A Dream Grows Along the Seaside

Away from the crowds of Mexico’s resort towns, two historic Pacific Coast properties reign

By: Andréa R. Vaucher

COSTA ALEGRE, Mexico It all began as a fantasy, when Italian banker Gian Franco Brignone was lured to Mexico’s Costa Alegre, a strip of shoreline between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, by his friend Antenor Patino, the Bolivian tin baron who developed Las Hadas, one of Mexico’s first luxury resorts.

Brignone, beguiled by the majesty of the setting, bought thousands of acres along eight miles of beachfront and started building, at first just a few architecturally daring villas for his jet-set friends. Now, almost 40 years later, Costa Careyes is one of the most enchanting resort destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Today, there are more than 40 hilltop haciendas featuring vast infinity pools and enormous thatched palapa living spaces open to the elements and the breathtaking views. These are owned by European tycoons and celebrities like Seal, or rented out to the likes of Armani and Francis Ford Coppola.

Brignone also created a vividly colored Mediterranean-style mountainside village composed of smaller, but no less dramatic, dwellings for sale and for lease and the 48-room El Careyes Beach Resort, which, after several hits and misses, Starwood has resurrected under its Luxury Collection banner.

The El Careyes, with its glamorous European vibe, is the perfect complement to another Starwood luxury property, the El Tamarindo Golf Resort, which is 40 minutes down the coast. El Tamarindo sprang from the dream of another banker, this one from Mexico City, who first set up luxury tents along the beach for his pack of international cronies. Next, he had Robert Trent Jones Jr. and David Fleming create one of the most beautiful golf courses on the planet and carve it out of the jungle. While the tents ultimately became 29 secluded villas set amid the lush tropical splendor, with individual pools and top-notch amenities, the atmosphere there is one of meditative tranquility rather than the sultry sophistication one feels at El Careyes.

A stay at either place or, even better, at both is the perfect getaway for West Coast clients who spent time in Vallarta in the ’70s or in Cancun when it was mostly huts along a stretch of sand. The relaxed and quiet atmosphere is an antidote to the hustle and bustle that sometimes makes Mexico feel like a Margarita-fueled year-round spring break destination. And now that Starwood is in the mix, its Luxury Collection brand will provide consistency, something travelers to Mexico insist upon more and more these days.

In order to own a house in Careyes, one must meet Birgnone’s list of 27 attributes. These include “loving the roots of Mexico” and having committed most of the seven deadly sins, “above all, sloth.” But to visit El Careyes, all one needs is a pocketful of pesos and a ticket to either Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo, both of which are a couple hours away by car.

Most rooms at El Careyes face the ocean and the balconies of many feature turquoise plunge pools, in which thanks to a hard-working housekeeping staff tropical flowers float. The rooms are spacious with tile floors, whitewashed walls, brightly colored Mexican fabric accents and plantation shutters that push back to reveal the breathtaking views.

At the El Tamarindo, the villas all have thatched outdoor living/dining areas, plus air-conditioned sleeping enclosures with sliding-glass walls. Beside each pool is a hammock, and on the private lawns in front of the villas, eight of which front the beach, are comfortable teak chaises lounges. In the elegant bath areas at both resorts, scrubs, shampoos and lotions all made on the premises from natural ingredients are presented in clay pots. At both places there are top-of-the-line in-room safes and everything else you might need from bug spray to a flashlight to an umbrella. Only El Careyes has televisions, and neither place offers in-room Internet access, though both have a computer available for guests. Cell service is not available at either resort. Both resorts have restaurants that offer casual al fresco dining with an accent on freshly caught fish.

At El Careyes and El Tamarindo, the beach is the centerpiece, and the calm, azure Pacific is where most clients opt to spend their days. Both resorts have magnificent pools right on the beach and watersports concessions that arrange snorkeling trips, water-skiing, windsurfing or sailing. Tell El Careyes clients not to miss a sunset horseback ride along the beach.

Both resorts offer spa services, though the spa at El Tamarindo is no more than a beach shack with massages offered under a ubiquitous palapa right on the sand. The highlight of the El Tamarindo spa is the Temezcal, a 2½-hour sweat lodge purification ritual held on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Nightly rates at El Careyes Beach Resort range from $289 for a room without an ocean view to $919 for a three-bedroom casita. The casitas go from $180 for a one-bedroom beach bungalow to $1,200 for a four-bedroom with pool. Fully staffed villas start at $1,100 (three bedrooms, four baths) and go to $5,000 for an eight-bedroom, nine-bath villa with its own private island.

Accommodations at El Tamarindo range from $356 for a forest villa to $765 for a two-bedroom palm tree villa. Two luxurious architectural houses are also available from $3,500 to $6,000 per night, including staff and all food and non-alcoholic beverages.

There is a travel agent discount of 10 percent.


El Tamarindo and El Careyes

Starwood’s Luxury Collection

Costa Careyes Rental Properties

Club El Tamarindo (house rentals)
E-mail: arianne.eternod@ grupoplan.com