When our colleague Brekke Fletcher, Lonely Planet’s Director of Content, got an invitation to visit Costa Careyes in Mexico, she jumped on it. Here’s how her dreamy getaway went.
It had been on my radar for years. Still, I had no idea what to expect from Costa Careyes.
Casa Nautilus, one of the villas you can rent in Costa Careyes © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
This is precisely the kind of place you have to see to believe. Located in the Costalegre region of Jalisco on Mexico’s rugged Pacific coast, Careyes is equal parts private retreat, luxury resort (without the price tag; more on that later), architectural marvel and creative community.
I visited last month on an invitation from Kim Kessler, a dear friend who lives there and represents Careyes and its Italian owners, the enigmatic Brignone family. Family patriarch Gian Franco Brignone bought and developed this coastline beginning in 1968 and is the destination’s figurative architect. His sons Filippo and Georgio are Careyes’s current stewards – and most valuable assets.
Discover the world’s most intriguing experiences with our weekly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox. Easy access to the pool at Sol de Oriente, one of the Ocean Castles at Careyes © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
In Costa Careyes, I stayed in…
Play Rosa Bungalow #1, one of three beachfront bungalows adjacent to the Playa Rosa Beach Club restaurant. You can choose to rent one of those, a small casita or a large villa with a group of family and friends. Some of the Ocean Castles, owned by the Brignone family, are also available to rent. I toured Sol de Oriente, which has – I kid you not – a 360-degree infinity pool and an operational funicular. The El Careyes Club and Residences is likely where I’ll hang my hat next trip. I love an infinity pool. Here, there are five of them.
Calming interiors, tons of natural light © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
I started the day at Careyes with…
A solo morning stroll, followed by a delicious breakfast. I woke up at dawn to the sound of lapping waves, downed two Nespressos in my beachfront bungalow, then walked barefoot along the water in my sleepwear. I was totally alone – a rarity these days – and it was perfectly dreamy. I changed into my swimsuit to take a quick dip, then got properly dressed to walk the 35 steps to aforementioned Playa Rosa Beach Club, one of Careyes’s seven dining options.
The Ocean Castle Sol de Oriente features a 360 degree infinity pool © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
Skipping the menu of typical 21st-century breakfast items (enough with the avocado toast, already!) I settled on the chilaquiles, which were quite possibly the best I’ve ever tasted. I would have ordered seconds, but I knew I’d be on a boat later.
In Careyes, you must try…
Getting out on the water. After breakfast on day one, I hopped aboard Captain Crunchy’s small motor boat with Kim. The first stop was inside a majestic sea cave, with greenish water and stunning rock formations. As we emerged, I saw a perfectly framed view of the ocean beyond the curved arch of the cave and felt my eyes moistening.
Yep, this was going to be one emo boat trip.
Ahoy to Captain Crunchy © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
Next up, Crunchy steered us through rock formations jutting up from the sea, through a canal called Piratas (aye, ’twas named fer pirates, ye see) and dropped us at a secret beach (not so secret for the regulars; we saw two boats pass us on their way there). The water was green and clear. I saw fish swimming and joined them. I floated, staring up at the blue sky, and later observed a pelican dive violently into the water for his luncheon. (Turns out that I, too, would have fresh fish for lunch.) We sat quietly for a while. I noticed only my footprints in the sand. Once again: heaven.
A private beach only reachable by boat © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
Crunchy then took us further out to sea. He had seen whales the day before, so we had a good chance of seeing them again. Crunchy did not steer us wrong: a “super pod” of dolphins appeared. They were everywhere. I tried to get my phone out to film it but it just couldn’t be done in any way that would have made the moment better, so I put it down.
Then, in the distance: a whale’s tale. Then another. We approached the whales, quieted the motor and bobbed, mouths agape, listening to the audible exhale from their blowholes and their immense tails slapping the surface. I definitely wailed a bit myself. My nonverbal utterances could have been taken for crying. I told you this was an emo boat ride.
The casitas of Careyes paint a colorful picture © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
It was hard to leave, but since the water was getting rough as the wind picked up we made our way back to shore. From here, we could see all of Careyes’s colorful castles, villas and casitas stretching out along the coast and peppering the cliffs with bright pops of color. To the south, perched out at the end of another cliff, stood the breathtaking sculptural structure La Copa del Sol (the cup of the sun), commissioned by Careyes founder Gian Franco Brignone and erected in 2006.
The Careyes Art Space features work from local artists and schoolchildren © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
The top spot for culture and socializing in Careyes is…
Plaza de los Caballeros del Sol, the effective cultural center of Costa Careyes. This is the place to meet and greet residents, regulars, fellow guests and other visitors. The square is a hub of activity: there’s a weekly farmer’s market, while big parties and film screenings regularly take place here. An extraordinary art gallery features the works of local artists and occasionally local school children, who participate in educational programs run by the Careyes Foundation. There are also boutiques, an indoor movie theater and an ice cream shop. For dinner I went to delicious steakhouse Punto Como (spring for the rib eye if you’re a fan of grilled meats). La Coscolina, meanwhile, is a popular spot for casual breakfast or lunch. Both spots have indoor and outdoor seating, depending on your preference.
While there, I met with Careyes Foundation director Sarah Lerman to learn more about the educational work the organization does with schoolchildren in nearby communities. She also opened the doors to the Careyes Art Space, which was showing work by artists from Oaxaca.
La Copa del Sol © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
In Costa Careyes, I got off the beaten path by…
Participating in a sound healing at La Copa del Sol with Niki Trosky, who is magic. Getting to the Copa involves a drive along a winding dirt road from the main highway; expect 10 to 15 minutes of flying dust and violent bouncing. Park next to the lighthouse (while minding the lighthouse-keeper’s dog, who doesn’t seem to be afraid of motor vehicles). Then hoof it.
You enter the interior of the Copa through a narrow passageway and some stairs. Even if you’re a skeptic about these kinds of things (which I can be), you’ll emerge far from flippant. The experience is truly sensational.
Brekke reflects on a relaxing vacation © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet
After the sound healing, we drove to Casa de Nada to watch the sunset and have dinner. It was rustic, relaxed – and a totally perfect coda to such a transcendent afternoon. I had super-delicious mini crab cakes topped with remoulade and two glasses of wine.
I’m on vacation, after all.
Brekke traveled to Costa Careyes at their invitation. Lonely Planet staff members do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.