Forget the Maldives: Finding paradise in our own backyard at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
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It’s easy to have a narrow definition of “paradise.”
We look on social media, and seemingly everyone in the feed is posting photos from their overwater bungalow in places like the Maldives or Bora Bora. And sometimes, we can be caught thinking that any place that’s not these highly glamorized destinations is somehow less than.
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A recent trip to Mexico brought me back to earth and confirmed that paradise is a lot closer than one may think — in fact, it’s just a three- or four-hour flight from most cities in the U.S.
I’ve long been drawn to The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, with its jaw-dropping setting on a rugged stretch of beach on the Pacific Ocean, its multiple sparkling infinity pools and its laidback approach to luxury, among other things.
After many years of trying — but ultimately failing — to visit, my family and I finally made the trip to the resort earlier this month. I knew I was in for a treat, but it truly exceeded my expectations and made me appreciate just how beautiful of a country Mexico is — not just for its stunning landscape but also for its people, food and culture.
Punta de Mita is a small surfing town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit, on Mexico’s West Coast. It’s an integral part of what’s come to be known as the Riviera Nayarit, a stretch of beach towns and high-end resort and residential developments that’s gained much recognition and popularity in recent years. In addition to The St. Regis, the area is home to a Four Seasons resort, a W resort and a brand-new Conrad resort.
The main commercial gateway to the area is Puerto Vallarta International Airport, which offers flights to most major cities and airline hubs throughout the United States. From the airport, it’s an easy drive up the coast (I recommend using a car service for transfers to and from the airport) to Punta de Mita.
The St. Regis and the Four Seasons are located in a private residential and resort development (somewhat confusingly) named Punta Mita. It’s a sprawling community with numerous housing developments, golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants, beach clubs and, of course, the two luxury resorts.
Paradise on points
The St. Regis Punta Mita is a top-tier Category 8 property in the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio. This means award nights cost 70,000 points for off-peak nights, 85,000 for standard nights and 100,000 apiece for peak nights.
Given that the pandemic has given many of us much more flexibility in terms of working arrangements, I poked around on Marriott’s website using its flexible dates feature and found a five-night stay that worked for everyone in my family. Unfortunately, but also unsurprisingly, there were very few off-peak nights available, but even paying the standard rate of 85,000 points per night combined with Marriott’s fifth-night free feature felt like a good deal, considering rooms were going for close to $1,000 per night.
And, unlike other top resorts in places like the Maldives, there are no seaplane or speedboat transfers that add on hundreds to the total bill.
Serene, secluded luxury
Even though it’s located with housing developments and another resort, The St. Regis feels like it’s worlds away from anyone or anything else. From the moment you step on the property, you notice the quiet around you is only interrupted by the sound of the waves crashing at the beach below and birdsong.
There’s a small lobby area where you’re greeted by staff to begin the check-in process. We were given margaritas and were told we could sit down, relax and take in the views while everything was arranged for our rooms.
We arrived around 10 a.m. (yes, that’s early for a margarita but that’s what vacation is for, right?) and to our delight both of our rooms were ready. The check-in agent explained the breakfast benefit (more on that shortly) as well as the hours of operation for the various food and beverage outlets and a brief overview of the property.
I was slightly disappointed to learn that the Bonvoy Platinum breakfast benefit only covered the “continental” breakfast which consisted of primarily cold items. The full breakfast buffet was still available for an upcharge. That had been the case at another Marriott property I had stayed at in recent months, and it seems to be a trend. It ended up being fine during my stay, as I typically don’t eat a ton at breakfast anyway, but I certainly would view that benefit as more valuable if I were able to order the chilaquiles or other hot breakfast foods for no additional charge.
After our brief check-in process, we hopped on a golf cart with a bellman who gave us a tour of the property and then dropped us at our rooms. The resort was at full capacity according to the front desk agent who assisted us, which meant no upgrade for us this time around. But I was more than happy with our “base” room.
Our butler (butler service is a signature feature of St. Regis hotels) arrived just seconds after we did to introduce himself and give me the phone number to use to contact him or the team of other butlers assigned to our stay. I found this to be super convenient, and we texted regularly throughout the stay about restaurant reservations and recommendations, arranging car rides and more.
The room was spacious, supremely comfortable and felt inviting and warm. It’s definitely not the newest hotel around, and that’s reflected especially in the rooms. But they’ve held up well aside from expected wear and tear and I loved the terracotta-style floor tiles.
But what I loved most was the bathroom, and especially the outdoor shower, a feature found in every guest room at the resort. I took a semi-cool outdoor shower each evening after coming in from the pool and there’s really nothing quite like it.
Guest rooms and suites are arranged in “casitas” with typically four rooms per building.
My room was on the ground floor, which meant our balcony led right into the grass and provided a sliver of an ocean view.
The St. Regis has numerous pools to choose from, and with just 120 rooms and suites spread out around the sprawling property, you never feel like it’s busy.
We spent most of our time at the adults-only pool which was just in front of the ocean.
My family has gotten used to waking up at the crack of dawn to reserve the ideal pool chairs, but you can sleep in at The St. Regis Punta Mita, because it sometimes feels like you’ve got the whole place to yourselves. The pool attendant that helped us every day even began setting up our preferred chairs each morning once he learned that we were fans of a specific spot.
And speaking of the ocean, it is particularly stunning in Punta Mita.
The beach the hotel is situated on isn’t particularly suited to swimming because it’s very rocky, but I did notice surfers paddling out each day. But, above all else, the views are truly a sight to behold. The beach feels rugged and natural, not like a manicured strip of sand like you’d find in major resort towns.
And this sand is as white and soft as can be, a beautiful compliment to the elegant beach-chair setups of the resort.
No, you won’t be waking up and going directly from your bed to a dip in the ocean, but I’d certainly be hard-pressed to find a complaint about this view.
And finally, service was exemplary throughout our entire stay. Everyone we interacted with was kind and genuinely wanted to do everything they could to make our stay perfect. And touches like arriving at the pool to our group of chairs already set up — with cold water bottles waiting — really made things memorable for us.
There’s plenty to do outside the resort
In some paradise locations, you simply don’t leave the resort. Granted, you may not even want to leave, but that’s the reality in certain destinations. In Mexico, you have a world of culture, food and amazing people right at your doorstep.
Particularly in the Riviera Nayarit, there are so many fantastic little towns to explore. The town of Punta de Mita is charming, with the bones of a fishing town that’s clearly begun to attract a higher-end set of tourists with its beach-chic restaurants and bars and stores selling glassware and other crafts.
The most popular town in the area, though, is Sayulita. Any local will tell you it’s unrecognizable from what it was a few decades ago, but as a first-time visitor, I absolutely loved it. Regardless of its morphing into a tourist magnet, you can still see what the town was founded on — surfing and fishing. Board shorts, no shirts and no shoes seem to be the uniform in this town, and you won’t go a block without passing someone carrying a surfboard under their arm.
We spent the better part of a day walking around the town, getting a taste of its eclectic, “gentrified-hippie” vibe and then settled down for a dinner with a stunning view of the beach.
While I didn’t stay in town after dinner, it looks like nightlife in Sayulita is serious business, thanks in large part to all the hostels and young people traveling in the area.
And if outdoor adventure is more your speed, you can try your hand at things like ziplining, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling and more.
The food is unspeakably good — and reasonably priced
I love Mexican cuisine. I have such a genuine appreciation and respect for the way food is treated in Mexican culture and love how you can find equally incredible meals at a street taco cart where each taco is 50 cents or at a fine-dining restaurant showcasing cutting-edge, modern Mexican food in a 10-course tasting menu for $200+ per person.
Rest assured, the food in the Riviera Nayarit did not disappoint. I consumed more fish tacos than I could count both on and off the resort.
On property, I found all of the food to be delicious. I made it a habit to venture to the Mita Mary “boat bar” for lunch, where I’d have a couple of fish tacos, chips and guacamole and wash it down with an ice-cold Pacifico beer.
And when the American in me couldn’t suppress the desire for a good plate of nachos, I asked the pool staff if they could make some for me despite them not being on the menu and they whipped them up no problem — and of course, they were delicious.
One thing that struck me was how relatively reasonable the prices were for food and drink — even at a high-end resort. In isolated paradises like French Polynesia or the Maldives, food can be ridiculously expensive, causing anyone who’s at least a little concerned with the prices to have needless anxiety over spending $40 for a pizza.
At The St. Regis Punta Mita, food doesn’t break the bank. The majority of cocktails were around $10-$13, depending on what you ordered, and beer cost $7-$8. Those are certainly not bargain-basement prices, but compared to other resorts in its class, I think you definitely get a lot of value here.
And, of course, you can have phenomenal food for a fraction of what you’d pay on the resort. We ventured into town one night to experience a local taco restaurant known as Norma’s. Norma and her husband operate from their kitchen in their home and have set up a few tables for diners to experience their incredible cooking. Try one of everything on the menu — it’s all impossibly good. And our group of five ate heartily for $20, total.
Another memorable meal was at a nearby beach club known as Sufi — it was on the pricier side, but the ambiance was unparalleled, and the seafood was so fresh and was bursting with flavor thanks to the way it was prepared.
A stay at The St. Regis Punta Mita offers everything a discerning traveler would expect from a resort vacation and has the added bonus of being easily reachable in just a few hours.
It’s a gorgeous little corner of the world, and the local area offers so many places to explore and things to do, the food is incredible and on top of it all, it’s affordable.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t gotten out much over the past year and a half, but I think I found paradise — and it’s an hour from Puerto Vallarta.
All photos by the author.
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