The Tropics Next Door

Just Park Me in a Palapa in Yelapa

Jun 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

Montezuma's reward: palapas on the pink-perfect paradise of Cozumel, Mexico    Photo: Timoty O'Keefe/Index Stock

Rocky's shrill whistle pierced through the sound of waves crashing beneath my bedroom. Untangling myself from mosquito net and sheet, I lurched out to the balcony of my two-story casita to peer at the dark pre-dawn ocean. Rocky, my beachfront neighbor and a former fishing guide from Arkansas, was gliding past in his sea kayak, trolling with a simple hand line of 30-pound test and a two-inch lure. He jabbed his paddle in my direction. Vamos!
I sighed. It was going to be another routine day in Yelapa, a fishing village 12 miles southwest of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast. Getting to the 1,200-person settlement requires a bumpy 30-minute ride by outboard water taxi south from Puerto Vallarta, along the rocky coast of the Bah'a de Banderas to Yelapa's little hidden cove.
I'd start the day by joining Rocky to fish along the southern edge of the bay, Mexico's largest, through schools of porpoises and the occasional manta ray, and past cliffs alternating with uninhabited, palm-laden lagoons. If I was lucky I'd come home with some tasty fish—known locally as sierras—for ceviche. By midmorning I'd be back at my rented casita cleaning my catch, eating a late breakfast of mangos, and pretending to write in my journal while staring out at the Pacific.
My first hard decision would be whether to hike or swim next. If the onshore wind seemed steady and strong, it might be a good day to hike two and a half hours to the top of one of the 2,000-foot summits that nearly surround Yelapa—a derelict ranchito atop one peak is a favored takeoff spot for parasailors. Or I could swim a half-mile from the casita to the center of Yelapa's main beach, where lollygagging and slurping fresh shrimp cocktails are the main pursuits. I'd squeeze in a siesta, of course, and then make my way to the south end of the beach, where steps lead up to the town—a maze of adobe walls and red-tile roofs crisscrossed by cobblestone lanes. There are no cars or motorcycles in Yelapa, though there is traffic of a sort. Mules, the taxi/truck/car/bus of Yelapa, provide the only overland way out of town, up narrow mountain trails that would make even the hardiest SUV stall.

About two years ago, the town got electricity. Some people lamented this progress, though its only real results are television, two dozen streetlights, and too much Ricky Martin played late into the night. And the placid village has adapted itself to more vigorous visitors: Sea kayaks can be rented from Hotel Lagunita or Casa Isabel, local fishermen at the docks arrange day trips, and Miller's Dive Service offers multiday trips to the small islands in the bay.
I might contemplate these changes as I prepare for a twilight fishing jaunt. Unless, of course, it's game night. The locals (Raicillas) and the gringos (Bimbos) play softball three or four nights a week at a dusty field a mile up the Río Tuito from town. The game starts around 5 p.m. and ends eight or nine innings later or when you can't see the ball—whichever comes first. After several hundred games, the series is just about even.
If the innings are quick, there's time to get back to the casita for a cocktail and sunset observation. Then it's a short walk to satisfy my addiction to the barbecued chicken, fish, and ribs served at Pollo Bollo. By 10 p.m. it's time to tuck myself under the mosquito net—where the rhythm of the waves will anesthetize me until Rocky's whistle wakes me again.
Yep, same old routine.
Boats bound for Yelapa leave at 11:45 a.m. Monday through Friday in front of the Hotel Rosita in Puerto Vallarta (about $9.50 per person one-way; 011-52-322-223-2000, Cabanas for two at Hotel Lagunita (011-52-329-298-0554, cost $45-$75 per night; the hotel offers kayak rentals and guided waterfall hikes. Casa Isabel ( /isabel_jordan.html; e-mail, [email protected]) also has kayaks and rents five palapas that sleep two to six people for $45-$75. Miller's Dive Service (; e-mail, [email protected]) offers five-day dive packages for $165 to $175 for two-tank dives. For fishing and kayaking with Rocky, contact his company, Yelapa Extreme Kayaking ([email protected]).

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