If you’re looking for a tranquil retreat from the bustling resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, there’s few places that are more peaceful than Yelapa, a tiny fishing village, along the Pacific coastline, that’s only accessible by boat. In this remote town located an hour south of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find a pristine beach surrounded by lush jungle, colorful homes, and two breathtaking waterfalls.
So if exploring one of Mexico’s best hidden gems and cooling off under a gorgeous cascade sounds like your idea of paradise, here’s everything you need to know about the Yelapa waterfalls.
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What is Yelapa?
Yelapa is a small fishing village along the Pacific coastline, located in the Mexican state of Jalisco. While many people mistakenly believe that Yelapa is an island, it’s actually just a super itty bitty town nestled in the Bay of Banderas, completely surrounded by thick jungle, with no roads leading to or from it.
In stark contrast to the glitzy resorts of Puerto Vallarta, you won’t find any mega resorts or chain restaurants here. Instead, you’ll find mom-and-pop restaurants, local homestays, and a quiet place to enjoy the area’s stellar beaches and simply disconnect from the modern world.
In fact, there’s actually no cars in the village- basically, just ATVs (and, until fairly recently, there wasn’t even electricity or telephone wires!)!
How to get to Yelapa
Given there are no roads in or out of Yelapa, you can’t simply drive there. So how do you reach this sleepy little slice of heaven?
Getting to Yelapa by boat
The most popular way to reach Yelapa is by boat. There are several vendors right by Puerto Vallarta’s Playa Los Muertos Pier, offering water taxi services to Yelapa. You can expect to pay around 380 pesos (or around $18) for roundtrip tickets or around 200 pesos (about $10) for a one-way ticket.
Departure times will vary depending on which boating operator you go with (I’d recommend scoping out departure/return times and prices the day before you want to head to Yelapa), but taxis will typically depart Puerto Vallarta around 11 AM, 11:45 AM, 3 PM, and 5 PM with return trips leaving Yelapa around 7:45 AM, 9:30 AM, 12 PM, and 4 PM.
As such, if you’re just going for a day trip, I’d highly recommend heading out on the first boat of the day to maximize your time in Yelapa as much as you can. Alternatively, there’s also a number of Yelapa tours that you can book, like this one, that will take you both to the village and a private beach club that’s only accessible by boat.
Tip: If you book from one of the vendors by Playa Los Muertos Pier, be sure to ask which pier you’ll be dropped off at. The tour should (should being the operative word) drop you off at Embarcadero De Yelapa, which is the southern dock in the town and closest to the city’s center.
You’ll then usually be picked up at Muelle de Yelapa, on the northern side of the cove, which is only accessible by walking about half an hour from the “downtown” area or by taking an ATV (but if you can also find one that picks you up from Embarcadero De Yelapa, even better!).
When my husband, Justin, and I visited, the water taxi service we used both dropped us off and picked us from Muelle de Yelapa (which is highly unusual)- I suspect this was to encourage us to book ATV rides into town from the buskers that hang out on the beach.
As such, we wasted one of the five hours we were in Yelapa to walk from where we were dropped off into town and back again. Not cool, water taxi dudes.
Getting to Yelapa by bus
If you’re more adventurous or on a tight budget, you can instead take a local bus from Puerto Vallarta south to the town of Boca de Tomatlan and then find a small motorboat to take you the rest of the way to Yelapa.
For this route, find the bus stop on the corner of Basilio Badillo and Calle Constitucion in Puerto Vallarta, by the OXXO. The bus you’re looking for should be orange and white, have Parada de Camiones a boca de Tomatlan on its front, and will cost around 20 pesos.
Once you arrive in Boca de Tomatlan (which will take about half an hour from Puerto Vallarta), walk to the beach to Muelle de Boca de Tomatlan, where there will be plenty of guys eager to take you in their motorboat to Yelapa for around 100 pesos (a little under $5 USD). These boats leave Boca de Tomatlan every hour and take about half an hour to reach Yelapa.
How to get to the Yelapa waterfalls
As mentioned above, there’s not just one, but TWO amazing waterfalls in Yelapa- each which comes with its own little adventure.
Waterfall in Downtown Yelapa
The first waterfall is located here in the heart of Yelapa itself with tons of signs sprinkled throughout town, with “Cascada” or “Waterfall” pointing you in the right direction.
If you’re having trouble finding any of the signs in the village, coming from the little beach area you’ll be dropped off in, you’re going to walk past the town’s church and cross a small bridge that spans the river. After you pass a water purification station, you should turn left on a cobblestone road, Calle Marlin, that leads uphill.
From here, you’ll simply climb this path for about 0.3 miles, passing street vendors until you arrive at the foot of the waterfall.
Here, you’ll find the 150-foot tall waterfall dramatically careening down a cliff into a pool below. There’s boulders that you can climb down and into the pool at the foot of its curtain- it’s an excellent place to splash around in and cool off on a hot day!
There’s also a little bar to the right hand side where you can buy some snacks or a much-deserved bottle of Corona (remember to bring cash!).
Given its proximity to town, this waterfall tends to be busier than Yelapa’s other waterfall (although when I visited-which was notably in October during the slow season- there were only about five or so other people there). It is, however, taller and more dramatic-looking than Yelapa’s other waterfall, so, in my opinion, 100% worth a visit!
Waterfall Outside of Yelapa
To reach the second waterfall, you’ll need to hike 4.9 miles round trip along this well-marked trail, on the southern side of the Tuito River.
To access the trail, you’ll walk east from the downtown area along the main road (Calle Marlin) until it curves south when it reaches the river. On your left hand side, you’ll pass the pedestrian bridge, but continue straight on this path, which will transition from cobblestone to eventually a sandy and then, mostly rocky trail.
About 0.7 miles in, you’ll reach a small concrete shack with a blue door to your left, where the trail seemingly vanishes into the river. But, in actuality, the trail doesn’t disappear- you’ll just need to do your best Indiana Jones impression and walk through the river to continue on the path.
Note- when we visited in October, the current was unfortunately too strong due to recent bouts of precipitation to pass the river, so temper your expectations if you’re visiting during a particularly rainy period!
You’ll also need to cross the river again after about another mile on the trail. Because of these two river crossings, I’d highly recommend wearing including some sort of hiking sandal (which essentially functions as a hiking boot plus a water shoe all in one- what more could you need?) on your Mexico packing list, like these Tevas that my husband wears or the Tevas that I rock.
From here, the trail starts snaking its way through the lush jungle until you eventually have to scramble on some large boulders to reach the shores of the waterfall.
Depending on the water levels, you can usually wade into the water right up to the curtain of the waterfall, find a little rock bench to sit on, and allow the powerful cascade to massage your back. Plus, due to the remoteness, there’s a really solid chance you’ll get this one totally to yourself!
Psst… we didn’t get cell service in Yelapa, so I’d suggest downloading offline maps on Google and AllTrails before you head here. You'll need the AllTrails+ version of the app to download offline maps. Luckily, you can get a 7-day free trial, PLUS our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount for their first year—just use the code “Uprooted30” at check out! If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your AllTrails account to the paid version (I know it took me, like, five years to make the jump), we wrote a whole post about whether an AllTrails+ account is worth it.
Where to stay in Yelapa
Yelapa’s sleepy vibes may not be for all travelers, but if you’re looking for a place to totally disconnect and just completely unwind in a lush tropical paradise, it may be the perfect place to spend a night or three. Consider:
- Casas Garcia: Each suite here has its own kitchen and, more importantly, an oceanfront terrace that overlooks the property’s private beach. Falling asleep to the sound of waves? I could get used to it!
- Casa Bahia Bonita: Modest, yet clean rooms with beautiful views of the bay and literally less than a minute walk to Yelapa’s main beach.
I hope you enjoy the beautiful waterfalls of Yelapa- which one did you like better? Let me know in the comments below!