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  • Sandra Cesca

A Palapa for your Margarita?

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

Walking around Vallarta I see many palapas, especially along the beach as sun umbrellas or protection over the bar so you and your drinks will stay cool. 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 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."

During palapa construction, watching the 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 close 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 recently renovated their entire huge palapa roof. This took weeks as the old roof was removed and then the tedious process of laying the fronds, from bottom to top, and tightly weaving them together began.

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 these talented Mexican men who have been doing this all their lives.

More stories from Mexico and my other travels can be found at

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