I don’t really know how to do relaxing vacations. Typically, I’m more drawn toward the rougher getaways that require at least a little presence of mind to not die or at least wreck oneself. In short, I like adventures. But the end of Summer 2018 had left me depleted. Between work, travel, and some personal drama that would seem absurd even in a very bad movie, I needed to get the hell away and recover. Which is how I found myself at The W Punta de Mita in Mexico.
I was drawn there by a simple promise: There will be drinking, and surfing, and lots of time just relaxing. It sounded like the perfect antidote. And it was.
Punta de Mita is, as the name suggests, a point (that’s what Punta means, gringos). If you look at a map of Mexico, it looks like a sharp little jetty that juts out to the west in the southern-most part of the state of Nayarit (technically called the Free and Sovereign State of Nayarit, which I think is awesome). The closest airport is Puerta Vallarta, just 30 miles to the south. The short drive to the hotel has you whizzing through both densely populated urban areas in Puerta Vallarta as well as jungle you’d need a very serious machete to get through.
The W Hotel is spread out over a unique property. It’s a compound sprawling out over some green, rolling hills that pour down to the beach. It’s full of art, too, from stunning murals of leopards to intricate mosaic footpaths. Even the walls of the rooms feature cheeky images of Emiliano Zapata and Frida Kahlo, but decked out in surf and skate gear.
Speaking of rooms, upon entering my new home I was greeted with a DIY margarita kit, complete with two little bottles of Don Julio tequila. Not bad. The bed was large and comfy, and the rain-style shower was the perfect temperature, but I was eager to get down to the beach. I quickly swapped pants for shorts and shoes for sandals, and before I knew it I was knee-deep in some 73-degree, blue-green waters.
Just up the beach toward the upper end of the hotel property is a fun little point-break. It, too, wasn’t overly crowded and the vibe in the water seemed friendly. These waves tended to run a bit longer and they looked extremely fun. Unfortunately, five days before I headed to Mexico I dislocated my shoulder while snowboarding, which meant surfing was out for me. It broke my heart, but I decided I’d just have to commit to this whole relaxation thing I kept hearing about.
Fortunately, the food on the property is good, too. The first night we hit the very impressive Mesa1, a lavish, private, single-table restaurant that does just one seating per night. There we enjoyed the chef’s tasting menu, which was extremely on-point. A creamy cauliflower soup stole the show for me, but ultimately everything was good, including the little mushroom forest of pastries for dessert.
The next day, I took a ceviche-making class at the property’s Chevycheria, an on-beach ceviche bar made from a converted (and very cherry) 1950s Chevrolet truck. Everything was extremely fresh and I ate roughly my own bodyweight in fish, shrimp, and scallop ceviche.
Eager to do some exploring, though, I ventured out to the nearby towns of Sayulita and San Pancho. Word has most definitely got out about Sayulita over the last ten years, and it was chock-full of tourists and expats, but it’s managed to retain some of its small town feel, and it’s certainly nothing like the nightmare hellscape of Cancun. I strolled around, hit a few shops, watched some local surfers absolutely rip the beach break there, and tried one of the local popsicles which features large pieces of tropical fruit. Delicious.
From there I checked out La Patrona Polo Club in San Pancho. Polo, it turns out, is huge in those parts. Who knew? Unfortunately, there was no match on, but the grounds and stables were beautiful. It was one of those places where the lighting just seemed to be perfect everywhere you looked. I snapped a candid shot of my colleague Leigh and it’s one of my favorite portraits I’ve ever taken.
I then headed to the nearby Tierra Tropical, a gorgeous beach club from the same owners of the polo club. It has an incredible yoga room overlooking the beach and a massive dining room serving traditional cuisine. It was there that I got to try the local delicacy that is guacamole with fried crickets in it. Verdict? They add a little crunch, but not a ton of flavor. Again, I guzzled wine and overate. There was something about the ambiance that made me feel like I was floating in the sea. Maybe this taking it easy thing isn’t so bad after all?
The next morning started off with a yoga class in the Away Spa at the hotel. It was a pretty basic, entry-level class, but with my shoulder all chewed up I found myself wincing and getting frustrated, so I got up and took a few photos instead. It was a beautiful white marble room with long hanging vines acting as curtains.
Lunch was one of the highlights of the trip. Salero is the newest restaurant at The W, and it’s essentially a seafood market. They tell you what’s fresh, and you tell them how you want it prepared. Mahi Mahi has always been my favorite, and that was the chef’s recommendation the day I was there. I was advised to ask for it Zarandeado style, a mouthwatering regional classic where the fish is marinated and grilled. It was absolutely phenomenal.
After lunch I headed back to the Away spa for a deep-tissue massage. I actually used to be a certified massage therapist (CMT) once upon a time, so I’m an extremely tough critic when it comes to bodywork, and my clinician was absolutely fantastic. She knew how to use leverage to get really deep, and she made sure to spend extra time on the various screwed up parts of my back. Afterwards I soaked in the tubs (and pool, and cold plunges) at the spa. I felt like the hotel had been holding out on me. The pool area was a perfect, peaceful oasis. It was the most relaxed I’d felt all trip. Maybe all year.
My final dinner there was at the Spice Market, an on-property restaurant from multi James Beard Award winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and man, they saved the best for last. I did not expect an Asian restaurant, from a French chef, to steal the show in Mexico, but there you go. Every dish was bursting with flavor and was well-balanced. Even the cocktails were the best I’d had since arriving, and I’ll admit that I tried more than a few of them. This meal really stood out.
I also did a tequila and mezcal tasting that night at the main bar in the lobby. I used to write a booze column so I thought I was a seasoned vet on the subject, but then the bartender poured something I’d never even heard of: Raicilla. It’s an agave spirit, too, but if I had to pinpoint the differentiating factor it would have to be The Funk. Raicilla has The Funk in spades. It’s got an attitude, is what I’m saying. I definitely don’t prefer it to tequila or mezcal, and frankly, I’m not even sure I can say that I liked it, but enjoyed the experience enough that I persuaded my shuttle driver to take me by a liquor store on me way to the airport the next day so I could bring back a bottle. Speaking of the airport, there was a guy still wearing his rashguard. Absolutely classic.
Overall, I had a fantastic time. It wasn’t the fast-paced romp that I’m used to, but I came away from the trip not only without any new injuries (a small miracle in of itself), but feeling more rested than I had been in a very long time. While I’d recommend Punta de Mita to anyone, I think surfers will especially enjoy it. The easy access to consistent and uncrowded waves right next to good food and hot tubs is pretty hard to beat. Just go easy on the raicilla before you paddle out.
Brent Rose is a tech writer who lives in a van, traveling throughout the United States as he has written for Wired, Gizmodo, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, and Men’s Health, among countless other publications. He is also the host of Wired’s wildly popular web series, ‘Out of Office with Brent Rose.’