Every year I take Steve somewhere special for his birthday – a Kasbah in Morocco, a surprise Joanna Newsom gig in Budapest, a medieval turret in Tallin – somewhere that makes him say wow. Back in London, it was easy – with Europe on the doorstep and a never-ending urge to escape the city, the options were endless. This year was more difficult – not because Mexico is short on ‘wows’ but because we’re already in a place that surprises and delights us every day. I wasn’t sure how I was going to find something that felt suitably special.
Then I heard about Yelapa.
Yelapa is a tiny little town, free from cars, about 80km down the coast from San Pancho. It’s not an island but, save from one rarely used and uninviting dirt road, can only be reached by boat. People I knew who had been there raved about the beauty of the hidden cove, the tranquility of the town and the friendliness of its people. Accommodation is always a make or break when it comes to choosing Steve’s surprise so I was sold when some friends suggested Casa Isabel, a place that bills itself as a ‘peaceful retreat for the enjoyment of nature and rejuvenation of the human spirit’ – and comes complete with al-fresco sleeping, hanging beds and the promise of paragliding.
With the absence of cars, the magnificence of nature, and the possibility of flying above it, I felt pretty sure I’d found something that would live up to previous years. Here’s how it went…
After a 45-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta, passing whales along the way, we were dropped off at the little beach in front of Casa Isabel.
Our room, CanopyCamp, was all open-air with a hanging bed that swung gently beneath the trees.
The view was one of the best we’d ever wake up to.
Friends had told us not to miss having a massage by Beverly, one of the owners at Casa Isabel, so I’d booked us both one in advance. It was some of the most intense bodywork I’ve ever experienced – she even cracked our necks – but wow, did we feel incredible afterwards. Beverly’s technique is based on Chinese acupressure and she can recommend exercises to tend to any ailments you may have.
Suitably loosened up, that night we went out for dinner at El Cerrito, a restaurant overlooking the bay. The wine was the best we’ve had in Mexico, and the music, by Gabriella Coniglio, was so good we bought her CD. I love this photo where she looks like she’s emanating stars.
The next morning we awoke not only to the sound and view of the ocean, but also to this magnificent Perota tree that presided regally over our bed. It was tempting to lie there all day, but adventure was waiting…
For Steve’s birthday present, we were going paragliding. As I looked out over the mountain, we were to run off, I wondered what I’d let myself in for. We’d tried it before in Peru a few years ago, and despite it being one of the most invigorating experiences of my life, I still felt a little nervous – not least because my landing in Peru had been a little rough.
Happily, our instructor Chris from Casa Isabel, was a pro at soothing nerves. Yelapa is regarded as one of the safest places to paraglide and out of tens of thousands of flights, no-one has ever had to use their reserve parachute. Landing isn’t a problem there as the winds aren’t terribly strong. He ran us through the procedure for take-off, flight and landing, and I knew I was in safe hands.
In the photo above, we’re preparing for lift-off. As soon as the wind was just right, Chris shouted go and it was time let go of instincts and run, run, run straight of the cliff…
…and up into the sky. Woo hoo! I was flying!
Steve took off just after me with his flying partner Aldo, losing one shoe along the way. Luckily this happened before they were in the air so Aldo’s son was able to rescue it. Note of advice to anyone paragliding – tie your shoe laces first! Steve took the camera and was able to take this shot of one of Yelapa’s waterfalls, which we had a perfect birds-eye view of. In fact, we had a birds-eye view of the whole place, literally flying in rhythm with the vultures and parrots. Chris and Aldo use the birds as guide to know where the thermals are rising, and therefore where we could get more lift. With no motor, the flight was silent and serene, and as we glided through the air, it felt meditative and exhilarating, all at the same time. We were airborne for around 20 minutes, and after landing Steve declared it his ambition to learn how to fly himself. I’m not so sure I trust my own instincts but would love to go tandem with him.
We celebrated our beautiful morning with an equally delightful lunch at Bahia, a colourful restaurant on the water’s edge. The menu was full of vegetarian options including this classic and delicious Mexican eggs and beans.
We spent the afternoon lounging, reading and doing yoga before heading to a restaurant named ‘Oasis by the River’ for some more live music and dinner. The almond tequilla is highly recommended.
For our final morning in Yelapa, we took one last stroll into town, passing creatures like this along the way…
…as well as pictures hidden in trees.
We couldn’t resist heading back to Bahia for a farewell Yelapa brunch, and I think Steve’s smile says it all. Birthday number 29, or number 4 in our relationship, was a beautiful success. We may live in a paradise, but Yelapa was an enchanting step outside of that.
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Useful information about Yelapa
We got the boat to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta, but it’s also possible to catch a boat from Boca de Tomatlan. Timetables are available on the Yelapa Info website. It cost 280 pesos for a return ticket each, and can be booked by calling the Puerto Vallarta office.
We stayed at Casa Isabel, which we highly recommend. It was beautifully unique and had an impressive focus on sustainability. Thank you to Beverly and Chris for inviting us there. Rooms cost between $35-125.
We went paragliding with Chris at Casa Isabel, which cost $150 each. Our massages with Beverly were $60 each. Again, both are highly recommended. We not only enjoyed the services, but also simply spending time with both Chris and Beverly who are wonderfully interesting people.
There are plenty of restaurants on the island. Our favourite for breakfast/lunch was definitely Bahia. For the evening time, we enjoyed Oasis by the River, and El Cerrito but it appears the latter has closed down. [/callout]