Just 50 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, The St. Regis Punta Mita is the first St. Regis to grace Latin America’s shores. Positioned between two rocky headlands, this Shangri-la is home to 89 exquisitely appointed guestrooms and 31 opulent designer suites, many with private infinity pools and three fabulous restaurants, Carolina, Las Marietas, and The Sea Breeze Beach Club. Aiming to be one of Mexico’s leading luxury resorts, the property also sports two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses (one hosts the world’s only natural “island” green), pampering cabanas, a private snorkeling reef, a divine spa, buttoned-up butler service, a kid’s club, tennis center, and state-of-the-art gym.
The complex sits on the edge of a giant arc of gorgeous sand on the stretch of seductive coastline called the Riviera Nayarit. Inside the hotel, light woods, white walls, Galarza stone, local artisan flooring, and stark symmetrical architecture provide a frisson of designer chic, while infinity pools and manicured lawns complete the idyllic picture. Rooms are imbued with fragrant Mexican flowers and indigenous herbs to dazzle your olfactory senses. They certainly get the luxury basics right here: the spa, food, and service are impeccable.
Don’t miss the bountiful breakfast at Marietas, only yards from the shimmering sea. Set beneath a palapa near the beach and pool, this open-sided restaurant offers excellent ocean views and fresh air whilst sampling the chef’s morning specials. The buffet has a wealth of local delicacies like subtly-spiced chicken tamales served with a zesty chipotle sauce, sugar-sprinkled churros with your choice of healthy agave syrup or a rich brown maple syrup. Their delectable homemade banana bread is worth the extra carbs. The super secret Bloody Mary blend (with or without alcohol) has a real kick, and the deliciously exotic Green Juice, a potent but tongue tickling combination of nopal cactus juice, chaya, celery, pineapple, and orange, is just the thing to sip as you watch Mario Lopez jog along the shore of your private beach.
For fine dining, the five-star Carolina means muy caro wines, elegant decor, and superior service. Seafood is the raison d’etre of this dining scene, so don’t get overwhelmed by the proliferation of sea creatures on the menu. Start with the chilled foie gras, set in a house-made cranberry jelly, perched upon a fig confit in smooth port wine caramel. The giant succulent sea scallops are so huge, they barely fit on your plate. Served cerviche-style with weightless orange foam and spicy chile oil, the scallops are mouthwatering gifts from the underwater gods. The Parrot fish, caught just off the hotel’s waters, is bread-crusted and served with tomatoes, ginger, basil, and garlic foam.
The key attraction, however, is the Remède Spa, an astonishing 10,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor facility that incorporates the beauty of its natural surroundings with its structure (the waiting area is a huge palapa within a courtyard of pools). The resort manages to defy tradition while still embracing it: spare meditative surroundings, early morning yoga, and an Asian-inspired spa lend the property an Eastern air, while vivid pink accents, Mexican votives, and dishes such as the fragrant house special, acamayitas (freshwater prawns), infuse the spa with a distinctly Latin flavor. The 20 luminescent white bungalows have sculptural walls, pearl-hued cement floors, and private terraces with hammocks. The smooth sand of Punta Mita’s beaches and lush flora inspires the Ocean Pearl Massage. Your treatment begins with a crushed-pearl exfoliation, imbued with hydrating oils. A warm seaweed body mask follows, topped off with an invigorating deep tissue. Truly a blissful way to spend the afternoon.
Just minutes away, the town of San Pancho simmers with a potent mix of surf and Mexican fishing culture. Cobblestone streets meander from the freeway to the sandy beach, and hints of colorful villas hide behind high walls. Within its tiny confines, you can find festive tequila-fueled watering holes, handmade crafts, and redolent bakeries specializing in mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies and sublime Mexican coffee. The town also is famous for its fresh seafood street food. With its surf shacks, quaint cafes and historical buildings, San Pancho is one of the most endearing towns in Western Mexico, brimming with languid, riverside charm and stunning seaside scenery.
Underwater lovers can arrange snorkeling and scuba diving through Vallarta Adventures (888-303-2653). They run a full range of certification courses. You can also hire a panga (a small motorized boat) at Playa Pancho from the fisherman’s cooperative on the beach. Ask the captain to take you whale watching. Open Air Expeditions (322-222-3310) offers amazing trips, including bird watching and ocean kayaking in Punta Mita. Ecotours de México (322-222-6606) leads eco-friendly adventures tours, including seasonal (August-December) trips to a turtle preservation camp where you can observe hatching Olive Ridley turtle babies! PETA lovers beware: bullfights are held December through April beginning at 5pm on Wednesday at the La Paloma Bullring across the highway from the town pier. Tickets cost around $25 and can be arranged by St. Regis.
After exploring town and the aquatic playground, slip back into the St. Regis bubble for more exquisite food and halycon relaxation. The dreamy St. Regis Punta Mita, a five-star enclave frequented by celebrities, VIPs, spa lovers, and couples in search of a romantic weekend, provides a magical escape from the world we live in.