What is a Palapa?

••• Palapas offer shade by the shore. Getty.

Question: What is a Palapa?

Answer: A palapa is a thatched-roof, open-sided structure (see palapa photo). Most palapas are round, not very tall, and have a center support. Larger, rectangular units usually have supports in the four corners. The material to cover the roof of a palapa typically consists of dried and woven palm-tree leaves. A palapa is sometimes referred to as a grass or tiki hut.

The most common place to see a palapa is in the tropics, where it provides shade and refuge from the hot sun.

From beaches that ring islands in the Caribbean, Mexico, Tahiti and elsewhere, palapas shield vacationers who revel in warm weather and beachside locations but want to avoid sunburn.

Although tightly woven palapas will keep the sun off your face and body, they provide no protection from insects. So be sure to bring insect repellant to the beach, along with SPF to protect your skin when you stroll along the sand or go into the water.

The word "palapa" comes from the Spanish language and means "pulpy leaf." Palapas are constructed in a variety of sizes. Some resorts set up a bar or serve meals under a larger one; others devote the shaded area beneath the palapa to massage services.

One thing to be very careful about when sitting or lying under a palapa or even drinking at a palapa-shaded bar or restaurant is that the thatching is flammable. Candles, cigarettes, cigars, and any other open flame should be kept a safe distance from the dry leaves that comprise the thatch.