Health & Wellness Retreats

Global retreats and journeys that enrich the mind, heal the body, and inspire the spirit.

Health Habitravels – Past Luxury Adventure Travel Destinations

Careyes Journey Notes

WHERE WAS I? In Costa Careyes, Mexico: or to quote one of the group of women who were with me—”A place as close to Nirvana as you can imagine.”

Careyes is a secluded enclave boasting several castles and 40 villas, located three hour’s drive south of the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco. Mariachi, a form of folk music associated the world over with Mexican culture, originated in southern Jalisco in the late 19th century. It grew up with the revolution, using instruments introduced to the New World by Spaniards, but the songs honored Mexican revolutionaries who were opposed to Spanish rule. If you frequent Mexican restaurants, Mariachis dressed in charro suits have probably crooned these lyrics to you…”Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Tu Tienes el alma mas Mexicana…” which translates in English to “Guadaljara, Guadaljara, You have the most Mexican soul. Written by Jose (Pepe)Guizar, around 1937, it’s a prideful song dedicated to Jalisco’s capital city.

We were six days in Careyes, and by day three of the most relaxing retreat in memory, the group had voted unanimously to return next year, around the same time, to the same place ( If you’re looking for the perfect spot to decompress this is it! If you come along with us next year you’ll fly into Manzanillo, and drive 90 minutes up the coast. There’s a small, designed to be missed “Careyes” road sign. According to founder, Gian Franco Brignone, an innovative architect from Torino Italy, Careyes is a “guarded secret only known by special people,” and residents would like to keep it that way. But that may change as Brignone sold his El Careyes hotel to the Starwood chain, and KCRW membership drive’s recent sweepstakes offered an El Careyes Hotel vacation. The hotel is lovely, but cannot compare to the villas. We were in one up on the cliff, truly away from it all. No phones, no internet, no TV, plenty of room for each of us to have privacy, and no other people around to disrupt the tranquility. It is a place where there’s enough serenity to allow hibernating souls and spirits to wake up and never want to leave again.

Brignone discovered this bit of heaven while flying over the Costa Alegra (Happy Coast) in 1968. There was nothing there, which allowed him to realize his vision of a sophisticated, yet completely at ease, tropical version of minimalist Italian resort town San Gimignano, the way it was a half century ago. He set about building his signature style castles and villas, which have been showcased numerous times in Architectural Digest, and were recently featured in Town and Country Travel. The homes grow right out of the environment, utilizing existing cactus as part of the design, and maximizing exposure to nature as much as possible, while still providing shelter, comfort and luxury. Two story high Strangler figs (trunks of enormous snake like vines that parasitize large, long lived trees in Central and South America) support Palapa roofs where Geikos chirp and nest. Balmy breezes waft through whimsical Mediterranean and Moroccan inspired open air salons, and over rooftop beds, where you can stretch out at night and glimpse rings around the full moon. I did that. Some of the group spent full nights on the outdoor beds, listening to the nearby ocean waves, and waking to sunrise flights of flocks of exotic birds. It was like being a subject in a masterpiece where Rousseau and Matisse had successfully collaborated—fanciful and primal all at once. And the views—whether you were gazing over the edge of the infinity pool at the solitary luxury yacht anchored in the cove’s turquoise waters, just off the shore of the palm strewn deserted beach below—or ogling the moon rise above the commanding candelabras cacti for which our villas is named—it was all perfectly executed. All the villas, casistas and castles that jewel the cliffs and hills are ripe colored: juicy melon, tropical bird blue, tangy mango yellow. The beaches bleed into jungles where crocodiles roam. Polo ponies take daily runs along the shore, which keeps them ready for frequented tournaments played by the International polo set at the polo club, where games are regularly played during the dry season.

Many Europeans and Americans have settled in Careyes, with the most common languages spoken being Italian, English French and Spanish. The rich and famous come to be away from it all. They’re attracted to the tranquility, and exclusivity, and the respect for nature. In addition to being a human hide away, Careyes is a turtle sanctuary. In fact Careyes means tortoise, and Costa Careyes is the Turtle Coast. On private Teopa Beach the eggs of four different species of sea turtles are guarded and nurtured by scientists. July to November people can view the turtles’ lifecycle, from breeding to nesting to hatching. The hatchlings are released on the beach, and instinctively head to the Pacific. Sadly only about 3% of them survive, but the work done at the Teopa sanctuary is waging a worthy battle against their extinction.

Brignone, believes in enjoying and celebrating life, and his community’s most popular holiday is Chinese New Year. Last week the Year of the Monkey ended, and we’re now in the Year of the Rooster—when confidence, independence and dramatic flair will pay off for those who dare. Brirgnone dared to create a charmed utopia, which offers both serenity and dramatic flair. It is a place where you sink into the vibrant beauty of the surroundings, and find the calm within, and even if you’re only there for a few days – out of that calm comes a clearer sense of what really matters, and how best to live a life of daring independence and productivity.

The 2006 Careyes retreat will be a full week. I’ll announce the exact dates soon. There are ONLY 18 spaces available. Cost: $1,800, DB OCC., with single occupancy available upon request. Optional one-on-one life coaching sessions with the vibrant Veronica Raya, a Professional Life Coach from Moraga California, will be offered. Learn more about Ms. Raya at

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