scenic view of yellow villa built atop the cliffs of careyes mexico coast

There’s a red dragon dancing and spewing fire on Playa Rosa, a hidden beach at Careyes, a beau-ideal jet-setter’s roost along Mexico’s Costalegre. Long, undulating, and mesmerizing, the immense puppet snakes between party tables, captivating the matinee-idol-attractive crowd of guests and villa owners who’ve come from around the world to partake in the storied retreat’s annual Chinese New Year celebration. When the dragon draws his last breath, Careyes’ directors rise to the crowd’s applause. They speak about the Year of the Dragon and predictions for 2024. Then, the directors ask all those born in a dragon year to come forward to receive custom-made ponchos, which is a Careyes Chinese New Year tradition. The community has been waiting for this moment all year — and even the adult dragons are as giddy as children.

All around me, ponchos denoting other animal years — monkeys, rats, cats, etc — abound. The camaraderie and frank enjoyment of the spectacle is palpable. These are some of the world’s most celebrated personalities — and yet, they’re cheering as each dragon receives a poncho. It strikes me at that moment that Careyes is more than one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, more than a cognoscenti’s hideaway amid thousands of unspoiled acres of nature or a super model’s hotspot for a memorable photo shoot (read: Cindy Crawford) around a cliff top infinity pool. Rather, Careyes embodies connection and community — albeit one composed of villas so lavish and extravagant they’re dubbed castles and owners wealthy for so many generations they eschew flash and braggadocio to simply be real, to seek soulful repose among friends in one of the world’s most beautiful places

Where is Careyes and How Do You Get There 

aerial view of careyes mexico with hotel, villa, private residences, and ocean castles on the coast

On nine miles of dramatic coastline between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo on Jalisco’s lesser-traveled Pacific Coast, Careyes was never meant to be an accessible sanctum. Its remote position, in fact, adds to its allure and sense of the otherworldly. Land either at Manzanillo International Airport for a 90-minute drive or at Puerto Vallarta International Airport 3 hours away. 

I take the Puerto Vallarta route down a meandering, old-school highway through a part of Mexico that hasn’t changed much since the 1964 film Night of the Iguana (with Ava Gardner and Richard Burton) was filmed here. Cars, beat-up trucks, and motorcycles putter along the road as it passes through small pueblos, beside meadows, and along precipitous cliffs. Sleeping dogs curl up in front of dilapidated bars, children kick balls on the verges, and apron-wearing women serve outdoor tables in tiny cafes. Horses and cows graze in fields. Jungles abound. Rivers burble toward the ocean. One section of the highway shoots through a tunnel of trees. In the distance mountains loom and intermittently I can see raging and rumbling blue seas come into view. Like an antidote for urban life’s harried pace, the slow, long drive lulls travelers like me into a relaxed state long before the understated Careyes sign appears like a portal to well-being.

What’s it Like? 

peach colored hillside villa with pool in careyes mexico

Reminiscent of the Caribbean’s Mustique for its glitterati-level villa owners, peerless homes, posh guests, social events, and close-knit community spirit, Careyes — eccentric and elegant at once — stands alone. Dreamed up and implemented by shrewd Italian banker and artist Gian Franco Brignone after he spotted the jagged cliffs and thick junglescape of the Careyes Coast from a small plane in the 1960s, Careyes took shape over five decades, growing to include a spellbinding world of castles, colorful villas, bungalows, and a hotel-like club and residences complex, replete with pools. Together with some of Mexico’s most revered architects — Luis Barragan, Diego Villasenor, and Marco Aldaco, among others — Brignone created a Mexican masterpiece with Mediterranean flair, which today evokes Positano, wedged artfully into cliffs and promontories above the sea. Emitting an overall aura of Magical Realism, the retreat blends sublime nature (only 3 percent of the property will ever be developed) with poetic architecture. It’s the sort of place where villa owners (or renters) gather on a terrace overlooking the sea to practice yoga with a world-renowned teacher or simply run a steep flight of stone stairs to work off their lunch. Here, guests might join residents in paddleboarding races around the island visible from Playa Rosa or play a pick up game of polo on one of Careyes’ two regulation fields. A social place, Careyes lends itself to new friendships as guests and owners connect at the beach, in wellness classes, at the pools, parties, and various restaurants. With villa owners from 42 nations, a tapestry of languages perpetually wafts through the air. 

Where to Stay

yellow villa overlooking the sea in careyes mexico

Choose from eye-popping rental villas, casitas, and suites chiseled into and atop Careyes’ cliffs and slopes. Colorful, clever, studded with artistry, curvy lines, and en plein air spaces that celebrate the outdoors, most feature thatched roofs and Mexican craftsmanship. There’s always a view.

Ocean Castles

Careyes’ pièces de résistance Sol de Oriente and Sol de Occidente occupy opposite crags like miraculous bookends above the sea, looking somehow as if they sprouted from the earth after having been planted by fairies. Identical in most ways, each has a 10,000-square foot infinity pool, immense palapas, and six stunning bedrooms.

The Villas

Each a work of art, Careyes’ villas effuse the spirit of wonder. Not laid out like a Utopian neighborhood or new-built community, the villas each fuse into their space, animating escarpments, jungle nooks, and hidden corners amongst the coastline. Not one is like another. While I wouldn’t want to choose between children, I was smitten with Casa La Huerta which blends old and new design motifs and features a yoga room that hovers above the sea. Its to-die-for infinity pool wows with a glittery mosaic-tiled bottom, swirly with a golden snake inspired by a 1960s Bulgari necklace.

Casitas de las Flores

These colorful casitas — designed to conjure thoughts of Positano and its stacked, hillside homes — brighten the slope that rises from the beach. Complete with Amalfi Coast-like alleyways and vertiginous stairs, Casitas de las Flores has residences that vary in size from one to four bedrooms.

el careyes club and residences spa and massage table with red flowers

El Careyes Club & Residences

For those seeking smaller digs, El Careyes Club & Residences presents a hotel vibe with one to four bedroom suites, pools and eateries


I stayed on Playa Rosa in a beachfront bungalow painted Barbie pink, perfect for a woman traveling alone. With folkloric details and elements, and terraces on the sand, these snug rooms sit steps from the water and next to one of Careyes’ most popular restaurants. 

Dining and Drinking

yellow villa in careyes mexico with palm trees and pool and beach chairs and umbrellas

While villas come complete with staff and impressive professional kitchens, the social scene happens at Careyes’ variety of permanent and seasonal restaurants. One legacy from Careyes’ founders is an Italian — if not Mediterranean — touch throughout with eateries from Plaza de Caballeros’s Punto Como, an Italian steakhouse, to Playa Rosa Restaurant on the beach melding Mexican favorites with Italian staples. Try La Duna at El Careyes Club for hearty huevos rancheros and fresh-made green juice for breakfast. At windswept Playa Teopa, rustic Casa de Nada feels like an enchanted campground amid the terrain. It serves a tapas-centric menu. 


careyes mexico architectural blue wall with pool and beachside view

Like most beachside retreats, Careyes offers boat excursions, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming. But Careyes, a naturally mystical place, also excels in wellness programs. Practice with the fine array of visiting yoga teachers who take up residency, meditation, or enjoy sound healing in a spellbinding architectural masterwork called Copa del Sol. The immense living sculpture, also a visual wonder, measures 85 feet across and 35 feet high, and is positioned on a cliff. Besides the annual Chinese New Year celebration and regular polo games, Careyes has a prodigious art gallery and and hosts Ondalinda, an edgy music festival each year. 

Sustainability and the Careyes Foundation

careyes mexico architecture off the coast with pool and chairs near the shore

For all the magical thinking-style architecture, Careyes’ nature is its heartbeat. Highly respected by its founders (and owners), the verdant vastness stays deeply protected and worshiped. Whether in the form of sustainable building or overall guidelines, including such mandates as a plastic ban and optimized water and energy initiatives, the destination reigns exemplar in setting standards for a better world. Don’t miss a chance to participate in the Sea Turtle Protection & ConservationCenter (STPCC), a sanctuary that successfully safeguards nests of 2,000 turtles each year. Since 1983, it has released more than 1.7 million hatchlings to the sea. Equally important the Careyes Foundation oversees and implements a plethora of transformative educational programs to benefit the neighboring villages. In music, art, education, ecology, wellbeing and more, it seeks innovative ways to support the lives of locals around the coast. 

Photos by Karla Cifuentes, courtesy of Careyes Mexico