My third time visiting Yelapa was still a charm. This remote fishing village is located in the southernmost cove of the world’s seventh largest bay, Bahía de Banderas, in Jalisco, Mexico. You can stay overnight in a small hotel or rent a room or a house. You can also come here for a yoga retreat, which I bet would be wonderful. But so far, I’ve only come for one-day excursions while staying in Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta.

Yelapa is not an island, but for most practical purposes, it’s accessible only by boat. The first time that I went, I took a small water taxi from the Puerto Vallarta harbor.

The other times, I chose to take excursions on more comfortable catamarans with Vallarta Adventures, which runs day trips starting in either Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta. These trips include snorkeling and kayaking, a buffet lunch, and unlimited drinks, plus an optional hike through the village of Yelapa to a refreshing waterfall, and time to relax, swim, or eat some more at the Yelapa beach.

The Yelapa excursions usually stop at Los Arcos and Las Caletas, two appealing areas in Banderas Bay. But the water was too rough during my most recent trip for our boat to anchor near the interesting rock formations of Los Arcos. So our captain waited and let us off in quieter waters closer to the shore at Las Caletas. It was a relief to get off the rocking boat and into the warm water. Our handsome young guide, Isaías, dove down to the seabed in his snorkeling gear and gently picked up a couple of marine life specimens for us to have a closer look and even touch, passing them from his open palm to ours. One was a light pink sea urchin whose prickles were deceivingly soft. The other was a black serpent starfish, who resembled a tiny octopus. After we had seen and touched them, Isaías returned the urchin and starfish to the rocks and coral where he had found them.

Morning walk along the beach in Nuevo Vallarta
Morning walk along the beach in Nuevo Vallarta
There were weddings almost every night on the Bel Air beach at sunset.
There were weddings almost every night on the Bel Air beach at sunset.

When I had enough snorkeling, I clambered back onto the boat only long enough to take off my snorkel gear and switch the life-vest from waistline to chest position. Then I spent some time kayaking around the area. The crew was amazingly helpful in making it possible to board the kayak from a platform off the back of our very bouncy catamaran.

When I got back on the boat after kayaking, I felt hungry from the activity. The buffet lunch was ready and tempting. I filled a plate, but didn’t manage to eat much of it. My appetite quickly vanished as soon as I sat down and felt the continuous rocking of the boat. For the same reason, I couldn’t indulge in the free cocktails. I felt compelled to sip coca cola instead. Luckily, it was not much longer before the boat headed off again and we reached Yelapa. Yay!! I was very eager to step off onto the dock and hike up to the waterfall. The path passes through the small village which has multiple artisan stands selling typical Mexican crafts. If you want to get souvenirs, this is a convenient and inexpensive place to buy some.


Enjoying the Waterfall
Enjoying the Waterfall

For me, standing under the cascading waterfall was the highlight of the trip. I particularly enjoyed that I got to experience this together with a daughter, who happened to be on a surfing vacation in nearby Punta Mita and came along for this day’s excursion. My daughter was actually the one who persuaded me to come join her under the waterfall despite my initial hesitation to enter the chilly water. Sometimes, it’s good to get a little prodding.

We didn’t rush to get out of the water and were among the last ones in our group to meander back down the hillside and wend our way over to beach, itself.

We felt that we weren’t hydrating enough, so stopped to buy a couple of fresh coconuts at a stand as we entered the beach. “What sort of cocktail is that?” asked another member of our group when he saw us, sipping through straws dipped into the large coconut husks.He wanted to get one, too, until we explained that it was just natural coconut water. Different strokes…


I strongly recommend Vallarta Adventures for excursions from Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta.

I have taken two excursions with them to Yelapa and another excursion (on a previous visit one year ago) called Marietas Eco Discovery. The best part of the Marietas tour, though, was swimming through a low ceiling grotto to the hidden beach. That part of the tour is dependent on the condition of the sea. When we went to the Marietas last May, the sea was calm enough for us to snorkel though the grotto to that hidden beach. It was amazing.


I’ve stayed twice at Bel Air Hotel in Nuevo Vallarta. It’s a relatively small hotel with a minimal amount of scheduled activities (aqua exercise, volleyball, etc.) and its onsite restaurant is not very good. The rooms are large, but dated.

But I like it enough to have returned for a second visit and I will probably come again. Why? Because it’s right on the beach and I get a room where I can see and hear the waves. They have an infinity pool overlooking the beach and it’s a great spot to sit and watch the sunset. I also like the fact that many of the guests are Mexicans. But I also met a few American and Canadians who choose to come for extended periods of time—up to two months—because they feel comfortable at Bel Air and want to avoid the cold winter months back home.


As I said, I wasn’t favorably impressed by the Bel Air restaurants. I do some of my own cooking in the kitchen that is included in my accommodations. I also ate a nice dinner at the El Patron restaurant belonging to the hotel that is immediately next door, Villa del Palmar San Lucas.

For more choices, take a 15 minute taxi ride to the nearby town of Bucerias. I recommend:

  • Toscana Mia
  • Miguel Angel
  • Mar y Sol

For a really pleasant afternoon lunch, I would recommend taking a little longer taxi ride (30 minutes) to Punta Mita. They have several good restaurants along the beach and it’s worth the ride to get there.