Tropical resort-goers often fall into one of two camps: those who prefer the surf and sand, and those who’d rather lounge by the pool. But sometimes the choice is more topaz and turquoise than black and white.
I mused on this thought as I gazed out at the pounding surf from my infinity plunge pool at Cala de Mar Resort and Spa, a luxury beachfront resort in Ixtapa, Mexico, perched on the Sierra Madre cliff. (Installing myself in my private pool was a daily ritual during my stay, when a late-afternoon delivery of ice-cold bottles of Pacifico and a basket of chips, salsa, and guacamole always arrived just in time for happy hour.)
But back to the shoreline. It was mesmerizing to watch the cerulean water continually crash over the jagged outcrop and then retreat. And from my spot curled up on a lounge chair on the terrace, the rock formations jutting out of the water closer to the horizon reminded me a little bit of those that dot the Andaman Sea in the Thai islands. But the rocky bluff that makes up the beach at Cala de Mar is most definitely designed to swoon over rather than swim in. And that’s perfectly fine.
I am generally more of a “beach fan” than a “pool fan,” so I’ll admit that I was initially a little disappointed to discover I wouldn’t be able to dip my toes in the sea or set up under a shaded palapa. But I quickly realized that a peek at the Pacific is never far away—even during a private check-in in the lobby, where thatched roofs and bamboo sills frame open windows whose jaw-dropping views made it difficult to focus on my personal assistant’s queries about restaurant reservations and scheduling activities.
The nine-level resort was envisioned in an adobe style by architects Enrique Muller and Santiago Aspe, with curved lines that mirror the fluidity of the ocean and an openness throughout that brings in the breezes and spotlights the scenery. Satin hardware, matte hardwoods, and stucco in warm earth tones counter the intense sunlight, walkways are lined with palm trees, tropical foliage and stone fountains, and bougainvillea vines with shocking fuchsia blooms are neatly trimmed in planter boxes on ledges and crawl in-between accommodations.
Because the cliffside is so steep, I boarded a funicular, or inclined cable car, to get to and from my suite. Most of Cala de Mar’s 59 accommodations, all stacked facing the Pacific, come in two categories: Cliffside Ocean Front Suites and Romance Deluxe Ocean Front Suites, the main difference being the size of the floor plan. When I opened the front door to my deluxe suite, sparkling azure waters stretched the length of my expansive terrace—a sight that never got old. Lounge chairs and a hammock in the sun were joined by a wicker conversation set and a daybed in the shade. Tiles in my infinity pool were cleverly colored so I couldn’t tell where the pool ended and the ocean began.
Inside, my suite was appointed with a king-sized bed with a seating area, a complimentary minibar, a walk-in shower (with a window to the ocean), dual vanities, and a huge changing area with lots of hanging space and shelves with baskets. A woven beach bag, floppy hat, and scarf set out on the table were mine to use during my stay and take home as a souvenir.
I probably could have stayed in my abode for the entire sojourn, and if you are looking to hole up for a few days with complete privacy and no interruptions, this is the perfect place to do it. But there is a lot to explore on the property and beyond—Cala de Mar is located just 15 minutes from the town of Ixtapa.
If the setting itself somehow doesn’t induce serenity, the wellness programming should. Mats for morning yoga are set up on an open terrace; I selected one of the huge rocks far out in the water as my drishti, or focal point, as I balanced in airplane pose. A new area called the Zen Zone is a breezy, relaxing open-air space for reading, meditating, or taking a tech detox for an hour or two to be lulled by the waves. And a private cove on the beach itself can be set up with a pop-up picnic, stargazing or a massage.
If you are truly looking for a detox, an hour in the “sweat lodge” known as a temazcal ought to do it. The ritual dates to the times of pre-Hispanic Indigenous people in ancient Mesoamerica when it was used as part of a curative ceremony to purify the body after heavy work or exercise. Guests convene inside a circular dome, where water is ladled onto hot volcanic rocks to produce steam; breathing in the aromas from added herbs including sage and copal lends even more of a cleansing effect. (My claustrophobia always keeps me from partaking in this activity, but friends have told me it’s quite impactful.)
More my speed was the tranquil Spa El Capricho, whose five treatment rooms are each named for a local flower and look out to the dreamy coast. An Amuzgo Herbal Massage began with a floral foot bath ritual, after which herbal and dried poultices activated by heat were applied to ease sore muscles and encourage emphatic draining. Body wraps use local botanicals like toronjil, a lemon-scented red flower integral to Aztec culture thought to improve mood and clarity, and nopal, the prickly pear cactus that’s rich in antioxidants and touts anti-inflammatory benefits.
If you want to retox after all that detoxing, the mezcal class at Terrace Bar is one of the better ones I’ve experienced at a resort. Orange, apple, and grapefruit slices are set out on slate boards along with sea salt and spices; imbibers are encouraged to use the molcajete to mix up their own perfect blend, while the bartender guides you through perfect pairings from the bar cart. (If you let on that you are a mezcal fan, you might get a few tastes of some rarer expressions; their iron-gated Tequila Room stores 65 of the region’s best bottlings.) My guide also mixed up a Cantarito, with mezcal, citrus juices, grapefruit soda and a sprinkle of sea salt and tajin, served in its namesake traditional clay cup.
After all those agave spirits, head to The Seafood Market, which I found to be the best dining experience here. Tables are set on a lower terrace, just above the scraggy brush and jagged coastline that’s lit up after dark. A small blackboard lists the fresh catches of the day—tuna, dorado, red snapper, prawns, local lobster—which are displayed on ice. Select your protein, and it’s grilled and served with rice and fresh vegetables. It’s a perfect example of letting the simplicity of great ingredients shine.
Terrace Bar is tops for a pre-dinner Margarita; best of the bunch is the refreshing Mujer Elegante, with blanco Tequila, orange liqueur, cucumber, lime, and agave. I remained at my table al fresco to taste my way through the menu, which focuses on sushi and ceviche. Pistachios added a pleasant crunch to smoked beet salad with goat cheese, tuna tostadas picked up some tang from tamarind ponzu and Asian coleslaw, and pickled cherry tomatoes added a zesty pop to the colorful, flavorful salmon poke bowl. Don’t fill up on raw fish, though; save room for a slice of the decadent mascarpone cheesecake named for Frida Khalo, with peanut crumble, chipotle strawberry, and caramel foam.
A romantic dinner para dos (or uno, in my case) set up as close to the beach was the only experience that somewhat missed the mark. The setting—literally right next to the crashing waves—was spectacular, and I loved listening to and watching the scene in-between bites. The too-yellow bulbs on the string lighting could use a more subtle upgrade, though. And since my server had to navigate a steep and long walk every course, the pistachio-crusted tuna was woefully overcooked by the time it arrived at my table, and panna cotta was rubbery instead of smooth and creamy.
Red snapper ceviche with serrano chili slices and red onion better withstood the trek, and frozen Tequila shot-cicles were a fun start to the experience. And you just can’t top dining so close to the water that you get hit by a little seaspray.
During breakfast at Las Rocas, try Mexican specialties like salbuta benediction, where a fried corn tortilla is stuffed with pork belly, black beans, a poached egg, hollandaise sauce, hoja santa, and mustard seed, or chilaquiles rojo or verde, topped with shredded chicken and a fried egg.
I didn’t even have to leave my lounge chair for lunch; shrimp tacos wrapped in thin jicama rounds—a perfect, crunchy alternative to tortillas—were dressed with cilantro dressing, avocado, and serrano and delivered right to my lounger next to one of two larger infinity pools. It was difficult to believe, but the view here was somehow even better than that from my own private plunge paradise.