The Mexican Mediterranean
If I hadn’t actually been to Careyes I would wonder if it is, in fact, real. The pictures in this story say it’s true but I wonder sometimes if we imagined it all. What started as a whisper from my friend Emma describing a place so special she was hesitant to share (which I will be forever grateful for and I also promised to share it only with you, sshhhhh!) soon became the heart of what would be our new found love for Mexico.
It is so very hard to put into words the true feeling of Careyes. Sure, I can describe it geographically, 12km’s of pacific shoreline that hugs the majestic cliffs of the Jalisco coast wrapping itself around private beaches, jungles and protected reserves, but the physicality of the place - as jaw dropping as it is - is superseded by the people that come and go calling Mexico their second home. So many of the residents are second and third generation founders of Careyes. Often we would see cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews spending time together. The essence of family is so strong here that by the end of it you feel like you are a part of their familia which is why, to tell the real story of Careyes, one must start at the very beginning,
Sheree wears Fella Swim top
The story reads like a movie. Gian Franco was born in 1926 to a prominent Italian family, the Brignone’s. Following in his fathers footsteps, at the age of 22 Gian purchased a Parisian bank in liquidation and then rebuilt it to success with the help of his friends of French nobility. The bank’s success allowed Gian Franco to expand into the real estate industry, buying, restoring, and reselling properties. In 1968, he travelled to Mexico and after flying over the dramatic shoreline of Careyes, it was love at first sight (it could not be accessed at that time by land due to rivers, thick jungle and lack of roads). Now, three generations on, Careyes is still home to the original founding families from Italy and Mexico. Gian Franco, now 92, can be seen from time to time (as we did) out and about, still very involved in the world he once dreamed of creating so long ago.
Upon driving into Careyes, you will start to see glimpses of colour peeping through the jungle palms. Famous architects of the past and present from all over the globe have played a role in the signature style of Careyes, making it one of the most unique destinations on the planet. Described as ‘Mexican Pacific Home', the houses of Careyes stand like brightly coloured jewels guarding over the incredible natural beauty that inspired their very design. From the private homes of Gian Franco's family to the rambling casitas that cover the cliffs, you can see how the architecture has been inspired by Gian Franco’s homeland of Italy and coastlines such as the Amalfi Coast. Even though mostly designed by European architects, they have also been created by Mexican artists allowing the place to remain intrinsically true to it’s origins.
So where exactly is Careyes? It is located in Costalegre, on the Mexican Pacific beaches of the south coast of Jalisco. If this sounds foreign think Puerta Vallarta, which is where we flew into. Most people know this area for Sayulita, in the other direction.
I should also mention that we flew from LA, it was a super quick flight of approximately three hours. The drive from Puerto Vallarta to Careyes takes around three hours too. Alternatively, you can fly into Manzanillo which is less than a two hour drive, but flights are limited and are only scheduled a few times per week.
From either of these airports I would suggest renting a car so you have one for the duration of your stay. Careyes covers about 5,000 acres so a car is really handy to explore. This visit, we booked a driver (I advise to do this through Careyes if you do not have other known contacts) as it was out first time exploring this part of Mexico. Now knowing that it is an easy and safe drive (only during the day as recommended by the locals) we would definitely rent a car for next time.
Sheree wears blouse by Lee Mathews, Fella Swim bikini
There are a number of different options for accommodation which is ideal for curating your stay to your exact needs. As a couple, a group of friends or family you can choose from a spectrum of stays. Whether it be a majestic ocean castle or stunning private villa set within a cliff, or a more traditional style casita (which is where we stayed and was ideal for our small family) or cosy bungalow. Also, the recently built El Careyes Club & Residences, is an exciting addition for those wanting a more modern getaway with everything at your fingertips.
There are several restaurants in Careyes that cover Mexican and international cuisine.
Playa Rosa - For days and lazy dinners by the beach, Playa Rosa is your spot. This feels old school Mexico which is why I love it, not to mention everything is pink and all the food is locally sourced and fresh. It is a bit of a gathering spot and you will hear a mix of international accents and language floating in the breeze. Try their signature ‘Playa Rosa Coffee’, a mix of tequila, baileys, cream and coffee.
La Duna at El Careyes Club & Residences - A more modern alternative and very handy if you are staying in one of the residences. We enjoyed popping over to this part of the resort (just a quick walk through the meandering casitas) to have breakfast and swim in one of the incredible pools on the waters edge.
Pueblo25 - On this trip we connected with so many incredible locals such as Peruvian couple Marco and Monica who have created an intimate space called Pueblo 25. It’s a little wine cellar that hosts private dinners and small gatherings around an open kitchen. The menu is created daily from what can be sourced locally and the wine offering is next level. You must book in advance as the space is cosy but make sure you do as it’s a must visit when in Careyes.
Feel free to cook within your choice of residence. Especially with children, I would recommend having supplies on hand. A good tip is to organise groceries before you arrive by either bringing with you en route from airport or ask for assistance through Careyes. We found that once we were at Careyes we didn't want to leave and waste a day finding a supermarket. Local villages are also limited but be sure you can always get a good tortilla and a Corona absolutely anywhere. Chefs can also be organised for you.
It has this feeling reminiscent of St Tropez in the late sixties, a international playground where you feel an incredible sense of freedom and discovery. A bohemian paradise filled with the most eclectic and interesting people brimming with music, art, nature, culture and connection. Style is influenced by summers on the Amalfi coast injected with the colour and culture of Mexico. Luxury designer goods can be found in spades but offset by a more down to earth artisan flavour that is simple and slightly rustic. I say anything goes but think skin and pack a wardrobe of swim with your favourite seaside accessories.
Sheree wears vintage blouse, shorts by Bassike, Palmaira Australia sandals
La Copa Del Sol - A dream of a man and women untied by the cosmos was the inspiration behind Gian Franco’s majestic structure which sits perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the beach, Playa Teopa.
Ondalinda - Cited as the 'Burning Man' of Mexico, this music and art festival seeks to unite like-minded creative people through art, music, and Mexican culture. Fronted by Los Angeles–based entrepreneur and Apple and iTunes veteran Lulu Luchaire, the festival runs between 8-12 November.
Plaza Caballeros del Sol - A traditional meeting place found in a Mexican village, this is the town square where you will find the Careyes Art Space, a curated art gallery, and an oversized projection screen constantly looping art films and nature documentaries. Home to the Playas Paraiso Movie Theater, The Foundation H/Q, restaurants and stores selling locally made treasures such as handwoven dresses and hats. It is here that Careyes hosts events like its annual Arte Careyes Film Festival.
Casa de Nada - The first house to ever be built in Careyes in 1974 is now home to a rustic restaurant where Mexican mamas serve up fresh fish tacos and pineapple taquitos and locally made Mezcal is on tap. The basic shelter can be found down a sandy track, lit by fire sticks at night. There is nothing for miles, just the beach and the jungle - watching the sunset over the bonfire, listening to the DJ while the kids run wild - it’s an experience not to be missed.
Sheree wears all vintage, and Palmaira Australia sandals
Help release a newborn sea turtle into the ocean. Play backgammon under a palm tree. Go surfing with a local. Try deep sea fishing. Experience a temazcal sweat lodge or a mud bath ritual. Try jungle yoga or a paddle board exploring private coves. Go on a family horseback ride through the Mexican jungle and onto a deserted beach where you can see the turtles swimming and if in season spot a whale. Then there is my favourite, drinking fresh coconut with tequila under my shaded shack, toes in the water and a book by my side. Fresh seafood for lunch and a slightly sozzled nap in the afternoon ready for the nights festivities.
When we visited it was wet season, so sometimes there was a shower… actually I think it rained once. One huge storm that was magnificent and much appreciated. Wet season typically hangs around from June - October. Best months to bet on for perfect Mexico weather is January - April.
The Careyes Foundation is a sustainable development group founded on the belief that a community cannot thrive unless it is healthy in every aspect, that the natural environment must be preserved and education, as a fundamental right, must be available to all. This is achieved through many different initiatives, from 'Beyond Borders’, a children’s program that reaches out to surrounding rural villages teaching English and education programs, to their art and community workshops which support local culture and the arts the foundation. A huge focus of the foundation is the Sea Turtle Protection & Conservation Centre, which for the past 34 years has invested in protecting the endangered sea turtle population. Now, more than 2,000 sea turtles come to nest on their protected beaches annually.
A few things stand out on this adventure. One was to avoid driving at night around the state of Jalisco. So if you are coming from an airport, try to time it for daylight hours. Having been there now, I would hire a car and drive as it feels very safe but this is something you should research independently. The other is to check out vaccinations for the area if this is something you believe in, particularly in reference to Malaria. We stocked up on bug spray and were vigilant with having it on hand all day.
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Thank you to the community of Careyes for welcoming us so warmly and sharing your beautiful home. To Eric, Tayde, Flippo, Giorgio, Deigo, Vivi, Monica, Marco and the Italian fashionista thank you for the good times, great stories and adventures.
Also to Emma and Kim, for getting us there.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM ELSOM