Checking In and Checking Out

Cala de Mar: Paradise Found on Mexico's Pacific Coast

by California Chaney
Every room at Cala de Mar comes with a private plunge pool. All photos courtesy of Cala De Mar.

From sunrise to sunset, this resort on Mexico's central Pacific Coast is a secluded paradise.

IXTAPA, Mexico — Despite my sunny disposition (I am named after the the Golden State, after all), I often prefer a snowy getaway over sandy one. Don't get me wrong, this California girl loves the ocean, but every season, I hold back on putting away my insulated layers on the off chance I can squeeze in one more brisk adventure. However, when a particularly dry winter meant a canceled a ski trip, I jumped on an invitation to go down to Mexico and give the sunny spring break a try. 

Growing up in Southern California, the proximity to the Baja peninsula made venturing to farther-flung Mexican states a hard sell. So I had little to expect when I set out for Zihuatanejo, or "Zihua" as it's affectionally called, tucked within the Sierra Madre mountain range on Mexico's central Pacific Coast. From my airplane window seat, lush mountains sloped and framed the sparkling sea. A good start.

The former sleepy fishing village known for its palm-tree-lined beaches, dolphin-filled harbors, and friendly locals embracing an easygoing lifestyle has recently grown in popularity with the development of its sister resort town, Ixtapa. While several high-rise resorts have popped up along the coastline, one hotel took the opportunity to retain the area's historic charm through its culinary program, displays of traditional Mexican pottery and textiles, and on-site Mayan healing ceremonies, and positioning every guest room to face the big blue Pacific Ocean. The property is Cala de Mar, a striking, cliffside 59-room wellness-focused retreat that visually cascades down to the rocky shore. 

The secluded sanctuary, which received Travel & Leisure’s 2020 World’s Best Awards for #1 Resort Hotels in Mexico, puts hospitality and service at the top of its amenities. A few days before I arrived, I received a WhatsApp message from my dedicated "personal assistant" to ask whether I had any special requests: a cooking class with a professional chef, a sunrise yoga class, healing cacao ceremony, a private bike tour, mezcal tasting, a snorkeling adventure — the list went on. This isn't to say the hotel doesn't have everything (and more) you'd need under its roof, including a world-class spa, two outdoor pools, fitness center, yoga deck, and four oceanfront restaurants. Every breezy suite also includes an open-air terrace and a private plunge pool perfectly hidden from neighboring guests. Throughout the sun-drenched adobe buildings, nothing feels flashy or out of place. The natural environment and deep-blue waves lapping below are the star of the show.

Ritual and ceremony are part of the day here (some are as simple and well-timed as fresh guacamole, chips, and cold beer delivered to your room at 5 p.m.). Others go deep into the body and soul. A temazcal, an ancient Aztec domed sweat lodge meant to purify the body and mind, is located in a hidden garden on the property and holds private ceremonies led by a shaman. The lodge is heated by a pit of hot rocks, while fresh rosemary, basil, and lemongrass (all organically grown on the property) are wafted over the steam as a guide sings and chants, creating (one hopes) a sanctuary for deep release and healing. Traditional cacao ceremonies are also offered, another ancient Aztec and Mayan ritual dedicated to opening up the heart. When wandering around the property, you'll also find several areas for solo sanctuaries, including a reading patio filled with books, and several meditation platforms.

On the afternoon my boyfriend and I arrived, we wound down the sun-drenched adobe buildings and discovered a small pebble beach with two wooden swings. Kicking off our shoes, we pumped our legs and swung over the big blue sea, giggling like kids at how fun it feels to be free. Warmed by the sun, I thought to myself, my skis can wait until next winter.

Checking In

Location: Cala de Mar is located in Ixtapa, the resort town that descends to the sea and frames the laid-back fishing village of Zihuatanejo, along Mexico's central Pacific Coast.

Style: Sculpted into a red cliff, clusters of soft-edged, honey-toned adobe buildings cascade toward the sea, creating a secluded sanctuary with miles-long views of the Pacific at every turn. Local, artisanal, and Mayan-inspired ceramics line walls and pathways shaded by open-air thatched terraces. The simple, minimalist design feels timeless and sophisticated, putting the focus on the alive and rustic surrounding environment.

This Place Is Perfect For: Couples celebrating honeymoons, anniversaries, or any milestone that calls for mezcal and lazy days by the pool. West Coasters who want to be poolside within five hours of leaving their house. Any traveler looking for a digital detox and to go deeper into wellness practices.

But Not So Perfect For: Rambunctious kids.

Standout Detail: It’s the type of place where you’ll feel peacefully alone even when it’s at capacity, as privacy and seclusion are found at every corner. It's also hard to beat a private plunge pool in your room, overlooking the ocean.

Food & Drink: Unlike other resorts where the on-site restaurants feel strictly catered to tourists, Cala de Mar has four unique and authentic restaurants showcasing various Mexican culinary styles. Just like the guest rooms, all include unobstructed ocean views. There's a nice mix of casual and upscale options, so it's perfectly fine to leisurely move from the pool to Las Rocas, the breakfast and lunch restaurant conveniently steps from the pool. The Terrace Bar — a great spot for a sunset tequila and mezcal tasting — is an iron-gated room that holds 65 of the region’s best 100-percent-agave single-barrel and añejo tequilas. Local fishermen deliver directly to The Seafood Market on the lower platform of the hotel, where the lapping surf is the perfect soundtrack as you dig into the catch of the day. If you visit in the summer, when the trade-off for low rates means three-digit temperatures, you'll cool off at A Mares, the only air-conditioned restaurant in Ixtapa. There's also 24-hour room service — the staff knows how tempting it is to never leave your suite.

Rooms: An ocean breeze wafts through each of the 59 ocean-facing suites with a private, open-air, thatched-roof patio and plunge pool tucked out of sight from the other guest rooms. Five penthouses have private dining areas and adjoining family suites. The design is simple with lots of traditional textiles and Spanish tile. The shower was my favorite part of the room, a large walk-in with windows that let in the breeze and a ledge for a shower beer. When you return to your room after dinner, the pool is surrounded by candles, tempting a moonlit dip or mezcal nightcap.

Drawbacks: While the hotel's main attraction is its ocean views, you'll have to venture to one of the nearby beaches for a salty dip, as the craggy cliffside drops down to a rocky alcove.

Activities: El Capricho Spa has an extensive menu of treatments along with an outdoor oceanfront relaxation deck hosting yoga and pilates classes. Just outside the hotel is the Ciclopista Ixtapa, an ecological and wildlife reserve with a windy bike path through the forests. The chefs at the hotel take guests to the local farmers market to pick out fresh, local ingredients for traditional Mexican dishes prepared in the kitchen. Surfers will be directed to Playa Linda, a river mouth beach break with long lefts breaking toward the lagoon, only ten minutes away from the resort. Other popular surf destinations further north include Playa de Troncones and La Saladita.

Checking Out

What to Do Nearby
The best day in Zihuatanejo starts before dawn. Nestled in the nearby fishing village of Barra de Potosí is a serene, four-and-a-half-mile wildlife lagoon flanked by an unbroken line of palm trees, wild fauna, and a variety of rare birds. While it was a hard sell to pull me out of the lethally cozy bed at Cala de Mar, I set out for a sunrise boat tour of the lagoon (an experience organized by the hotel), amazed at its vastness, just barely untethered from the Pacific. We turned off the motor right before the sun rose above the faraway mountain range and listened to the orchestra of birds welcoming the day's return. A pot of hot coffee and pastries appeared shortly after sunrise, which we enjoyed with a walk in the waist-deep lagoon, savoring the quiet morning and the gift of a fresh day in paradise. (I immediately reminded myself of my repeat-offender New Year's resolution to become a morning person.) After the tour, we stayed on the quiet beach adjacent to the lagoon, where several small, thatched-roofed family operations serve seafood lunches and ice-cold beers — another perk for early birds.

A walk through Zihuatanejo's winding pedestrian malecón is a must. A craft market is set up daily with local vendors selling handwoven rugs, pottery, jewelry, and indigenous Afromestizo masks. Live music fills the streets, as does a craving for mezcal, best satiated at Angustina Mezcal y Cocina, a family-owned restaurant producing their own mezcal infused with everything under the sun — wasps, fresh flowers, and fishermen's rope (somehow the best flavor). Pair several rounds of their smoky liquor with zucchini and cheese tamales and tlayudas, giant, fresh corn tortillas filled with smoked meat, cheese, and vegetables.

Around downtown Zihuatanejo, look out for several sculptures and murals dedicated to the region’s women. "Zihuatanejo" originates from Nahuatl and translates as “land of adorned women” — an homage to the jade, shell, and obsidian jewels women wore in pre-Columbian times. Another local legend tells of sea goddesses rising from the ocean in the afternoon to guide the sun into the realm of the moon and stars. They sure knew where they were going.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is an international airport with direct flights from Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and several other U.S. cities, as well as Mexico City. Rentals cars are unnecessary, as the hotel arranges airport pickups and can schedule taxis for dinners or excursions in Zihuatanejo.

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