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Beautiful Costa de Oro

July 12, 1987|WILLIAM KRAUS and BARBARA KRAUS | The Krauses are San Luis Obispo free-lance writers. and

COSTA CAREYES, Mexico — If you missed Paris in the '20s, Waikiki in the '40s and Puerto Vallarta in the '60s, not to worry. It's not too late to catch the cutting edge of life in the parking lane on the Costa de Oro.

The Costa de Oro is a 150-mile stretch of the Mexican Riviera that begins about two hours south of Puerto Vallarta, where Highway 200 rejoins the sea at isolated Costa Careyes. It winds up in Barra de Navidad about an hour north of Manzanillo.

It is a land of wildly beautiful rock-bound coves and long, white beaches, of coconut plantations hovering over banana groves, of tiny pueblos and desolate cattle ranches. Waters from the Sierra Madre spill into lush rivers, and white heron poise on water hyacinth and myriad green small lagoons lying just behind the shore.

Three Reasons to Visit

Until this stretch of the Pan American Highway opened in 1974, you could only get here by horse or foot or boat, which was OK because there was no reason to come anyway. Today there are reasons. Three of them.

In the north is the Costa Careyes, in the middle Bahia de Tenecatita and in the south Barra de Navidad. Each is as different as a margarita is from a shot of tequila.

Three small but spectacular rock-bound coves--Playa Blanca, Playa Rosa and Playa Careyes--huddle to form the Costa Careyes. About 15 years ago Italian financier Gian Franco Brignone bought the entire Costa Careyes and then sold the north cove to Club Med, which was first on the scene with Club Med Playa Blanca.

Brignone then turned his energies toward developing the resort village, including Hotel Playa Careyes, later adding casitas on the point next door and villas on the bluff.

Horseshoe-shaped and tucked into a natural coconut grove on the beach, the hotel resembles a waterfront village on a Greek island, Lesbos maybe, with ocher and sienna houses all stuck together in haphazard harmony. Rooms ($66 double) and one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchens ($75-$130) are simply but comfortably furnished with Mexican pieces against a ground of whitewash and tile.

Mesmerized by the Sea

Luxury takes its place in the two- and three-bedroom casitas ($200-$300), all with kitchens, some with their own pool. With a few books and the right partner, one could be very happy in one of these casitas for a long time, mesmerized by the sea.

But you have to take the Careyes on its own terms--no clocks anywhere, no phones in the rooms or room service, European dining hours, 8 to 10:30 a.m., 2 to 4 p.m. and 8 to 11 p.m., with sandwiches and nachos available from the pool-side bar all day.

Kitchens have been shorn of all equipment, and a request for cups and a small pan sends shudders through the reception people. Never mind, the stoves work and you can pack your own pan for that morning cup of coffee. TV is unheard of.

So who comes here? People who cherish seclusion amid stunning natural beauty, about equal parts French and Italians, Mexican professionals and Americans. Top European and American fashion magazines like to photograph haute couture against the luscious colors and textures of the Careyes and its gorgeous beaches.

And turtles. Careyes means turtle. Locals like their illegal meat and fancy the eggs as an aphrodisiac.

What do you do around here? Not much, if you're in tune. There is a seductive serenity about this place that seeps in about the second or third day. You find yourself doing more gazing at the little red and yellow pangas bobbing in the bay, shedding kinks in the spirit.

Sign On With Bertrand

But if busy yourself you must, you can sign on with tall, curly-headed Bertrand from Paris, to go out in one of his pangas in search of dorado--"only two poles to a boat!"--that the chef will cook for your dinner.

Or you can play tennis, ride a horse along the surf, take a panga out to Bird Island, go snorkeling in these incredibly clear waters or go scuba diving. Bertrand is qualified to teach you how.

That's about it. A Robert Trent Jones golf course is still in the planning stages.

Over on the Playa Rosa is a little thatched-roof house called Playa Rosa, the only house on the beach. A lively blonde from Avignon serves wondrous things from "around 10 till whenever." It's an easy walk over.

Up on the bluff is a French bistro called Chez Roger doing dinners only. But we were too content to bestir ourselves, hanging around the Careyes, watching El Sol go down just west of our margaritas in great tassles of watermelon, mango and papaya. Good fresh fish gracefully served under a coconut palm beside the bay, with wavelets doing double duty as dinner musicians, was more than we could ask for. Phone (800) 227-0212.

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