Built amid a landscape of lush jungle, rugged coastline and fragrant fruit plantations, Cuixmala is in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse pockets of western Mexico. Famous for its opulent architecture and abundant wildlife, this 25,000-acre estate has long been a magnet for high profile visitors – Kissinger, Reagan and Nixon all holidayed here when it was home to British magnate James Goldsmith. Now in the hands of his daughter Alix, this Pacific-facing paradise has been transformed into a lavish yet eco-friendly resort – but its size and sense of privacy still attracts A-listers like butterflies to just-bloomed flowers. The buildings alone are spread over almost 5,000 acres, and the wider estate has more wildlife-rich land and pristine beaches than you could possibly explore in a single stay.
There are four suites in Casa Cuixmala itself, 10 freestanding casitas, six bungalows and three private villas.
There are no set times for check-in or check-out; each is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Double rooms from £1474.26 ($1,904), including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates include à la carte breakfast. If you want to go full board, it's US$200 (plus taxes) a person a day, which includes service, tax and non-alcoholic drinks. À la carte options are also available.
You can hop on board Cuixmala’s 47ft sailing boat available for trips to the nearby Chamera Islands nature reserve, and there’s a smaller Boston Whaler available for fishing jaunts.
At the hotel
25,000 acres of grounds with three beaches; free WiFi in the casas; tennis courts; yoga studio; boutique; biodynamic farm; turtle foundation; airstrip and DVD library. In rooms: TV, DVD/CD player, minibar stocked with (free) soft drinks and local beer, open fireplace. The private villas each come with a full complement of staff.
Our favourite rooms
Casa Cuixmala was Sir Jimmy’s private house, so it’s only natural that it would be the most the most gasp-inducingly opulent part of the hotel. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Florence’s Duomo, it has four suites (the Master Suite has an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the beach), a TV room and lounges and dining rooms galore. Guests staying in the charming standalone casitas – set away from the main house in the hills behind it – overlook the coconut plantations and distant ocean, and share a pool, clubhouse and restaurant at Casa Gomez. For the utmost privacy, book one of the villas (Casa Torre, Casa Alborada or Casa La Playa), each of which have a private pool, chef and host.
The villas all have their own private pool area, and the casitas share a pool overlooking the coconut groves. The pool at Casa Cuixmala is generally reserved for guests in the main house's suites and bungalows, but can be used by guests staying in casitas on request. There's poolside service at Casa Cuixmala, where you can order exotic fruit skewers, sorbets and icy drinks to your lounger.
Bring your sporty gear for yoga classes and hikes. If you're planning on going horse riding, you'll need a pair of trousers and some sturdy shoes.
The estate's enormous, so you'll need a car to get around (it takes around 30 minutes to get to the hotel's private beach, for example). You can rent your own set of wheels at the hotel, paying on a day-by-day basis.
Under-fives stay for free (cots are available), babysitting can be arranged with two days’ notice ($15 an hour); meals are free for under-twos, 25 per cent the adult rate for tots two-to-five and half the adult rate for children aged six to eleven.
Sir James Goldsmith became something of conservationist during his last years, and it shows: Cuixmala includes a wildlife sanctuary, and the fruit and vegetables used in the restaurant are grown on the estate's biodynamic farm. Many of the other products – including the meat, cheese, milk and coffee – come from Cuixmala’s sister property Hacienda de San Antonio.
Most tables in the clubhouse and on the villa terraces offer beautiful views of the estate, but for an added romantic frisson, ask staff to set up a low table on the beach and dine on cushions in candlelight.
Boho beach style with linen trousers and espadrilles, supplemented with a flash of costume jewellery. You may not be a holidaying billionaire, but you can certainly look the part.
Each villa has its own cook who can prepare whatever you want, whenever and wherever you want it; casita guests dine in the Casa Gomez clubhouse on a menu of classic Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, mole and chiles rellenos. Casa Cuixmala's fine-dining restaurant La Loma serves an ever-changing menu of Mexican and Western cuisine, which makes liberal use of the organic produce grown on the estate's biodynamic farm. Meat and dairy products come from the hotel's sister property Hacienda de San Antonio, and there's an extensive wine list to pair with each day's offerings. If you're staying in Casa Cuixmala or the nearby bungalows, you can take your pick any table on the ocean-facing terrace or the elegant dining room; if you're staying in a casita, you'll need to make a reservation (and a trip) to dine at La Loma. There's also also a beachfront grill and cocktail bar at Playa Caleta Blanca, a 20-minute drive away.
Each villa has a bar area where you can help yourself to drinks or have ‘your’ staff mix a cocktail for you. Casa Gomez, the casitas' clubhouse, is a relaxed spot to enjoy a margarita, and there’s waiter service around the pool at both Casa Gomez and Cuixmala.
Everything about Cuixmala is tailored to your needs, including meal times. At La Loma, lunch is served 1:30–3pm and dinner is served from sunset to 10pm; the restaurant is open whenever there are guests at Casa Cuixmala and its bungalows.
Only available in the villas, where staff are on hand 24 hours a day.
Manzanillo International Airport is just over an hour away. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines both fly here. Alternatively, Puerto Vallarta airport is three hours from the hotel and connected to Mexico City and various US cities by Mexicana, United Airlines and American Airlines, among others. The hotel can arrange one-way road transfers for US$220 from Manzanillo and US$330 from Puerto Vallarta.
There are no rail links close to the hotel.
The hotel is located along Highway 200, which connects Manzanillo with Puerto Vallarta. The entrance, marked by an ochre-coloured house, is located by the 46km sign between the towns of Careyes and El Tamarindo. Car hire is available at both Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta airports, and at Cuixmala itself – you'll want a car because the estate is so vast. If you hire at Cuixmala, a Toyota Rav 4 is US$130 a day, a Jeep Wrangler is US$150 a day. If you don't have a car, return private transfers to the estate's private beach can be arranged for US$100 (it's a 30-minute drive in each direction).
Private air charters to Cuixmala’s airstrip can also be arranged upon request.
Worth getting out of bed for
Start your day with a limbering yoga session at the hotel's vast bamboo studio, which has sweeping views out to sea. Equestrian types should make a beeline for Cuixmala's stable and mount up for a horseback jungle trek – or even a polo match in the nearby fields. If you prefer steel to steed, take a mountain bike on one of the many plantation trails and admire the abundant wildlife peeking from between the trees. If mucking about in the water is your thing, try kayaking in the Pacific, snorkelling from a hidden beach or taking a waterborne wildlife tour. Perhaps the most gratifying activity is the releasing of baby turtles – the staff estimate that almost 900,000 hatchlings have been helped to the water over the last 30 years.
Cuixmala's in the middle of a nature reserve, so there's not what you'd call a burgeoning gastro scene. Luckily, the hotel's own cuisine is exquisite.
As Dr Johnson once (famously, patronisingly) wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life’. When Sir James Goldsmith became tired of London, and the rest of England for that matter, he left and bought Cuixmala – a 25,000 acre estate in Jalisco, on Mexico's Pacific coast – to live out the rest of his days. Only after SJG died was the estate converted into an ‘eco resort’, with casitas and bungalows ranging from $400 to $15,000 a night.
Mrs Smith and I arrived late at night and (I cannot lie) I was in a foul mood entirely of my own making following a ludicrous decision to visit San Miguel de Allende the day before – a mere nine-hour drive away. I intended to be unimpressed: what kind of eco place has an airstrip anyway? Why wasn’t I in the $15,000 a night room? That kind of thing.
The manner of arrival at Cuixmala didn’t help, as I was completely unprepared for it. As we arrived (turning off a long, winding road to discover a four- by 10-inch ‘46km’ sign was the only indicator of location) we were met by two members of the Policia Federal, complete with enormous handguns, bullet belts and clip pads. I’m not sure whether these men are intended to reassure you, but their presence had the opposite effect on me. Having taken our names, Policia #1 offered to lead us to our casita, and herein lies the cause of my confusion – we weren’t ready for the sheer size of the domain we were entering. To get from the front gate to our casita was a seven-kilometre drive, at the end of which I was at my lowest.
From then on, things started to look up. The staff at Cuixmala instantly made me feel better – providing a wet towel and cold margarita on arrival, showing us to our Casita Gardenia and amply feeding us. As we sat at our table talking to our waiter he told us that, this being the week before the peak period, we were the only people at Cuixmala that day. I finished up the evening in a better frame of mind, but with a nagging doubt this was not going to be everything I had hoped it would be. It didn’t really feel like the kind of place that might cost $15,000 a night to me.
Morning came and changed everything. From the moment I opened the bright-blue shutters of our whitewashed casita I understood. Out of the window, in immaculate early morning light, I saw an indescribably picturesque expanse of palm trees and animal-filled fields, all leading to a pristine beach and, eventually, the Pacific. All that, just for us. In fact quite a lot turned out to be just for us. By my calculations we were the sole beneficiaries of 25,000 acres, 150 staff, one guest house, around six kilometres of private beach, 700 river crocodiles, 28 antelope, 18 zebra and a few horses on whose backs you can roam around the grounds (as Mrs Smith very happily did). All of which might well be described as reasonable value for money.
We spent most of our time lying in the sun capturing the wonder of it all, but Cuixmala does offer an array of things to do if sipping margaritas by the pool is not your thing. These range from hiring a yacht for a day ($1,500) to helping hatch wild turtles and release them into the sea ($0). Having quickly counted up our pesos, we opted for the latter, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip – we ended up on the beach, bathed in moonlight, releasing some 500 turtles no bigger than a baby’s hand onto the beach and watching them crawl into the crashing waves. Unforgettable.
Cuixmala is a place where big is beautiful, and can only be fully appreciated in that context. The food was excellent. Fresh produce, often organic, is grown in the grounds, or in the (also Goldsmith-owned) Hacienda de San Antonio. Our casita epitomised that old hotel cliché of barefoot luxury – the whitewashed building comes with a blank canvas interior lavishly sprinkled with hand-crafted Mexican masks, statues, inviting day beds and (Mrs Smith would never forgive me for failing to mention them) stunning, vibrant, colourful cushions that are on sale in the resort boutique – as our battered credit card can testify. However, even our temporary home pales into insignificance next to Casa La Loma, the incredible main house. If $15,000 a night is within your means then I imagine few places provide more persuasive arguments to part with it. Spectacular.
On the morning of our departure we met another couple over breakfast who had arrived late the night before. Their eyes were as wide open in astonishment as ours had been a couple of mornings beforehand. Later, however, as we wound our way slowly back to the main entrance we passed another couple arriving, and we began to feel sorry for them all. There is, after all, nothing worse than having to share paradise.