Along this captivating stretch of Pacific coast, where the jungle meets the sea, a global village of surfers, cowboys, expats and celebrities gather in a laidback paradise.
Author Jordan Heller Photography Kevin J. Miyazaki
DAY ONE | Headed south from Puerto Vallarta in a rented ragtop Jeep Wrangler, you decide to stop for lunch in Boca de Tomatlán, a small beach town about 30 minutes from the city. As you turn off Route 200 and descend a steep cobblestoned hill, paraiso reveals itself: green, jungled cliffs framing a serene sandy beach and tropical blue waters dotted with skiffs. Streetside, across the cobblestones that led you to this charming cove, a group of boys are singing an impromptu a cappella folk tune.
You park the Jeep in the dead end at the bottom of the hill and take a seat on the outdoor terrace of El Embarcadero (1) restaurant, which offers a great view of the beach and a delicious salad of shrimp, octopus, tomato, cucumber and onion, all washed down with a hot mug of jugo de camarón (shrimp broth served like a cup of tea). For dessert, you walk 30 paces onto the beach and hop a $10 water taxi to Yelapa (2), a small town accessible only by boat. In 20 minutes, after a scenic tour of the coast, you find yourself in a tropical paradise. There you meet a stout woman with a big smile and a bowl of pies balanced on her head. This is Chelly Rodriguez, otherwise known as the “Pie Lady.”
She’s been baking and selling her pies here for more than 20 years. The banana cream is a standout: ripe sliced plantains on a sweet pudding, sitting atop a flaky crust.
You take the water taxi back to Boca de Tomatlán, then drive south through an alternating landscape of jungle and dusty pueblos that smell of sage. In two hours, you arrive at Costa Careyes (3), a luxury resort that draws a glamorous international crowd. Francis Ford Coppola was a regular visitor for 20 years; Heidi Klum and Seal own a villa; and everyone from Henry Kissinger to Giorgio Armani has spent time here.
Though its reputation is for decadence, Careyes is more than a seaside playground for the jetsetting elite. It’s the creation of Gian Franco Brignone, an eccentric 84-year- old Italian financier who dropped out of European high society more than four decades ago to build his Mexican ensueño. To Brignone’s mind, Careyes—comprising several kilometers of coastline and hundreds of hectares of jungle and mangrove swamps—is a living, breathing art project fully integrated with nature. There are no jet skis in the water or umbrellas crowding the beaches. The 56 villas and 38 casitas are alternately painted yellow, green, blue and red, and they appear as if they’ve sprouted naturally from the grounds. When Brignone dies, a specially prepared cliffside cave high above the property will serve as his tomb.
After sunset, you go to find him at Punto.Como, an outdoor restaurant in the plaza where many of Careyes’s regulars gather at night. You order the pizza—thin-crust with fresh pomodoro sauce and mozzarella cheese—and scan the tables of well-heeled but casually dressed people engaged in lively conversation. Brignone is easy to spot. Just look for the man with the wild white beard and the look of mad genius sipping on a special reserve of Partida tequila made just for Costa Careyes. You introduce yourself and the old man pours you a couple on the condition that you don’t bring up business, real estate or any other unpleasantness. The exquisitely smoky aftertaste stays with you as you make your way back to your casita and turn in.