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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Yelapa, Mexico | Unique Beach Destination

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Yelapa is a quaint fishing village south of Puerta Vallarta that is only accessible by water taxi, which helps keep it off the main tourist path and preserves it as an authentic Mexican beach town. We first traveled to Yelapa for our Christmas Holidays in 2020 (It met the requirements of our COVID-friendly travel destination checklist) and then we returned for a second visit in March 2023. [Luckily, not much changed in the lapse of those 2.5 years, therefore, most of the information is from our first visit when we stayed for one week, with a few notes about 2023.]


Yelapa is unique in many ways, but one of the obvious is that it doesn't have a typical Mexican resort town feel to it. In fact, you won't find any big name or chain resorts because all the land is owned and controlled by the original inhabitants and families of the town. Also, as soon as you start exploring, you'll notice there aren't any vehicles here! The main source of transportation is instead boat, ATVs, walking and mules. Because of these features it definitely provides an unique charm and vibe.


How to Get to Yelapa


Upon arrival to the Puerta Vallarta airport, we began the second leg of the journey – getting to Yelapa. After walking through the temperature check and customs, we cleared the Shark Tank of the Puerta Vallarta airport -- affectionately named due the ‘sharks’ trying to sell their services -- to order a taxi from the official taxi stand. [As of March 2023, there is now Uber available in Puerto Vallarta, you just have to cross the street to catch it.] The 45-minute ride took us to Boca Tomatlan where we needed to catch the water taxi. The drive was scenic along the coastline.


The water taxis to Yelapa are scheduled throughout the day, so we purchased tickets to the 6 p.m. one. Here is the Water Taxi Schedule. [2023 Update: There are actually a couple of different water taxi companies, so just be cautious of pre-paying for a round-trip ticket as the timing might not work with the same company for the return service, especially if needing to catch a flight.] We grabbed an early dinner/late lunch while we waited and the kids started off their Mexican cuisine with quesadillas, which in Mexico they are just a flour tortilla folded in half with your choice of meat and cheese inside. We had a whole section of the outdoor restaurant to ourselves as well, as there was lots of space. As with many tourist destinations, Puerta Vallarta was significantly affected by the drop in tourism due to Covid in 2020.



Nearing departure time, all the bags were loaded in the front of the boat and then everyone boarded and got their seats. We did wear our masks, but as it was mostly a local boat so many people didn’t – however, it was completely open-air (2020). We had a family sit behind that must have grabbed their Christmas supplies in town, as they carried a large piñata on the boat with them.



Where to Stay in Yelapa

Because there are no chains or big name resorts, options of places to stay mainly include personal rentals and some small boutique or eco hotels. However, there are plenty of options as this is one of the main sources of incomes for many families in Yelapa. Airbnb or Booking.com have several options - and sometimes the places will be cross-listed or have their own personal booking website if you're looking to save on the extra fees.


Upon arrival to Yelapa, we were met and led to our Airbnb. It was conveniently located right in the center of town – and perfect for seeing the activity from the mercadito (market), which is held in the little courtyard right out front on Saturdays. The coolest part, was that the main living area (living room & kitchen) was open-air and then there were 2 doors that led to the bedrooms and a third door that was the bathroom. I have no idea what happens when they have their rainy season, but I assume they must put some type of cover down; but the weather was absolutely perfect while we were there, so we didn’t have to worry about that. The highlight for the kids was that there was a hammock hanging in the main living area….they thought that was amazing!

The view from the casa was one of our favorite parts of our stay.


It provided a great view and we could see all the activity happening in the harbor. We saw how the locals lived and almost every morning we’d observe several men loading up in a boat to be taken into the city and then they would return at night. There were also several supply boats that came in throughout the day. Because there aren’t good roads into Yelapa, the supplies are all brought by boat from the city. Once they arrive at the piers or the beach, they unload the items onto the ATVs and bring them into town for delivery.


Since all the town pathways are narrow and either dirt or cobblestone, there aren’t any vehicles in the town. It is either donkeys, mules, motorbikes or ATVs that get people from place to place. It’s always fun to see locals innovate and make something unique for their local needs, and Yelapa was no different. To make the ATVs work for transporting people they put a bench attachment on the back that functions as a backseat….pretty cool!


For the most part, our routine in Yelapa was pretty similar from day to day. We typically tried to explore the area or go for a little hike in the morning and head back to our casa for lunch. Then we’d spend the afternoon at the beach, followed by dinner out at a restaurant.


2020 vs. 2023: The look & feel of Yelapa can change based on the season in which you are visiting. When we visited in December 2020 it was near the end of the rainy season, so things were still quite green and the river was flowing directly into the ocean. When we visited during March it was officially dry season, so it did provide a much 'browner' feel to things. The waterfalls had less water flowing and the river didn't run directly into the ocean. However, there were pelicans that would dive into the bay for fish that were a fun new experience for us.


Things to do in Yelapa


Yelapa Beach:

The beach was definitely the highlight for the kids! They were excited and ready to go to the beach EVERY day. If they had a choice, they would have been there all day, every day. There are two ways to get to the beach from the Old Town – one is the longer way but gives you an awesome glimpse into everyday life in Yelapa. It also includes walking across a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the river and a primary school you walk by on the way to the beach. (When we visited in Dec. 2020 all schools in Mexico had been closed since March when the pandemic hit). After our first day there, we realized there were some steps that give you direct beach access as well, so from day 2 onwards we took that route, as the kids preferred getting there quicker.


Our first day at the beach, we sat at one of the beach restaurants and had lunch there, but it was definitely our most expensive meal in Yelapa. Although the coconut shrimp we had was very good!! These are the restaurants where many of the day-tourist boats come and have their guests stay – they typically arrived by around 11-ish and then departed by 4:30-5-ish.


There was always good beach watching though. A couple of men frequent the beach (or near the waterfall) and have large iguanas for tourists to take their photo with for a fee. On one particular day, there were some dogs off leash at the beach and they spooked the iguana. The iguana took off into the water and disappeared! The man wandered along the shore and looking out into the water. Probably 15 minutes later we saw an iguana head poking out of the water and he floated back in with the tide. However, there was a boat unloading supplies right where he was washed in and he smacked his head right up against the side of the boat! Iguanas must not get concussions though, as he seemed fine.



For the remainder of the week, we didn’t go near the beach huts or restaurants, and instead found our favorite spot. Yelapa’s Playa (Beach) is unique, as there is a river that flows into the bay right in the beach area. The river wasn’t fast or rough during our December 2020 visit, so you’d cross over the river outlet to get to the main beach. [As mentioned before, when revisiting in March 2023 the river wasn't flowing into the ocean; therefore, there weren't the natural sand dunes.]



Over the 5 days we visited the beach, we saw the sand erode from the tide coming in and out and the river formation change; therefore, the river had a different feel each day. The first day we played along the river where there were huge banks of sand, so the kids (and us adults too!) would stand on the edge while the sand would collapse underneath our feet and function as a mini waterslide.



Alex and Connor even made up a game where they floated down a portion of the river and then would pop up and run to the sand bank and then do it all over again. The following day, the tide had come in quite a way and it was amazing to see the forces of nature work and how the banks had shortened and the river had widened.


There was only one day during our stay where the ocean was pretty rough – Christmas Day. The waves were HUGE that day, so it was nice that the kids had another alternative for playing in the river water. However, Alex enjoyed the added challenge of the huge waves! [When we visited in March 2023, the waves weren't as intense, but there was a bit of a drop-off of the ocean floor about 10-15 ft. from the shoreline.]



River Walk:

One of the other days we ended up taking the Tuito River to get to the beach and did a mini river walk! The river was super shallow throughout, so the kids could easily walk in it all the way to the beach. It was so much fun for them. They had a lot of fun playing games together as they walked and it was definitely a little adventure for them! An added bonus was the picturesque views. Once we got to the beach, they started to collect items; and before we knew it, they had made their own little imaginary pirate ship and were pretending they were pirates.



Yelapa Waterfalls/Cascadas:

There are two different waterfalls near Yelapa, one is a short hike from the town and the other is a longer hike up the river. [We did visit both, but for more detail about the second one that we visited on Clara's birthday, you can check it out in here.]


The main & most popular waterfall is close to the town centre, which we took a short hike on Christmas Eve morning to visit it. We got there before the day tourist boats arrived for the day – some of them hike to it from the beach - so we had the whole waterfall to ourselves. It was in the shade and the water was a bit chilly, so it was more of an observatory visit; however, you could go for a swim if you chose.


As with most places we visit, one of the highlights for the kids are the dogs and cats. On the walk back into town, there was a little puppy that started to follow them. They thought it was so cute and named her “Eda.” They kept wanting to bring her back to the casa, but luckily Eda got distracted and went another way so we didn’t have to break their hearts.



The second waterfall was a longer hike - closer to 1.5 to 2 hours away from the town center. Because we visited for Clara's birthday, we hired a horse and guide for the day for the kids to share. The guide took the horse along the path that follows the Tuito River north. The walk was interesting as we passed by locals' homes and there were points where we even made water crossings. [We did not have time to re-visit this spot in March 2023.]


At the end of the hike, there is a swimming area and waterfall that we could jump in and enjoy. The water was deep in sections for the kids, but our guide helped us out with getting the kids in the water and to the spot where they could stand. The water was also a bit cold, too. However, it was a beautiful area to explore and enjoy. The horseback ride/hike there and back, along with the swimming in the pools was a half-day excursion.


Hike up into the Hillsides:

On Christmas morning we tried to do a hike to the viewpoint up in the mountains; however, we knew it might be a bit optimistic to think we could make it to the viewpoint with two kids and a pretty intense incline. We did come across some birds and iguanas, but we didn’t even make it halfway. But we did see a couple of teaser views through some small holes in the trees. The pathway was the old dirt road that leads to some of the other main roads, so you would need a good 4x4. However, we did run into one vehicle and a cowboy with some donkeys. We also observed that if someone does own a vehicle in Yelapa, they keep it on the outskirts of town; but, we still saw less than 10 trucks in the area. It still turned out to be a good little hike, as we saw some little farms on the outskirts, as well as stumbled upon a little waterfall, which made up for not making it to the summit.



Walk Along the Shoreline:

We also did a couple of shoreline walks headed south from the town. On Boxing Day (Dec. 26) we enjoyed some coffee and muffins at Café Bahia and then followed the path along the shoreline. The shoreline south of town is more rocky, but there were still some small spaces that created little isolated beaches. We decided to stay in one of these spots for beach time and the kids enjoyed the ‘different beach experience.’ They did lots of sand castle building, and there were more seashells to find and sea life to discover at this beach. Clara collected as many seashells and oyster shells as she could and then they both spent some time observing the snails on the rocks. They thought the snails needed some water so they would fill up their buckets and pour them on the rocks where the snails were. As a result, some of the snails started to move, so we saw them slowly start walking and repositioning themselves on the rock. This beach didn’t have as much sun as the main beach, but it was at a good point in the trip that they had a bit of a break from the sun that day, as I think they were starting to get a bit of sun exhaustion.


The next morning we decided to walk along the same shoreline and go a bit further than what we went the day before. There were a lot of rocks this way, but we actually ran into a large iguana on the rocks, which was a cool surprise. He actually took us by surprise a bit!



Where to Eat in Yelapa

To be completely honest, all the food we had in Yelapa was amazing and very good! However, our top 3 places we ate were Los Abuelos, Manguitos and Yolanda’s Tacos.

Los Abuelos had some awesome food and they even had some salads to accompany their main dishes. However, on our second visit we ordered tacos and they rolled out and baked the tortilla shells right in front of us! They were honestly some of the tastiest tacos we ever had! There was a great view of the bay from our table as well.



Manguitos was another favorite. We stopped here for lunch one day and Alex ordered the enchiladas and I ordered the Shrimp Cerviche. There were also some great views of the river from the open-air restaurant there.


On our final night, we ate at Yolanda’s Taco’s, as they only serve tacos two evenings a week – Mondays & Wednesdays. They were so tasty and affordable! These tacos even had some beans in them and Alex was so impressed with the price he had to take a photo of the bill! We ordered 11 tacos, 2 quesadillas and 2 beers for 318 pesos ($21 CDN.) [2023: When we returned in 2023 the cost had only increased by about 70 pesos for a very similar order.]



Our Journey Home

While we didn’t have any travel hiccups on our travel day home, it wasn’t without a story. We took the 10:40 a.m. water taxi from Yelapa to Boca Tomatlan to return to the airport, but the water taxi was a bit slower and rougher than when we arrived. When we got back to the dock at Boca Tomatlan, we had a taxi driver ready to pick us up (based on pre-booking with the man who we bought our water taxi tickets from). The pre-arranged taxi driver was great as we wanted to get some lunch but not drag our bags with us. Therefore, he could keep the big bags with him in the vehicle while we ate.

However, the boat ride + the taxi ride on the windy roads, must have been too much for Connor and he got car sick. We determined that this is probably his 3rd or 4th country he has gotten car sick in – Turkey, Morocco, Mexico and Cuba – never at home that I can recall. Luckily, the worse of it was in his mask (good and bad parts to that…ha ha) and we had access to a change of clothes. However, thankfully after getting out of the car and eating some lunch he was back to his normal self again.


Luckily, the rest of the way home was pretty uneventful. Upon arrival to Calgary, we had to provide our quarantine plan to the border agent, as well as answer all the extra Covid questions on the customs questionnaire (2020).


Covid Related Notes Related to Travel in 2020 | The YYC Travel Pilot Program (2020)

We also participated in the YYC Travel Pilot Program at the airport, which we thought was a very efficient program. After going through customs and collecting our luggage, we headed to the testing area. We had to complete the 2 apps (Alberta & Federal ArriveCAN) prior to arrival (can do any time up to 5 days ahead of arrival) and fill out an additional form before we spoke to a healthcare worker. When talking with her we needed to provide our healthcare number and other details, like how we wanted to receive our test results, then we did the swab test. Impressively, less than 30 minutes after we had collected our bags, we were tested and headed to the vehicle. Our daughter got her negative test result almost 20 hours later and the rest of us got our negative results almost exactly 24 hours later. Upon getting the negative test results, we scheduled our second test for one week after our arrival at one of the participating Shopper’s Drugmarts. We got those negative test results back from that program a little more than 30 hours later. [As of Jan. 25, 2021, the Pilot Program was changed and all returning travelers have to remain in quarantine until they get the results back from the second test, as well as can’t return to any daycare, school or work for the full 14 days.]


While we recognize that everybody has different comfort levels and levels of risk they are willing to accept during these COVID times, we felt overall safe during our travels and would feel comfortable doing it again if we were able to maintain certain safety measures.

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