Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

Yelapa … “a serene experience” ?



Yelapa–Well, what can I say?  Yelapa turned out to be everything we had never hoped it would be . . .

All the cruisers’ guides wax eloquently about it.   And, from cruisers in other ports, we had heard about it being an “undiscovered” jewel. . . which, of course, is in-and-of-itself a complete contradiction.  How can any place be undiscovered when it appears in multiple cruisers’ guides sold to thousands of boaters?

But, ‘serene’ is a questionable use of the word (in our opinion) that does not describe Yelapa.  Perhaps more than 10 years ago before they got telephones, computer  reservations, bungalows for tourists,  and water taxis from the Puerta Vallarta Hotels hauling 20-30 touristas at a time to the beach bars and waiting beach loungers.  Maybe a time before the rhythm of the drums beating out Brittany’s “Do it again!”  across the anchorage at 2 am.

On the north-east side of the small bay are the hotel accommodations, small hut-like thatched roof bungalows, very native looking, and very beautiful.  You can watch the stream of Americans and Canadians wander out at 8 a.m. or so to the small dock serving them exclusively.  A water taxi promptly picks up a full load and takes them across the bay to the ‘village’–I am guessing for breakfast.

This is about the same time that a panga, loaded to the scuppers, heads out from the surf with piles of green garbage bags from yesterday’s tourists headed god-knows-where to get rid of it.

Other water taxis start streaming in from the hotels in Puerto Vallarta.  In the central beach area are numerous beach bar/restaurants with dozens of lounge chairs to sit and soak up suds and sun.  Many are occupied even at 11 am in the morning.  More are not.  The beach is literally swept clean of footprints before each new day’s beginning– obliterating any trace of the past day’s throngs.

And all this “pristine”ness is managed without a road to the village … with only burros, boats, and people walking in and out with the supplies.  A hint here, don’t look too closely at Google Earth or it will spoil your sense of isolation.


It indeed is as undiscovered as say Knott’s Berry Farm, Calico Ghost Town, Dogpatch USA, and Boot Hill in Dodge City.  It is way past undiscovered.  The small village is one vast (not-so- vast) diorama complete with colorful and accurate indigenous costume.


Perhaps all those other cruisers had sampled a bit of the local Yelapa moonshine, Raicilla (a 90 percent ((not proof that would be a 180 proof)) alcohol made from maguey cactus) when writing about the place.  This alcohol –though hard to come by–tastes like a very good mescal minus the smoky taste …  a very complex high-octane alcohol that could probably double as paint remover.  And perhaps when sailors visited here 20 years ago, it really was a pristine quaint village only accessible by boat (there are still no roads in or out….not a single car in sight).  A pretty beach, a small very deep bay, and a couple of restaurants?……………Hmmmm……. maybe it was completely different before Carlos Slim and the phone company arrived to bring the world to Yelapa.

Well……….that’s all still here………, anchor balls (because it’s gets so impossibly deep so fast) which you can rent for $20 a day…………, modern hotels (constantly full at peak capacity), at least half-a-dozen bars that do rave music till 3 in the morning, parachute gliding around the bay pulled by a souped-up panga, water taxis from Puerto Vallarta–each carrying 20 to 30 passengers in and out all day long, 300 people (all Americans or Canadians) tanning on beach chairs….

And all the while para-gliders drop into the sand from somewhere high nearby.  And, lest we forget the future of all Mexico’s anchorages … a power boat fires up its engines and begins lifting an adventurous grandma-type tourista in a parachute into the air behind it.

I have to admit, this is the most beautiful small bay I have ever seen.  It evokes feelings of the Pacific, of Mexico, of the islands and shores we dream of.  It assaults the senses with drums (not jungle drums but drums).  But, like many searchers for paradise … we have arrived decades too late.

It must be a blast for anyone craving that type of experience, but we will be moving on……….

DSC_1690aPhoto courtesy Nancy and Sven on Senta II

Our enthusiasm for the Pacific Coast of Mexico is not diminished……but it was certainly an education in how not to read a cruisers’ guide. . .

A final note and cautionary note:  This is an acceptable anchorage if (1) you use the mooring balls, and (2) you are keenly aware of weather, and (3) you are also aware that the balls are in many places too close together for a boat longer than 36-39 feet.  We were there two nights and on night one, we had to move from one set of balls to another in the dark (not fun in the swells).  On night two, a 50 foot or so sailboat and a power yacht attached to the ball next to it (may have been the same one we were on the night before) had a close encounter of the unpleasant kind.  Lots of light suddenly popping on, boats being moved, and a power boat leaving the harbor hastily late at night.

The panga drivers who rent you the ball will take your money, do not expect a refund if it does not work out well for you and your boat.  Also, we were told, and this is evidently common to call on a channel if there was a problem.  We did.  No response.  Ch 16, no response.  Ch 22, no response.  The lesson here is don’t be fooled.  You are far from help in a difficult anchorage.  I would not have stayed had it not been for the mooring balls.  So, there is good and bad.  The good is the panga operator who was out late and saw our difficulty and pitched in to move us to his mooring ball.  He was a god send.  His only request was that we tell the initial panga operator that “we had asked him to move us” so that there would be no bad feelings.

We only moved after holding off a 44 footer with the boat hook from slamming into our solar array on the stern of the boat.  Made for an exciting night of anchor maneuvering.  And, we paid for two anchorages, the one we used and the one we didn’t.  We chalked that second cost up to sailing education on use of mooring balls and night anchoring.

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