Isla Navidad, 25 minutes north of Manzanillo, Jalisco, Mexico
Located on its own 1,200-acre peninsula with a golf course and yacht marina, this luxury resort north of Manzanillo combines a sublime setting on a sheltered bay with unique access by shuttle boat to a lively local town: Barra de Navidad.
Perched on a wooded hillside, looking out on a Pacific bay, Grand Isla Navidad is fronted by mult-million-dollar yachts bobbing on the surface. At times it feels like something from a movie set, some fictitious playground of the rich and famous conjured up for James Bond to come frequent. When a man asked me for directions in a thick Russian accent, the effect was complete.
Isla Navidad is a real place, however, and this is a real luxury resort. You could be forgiven if you've never heard of it though. Air connections to Manzanillo—the closest city with an international airport—are sparse from the U.S. Puerto Vallarta is several hours to the north. This is mostly an in-the-know destination. Californians and Canadians are sprinkled in with the domestic tourists and day guests coming in off their yachts.
Surprisingly though, English proficiency is excellent here and the facilities more than live up to international expectations. The lobby gives a great first impression with its gleaming marble and panoramic views from the circular lounge at the end. A grand staircase leads down to several restaurants and a few levels further down is the excellent pool complex. Guest rooms are in the original building and multiple sections added on over the years, which can make for a confusing maze to navigate. A separate 14-room boutique hotel is a short ride or long walk away, originally the owner's family house, with its own pool and bar.
Guests spend most of their time at the largest pool complex, which stretches on from a large kiddie pool to a built-in slide, tunnels, a hot tub, and then a large deep area with a swim-up bar. (See a video tour of the pool area here.) With a variety of lounging space and hammocks off to the side, it's easy to let the day slide by without moving, but lunch is never far away. The terrace restaurant serves up a la carte dishes beautifully presented, complete with heavy hand-blown glasses, and a buffet is available at peak times.
There is a beach on site here, as well as another by the boutique hotel, but this resort is not directly on the ocean. It's a calm beach with bay water, great for young children, but you don't get the ocean surf or sunsets. A trail does lead to a dramatic sunset point out past the boutique hotel though, where waves crash against cliffs and sea birds abound. Kayaks can be rented to explore the area's coastline, or you can rent a mountain bike and explore by road, with one branch leading to a secluded rustic beach on the other side of the peninsula. Three grass tennis courts are right by the hotel, next to a well–equipped fitness center and a spa offering a long menu of massage and beauty treatments. A staffed kids' club by the pool, complete with kid–sized toilets, keeps the little ones entertained if parents want a break.
The Isla Navidad 27-hole championship golf course is a big draw, with six holes running along the Pacific Ocean. It has a full shop, an on–site pro instructor, and a restaurant/bar in the clubhouse. You can also charter a fishing boat and you won't have to go very far to land something: this is known as a prime sailfish region and all year long there are marlin, snook, and tarpon running. Scheduled daily activities include beach volleyball, tennis workshops, kayak tours, yoga, and aerobics.
Besides the terrace restaurant by the pool, the resort has a Grand Cafe buffet restaurant for breakfast and dinner that's well–stocked and varied, with a good range for picky kids and discerning adults. Fine dining Antonio's has a dress code and is an elegant atmosphere for steaks and seafood. Adjoining it is an attractive and cozy tequila bar, with more bottles than anyone could try in a week. When occupancy is high, a terrace Thai restaurant is set up with a seafood grill in the open air. One unique feature of this hotel though is that you're not limited to these choices. A frequent water taxi takes you the short ride over to Barra Navidad for less than a dollar. This little resort town is packed with dozens of seafood and typical Mexican restaurants, from waterfront restaurants with waiters in bow ties to humble little back street taco places.
With lots of stairs and walkways to navigate in this stacked collection of buildings, this resort is not the best place for the handicapped or the impatient. Your room here will be well-equipped once you find it though, plus you'll usually be rewarded with a good view or a terrace on the first floor. "No–surprises International" would best describe the style, with quarters designed to soothe and relax. Lots of marble, light painted wood furniture, and good lighting make up for some of the dated touches like piped–in music, older TVs in armoires, ancient small safes, and alarm clocks with no MP3 input. The Wi–Fi (included in the extra resort fee) works surprisingly well in most rooms though and the spacious baths with separate shower are equipped with a wide range of quality toiletries. Furnished balconies or terraces are welcome at all times of year in this steady climate. Suites of all sizes have newer flat–screen TVs, wet bars, and larger balconies.
There are several sections that offer deluxe and grand deluxe rooms, with some on the 9th floor clustered around their own private pool. Some of the 12 executive suites are here and they're showpieces with marble living rooms, columns, a boveda brick ceiling, kitchenette, walk-in closet, steam shower, and newer TV. Parlor suites are 1-bedroom suites with living and dining areas, 2 full baths, balconies, and views of the marina or the lagoon. The Marina suites, good for long-term stays, are 1 or 2-bedroom condo-style suites with kitchens, living and dining areas, and large balconies. The two Governor's Suites have a 10–person dining room, full kitchen, wet bar, huge bathroom, and extra half bath. Some Master Suites in a separate section have a whirlpool on their balcony and can connect to two other rooms. The Presidential Suite is on two floors, with panoramic views, and can be connected to another suite.
In typical Mexican style, I was awakened one Saturday at 7:30 a.m. by the lawn care crew wielding weed whackers and that night's wedding went on until the next sunrise, but otherwise the stay was peaceful bliss and staffers were attentive and helpful.
The Hotel offers European Plan rates, Bed & Breakfast and All Inclusive options as well as Golf, Fishing, Romance and Spa Packages. For those looking for a different setting, this luxury resort is a good high–end offering with a whiff of exclusivity.
Web Address: IslaNavidad.com.mx
Total Number of Rooms: 199
Published rates: $275 - - $2,860 + resort fee and taxes
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.