I could tell you that Yelapa is a magical seaside village situated in the jungle just a short boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. I could tell you about the amazing people, the fabulous food, the stunning scenery, the incredible biodiversity, and the bliss of experiencing life where the tropical jungle meets the sea. But, if the title of this piece caught your eye, I suspect you might be more curious about the car situation.
Is there really a place in this world without cars? Not just a place (for example, thank goodness there aren’t any cars cruising around Machu Picchu), but a VILLAGE – a thriving community – without cars?
The answer, thankfully, is YES. While I hope that there is more than one village, more than one community, more than one tiny spot of civilization that exists without cars, I only know one such place, and it is called Yelapa.
The lack of cars may lead you to believe that it is on an island, but it is not. Yelapa is located on the southern edge of the Bahia de Banderas (the Bay of Flags), on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Yelapa is connected to mainland Mexico, in a relatively isolated part of Cabo Corrientes. One of the loveliest side effects of having no cars is that land-based transportation within and around the village is restricted to foot traffic: whether it is people, donkeys or horses…everyone walks. Walking allows more detailed observation of and engagement in one’s environs and, much to my delight, allows for direct personal communication with everyone you pass. Indeed, the majority of Yelapa’s residents actually greet one another as they go on about their days.
So why are there no cars? The short answer is that people have not yet paved the way through the mountainous terrain that comprises the Cabo Corrientes region. Federal Highway 200 (also known as Carretera Costera or Carretera Pacifica) bypasses the cape of Cabo Corrientes completely, when it turns inland just south of Puerto Vallarta and then continues south towards Manzanillo.
There are some basic roads in Cabo Corrientes and, yes, you could actually drive to Yelapa. But you’d need a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle and the patience to navigate the often washed-out and poorly maintained dirt roads. You’d have to park your car above the village though because the existing infrastructure (walk ways and paths through the village) could not possibly accommodate a vehicle because they are too narrow and steep. The mountainous jungle area makes roadwork a bit challenging.
Most of the seaside villages in this region are fishing villages; the sea was not only a major source of sustenance, but also provided their primary means of transportation. It was not too long ago that traditional dugout canoes were the main sea-going vessels; you can still see some folks fishing in these dugouts. These days, the most common form of transportation is the panga, a small boat with one or more outboard motor(s); there are cooperatives throughout the area that provide routine taxi service between the various cities.
Besides the geographic challenges to road building and the historical preference for ocean-based transportation, there simply isn’t great demand for roads. Perhaps the people value their relative isolation. Roads would change everything…maybe not for the better.
Pangas at anchor in Yelapa, Mexico
Stone path in Yelapa
Fortunately, all the "roads" in Yelapa are too narrow for cars.