If you’re not familiar with Mexico, it can be difficult to decide which of its many beach regions is right for you.
First-timers might enjoy the lush regions near Cancun, full of powder sand, clear waters, and no shortage of hotels that range from enormous all-inclusives (around Cancun and Riviera Maya) to the boutique (near Tulum and Isla Holbox). Cabo, with its desert landscape, rugged coastline, and array of luxury-chain hotels, makes the two-hour flight from the US’s West Coast a no-brainer for Californians looking for a quick weekend getaway.
However, the Riviera Nayarit, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, is something completely different and a destination unto itself. While a trip to Cancun or Cabo will have you researching the many hotel options in each area, the reason to come to Nayarit is specifically to stay at the new One&Only Mandarina.
Nestled in the jungle, this 600-acre paradise intentionally blends into its setting. The entire property is spread out and scattered around the tree-filled landscape. Each recreational area –the wellness centre, the Alma restaurant and pool, the adults-only Carao restaurant and pool, the Jetty Beach Club, the Canalan Beach Club, and the polo and equestrian centre – are their own environment and accessed by butler-driven golf carts. Nature here takes centre stage, and the setting was impacted as minimally as possible to preserve the decades-old trees and wildlife (timid wild badgers roam the grounds, and you might even spot a crocodile in the protected lagoon near the beach).
The ambiance of each area is unique, but overall, the tone here is low-key luxury. Don’t expect late nights. Don’t expect a spring break crowd. Don’t expect to see and experience everything in a short weekend. With everything spread out, each area commands at least a half a day. Five swimming pools and two beaches – one with a stunning jetty that keeps the waters calm, the other on a mile of beach with waves for swimming and watersports – offer an array of settings, but none are close together, so allow yourself time to see everything.
There are no bad rooms here, so don’t get intimidated by the website’s descriptions of Treehouses and Cliff Villas, which all range from 79–86 square metres. Since each accommodation is built around nature, views and layouts differ a bit, but all feature nearly identical décor and amenities – it’s nearly impossible to be disappointed, as all have private plunge pools, rain showers, bathtubs, and skylights over the king-size beds. (The architect, Rick Joy, also designed the stunning Amangiri.) Should you wish to work out every morning, or you’re travelling with young children, it might be worth requesting a room within walking distance of the fitness centre or the kids club to help streamline your day.
For families and groups, larger villas also are available, including the truly expansive Villa One, a 1,747-square-meter private home with three bedrooms, three pools, a catering kitchen, a private spa and gym, a wine cellar, a movie theatre, and a games room.
The Little Extras
A large mini fridge filled with an array of juices and drinks. There aren’t a lot of snacks, but it’s fully stocked with an in-room Nespresso included a milk steamer too, which is rarely the case in many resorts.
With sustainability in mind, the resort features environmentally friendly bath amenities. If you’re addicted to the likes of Aesop and Oribe, bring your own bottles. The soaps are a slight disappointment.
The Food + Drink
Cuisine in this region is among the best in Mexico, as the quality of ingredients that come from the land and sea are unbelievably fresh and flavourful. No matter how long you visit, you will never be able to get your fill of the food here. Famed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera opened Carao, his own restaurant near the adults-only pool. The sleek and sexy setting is the perfect backdrop to enjoy his innovative take on fresh Mexican fare. You might not know what to expect from the menu descriptions (items like the salad terrine and cauliflower are hardly akin to anything you’ve ever eaten before), but take risks and try everything.
Alma, the main restaurant, slants toward pan-American and Mediterranean cuisine, while Allora at the Canalan Beach Club features Italian. Of course, whether it’s at the restaurants or in-room dining, One&Only aims to please and staff genuinely seemed pleased to make us something when it wasn’t on the menu.
The To-Do List
A lot of resorts will boast a grand activity list mostly comprised of outrageous adventures you only encounter on The Bachelor. While Mandarina can of course create those, the other offerings of more down-to-earth activities are above and beyond what any other resort in Cabo or Cancun offers. On-site hiking, zip-lining, and a ropes course allow you to explore the jungles. Take a half a day at the polo and equestrian centre – even if a match isn’t happening, the stunning structure is a pleasure to walk around, and you can even pick a tree on the polo field for the resort to set up a picnic lunch underneath. Horseback riding, tennis, paddle boarding, and kayaking, are all available on site, or depart from the property’s jetty on one of their boats for a day of fishing, swimming with whale sharks, or exploring nearby surf spots.
Not every resort spa is worth it, no matter how gorgeous it might appear. This one does not disappoint. Spread out within the jungle, the series of pavilions host different areas for treatment rooms, wet therapies, and relaxation areas. The treatment menu is designed around ancient Mexican therapies and techniques, and is truly something special for even the most jaded spa goer.
It’s difficult to leave the property, but those who like to shop should not miss a few hours exploring the surf town of Sayulita (about 45 minutes away) for its ceramics, textiles, locally made clothing, and souvenirs.