IN THE SPOTLIGHT
This Week: Mexico
February 22, 2021
February 22, 2021
Esperanza is located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, four miles outside of Cabo San Lucas, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. The setting is spectacular and the resort itself is luxurious and exclusive, the sort of place where you just might spot a vacationing Hollywood star. It’s no surprise, then, that privacy and seclusion are among Esperanza’s biggest draws.
Los Cabos is pretty close to paradise already, but there are few locations that wouldn’t be improved by the addition of a top-class hotel. This is where the California-based Auberge Resorts comes in. Though they’re best known for their luxury resorts in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, they’ve got history here, having operated the nearby Esperanza for almost two decades — and now, just up the road in the direction of San Jose del Cabo, Chileno Bay Resort & Residences.
If not for the Grupo Habita, Mexico would be short about half a dozen very fine modern hotels. And if not for Habita’s newest, La Purificadora, the little colonial city of Puebla (on the road from Mexico City to Oaxaca) would likely be off our radar entirely. This 19th-century water processing plant (hence the name) and bottling factory was redesigned by the famous Mexican modernist architect Ricardo Legorreta, the man behind Mexico City’s famous Camino Real hotel.
Spain’s nightlife-oriented Meliá group brings its boutique brand of upscale hedonism to Cabo San Lucas — that, frankly, is about 95% of the story here. If you know the ME hotels from Madrid or London, you know that wherever you find one, you’re in for some big nights. In this case, the hotel is even more central to the local nightlife: ME Cabo’s Blue Marlin Ibiza is where you’ll find the splashiest pool parties, the crowd-pleasingest DJs, the happiest happy hours, the most extravagant themed parties, and even the best local “fire jugglers” — and who among us doesn’t enjoy seeing someone juggle some fire every now and again? Point is, if you’re going out late in Cabo, you’re probably going to end up here one way or another anyway, and the hotel’s proposition is pretty simple: sleep it off in high luxury-boutique style.
Bunkhouse, the Austin-based hotel group responsible for most of the best hotels in Texas, has finally set its sights beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. Just how far beyond, however, might come as something of a surprise. Hotel San Cristóbal sets up shop in Todos Santos, on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja California. This is a town that’s in the midst of making that familiar transition from fishing village to bohemian getaway to emerging tourist destination — and the San Cristóbal catches it at just the right time, as the first wave is beginning to crest.
Take everything that annoys you about mass tourism on the Mexican coasts and put it out of your mind. Whatever your mental image, Playa Viva is more or less the opposite of that. A mere 12 casitas, for starters, is about as far as it gets from mass tourism in the first place. And this location, on protected land a half hour outside of Zihuatanejo, has a long, long way to go before it could be considered developed, much less overdeveloped.
Originally built for the local bishop in the 18th century, this stunning six-room mansion is tucked into the heart of San Miguel de Allende. The late fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville lived in Casa No Name for more than twenty years, and made it famous in a photo book not long before her death. Fortunately the photos aren’t the only way to remember Casa No Name: in its new life it’s a luxurious little boutique hotel, in which the old master suite — now called Deborah’s Suite — is only one choice among several.
At the moment there may be no place in Mexico with quite as thrilling a reputation as that of Tulum, the Goldilocks of resort destinations — it’s wild but also a bit luxe, stylish but also authentic, spiritual but also grounded. No wonder the hotels sometimes struggle to live up to the myth. La Valise Tulum, however, makes it look easy. A beachfront villa and a handful of bungalows, with the jungle on one side and a spectacular white sand beach on the other, it’s a slice of heaven — and it’s packed with the modern comforts, traditional crafts, and eclectic, bohemian design that Tulum is supposed to be all about.
Not every hotel in Tulum is right on the beach, but Hotelito Azul is just about as close as you can get to the Caribbean and still wake up warm and dry. This is a destination whose fame has compounded year upon year, and the local hoteliers are struggling to keep up — here they’ve renovated a formerly undistinguished property, adding front-facing full-length glass doors to every room, in order to maximize the impact of the views. And while only the front row has that unobstructed vista, the effect in all of them is to bring the environment inside.
Now that Tulum is well established as an international destination, its biggest worry is preventing the kind of over-polished overdevelopment that’s befallen so many other formerly well-kept secrets. A hotel like Encantada Tulum ought to put some of these fears to rest — this place is anything but over-polished. With its thatched roofs and its handmade craftsmanship it’s as rustic as can be, but rustic doesn’t mean spartan — look a little closer and you’ll find luxuries, just not ostentatious ones
For a country as large and diverse as Mexico to concentrate its travel infrastructure in just a few destinations feels like a major missed opportunity. But the flip side of that is that there are some magical places that haven’t yet been given the full Cancún or Los Cabos treatment. Valle de Bravo, on the shores of Lake Avándaro, two hours’ drive from Mexico City, is one of these places — though it’s well known to domestic travelers, international visitors are only beginning to catch on. La Casa Rodavento will get you quickly up to speed on this charming town.
The more typical destinations in Mexico have done such a good job selling themselves that it’s quite easy to forget what a three-dimensional country it is. Maybe that’s why it’s mostly travelers from elsewhere within Mexico who know the Valle de Bravo — this lush mountain valley defies all the stereotypes, from sun-kissed beaches to colonial-era haciendas. Instead it’s got the Rodavento, which bills itself as a boutique hotel but is in actual fact quite a bit more than that.
Not Cassandra, but CasaSandra. As in Sandra’s place — a Cuban-born writer and artist named Sandra Pérez, who has transformed a little strip of coast on Isla Holbox, just offshore from the Yucatán peninsula, into a pared-down, unpretentious, stylish little beach resort. It’s intended to be as much like a home as a hotel can reasonably be, just a 17 rooms and one luxury villa spread among a few low buildings with sunset views over the sea.
Yearning to get away from it all? Puerto Vallarta probably isn’t quite the first place you’ll think of. But then there’s Xinalani, a gloriously secluded eco-resort wedged between the jungle and the water. Technically, it’s in Puerto Vallarta, but it’s actually twelve miles down the coast from the city proper, and only accessible by boat — which makes all the difference. Pick up what you need before boarding, and put an auto-responder on your e-mail: there’s no Starbucks near the hotel, nor a consistently reliable wi-fi connection — no television, no complimentary in-room iPad. The point of coming to Xinalani is to get away from all of that and enjoy the sand, sun, and sea. Well, it’s the bay, technically, the large, crystal-clear Banderas Bay on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
For too long Mexican travel, for overseas visitors, meant nothing but sun, sand, and surf. In the boutique-hotel era, however, there are opportunities for all kinds of destinations to shine. Among them is Tepoztlán, a mountain town near Mexico City that’s known for its significance in Aztec history and culture — as well as the ruins of the nearby El Tepozteco temple, and the national park that surrounds it. And with the advent of Amomoxtli, the region’s first high-end luxury boutique hotel, it’s a destination that’s set to welcome a new crop of international travelers.
We know the pictures tell most of the story, but it’s worth stating right up front that Papaya Playa Project isn’t just another slightly rustic, reasonably green Tulum boutique hotel. This stretch of wild, jungle-fringed coastline is the setting for 89 low-impact cabanas, casitas & casas, constructed in a style that evokes the traditional Maya way of building. Here the vibe is much more “beachfront commune” than “design boutique” — which makes the fact that it’s the Design Hotels group that’s behind it all the more remarkable.
Somewhere between glamorous excess and spartan backpackers’ minimalism is the Mayan Riviera town of Tulum. More concretely, it’s just down the coast from Playa del Carmen, on the less developed end of the Riviera Maya. And while the coastal hotel zone is where most of the hotels are — you’ve got to admire the clarity of that logic — the western edge of the town center, two miles inland from the beach, is where you’ll find the low-key, affordable, and charmingly mid-century modernist Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum.
Valle de Bravo, the charming lakeside town two hours’ drive to the southwest of Mexico City, has its fair share of devotees, attracted by the colonial atmosphere, the lush valley, and the waters of Lake Avándaro. This is a town with no fewer than three very fine boutique hotels, all of them doing business under the Rodavento name. This one, Cinco Rodavento, is the largest of the three, and the one that most resembles a proper urban boutique hotel — though in Valle de Bravo, “urban” is a concept with fluid boundaries.