Upscale and undiscovered on Mexico’s Pacific coast

By MOLLY GLENTZER
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

PUNTA MITA, MEXICO — It’s hard to say exactly when Punta Mita charmed me in spite of myself.

Maybe when I took that first sunrise walk on an empty, pristine white beach. I picked up a free souvenir: a speckled blue spiny lobster shell. I climbed to the top of a huge rock and did a few sun salutations. There were rose petals blowing around, the remains of a romantic dinner the Four Seasons Resort had staged for some of its guests the night before.

Or maybe I was hooked that afternoon on another quiet beach, one with harder-packed, also pristine sand that was easier to walk on, when I spied a great blue heron perched on a rock out in the surf.

Or maybe it was the moment Fernando handed me a beer in a tall plastic cup.

I sat with friends on the prow of a sailboat for hire. We felt like models in a Nautica ad — hair blowing, soaking up the spray and the sun and letting our psyches rock with the boat as it crested big waves. And Fernando, a tan, thin, good-looking teenager with bleached blond hair, was chatting me up in broken English. I was thinking that he probably picks up a lot of business out here for later, after the boat docks.

You may like to play golf, or you may love lounging beside a pool in a tropical environment. But, ultimately, it’s the lure of its wild water that makes Punta Mita special.

About 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit, it occupies the end of a foot-shaped peninsula cradling Banderas Bay, with its sole (and soul) massaged by the Pacific. The 9 miles of shoreline here are naturally “scalloped” into coves and inlets, giving the beaches an intimate scale.

Scrubbed and designed for U.S. vacationers, the 1,500-acre development is a project of Dine, the real estate subsidiary of the Mexican conglomerate DESC. (It’s not to be confused with the more accessible nearby town of Punta de Mita.)

Punta Mita is relatively undiscovered for a good reason: Imposing gates monitor access to each of the dozen or so resort communities within the main entry.

The hum of construction is constant. New villas and condos — which account for most of the lodging choices — are coming on line fast. While this building boom may not please everyone, the developers do not plan to line the beaches with hotels.

The still-growing Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita is the only viable hotel choice for now. Open about six years, it’s a jewel in the chain, with four gourmet restaurants, three beautiful pool complexes, a small spa and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

It’s almost a shame you have to retire to an indoor room at night, given the stylish poolside cabanas that surround the adults-only pool area. They’re outfitted with plasma-screen TVs, state-of-the-art sound systems, wireless Internet service and plush furniture. Champagne and caviar are served at the bars outside early each evening.

You know a place has arrived when the fashion world moves in. Punta Mita will get an added shot of glamour in June when Michelle Smith, the designer behind the upscale Milly line, unveils her Punta Mita Collection of chic dresses, swimwear, beach bags and sportswear at the Four Seasons.

A St. Regis resort with another Nicklaus-designed course is due to open in December — although when I visited in February, getting a beat on the layout required some imagination. The site consisted of strategically piled mounds of dirt, with a couple of concrete-block-construction offices.

I stayed at Las Palmas de Punta Mita, in one of 28 just-completed luxury villas along the Four Seasons’ golf course. I enjoyed the indoor-outdoor bath, the sunny entry atrium and the gourmet kitchen but gravitated to the terrace and its plunge pool. It overlooked the fourth fairway, with a view of the Pacific and the golf course’s famous “Tail of the Whale” green, which is perched dramatically on a small, rocky island. (During high tide, players access it by amphibious vehicle.)

Punta Mita Residential Concierge services can stock the fridge or send in a personal chef or a masseuse. Cheerful maids seemed to hover — each day, they sculpted the plush towels into animal shapes and laid them out with fresh bougainvillea blossoms.If you’d rather venture out to eat, several Residents Beach Clubs on the peninsula offer excellent waterfront meals, including delectable shrimp quesadillas, huge hamburgers and drinks.

You wouldn’t know you were in Mexico if the friendly people didn’t speak English with charming accents.

The exception is the small village where, according to our guides, Dine gave land to squatters who were living on the government-owned peninsula when development began. Aside from a few scruffy beachfront bars and restaurants, there’s not much else for visitors there.

But natural wonders aren’t hard to find, and outdoor activities are plentiful.

Walks along the beach turned up plentiful birds, the tracks of sand crabs and prints left by some kind of large cat — perhaps an ocelot. We also watched as a washed-up spotted boxfish became dinner for a black vulture. One night, a small fox darted across the road.

On the sailboat ride toward the nearby Marietas Islands, a sanctuary for marine life and birds that draws scuba divers and snorkelers, time-warp music blared over the boat’s speakers: The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. We were looking for humpback whales, which visit in the winter.

It might have been the music’s weird influence, but I became giddy when we spotted humpbacks breaching in the distance — even though from our vantage point, without binoculars, I could see only waterspouts and poorly outlined tails.

Surfers have several good spots to catch the waves around Punta Mita. Sea kayaking, swimming with the dolphins, jeep safaris and canopy tours along zip lines in the Sierra Madre also beckon. There are plenty of things to keep vacationers busy for a week.

Or not. If relaxation is your goal, you can lose track of time here, blissfully, in a weekend.

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