One&Only Mandarina: So Much More than Instagram Gold

Every so often, a resort sets well-heeled travelers abuzz – One&Only Mandarina didn’t just spark interest amongst SmartFlyer clients, but rather lit an inferno of intrigue across our community.

…the resort quickly became one of our clients’ most in-demand destinations – securing a coveted spot as one of our top twenty most booked properties (globally!) by SmartFlyer travel advisors last year.

In late 2020, whispers began to swirl about a new property that was welcoming guests in a previously undeveloped part of the Riviera Nayarit coastline. Just north of Punta Mita, One&Only Mandarina is set against a swimmable beach and twin mountain peaks – impossibly nestled into the lush rainforest as if it’s always been there. Attracting the jetset from LA, New York, and beyond, the resort quickly became one of our clients’ most in-demand destinations – securing a coveted spot as one of our top twenty most booked properties (globally!) by SmartFlyer travel advisors last year.

When it comes to getting the low down on exactly who a resort is for, our team of Smarties scouts properties with the most discerning of eyes. And while our in-house leisure team could have chosen to convene anywhere in the world for their annual team retreat, they descended upon One&Only Mandarina to dive deeper into this beloved spot – returning not only with a renewed appreciation for the power of a restorative retreat in nature, but endless inspiration to spark your next trip. 

Who’s One&Only Mandarina for?

This isn’t your typical beach resort, it’s a way to experience the nature and beauty found in this rarely explored part of Mexico. While Mandarina is the perfect destination for a romantic getaway, it is equally suited to families looking for an engaging tropical stay

Our least favorite answer to the often-asked question about who any given property is best suited to is: “everyone.” So while we’d be tempted to say exactly that solely based on One&Only Mandarina’s vast offerings, we won’t. Instead, rest assured that this resort is best suited for travelers who crave exploration and discovery. SmartFlyer ONE Top Producer Rachel Braylovsky shares, “This isn’t your typical beach resort, it’s a way to experience the nature and beauty found in this rarely explored part of Mexico. While Mandarina is the perfect destination for a romantic getaway, it is equally suited to families looking for an engaging tropical stay. Little ones will be mystified by going out to sea to snorkel or dive and learn about marine life – especially in the winter months when the whales pass through. They can also surf and swim in the ocean! Kids can enjoy the extensive jungle course (more on that later) while parents use the spa. Not to mention, there are beaches and pools for each day of the week and the grounds of the Mandarina offer everything from horseback riding to zip lining.”

New York City-based SmartFlyer Club 2A travel advisor Suzy X Dodd elaborates, “Each corner of Mandarina is stunning in its own distinct way. While most of the resort feels fully immersed in the jungle, you’re never more than a short buggy ride away from the beach. When we visited the equestrian center and organic farms, I felt like I was suddenly transported to an estancia in South America. And during our lunch at the Beach Club, it felt like we were dining on the Mediterranean. I loved that we were able to uncover new pockets and view the property from a fresh perspective every day of our stay.”

Ultimately, One&Only Mandarina is suitable for families, couples, friends, and even small corporate retreats like the one we held on property. Friend groups can visit the stables and polo field, get their tarot read, or relax in a meditative yoga class. Couples can pamper themselves at the spa together, have a meal hosted in their villa, swim at the adults-only pool, and have a private tequila tasting. Small group retreats can bask in a beautiful sunset during happy hour at The Treetop bar, go on a group hike or nature walk, and learn about ancient Mexcian traditions together. Solo travelers will relish the tranquility of the property, friendly team members, and security of free-standing accommodations.

New Jersey-based SmartFlyer travel advisor and Travel + Leisure Rising Star Ashley Vorraro adds, “What’s great about this resort is that you can even stay in your Treehouse or villa and not feel guilty for ‘staying in your room’ on vacation. Some of my favorite moments were sitting in my plunge pool amidst the jungle while listening to the birds and sounds of nature. It was a total R&R moment. At One&Only, you can be as active and adventurous or as relaxed and secluded as you want.”

How to Get to One&Only Mandarina

When it comes to booking with your SmartFlyer travel advisor, getting there – wherever “there” may be – is never an afterthought. Our team is highly skilled in the air space and works with each client to ensure that their journey to their chosen destination is nothing short of smooth. When it comes to how to get to One&Only Mandarina, there are direct flights out of both Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark (EWR) with frequency based on seasonality.

If you’re coming from Los Angeles from May to October (low season), Alaska Airlines currently offers daily flights from LAX to Puerto Vallarta (PVR). SmartFlyer CEO Michael Holtz elaborates, “Delta, JetBlue, and United have daily flights beginning in November and ending in April (high season). If you’re coming from New York, United Airlines offers one non-stop flight on Saturdays from EWR to PVR. During high season, United adds a non-stop on Sundays. Or, if you prefer to depart from JFK, JetBlue flies daily and the flight is just under six hours.”

Once you arrive in Puerto Vallarta, the airport transfer is seamless. Los Angeles-based SmartFlyer travel advisor Theo Laksmana shares, “There is a new highway from downtown Puerto Vallarta to Mandarina, so the drive time is about fifty-five minutes with minimal traffic. You’ll be picked up in a Mercedes Sprinter – complete with a Mandarina logo – and your car will be equipped with WiFi to ensure your journey to the resort is a breeze.”

The One&Only Mandarina Arrival Experience

New York City-based SmartFlyer travel advisor Xavier Cano reflects on his recent arrival to the property sharing, “After passing a pineapple farm off the main road, you enter the sanctuary that is Mandarina. Here, each building is tucked away thoughtfully into the living and breathing jungle so as not to disturb the natural environment. You’re greeted with a welcome gong before being escorted to the tranquil lobby where your first impression is of lush greenery and a water feature, minimalist with nothing else in sight. The effect lets you know you’ve arrived, it’s calm and peaceful here: get ready to relax.”

Long Island-based SmartFlyer Club 2A Travel Advisor Melissa Rodriguez adds, “Once you make your way to the comfy seating areas to sit down and cool off with an aromatherapy towel, you’re invited to quench your thirst. The One&Only team offers a detoxifying and refreshing cold fresh pressed juice with ginger, carrot, and citrus –  I believe in our case, there may have been a few who asked to have tequila in their ‘jungle juice!’ Alternatively, opt for a glass of champagne to settle in. After a quick ID check, you’ll be introduced to your personal butler and whisked away by buggy to your treehouse or villa.”

Tell us about your first impressions.

Expect the arrival to your room to be an experience in itself. Xavier continues, “After your butler walks you through every detail, button, and feature of your gorgeous accommodation, the experience is buttoned with a saging ritual. This sage blessing acts to cleanse all the energy in the room, making new space for your time here to be precisely what you want it to be: relaxing, rejuvenating, restoring, exhilarating, beautiful, and most of all, soulful. Every time I returned to the treehouse throughout our stay, I teared up because there was such a palpable energy of nature, soul, and higher self.”

Suzy adds, “Never before have I experienced a sage cleansing upon checking into a room, but it was such a refreshing way to begin the stay. And this was just an indication of how attentively we would be taken care of during the rest of our time on the property. Each accommodation has its own dedicated butler team and they already make it seamless to get in touch whenever you need anything – but our butlers were always one step ahead of us! Ashley’s sneakers were magically cleaned after her ziplining adventure while Melissa’s swimsuit left behind at the spa was carefully laid out for her when she got back to her room. I personally most enjoyed having entertaining conversations with the drivers during our buggy rides – which are essential to get around the property.”

What are the treehouses like?

Nestled above the trees with views of the rainforest surrounding you and the ocean beneath you, the privacy of One&Only Mandarina’s accommodations makes a stay here feel like you’re one with the jungle. If you can manage to pull yourself inside, expect to find thoughtfully appointed interiors. Each treehouse is outfitted with a luxurious King-sized bed centered in the middle of the room so you can take in the sweeping views. There’s ample closet space separating the bedroom from the bathroom where you’ll have two sinks and a large shower with two showerheads. But perhaps the best surprise comes by way of the door in the shower that leads to your outdoor bathtub.

Back inside, One&Only Mandarina’s treehouses are equipped with a desk, two comfy chairs, a coffee table, a television, and speakers so you can connect to Bluetooth to play your own music. The television and speakers swivel around so you can watch TV or point the speakers toward the outdoor deck. This space is outfitted with a private plunge pool, loungers, an umbrella, table, and chairs so that you have all the things you need to take in the soothing sounds of nature that surround you. Melissa shares, “Treehouses will only accommodate guests that are sixteen years and older but are ideal for couples, as they really have a romantic vibe.”

What about the villa configurations?

Melissa continues, “There are several villa options for guests seeking more spacious accommodations to enjoy with family and friends. The Cliff Villas work well for couples and families with younger children as they’re open floor plans with King beds and a Queen sofa bed. It’s best to work with your SmartFlyer travel advisor to determine which layout is best for you, right down to the various view options in this category.

The Grand Villas are ideal for families and larger groups of friends with one-, two-, and three-bedroom configurations. Most of the two-bedroom Grand Villas have a King in the master and Double-Doubles in the second room. Considered to be the Presidential, Villa One is a spectacular offering with up to three bedrooms, a game room, a Technogym, a full-screen cinema, a full chef’s kitchen, and expansive outdoor living space. 

For the ultimate immersion into Mandarina, there are the Signature Villas, which are private homes. These range from four to ten bedrooms as impeccable options for your multi-gen family trip or a milestone celebration trip with friends. The Grand Villas and Signature Villas do offer some special amenities ranging from private chefs for a BBQ on your private terrace to in-villa personal training sessions or private yoga, and complimentary guided hikes.”

What’s the food like at One&Only Mandarina?

Mandarina offers a wide array of dining options, with each concept done exceptionally well. While we are sometimes asked “Is One&Only Mandarina all-inclusive?” we answer that you wouldn’t want it to be! A stay here is all about complete flexibility and personalization. Looking back fondly on her recent stay, Suzy shares, “From the wonderful breakfast spread of Mexican favorites to the memorable dinners at Carao by Chef Enrique Olvera to the beautiful in-villa lunch complete with our own personal guitar serenade, our tastebuds were constantly rewarded. Everything was delicious, with many ingredients sourced from right on property. And for those craving variety, there are perfectly hand-tossed Neapolitan pizzas by the beach!”

Fellow resident foodie Ashley elaborates, “The food throughout our stay was so fresh! Typically, when you think of Mexican cuisine you may consider just chicken tinga tacos, tortillas, and guacamole but there’s so much more than that. I don’t think people give the seafood from this part of Mexico the credit it deserves. Some of my favorite seafood dishes during our stay were the tuna tostada, octopus tacos, shrimp ceviche, and the most amazing fish called pescado zarandeado – a traditional Nayarit dish of red snapper smothered in spices and then slowly smoked and grilled in mesquite and chile.”

Tell us about a signature cocktail that you want to recreate at home.

“Craft cocktails are my thing, but during this trip, I was really impressed with the mocktails. We started each dinner with a local welcome drink (often a mocktail) and the flavors and fusions were so unique,” Ashley continues. “Think things like chili, passionfruit, and agave – all local to Mexico – were incorporated. The mocktail that I’ll try to recreate at home is from One and & Only Mandarina’s restaurant, Alma, consists of fresh grapefruit juice, fresh orange juice, lime cordial, and ginger. This was the perfect balance between sweet and tart!”

Suzy continues, “Sotol was new to me on this trip. I’d learned about many tequilas and mezcals over the years, but it was my butler, Christian, who generously gave me my first introduction to sotol as it happened to be the welcome amenity. Made from a cactus found in the Chihuahua region of Mexico, sotol has a similar production process to mezcal and is starting to gain similar traction stateside. It can be infused with snake venom which is said to give it curative properties, but purists find that an unnecessary step and prefer it without. No mixology is needed to enjoy sotol, as it can simply be enjoyed by sipping…though it can make for a very interesting margarita.”

What were some standout elements of the spa experience?

The spa at One&Only Mandarina is a key part of the overall wellness experience for guests. Xavier recants, “After a warm welcome to the spa, you are given a detailed tour of all the facilities including the sauna which has a section with a glass cube so you can see the trees above while lying down. There is a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking two massive mother trees to observe prior to your treatment. You are then whisked to the serene waiting area with loungers and chairs, and an assortment of teas and refreshments. Once you are introduced to your therapist and taken to your treatment room, you select which aromatherapy oil you’d like first. My therapist then started the treatment with a sound bowl and three affirmations in Spanish which translated to: I am strong. I am at peace. I am healthy. From there, I immediately melted into ultimate relaxation, ready for an incredible massage.”

Additionally, the property offers indigenous rituals in a Temazcal hut where they use hot coals to cleanse and detox. But for those who are looking for wellness offerings beyond body treatments, rest assured you’re in good hands. Rachel shares, “During my facial, I asked the aesthetician what technique she was using as I have never experienced anything like it! She told me she was trained in the Tata Harper method. I did not question her further, instead sinking deeper into relaxation as I looked up into the skylight of my spa suite. This facial was one of a kind – the spa is the first to use Tata Harper products and employ her multi-sensory wellness journey with select treatments. In my case, my therapist used Eastern and Western schools of thought to maximize the results of my treatment.”

Tell us about some of the unique activities you experienced on property.

Nashville-based SmartFlyer travel advisor Kylie Courtney shares, “One of the highlights of our stay was ziplining! You’re able to soar through the trees on four different ziplines, or, they also offer an adventure challenge, a jungle course, and a nature trail. On the culinary side, there is a ceviche-making class. Or, for those who are more adventurous, consider the tequila tasting featuring eight lesser-known regional tequilas and mezcals, including one that has snake venom in it! We did this during our stay with a tasting at The Treetop Bar which features sweeping vistas of the Pacific paired with foods that altered the taste of each tequila.

For those who like being active while traveling, there is of course a gym, but also a lovely restorative yoga class offered in the Aura Deck; it isn’t intense, but rather relaxing – more of a meditation and stretching class. For equestrian lovers, be sure to check out the Mandarina Polo & Equestrian Club. You can opt to horseback ride on the beach, or join up with a surfing instructor.”

What offerings here are suited to families?

One&Only offers many different activities suited to families. Ashley shares, “Parents want to head to the spa? Well, guess what? They also have children’s spa treatments! Grandparents want to go to a nice dinner but not sure if the kids can join? One&Only has options from babysitting services to their KidsOnly Club, outfitted with a multi-story jungle gym treehouse and butterfly farm. If they decide to bring the whole family to dinner, no worries since the restaurants are family-friendly and offer children’s menu and fresh juices made from homemade syrups and fruits preserved onsite from their local garden.”

The coup de grace is their butterfly farm, which houses butterflies and exotic insects that will amaze kids and adults alike. Adults should definitely make a visit to the butterfly sanctuary – it’s not just for kids!

But it’s the KidsOnly Club that may be one of the most underrated parts of the property. Theo shares, “On the surface, the resort does not appear to be the most ‘family-friendly,’ but that is the exact opposite of what you find once you’re on the ground. The KidsOnly Club includes a traditional playroom with the requisite arts and crafts, PS5, and various other options tailored to three different age groups: four to five years old, six to eight years old, and nine to eleven years old. The real surprise comes from the multi-tiered treehouse and literal jungle gym. Kids can spend hours going to and from each house, connected by suspended bridges and various obstacles. The coup de grace is their butterfly farm, which houses butterflies and exotic insects that will amaze kids and adults alike. Adults should definitely make a visit to the butterfly sanctuary – it’s not just for kids!”

Additionally, families can come together to enjoy a hike to La Abuela, a legendary five-hundred-year-old tree. Ultimately, the natural world of Mandarina is sure to fascinate children and adults alike. Between the enormous ropes courses, playrooms, nature center, amphitheater, ziplining, horseback riding, hiking and biking trails, archery, paddle boarding, polo lessons, surfing, and SUP – kids will never be bored. This is why three days really isn’t enough here; we recommend a five to seven-night stay for families.

If guests want to go off-property and explore the surroundings, what are some of their options?

Rachel weighs in, “Outside of the natural beauty we found in this part of Mexico, we spent a half day visiting two nearby towns, Sayulita and San Pancho – two prime examples of clear Spanish architecture and influence. Just half an hour from the property, you can enjoy the best tacos and chocolate tastings in these two towns! Sayulita is full of artisans and surf culture built on top of a beautiful combination of Mexican and Spanish cultures. Meanwhile, San Pancho remains a quiet haven for artisans and locals without the nightlife. It was a great way to immerse ourselves in the local side of Nayarit. You can book either of these personalized experiences with your SmartFlyer travel advisor.”

Contact your SmartFlyer travel advisor to book your next stay in paradise.

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