Tree-trunk furniture and arrangements of tropical flowers, pictured here at Altiplano, are typical of the resort’s boho-style villas. Right, the yoga area, which has a steam bath and jungle-view deck. Opposite, the bold colour-scheme and curving staircase of La Huerta
I he happy coast': it sounds like one of those conceits dreamed up by marketing men to sell some formerly unbranded strip of coast-Iff line. In fact, this 240km chunk of beach and I jungle halfway up the Pacific coast of Mexico, strung out between the tourist towns of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, has always been known as the Costalegre, although no one can tell you precisely why.
For most of its length the Costa is largely unvisited and untouched, despite pockets of discreet and exclusive development. Behind the coast, plantations of tropical crops such as mango, banana and coconut-palm alternate with tracts of wilderness where crocodiles skulk and wild boar, deer, and the occasional jaguar roam.
There is almost nothing by way of ancient remains or tribal colour – if that’s what you’re after, it’s better to make for the Mayan Riviera. The name of the game here is wild beaches, nature trails, riding, the odd spa treatment or massage, unpretentious tropical cooking (focusing on high-quality seafood and fabulous fruit), and a perfect Margarita or two in the cool of the evening.
The Costa certainly has its reasons to be cheerful, the principal one being that it has half-a-dozen of Mexico’s most fascinating places to stay. These range from the more or less traditional, well-upholstered elegance of Mahakua-Hacienda de San Antonio, through the high-design and low-key chic of Verana and Elixir de Careyes, to the less-is-more luxury of the Hotelito Desconocido. The six profiled here are very different from each other, yet they have a certain relaxed and relaxing style in common. Mobile phones have no coverage anywhere along this coast (which can be a source of grief for visiting movie folk and captains of industry, but they get used to it). Televisions are few and far between. Tranquillity is the key at these exclusive and expensive retreats’.
A feature of the hotels along this coast is that all make use in some measure of the palapa, the pitch-roofed pavilions made from beams lashed together with rope and thatched with a thick layer of palm leaves. This almost Polynesian-looking architecture is a brilliant indigenous response to the tropical climate, providing shade and insulation while allowing the breeze to pass underneath.
It is worth noting that the sea here is not the calm and crystalline Caribbean of Mexico’s eastern coast but a serious ocean with crashing waves, hidden depths and powerful undercurrents. It follows that Happy Coast hotels may not be ideal if you intend to do a lot of sea bathing, or have a young family in tow. Another point: the clientele at these places is largely made up of couples, honeymooning or otherwise, and singletons may feel swamped by all the married bliss. But for lovers of pure nature and easeful romanticism, whatever their age or condition, there can be few happier hunting grounds than this.