Carretera Tecate- Ensenada Km. 75, Ensenada, Baja Norte, Mexico
Encuentro Guadalupe's stunning, otherworldly setting makes staying in this luxury desert resort an unforgettable experience.
If you arrive at Encuentro Guadalupe after sundown your very first impression will be how blindingly bright the hundreds of stars above your head are. Individual room-lofts hover above you on the mountainside like softly-lit lunar modules in a sci-fi film, glowing a faint shade of orange against the blackness of the night sky.
It's hard to get a feel for the real size and extension of the 100-hectare natural reserve until morning, when the sun peeks over the mountains and the infinity swimming pool begins to glow a golden biege, reflecting the red clay hills in the distance.
The square lofts, individual buildings perched atop the bouldered hillside, have smooth white melamine walls, dramatically contrasting their rough–hewn metal exteriors. They were designed by Tijuana architect Jorge Garcia and owner Alfredo Acosta describes them as the rough exterior and smooth interior of an oyster shell, with the couple sharing the room as its pearl.
"The most beautiful things on earth are created by nature, not built by men," Acosta says, explaining that the rooms are intentionally small and simple to encourage guests to get and out and enjoy the Valley's beauty instead of sitting inside all day.
Even keeping this noble goal in mind and despite the rooms' high ceilings and minimalistic decoration, they feel a bit claustrophobic. Our room may have been only slightly smaller than a regular hotel single, but the windows don't open, the black wooden shutters can't be raised (only opened and closed), and although an entire side wall was glass, there was a boxed–in feeling that we couldn't shake.
The décor is modern, clean, with sharp and industrial accents like pipe lamp fixtures, retro Edison light bulbs, and sliding melamine doors separating the bathroom from the main room; juxtapositioning the room's urbanness with the surrounding scenery. Each room as a strong (and free) Wi-fi connection.
Once you're out the door, each loft has a private outdoor patio with a chimenea were you can sit and stargaze for a bit after lights out. Shuttle service is provided to and from the reception area down the hill from 8:15am to 11:15pm as guest vehicles are prohibited from driving up the winding dirt road that leads to the room/pool area, and each guest is provided with a walkie-talkie in order to communicate with reception in case of emergencies.
At this hotel, the upgrade definitely counts. The master suite feels distinctly different from the rest of the singles and doubles, and by far the most expansive feeling. You won't be crowded by the massive boulder that emerges from the center of its floor because the room's glassed–in front wall looks out over the valley and its open–style shower beside its boulder lends an outdoor/indoor feel to your daily scrub. The master suite is part of the Eco–villa complex, a combination of master suite and four other bedrooms; two separate loft rooms like the ones on the rest of the property and the Eco–house, two back rooms off of a common living space (with kitchenette) whose walls are solid glass on 3 sides, leaving you feeling suspended over the rocks below.
The hotel's pool and lounge bar area (where breakfast is served) has great views of the natural surroundings and the pool's crisp temperature is just the thing for the intense desert sun. Below in the reception area is the hotel restaurant and bar, serving house–made wines, craft beers and other fare, with a country–style picnic area tucked underneath the building's porch. We didn't get to try the restaurant on our visit because it unfortunately closes at 8pm and we arrived around 9pm. The front desk staff waived their normal prohibition of no outside food or drink allowed in any rooms (under penalty of a US$50 fine), so that we could take up some heavenly baguette sandwiches that we bought at La Manzana Verde, a little deli in the tiny neighboring town and a bottle of wine we purchased while touring wineries earlier in the day.
Wine tastings can be arranged every day at the on–site winery and guests are welcome to hike in the vicinity. If you happen to encounter the owner he will lovingly wax poetic about his wines (all named after flora and fuana of the region), but quickly encourages you to try the many regional wines they have on their menu. Many of the big name wineries' fields can be spotted from the restaurant terrace including L.A. Cetto and Santo Tomas. In further honor of the wine culture of Valle de Guadalupe, all the bath products are made with wine by-products by Viniphera.
This hotel's stunning setting is definitely its winning attribute, star–filled skies and massive boulders in every direction will have you feeling like you're staying overnight on Neptune—or at least in a galaxy far far away from the crowds. The rooms and structures have a much more modern, industrial feel than what you will find in nearby countryside retreats like Villa del Valle and Cuatro Cuatros, but have a sleekness and geometry that contrast exotically with the wild and arid surroundings.
Web Address: www.grupoencuentro.com.mx
Total Number of Rooms: 25 lofts, 1 Eco-house and 1 Master Suite.
Published rates: $250-4,500 (rates seasonal)
Review and photos by Lydia Carey