A Fresh Take on Mexico with One&Only Resorts
As America’s southern neighbor, Mexico vacation spots have long been destination go-tos for SmartFlyer clients, whether it be a sun-soaked getaway from LA to Los Cabos, a foodie-fueled escape from New York to Mexico City or a tequila-tasting trip to Puerto Vallarta, it’s a place that calls us back regularly.
With our current COVID climate fraught with restrictions around international travel, many are surprised to hear that Americans can indeed travel to Mexico right now; and with pent up demand for international travel and only building, there’s never been a better time to return to old favorites as well as explore innovative new properties; fortunately, One&Only Resorts fits the bill for both categories. The iconic One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos and the brand-new One&Only Mandarina–located just an hour north of Puerto Vallarta–offer boundless culture, culinary experiences and most excitingly, the change of scenery that we all so desperately crave.
Newest Mexico Vacation Spot: One&Only Mandarina
Freshly opened on November 1st, One&Only Mandarina entered the west coast resort scene to great anticipation. Woven seamlessly into Mexico’s most awe-inspiring coastal rainforest, One&Only Mandarina provides the perfect balance between seclusion in its treehouses and a vibrant atmosphere offered in its clifftop villas. Forever early adopters, our tribe of travel advisors were compelled to be some of the first to check it out; so, we checked in with Austin-based SmartFlyer agent Amanda Poses and Newport Beach-based advisor Katie Jacobson to get their perspective upon their recent return.
Pre-COVID, you traveled extensively, but this was your first international trip since early 2020. What was it like to get back out there?
Amanda Poses: “We have to acknowledge that as with much else in life, deciding whether you are ready to travel again requires a weighing of risk versus reward; this process will look different for everyone. Personally, this was my third trip since COVID, and I’ve been continually impressed by the adjustments made by our airline and hotel partners to meet the changing needs of travelers. For this journey from Austin, I traveled with United Airlines who boarded the plane from back to front; on arrival, they called rows to exit the plane so there were no crowds in the aisle. Once at the Puerto Vallarta airport, I saw staff in hazmat suits spraying all touch surfaces to disinfect them.
Fortunately, the design of the property lends itself to being outdoors most of the time, so you have a sense of social distancing built-in.
I was continually reassured that safety was at the forefront with my driver wearing a mask and even sanitizing my bags before putting them in the vehicle! The relaxation really began when I got out of my transfer where a One&Only staff member was waiting, ringing the beautiful gong to welcome me. Upon arrival to the room, my personalized butler did a sage ceremony which really sets the tone of the stay. I was given further peace of mind by observing how in the golf carts, common areas, and at the spa, both staff and guests are wearing masks. Fortunately, the design of the property lends itself to being outdoors most of the time, so you have a sense of social distancing built-in.”
How does O&O Mandarina stand out as one of the best vacation spots in Mexico?
Katie Jacobson: “The property is so unique! It’s built within the rainforest, which is so lush and green. Typically, new hotels have really sparse landscaping when they first open, but that couldn’t be further from the truth at One&Only Mandarina. This lush greenery allows every villa to feel extremely private; we could barely see other rooms from ours. The atmosphere is so incredibly peaceful and relaxing and it’s a huge added bonus that every room has a private pool!
But as an avid beachgoer, a major highlight for me was the beach and the accompanying Jetty Beach Club where they built a jetty to block the waves, which makes the beach really calm and great for swimming. The sand is so soft! Plus, there is a pool right on the beach as well, including a smaller shallow area perfect for kids to play. There is such an upbeat atmosphere down on the beach; it’s definitely the place to be during the day!”
Can you tell us more about the villas?
Amanda Poses: “One&Only Mandarina is an all villa resort, with 105 striking standalone havens, made up of treehouses and cliff-top villas, set far apart for maximum peace and privacy. Every treehouse and villa are designed to frame incredible views over the Pacific Ocean, jungle, and mountains, with expansive indoor and outdoor living space that blends with nature. Nature is everywhere you go. The treehouse structure sits on huge stilts set high in the sky; with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that open wide, you really get a feeling of being among the trees. The rooms are modern with subtle Mexican touches that effortlessly meld into the setting–imagine natural materials and color palettes woven throughout, echoing the vistas beyond.”
Travelers flock to Mexico for its cuisine. What makes this property a good fit for someone looking for exciting culinary experiences?
So, if you’re spending the afternoons reading that book you’ve been meaning to get to for months, there’s no need to leave the beach club.
Katie Jacobson: “We really enjoyed the food on property! There’s lots of variety on the One&Only menus, which is especially well-suited for longer stays. Carao by Chef Enrique Olvera is definitely the highlight in terms of culinary experiences–we had such an incredible meal here! This spot offers such unique flavors and the restaurant was constructed in a gorgeous setting. We also loved breakfasts at Alma and casual lunches on the beach. They have incredible ceviche and guacamole! So, if you’re spending the afternoons reading that book you’ve been meaning to get to for months, there’s no need to leave the beach club. We spent a lot of time here eating all the chips and guac! I really couldn’t imagine a better setting to activate vacation mode.”
Did your stay here lend itself to a deeper connection to nature?
Amanda Poses: “Driving around the property, you’ll find the roads are set between lush trees of all kinds native to the area. My favorite was the red bark trees that they call ‘tourist tree’ because they burn, turn red, and peel! Beyond the jungle, you have sunrise yoga, sand, the sea, mud (hello, mud bath at the spa!) fresh air, and sunset cocktails to fill your days; there’s truly so much spiritual connectivity at every turn.
…Guests can expect a little mediation and an opportunity to give thanks to the Earth. I would say this is a must when you are visiting.
For those who want to get active, bring your hiking shoes for a trek to La Abuela, a 500-year-old tree. This is an experience that allows you to partner with a guide and get your heart rate up! On the hike, you’ll stop to discuss the trees and gain further context on the region. Your guide will build in time for a few ‘water stops,’ but in One&Only fashion, these present a truly elevated experience including fruits, ice-cold towels, and special electrolyte water. Once you reach La Abuela, there are yoga mats waiting. Guests can expect a little mediation and an opportunity to give thanks to the Earth. I would say this is a must when you are visiting.”
Mandarina sounds like a dream. But who’s it for?
The property is ideal for couples and multi-generational families. Due to the uniqueness of the resort being all individual standalone villas offering space and privacy, it’s perfectly suited for those who are eager to get back out there but wary of the traditional hotel experience. And for those looking for things to do, keep in mind there’s a swimmable beach and activities ranging from paddleboarding to tennis and even an equestrian club. Ultimately, while this newcomer is fairly unknown to many, we are certain it will soon be considered one of Mexico’s best vacation spots; so, better to lock in your stay sooner rather than later! | See our full property review >>
Classic Mexico Vacation Spot: One&Only Palmilla
When clients ask, “what are the best vacation spots in Mexico?” our answer has long included a recommendation to check out One&Only Palmilla. So, we couldn’t possibly cover the destination without speaking about this powerhouse property that’s been beloved by our tribe since SmartFlyer’s earliest days. To get the real inside scoop, we checked in with NYC and London-based travel agent Tom Bartholomew and Newport Beach-based travel advisor Lauren Grubbs for their takeaways from respective recent visits.
Of all the options in Cabo, what makes a stay at Palmilla stand out?
Tom Bartholomew: “One & Only Palmilla is the original Cabo hotspot; dating back to the 1950’s it offered a luxurious escape for the Hollywood jet-set and today, it remains a chic hideaway. The historic whitewashed chapel, fountain and first hotel building still stand and provide the resort with a wonderful sense of place. Tucked into a private cove, One&Only Palmilla offers one of the few swimmable beaches on the famous stretch of coast between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. It exudes an aura of traditional Mexican glamour, ensuring guests really feel transported to vacay mode.”
Palmilla feels established and like they know what they’re doing, because they’ve been doing it for decades which is makes it a favorite among some many travelers who return year after year!
Lauren Grubbs: “Palmilla’s longstanding reputation continues to deliver to both first time and loyal repeat guests. You can expect excellent service, great food and dining experiences, and plenty of activities to keep you busy. The property is so lush and green which sets it apart from so many of the other more stark, desert-feeling properties in the region–and the hotel is home to one of the only swimmable beaches in Cabo, making it a great choice for families or those who can’t go a day of vacation without an ocean dip! Palmilla feels established and like they know what they’re doing because they’ve been doing it for decades which is makes it a favorite among many travelers who return year after year!”
What’s the room product like?
Tom Bartholomew: “All rooms and suites include personal butler service and ocean views. My personal picks would the Casita Junior Suite Oceanfront with infinity pool. Or for a larger group, the elaborate and private Villa One can accommodate up to ten guests across four bedrooms. The remarkable Casita Suites impress, each with their own private infinity pool and expansive ocean-facing terrace, perfect for secluded stays with two extraordinary villas amongst the most coveted. Each with four bedrooms, dedicated spa and fitness areas, cinema rooms and a team of dedicated staff. Bold Mexican designs are complimented with contemporary furnishings and handcrafted embellishments that are reflective of the region. Sumptuously appointed amenities include custom-curated minibars and signature Blue Agave bath products.”
Lauren Grubbs: “To further elevate the experience, each and every guest enjoys the care and attention of a personal Butler–these consummate professionals are charged with customizing guests’ resort experience to match individual preferences and needs. Imagine a full-service personal assistant combined with the world’s best concierge! Whether customizing a special celebration or arranging a thrilling excursion up the coast, One&Only Palmilla’s Butlers are at the ready to make sure every stay is that much more wonderful.”
And how about the food?
Tom Bartholomew: “In terms of food and beverage, prepare to be delighted! One&Only takes advantage of its enchanting location overlooking the Sea of Cortez with Agua Bar, the perfect spot for a drink as the sun sets before dinner. While you can go the traditional Mexican route, they also offer a Japanese fusion restaurant with a Mexican flair at Suviche for something a little different. For a romantic evening, reserve one of Agua’s moonlight dining tables overlooking the cliff’s edge. Or gather your closest family and friends for an unforgettable dining experience at Agua’s Chef Table.”
Which activities would you recommend for travelers?
Believers say these ancient Mayan rites are a powerful form of spiritual healing and cleansing that could prove to be the first step towards improving the quality of your day-to-day life.
Lauren Grubbs: “There is so much to do in the region, but for my clients seeking a cultural and spiritual connection, I suggest embarking on One&Only’s Purification Ceremony. Guests are invited to transform negative energy into positive through this shaman-led experience. Drawing inspiration from Mayan tribal ceremonies, a leader of the local indigenous Mayo tribe guides guests through a sunrise purification ceremony embracing the first rays of morning sun with the traditional burning of copal incense and medicinal herbs renowned for their purification properties. Believers say these ancient Mayan rites are a powerful form of spiritual healing and cleansing that could prove to be the first step towards improving the quality of your day-to-day life. Afterward, reflect and recover in your Los Cabos villa, suite, or room, and enjoy a clearer outlook.
Also, outdoor yoga on the gorgeous canopied patio makes for a truly balanced mind and body. For something off-property, I’d recommend a catamaran snorkeling trip as it’s always a fun way to see the coastline and spend the day out on the water! If you happen to be in town on a Thursday, head into downtown San Jose del Cabo for their weekly ‘Art Walk’ where the streets close to cars and local artisan shops and galleries stay open late.”
What makes this one of the best Mexico vacation spots? Who’s it for?
The resort navigates the delicate balance of being both perfect for adults wanting a romantic getaway while also catering to families. For families, the staff goes above and beyond with dedicated kids clubs, KidsOnly (ages 4-11). Over the years, the property has become a haven for multi-generational trips, because there really is something for everyone. And for those looking for a wedding venue, Palmilla is an amazing place to get married; they have a historic Mexican chapel on-site and plenty of lovely areas to comfortably host your closest loved ones to celebrate. | See our full property review >>