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.
DAY TWO You wake up to the sound and smell of the Pacific outside your window— that is, if you consider the absence of a fourth wall a window. After taking in the serene display of quiet sailboats, tree-covered rock formations jutting up from the ocean and sleepy villas peeking out from the cliffs, you head to La Viuda (1) restaurant. Spanish for “the widow,” La Viuda predates Brignone’s arrival in Careyes and even the pan- American highway that cuts through these jungles. You go for the huevos rancheros con chorizo. When the yolk of the egg is broken, and it mixes with the salsa, refried beans and spicy red ground chorizo, it’s pure alchemy.
After breakfast, you head for the Careyes polo field, a bright green gridiron carved into the middle of the jungle, half ringed by mango trees. You step up to the foot-high blue wall that borders the field and watch the players thunder past you on horseback, followed by the thwack of the mallet hitting the ball. It’s exhilarating.
After a delectable lunch of crispy red snapper cooked in mild spices at the Playa Rosa restaurant by the beach, you hop back into the Jeep and head north to the surf town of Nayarit. From Careyes, it’s a good four-hour drive. You hit some rugged road norfiof Puerto Vallarta where stretches have been washed out by the September floods, but you hang tough and keep your eyes open, and eventually the pavement reappears under your wheels.
You drop your bags off in your oceanfront casa at Imanta (2), a beautiful and serene Asian-inspired resort nestled into the jungled shores of Punta de Mita, and take a quick dip in your private infinity pool—it’s hard to resist after long hours on the road—but you don’t get too comfortable. In no time you’re back in the Jeep, headed due north for Sayulita, a small but bustling beach town about 20 minutes up the road, where Anglo hippie expats mix with Mexican surf rats. Dinner is at Mangiafuoco (3), an open-air restaurant owned by two Italian expats that bridges the two cultures to great effect. You try the fresh pasta with shrimp in a sauce made of guajillos—mild red Mexican chili peppers— cooked with tomatoes and garlic. It’s excellent.
After dinner, you grab a bottle of Pacifico from one of the bodegas off the central plaza and stroll the beach. Head norfipast the surfers and corroded old dinghies until you reach the Playa de los Muertos (4) graveyard, where opulent monuments of marble and blue tile sit next to such makeshift grave markings as a cross made of two tree branches and plastic red and green flowers. Votive candles abound. The Mexicans, you think, really know how to honor their dead.
At night, it’s all about Don Pato’s (5), a rooftop bar one story above the plaza featuring a house band called Raices Negras—their Mejicano blend of reggae and afro-beat music gets the crowd moving. After a couple of hours of dancing, you finish off the night with pork and pineapple tacos from Al Pastor. It’s the only place open late at night, so everybody’s there. You chat with the locals for a while before heading back, tired and full, to your casa at Imanta.