Just look at this scenery, at these perfectly formed bays," says developer Gian Franco Brignone. "Where in the world would you find something as beautiful as this?" This is the Costa Alegre, two hours south of Puerto Vallarta, where, 35 years ago, Brignone bought 7,000 acres of lush, untouched land with unarguably some of the most ravishing views of ocean and cliff along the Pacific Coast. The exclusive development that Brignone created, Costa Careyes, is now a collection of private villas—multicolored, whimsical architectural showplaces—available to rent. And it's not alone: 45 minutes to the south is the beachfront preserve El Tamarindo, 2,000 acres of junglelike terrain encompassing a group of private luxury residences. Similarly, the peninsula of Punta Mita, a half-hour north of Vallarta, has a few new houses with nearly unobstructed views (except for a Four Seasons Resort) of the craggy coastline overlooking the Bay of Banderas. We went in search of the most spectacular villas for rent along this stretch of Mexico's western shore and found no shortage of breathtaking properties. Here are five of the best.
Las Conchas, Costa Careyes
What this hilltop villa lacks in space and luxury it quite makes up for in sheer exuberance. It's like something out of a child's fantasy, with an electric-blue tower topped by the house flag, a huge circular palapa (the vaulted-ceilinged room with a thatched roof that is a design requirement at Careyes), an infinity pool, and cozy lounge hidden away by gauzy fabric panels. The three whitewashed bedrooms are decorated with just a few pieces, such as colorful wall-size paintings or local earthenware pots. The view from the roof deck sweeps across surrounding hills dotted with other vividly painted houses, and extends to the sea. There's a cook in residence, but there is also a good restaurant down the hill on Playa Rosa beach. The only problem: As much as children would love it here, the villa isn't childproof, as the tower has several insufficient guardrails. Rates, $1,200 per night in high season; $900 per night in low season. Four-night minimum. On de la Carretera Barra de Navidad-Puerto Vallarta. Contact Costa Careyes, 52-315-351-0240; www.careyes.com.mx.
Casa Dos Estrellas, Costa Careyes
Luciana and Michael Solomon (he's a movie producer; she's actress Luciana Paluzzi, best known as a flame-haired Bond villain in Thunderball) built their house with one thing in mind: "We wanted it to be fun," says Luciana, who decorated with vivid orange, red, and pink fabrics and canary-yellow and turquoise walls. She also added a bocce court, a pool table, and Ping-Pong. It's the perfect party house, with its broad palapa and quirky, multilevel layout (rooms and lounges are tucked into every level; the levels are connected by steps, which lead down to the private beach). And the cook, Irene, is considered one of the area's best. The only drawback is the six bedrooms and bathrooms: They are more plainly decorated and inexpensively done, with basic furniture and indoor-outdoor carpeting, than the common areas. Rates, $56,000 a week in high season; $35,000 a week in low season; includes two maids, a cook, and a driver. On de la Carretera Barra de Navidad-Puerto Vallarta. Contact Overseas Connection, 888-728-4552; www.villasoftheworld.com.
Casa Juanita, Punta Mita
Eventually the grounds surrounding the nearby (and quite fabulous) Four Seasons Resort will be filled with residential estates, but for now, Casa Juanita has the bay views to itself. In order to take it all in, owners Joan and Gordon Edwards, along with architect Jorge Chavez, built a 6,500-square-foot house that's almost entirely open-air. Two of the three bedrooms have handmade cajoba wood doors that open to bay views, and the living room is wall-less under a traditional Mexican thatched roof. The interior, a mix of native antiques and folk art, is a showcase for Joan's finds from local shops and craftsmen: hand-painted tiles from Tonala, an antique table for making tortillas from Oaxaca, and a sumptuous rosewood marquetry dining table from Tlaquepaque. Even the sinks are beautiful, made from unvarnished pink stone called ticul. There is a beach club designed for the development's residents, and because the house is on the grounds of the Four Seasons, guests may use its facilities, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. During winter, migrating whales swim within viewing distance of the beach. Rates, $2,200 per night in high season; $1,500 per night in low season, including maids and a cook. Five-night minimum. $ At the Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita; 52-329-291-6435. Contact Villas and Apartments Abroad, 212-759-1025; www.vaanyc.com.
La Cruz, El Tamarindo Estates
La Cruz is a striking contemporary villa by architect Ricardo Legorreta and designer Marilu Hernandez, using stacked rectangles with triangular edges painted Creamsicle orange. Many of the interior walls are fuchsia, and there's a swimming pool in the shape of a cross. Despite its geometric lines and bright colors, the 20,450-square-foot house feels very calm, in part because of its inclusion of nature: indoor fountains and pools with stones and running water, large boulders used indoors as decoration, expansive open decks, wall cutouts to the outdoors, and colors that change with the position of the sun. The designers also used rich natural materials, such as dark verdesillo wood for the floors and honey-colored parota wood for the doors and window frames. The views from La Cruz—over the cliffs and ocean—are spectacular, and similar to those from the site of the newest Amanresort, scheduled to be built nearby next year. There are four bedrooms in the main house, including one with an outdoor tub set in an exterior wall and suspended in midair; another private room in a separate bungalow; and two smaller staff bedrooms (the staff at La Cruz are especially attentive and professional). Rates, $3,500 per night, including meals and a staff of four. $ On de la Carretera Barra de Navidad-Puerto Vallarta. Contact Arianne Eternod, 52-315-351-5032; www.grupoplan.com.
Las Gaviotas, Costa Banderas
Alice Willfong and her late husband, Donald, wanted their villa, Las Gaviotas, to look as if they had "stumbled across some stone ruins and decided to build around them," says Willfong, who is a partner in the Los Angeles design gallery Quatrain. Willfong commissioned Guadalajaran architect Juan Munguia to design the six-building, 10,000-square-foot complex that feels exactly like an old Mexican hacienda brought into the 21st century. The living room has arched portals of local stone, pale-pink onyx wall sconces, a ceiling painted to look like the Alhambra in Spain, and a cabinet created from an intricately carved wooden door salvaged from a 17th-century Mexican convent. The room is also divided into indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor sections by a glass wall in the style of I.M. Pei's Louvre pyramid. The four bedrooms are done in white and natural wood; the kitchen has pink ticul counters and blond primavera-wood cabinetry. The infinity pool is one of the best we have seen—a cliffside triangle that reaches out to the sea and the mountains beyond. Rates, $1,600 per night, including maid service and a cook. $ At El Farallon, about 15 minutes south of Punta Mita. Contact Grace Kim, 310-205-7795.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.