Rafael Osuna 250, Raquet Club, 45820 San Juan Cosalá, Jalisco, Mexico
Unexpected luxury in an uncommon destination proves that sometimes you have to get off the beaten path to truly relax.
Driving up the hill to La Vita Bella boutique hotel and spa can be disorienting. You turn onto an unmarked road off the main Lake Chapala highway and drive up into a gated subdivision with streets named after famous world tennis players. Even after passing through the gate, the first site of a few maintenance buildings and a large greenhouse make you think you might be in the wrong place.
But make it to the end of the rock-covered drive and you are greeted by a large stone courtyard with a star fountain at its center, a collection of creamy white-washed buildings that house the hotel's mere 12 rooms, a reception area and two spa bungalows. The location is a little further afield that most international tourists go. The town of Chapala, famous for its large and spread-out expatriate community, and its slightly hipper neighbor Ajijic, are just down the road. La Vita Bella is in San Juan Cosala, however, a town more known to national tourists for its hot springs and long string of lakeside dining spots.
Once you reach the hotel you understand the need for the circuitous route to get there—the view of beautiful Lake Chapala is completely uninterrupted and the isolated perch on the hill makes the only sound to be heard that of the ashram-style sitar music playing in the hotel's restaurant.
Contrasting the white walls are all shapes and sizes of warm-weather greenery. The area rarely dips below 70 degrees year round, meaning almost every night guests can sit outside on their private patios and enjoy the view. The restaurant is also open-air and facing the lake, with a center table used for groups made from a massive slab of hardwood. Weekends here, especially Sundays, are packed with locals and Mexican tourists who come for comida with a view. If you stay on one of those days expect a crowd. Fortunately the hotel recognizes that guests want to take advantage of the hotel's thermal spring-fed pools and intimate spa without a crowd, and so those services are only available to guests on Saturday and Sunday.
During the week, non-guests can purchase a day spa pass for about 50 dollars and enjoy a light breakfast, massage, a swim in one of the three small thermal pools and a hearty lunch. There is also a day pass for around 15 dollars that gets you access to the swimming pools and any other hotel services you wish to pay for. La Vita Bella hosts large groups and retreats, providing temezcales (a kind of Mayan sweat lodge), as well as aqua and sound therapy.
The rooms are divided into Junior and Master suites, with the Masters having a few feet more space and more elaborate art and furniture. The Master suites have large bathrooms (some like 10, super large) with separate shower and (stone) tub spaces. Rooms 9, 10, 11, 12 and the presidential suite (more like a small penthouse apartment with a full kitchen and living room) are in a building apart from the main restaurant building and for my taste have the best views.
We were unable to see the two mountain view rooms, but it's hard to imagine a view better than ours. Plus, any din from the restaurant during dining hours is muted just a bit with the distance. Rooms in the main building overlook the restaurant's thatched roof, which is a still lovely, from the small private balconies in each room.
Room amenities include robes, large TVs, quality toiletries, a safe box, minibar (sodas and water, no alcohol) and upright fans in case it's extra warm. The weather here is so mellow, air conditioning really isn't necessary. The minimalist style of the rooms gives them a certain airiness, with just a touch of color here and there to accentuate the mostly white and tan linens, floors, and drapes. I was thrilled to find a refillable glass bottle of filtered water instead of plastic bottles and no coffeemaker with a thousand plastic tidbits to add to my personal carbon footprint. Speaking with the hotel manager, the eco-consciousnesses is intentional and they are looking for even more ways to be earth-friendly going forward.
The spa services include facials (on hold as we write this because of Covid), manicures, pedicures, and massages. I consider myself pretty picky about massages and the one I got was actually worthwhile, especially followed up by a dip in the pools. The treatment rooms are tropical elegant, and there is a double bed area for couples massages.
The all-around vibe of the hotel is a kind of welcoming luxury that I think can only be achieved in a small, family-run hotel. It was stylish without being pretentious and luxurious without being overdone. We felt taken care of but also left alone to enjoy the peace and quiet. While San Juan Cosala might not be on your bucket list, its location on Lake Chapala near larger towns makes it a fine place to use as your base to explore Mexico's largest lake. It's also an great stopover for any road trip in central Mexico as well as trips to nearby Guadalajara and Tequila, Jalisco. Take the time to veer off the beaten path and you will be surprised by the luxurious experience that awaits.
Web Address: www.lavitabellasoulspa.com
Total Number of Rooms: 12
Published rates: $124 - $333
Review by Lydia Carey.