Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico – Walking around Puerto Vallarta we see many palapas, especially along the beach, where they serve as sun umbrellas or protection over the bar so your margarita will stay cold.
So what is a palapa? It’s an open-air thatched roof structure that is commonly constructed by local craftsmen using natural materials from the jungle. Besides giving shade in this hot climate, they also are fairly well water-resistant and can last from 5-7 years before they need to be redone. It is one of the most important architectural contributions from the Mexican culture.
The palm fronds that are most commonly used here are from the Attalea cohune, or Cohune Palm, because they can reach up to 90 feet in length. The word “palapa” comes from the Spanish language and means “pulpy leaf.”
Watching these men work is fascinating, as the weaving process is done all by hand while they stand on the support beams of either bamboo or lodge pole pine. What amazes me most is that some of these guys work barefoot! A closer look at the palm fronds will reveal very sharp edges that should require gloves as well as shoes.
The popular Blue Shrimp Restaurant on the south beach of Vallarta is currently redoing their entire huge palapa roof. This will take weeks as the old roof must first be removed and then the tedious process of laying the fronds, from bottom to top, and tightly weaving them together begins.
Palapas are constructed in a variety of sizes. You can even order kits from Amazon! Have fun creating your own little Mexico in your backyard. Or if you get frustrated, just hire one of the many men who have been doing this all their lives.
More stories from Mexico and my other travels can be found at YourCulturalInsider.com.
Sandra Cesca has traveled the world, but found herself returning to Mexico more and more. She moved to Puerto Vallarta in 2008 and never looked back. She currently offers eight different Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours, which include history, architecture, culture, artisanal crafts and ecology. Her photos and articles can be found on puertovallartawalkingtours.com; yourculturalinsider.com; sandracescaphotography.com; Instagram and Facebook. She can be contacted at sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com; or sandra.cesca.photography(at)gmail.com.