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AN HOUR'S BOAT ride and some 25 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, the remote coastal village of Yelapa, Mexico, calls to mind the kind of island-paradise postcard that urban dwellers sometimes stick on a wall at work to contemplate when things get hairy.

It's not an island per se, but since no roads lead there, meaning no cars, it might as well be. Yelapa's frontier-outpost feel has faded a bit since electricity was installed three years ago, putting an end to reveling under the solo glow of the moon and stumbling home by flashlight.

Still, with its jungle landscape, rudimentary hiking trails, few phones, rustic seafood restaurants, and the palm-thatched huts that serve as the only beachfront hotel, the village is the perfect remedy for a worn-down city soul.

The journey to Yelapa begins at the end of the pier at Puerto Vallarta's Playa los Muertos, where various motorboat drivers await passengers – and flirt with the concept of a watery mass-grave by overloading the boats. On a visit in April, I joined a group of luggage-toting tourists and local commuters, who work on party boats anchored around the bay, to be whisked at high speed along Mexico's Pacific Coast and out to what felt like the middle of the ocean, before veering inland to Yelapa. En route, a school of dolphins made successive half-moon leaps in the near distance, evoking a chorus of oohs and ahhs, which died out as the boat decelerated, then stopped as the driver killed the motor to fill the gas tank.


The sloshing of water against the boat was now the only sound, and we stared at the expanse of Banderas Bay's glassy surface, a scene both mystifying and inspiring to those seeking a slower, more reflective pace. Then a stingray broke the calm as its fin sliced through the water a few feet away, eliciting a second round of commotion.

As we closed in on Yelapa, the cluster of palapas (huts) that is Hotel Lagunita appeared, built into the hillside facing the water and merging with the lush jungle setting. Connected by a meandering cobblestone path and sheltered by thatched roofs that let the sun filter through, the 29 units have electricity, hot water, and, in some cases, patios with jaw-dropping ocean views. Meals are served al fresco on the beach at the hotel's Tres Amigos Bar and Grill – French toast and granola with fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast, seafood salads and tacos for lunch, and a variety of fish and pasta dishes for dinner. With advance notice, the kitchen can handle the needs of vegetarians and vegans, and desserts are shipped in daily from a baker in Puerto Vallarta.

Those interested in leaving their hammocks now and again can walk to the town's center, a 10- to 15-minute stroll from the hotel. The hotel also hosts at least 10 weeklong yoga retreats fall through spring. On my visit San Francisco-based instructor Stacey Rosenberg, who teaches a therapeutic style of hatha yoga called anusara, led two-hour sessions in the morning and early evening. The saffron-colored walls and pitched ceiling of the yoga room, which opens onto the beach, gave it the feel of a rural chapel.

One morning a few of us hiked along a dusty path to a waterfall, where we stripped down and dove in to cool off. Later a local fisherman took us out to a secluded island inhabited by blue-footed boobies, a white-and-brown bird with large, appropriately blue feet. Our guide caught a mackerel and made seviche out of it. Topping it with salsa and lime juice, we ate it on taco shells right there on the beach.

And then, eventually, it was time to vacate paradise. However, on the boat ride back to Puerto Vallarta, we got one more respite – as the shoreline came into view, the motor once again died, this time owing to mechanical difficulties. Even with a plane to catch in an hour, I was grateful for the extra minutes to soak up images of water and sky. I made a pact to slow down my life back in San Francisco and let those moments of paradise catch up with me.

by Vanessa Kewley Sharp
Courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Gaurdian


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