The rainforest resort One&Only Mandarina is near-perfectly camouflaged from the air, such is the extent to which the vast complex is embedded into the jungles of the Sierra de Vallejo biosphere reserve. Individual villas, many built high in the forest canopy or hanging cliffside for unmatchable ocean views, are broadly spaced around the 88-acre property for complete privacy. Watch migrating whales from your villa’s infinity pool, take a fishing charter, or learn polo and compete in a weekend tournament. Three celebrity-chef-run restaurants showcase memorable gastronomy, and a fantasy kids’ club offers an adventure the little ones will talk about for years.
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A welcome gift (worth US$50) and a US$50 resort credit
There are 105 villas hidden throughout the 88-acre property.
Check-in is at 3pm and check-out is by 12 noon. The resort will try to accommodate requests outside of these hours where possible, but an additional charge may be incurred.
Double rooms from £1134.50 ($1,392), including tax at 20 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per booking prior to arrival.
Rates include breakfast at the Alma Restaurant each morning. A team of drivers is on-hand to ferry guests around the resort by golf buggy.
Don’t be put off by the wet season (July to October). The powerful daily thunderstorms only last a few hours – watch them blow in across the Pacific from your clifftop villa, feel the tension in the air as they break, and watch their fury blow through the jungle around you, bringing it to life.
To ensure safety during the pandemic, the resort is currently offering on-resort PCR testing and free Antigen testing for guests staying three nights or more.
At the hotel
Concierge service, spa, sauna and Jacuzzi, gym, temazcal, kids’ club, beach with beach club, sports field, tennis courts, equestrian club, archery course, jungle hiking trails, bike rental and adventure challenge course with ziplining. In rooms: Plunge or swimming pool, 24-hour butler service, satellite TV, minibar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, bath tub, free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
The vast indoor and outdoor spaces, private grill and barbecue area, and majestic clifftop views from the private lap pool across the Pacific beyond, makes Villa Jaguar Mr Smith’s choice.
A lingering infinity pool stretches out into clear air at the Carao Pool, where guests can float nonchalantly amid the rainforest canopy, feeling like birds flying through the air with nothing but the Pacific Ocean far below. Kids are welcomed at the Alma Pool where they will be astonished by a similar treetop setting, and there is a protected cove and white-sand beach at the Jetty Beach Club for lazy seaside days. And for those looking to surf, the waves roll in at Canalan Beach Club.
A thriving tropical jungle is a setting that countless spas across the globe attempt to replicate, but at One&Only Mandarina, it’s real. Under a thick canopy of higuera trees and amid a natural volcanic rock garden, a labyrinthine network of traditional adobe-styled outposts houses an indulgent spa, with open-air treatments delivered to the comforting soundtrack of the rainforest. The nucleus is a beauty lounge with a mud grotto and a hydrotherapy circuit with cold plunge-pools, steam room and sauna, and a traditional temazcal for indigenous Curanderismo ceremonies. Spa products are all-natural and non-toxic by Tata Harper, and treatments blend modern science and ancient Mexican traditions, such as the choreographed Wirikuta Sacred Purification ritual. There are yoga, meditation and breathwork classes led by Spiritual Coach Steffi, and there’s an exhausting weekly schedule of fitness classes and personal-trainer sessions in the gym.
Bring your polo mallet – after a weekday lesson at the Mandarina Polo and Equestrian Club, you’ll be ready for the weekend match.
All of the 105 villas have a dedicated round-the-clock butler service included in the rate.
One&Only Mandarina is a family-friendly resort, with a truly remarkable kids’ club and program of activities. All villas are suitable for children except for the Treehouses, which are for ages 16 and over.
All children are welcome, but those aged five and over will get the most from the learning-based jungle activities in the kids’ club.
The Villa Vanderas suites can be had with two bedrooms, sleeping up to six adults and two children.
One&Only Mandarina is a veritable wonderland for children, who’ll be simply stunned by the Never-Never Land-inspired KidsOnly. The 42,000 square-foot jungle adventure playground, with tree houses, slides, hanging bridges and climbing walls, was designed by award-winning art director Brigitte Broch, whose IMDb profile includes the set design for blockbusters Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. The resort also employs a full-time biologist, Louise, who teaches about the jungle and shares a large collection of bugs and insects from all over the world, which includes a 30cm-long leaf insect from Malaysia. Further activities available include cooking classes, water sports, and horseback riding.
Children are welcome in the Alma Pool and at the Jetty Beach Club.
The resort offers a professional babysitting service for babies and toddlers younger than three, with 48-hours’ notice required. Additional child care can be arranged through your butler.
The resort has a team of gardeners dedicated to preserving the rainforests and beaches on the property, and a community engagement program to protect local wildlife. Much of the resort runs on solar electricity, and the restaurants source ingredients from local suppliers. The Treetop Bar is entirely zero-waste.
It’s verging on impossible to find a bad seat at any of the restaurants – when you get here, you’ll see why.
Post-dive flip-flops and salty skin is fine in the Jetty Beach Club, but it’s a pressed shirt and a pencil dress for dinner at Carao.
There are three restaurants to try at One&Only Mandarina and they are bound by a few common themes – wide-open apertures bring the unique microclimate in and gift commanding treetop or coastal views, and each have a menu devised and executed by a pair of celebrity chefs (Executive Chef Olivier Deboise, of Guadalajara’s Anita Li, and Chef Enrique Olvera, of Mexico City’s internationally-renowned Pujol). Family-friendly Alma Restaurant has a garden-to-plate ethos with a menu showcasing seasonal pan-American and Mediterranean cuisine, while the beachside Jetty Beach Club is a more laidback option offering fresh seafood caught that day. The treetop Carao, sitting high on stilts amid the rainforest canopy, is Olvera’s baby and showcases an artistic twist on contemporary Mexican cuisine.
The open-air Treetop Bar sits high at the far-reaches of the rainforest canopy, with 360-degree views across the jungle in one direction and out to the Pacific in the other – it could very well be the best bar in the world from which to take in a sunset. There’s a 14-strong mezcal menu, 28 tequilas to choose from, and cocktails devised by the hotel’s bartending team.
Service runs till 11pm at Alma and Carao, but with a 24-hour butler service to the villas, the party need never end.
There is a special room service menu which is available 24 hours, and the restaurant menus can be tailored for bespoke beachfront dinners or private dining on your villa’s terrace.
Carretera Federal Libre 200 Tepic-Puerto Vallarta, El Monteón, Municipio de Compostela
One&Only Mandarina sits perched on Nayarit State’s fairy-tale Riviera Nayarit, to the north of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport in Puerto Vallarta is an hour away by car, and is well-connected to the majority of North American hubs. Direct flights from the UK and Europe do exist but are few and far between.
The drive from Puerto Vallarta is one you won’t forget. The road traverses an hour of wild jungle, and the resort’s Mercedes vans have panoramic glass roofs so passengers can fully appreciate the miles of tree tunnels. A new highway set to open in late 2022 won’t be nearly as memorable but will slash the journey time to 25-minutes. The hotel offers secure valet parking for self-drive guests.
The resort can arrange helicopter transfers which land on the polo field in the heart of the resort – enquire at time of booking.
Worth getting out of bed for
One&Only Mandarina sits close to a true Mexican coastal experience, and there are a litany of authentic opportunities waiting just outside of the gate. The Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town – a local designation awarding communities for maintaining their traditions and cultures) recognised village of Sayulita is 25 minutes by car and sits wedged between the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains and a strong surf break famous among international surfers. In the 1960s the town was an enclave of counterculture wave-riders but today you’ll find a hippie-chic atmosphere with a suite of boutiques and cool bars. Gather in the evenings with the locals in the Sayulita Plaza town square, or take home a wonderfully kitsch souvenir from the open-air Hippie Market. Marvel at traditional Huichol beadwork at the Tierra Huichol gallery, and on Fridays from November through May, shop for organic and natural produce, artisan foods and health products at the not-for-profit Mercado del Pueblo. A few miles up the coast to the north sits sleepier San Pancho, and there is a hiking trail linking the two villages which follows a stream running through dense jungle. Take a walk around its streets on the lookout for vivid street art and murals (start at Plaza de la Hermandad), and keep an eye on the time – locals and tourists alike converge religiously on the beach in the late afternoon to marvel at the sunset.
You’ll want to transfer to Sayulita at least once during your stay to discover its buzzing restaurant and bar scene. Los Corazones Restaurant is a high-end Mexican-fusion joint in the central Sayulita Plaza. Chef Marco Antonio Velasco came to Sayulita in the late 1980s for the surf and has been here ever since, and is particularly adept at the surprisingly non-Mexican filet mignon, his signature dish which is marinated in local spices for two days and served with a house-made demi-glace sauce. Aaleyah’s Nachos & Wings is a quaint little dive bar serving some of the best Mexican food in town. Take a table facing the street, order a ceviche and a little tipple of mezcal and relax – there’s often live music, too. For a true coastal dining adventure, the tuna tostadas and coconut shrimp at Mariscos El Jakal are mandatory.
The region’s best coffee and healthy breakfasts are found close to the beach at San Pancho’s Kokonati Coffee Shop, served with a surfer attitude and often with pop-up buskers playing everything from reggae to bluegrass in-store. For French-style pastries and espresso, head to Café Paraiso.
The region’s nightlife is found either upstream in Sayulita or downstream in Puerto Vallarta, but Mrs Smith prefers the surfer-chic vibes of Sayulita. The mixologists at Escondido Bar have crafted a terroir-driven cocktail list and the San Pancho (mezcal, lime and agave nectar with a salted rim, served on the rocks) is the best expression of this. Swing the night away (literally – there are bench swings to sit on) at Atico Sayulita, with live music every night from 9.30pm.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this rejuvenating resort on Riviera Nayarit and have unpacked their equestrian boots and saddles, a full account of their jungle break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside One&Only Mandarina…
My husband and I landed from San Francisco and were met at Puerto Vallarta airport by One&Only Mandarina’s driver. We were expecting a dull hour so we brought books, but the opening glass roof in the van provided the most magical experience as the road twisted and turned through dense jungle. A thunderstorm had passed not long before and the rainforest was scented with petrichor, and steam rose from the damp road where patches of sunlight breached the canopy.
The sheer scale of this resort is quite unlike anything I’ve seen. It took a little over 10 minutes to get to our villa by buggy, but again this is no chore as the well-paved road twists through the jungle and winds up the rocky hillside. The butler service was very efficient, and the butler’s assistant was always on-hand to drive us in the buggy wherever we fancied.
Some mornings it was down to the Jetty Beach Club for a coffee, and one luxurious morning it was to the spa. It’s quite remarkable how there’s not a single ugly element at One&Only Mandarina, every turn of every trail reveals another Insta-worthy vista deserving of framing.
You’d need a fortnight here to experience everything on offer. It also meant that our family could split up for a few hours each day and experience something important to each of us. My husband went with the personal trainer and did the jungle adventure course, while the kids went to the incredible KidsOnly club, and I stayed at our villa and read my book by the pool. We all met again at dinnertime with brilliant stories to tell from our day.
We didn’t even make it out of the resort gates and into Sayulita, despite everything we heard about this town. But we’re happy to save it – there’ll definitely be a next time.