and known to cause mild hallucinations. I had my raicilla in the passion fruit margarita, and all I could taste was the delicious tart passion fruit flavor. I don’t remember any hallucinations that day, but I bet after a few that you’d be dancing up and down the beach. We were able to use the beach chairs in front of the restaurant all day, and, since it was low season, it was just a few steps down to the perfect and warm ocean water. Our waiter was happy to deliver us another round of beers any time we needed, and my friend Nichol even got to hold the local iguana for a photo op.
We then took the ferry back to the pier at Boca de Tomatlan and caught a cab to Mismaloya Beach for about 100 pesos. The beach that once put Puerto Vallarta on the map for being the main set of the movie “The Night of the Iguana” is now a tiny beach with lot of palapa restaurants where you can grab a casual meal and a beer. The water is a mix of cold and warm thanks to the nearby river and there is a path along the left side of the beach where you can go out to an iguana statue. There is also a great view of Los Arcos, a set of rocks that host various birds and fish–a popular day trip for snorkeling from Puerto Vallarta. It was definitely underwhelming after coming from the beautiful beach of Yelapa, but worth a stop if you have some extra time.
After wandering along the beach for a while, we decided to call it a day and head back via taxi to Puerto Vallarta for dinner.
Yelapa is a great day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta. It’s definitely worth heading out for an adventure!