Down Mexico Way

Courtesy Hacienda San Angel
/ Source: Forbes

Puerto Vallarta is a place that manages to pull off the neat trick of being one of Mexico's top tourist attractions while maintaining a charming Old World ambience.

Nowhere in Vallarta is this more exemplified than at the Hacienda San Angel, a nine-suite boutique hotel secreted away on a street high above the Pacific beaches. As visually stunning as it is hospitable, the Hacienda is an ideal base for enjoying all that Vallarta has to offer, including the Puerto Vallarta Film Festival, which launched this year and will continue each fall.

Film also plays an important role in the history of the Hacienda. In 1977, it was a Valentine's Day gift from Welsh actor Richard Burton to his then-wife, Susan Hunt, which they dubbed Bur-sus (for "Burton" and "Susan"). From the street, the unassuming stucco facade appears no different from those of the neighboring homes on the Calle Miramar. Behind the heavy wooden doors, however, is a courtyard filled with exotic flowering plants and a two-tiered fountain.

On the left, the main villa's arched ceiling shelters an outdoor lounge where guests can relax and, every evening, consume drinks and snacks during cocktail hour. To the right, through an archway, is one of the Hacienda's two heated swimming pools, and beyond the fountain there is a grassy courtyard that leads to several of the hotel's suites, which are hidden away among stairways, cascading foliage and pungent explosions of bougainvillea. After entering the Hacienda San Angel, you could be forgiven for not leaving for the rest of your time in Puerto Vallarta.

The Hacienda makes it exceedingly easy to give in to such an inclination. Converted into its present incarnation by owner and hostess Janice Chatterton, who bought Villa Bur-sus from Hunt in 1990 (along with the surrounding homes, which became the guest rooms), the Hacienda boasts suites that are as spacious as they are comfortable. Wide Spanish tile covers the floor, large windows open out on balconies that provide expansive views of the hilly coast, and handsome antiques--from Mexico and elsewhere--are juxtaposed with modern conveniences like remote-control cable TVs, DVD players (as well as the hotel's extensive DVD library), air conditioning and purified water. An unintended and endearing touch is provided by the tiny lizards that dart along the bathroom walls.

Guests have two options for breakfast: a free continental variety, with warm pastries, yogurt and tea or coffee, delivered to your door at 8 A.M., or something ordered a la carte from a more extensive menu. Food is available almost around the clock, with the Hacienda's kitchen offering a wide variety of Mexican and pancontinental options. The kitchen also serves up some of the more bottomless and wicked mojitos in all of Vallarta, which are best enjoyed during cocktail hour. This evening tradition at the Hacienda is one of its best, allowing guests to mingle in an unforced sort of way with one another and various residents of Puerto Vallarta, which has a large ex-pat population. Conversation is typically accompanied by snacks from the kitchen, endless refills, and the antics of Chatterton's three dogs, whose rivalry for attention provides its own kind of entertainment.

Possibly the only objection a visitor could have to the Hacienda is that it's not on the beach. If the five-minute walk to Puerto Vallarta's storied boardwalk is too great a distance, visitors would do better to stay at one of the seaside resorts located north of the town's center. But while the hotel lacks beach access, it offers a priceless alternative with its open-air pools and oversized Jacuzzi, all of which offer dizzying views of Banderas Bay.

Effective Jan. 1, 2005, rates start at $150 per night.

For more information, call: 011(52) 322-222-2692 or visit

Forbes Fact

Richard Burton first came to Puerto Vallarta to film John Huston's 1964 Night of the Iguana. It was both the film and Burton's romance with Elizabeth Taylor--who came along for the shoot in part to ensure that Burton didn't get up to any mischief with co-star Ava Gardner--that transformed the formerly sleepy fishing village into a playground for the rich. The paparazzi followed Burton and Taylor everywhere during filming, and the presence of the lovers and Huston's film can still be felt all over town and the surrounding area. Cinema buffs can take a short bus down the coast to Mismaloyas Beach, where the Iguana set remains, covered in weeds and rusting eternally in the sun.