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Casona Sforza

A hotel with a story as beautiful as its design.

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ON THE VAST and sparkling coast of Puerto Escondido, nine arches rise from the sand like Roman aqueducts. Outlined against the sky, these soaring golden scallops seem like they’ve been here since the beginning of time. This is Casona Sforza, a new 11-room hotel in Mexico’s state of Oaxaca with a mission as beautiful as its form.

To get to the hotel, I fly into Puerto Escondido from Mexico City and take a 25-minute taxi ride that ends with a slow crawl through tight, dusty back roads. Jostling in the sticky backseat, I gaze out of my window as we roll deeper into the remote countryside, and a thought creeps into my head: Is this place even real?

When we finally arrive at a tall bamboo gate, porters come out to greet me. The first thing I notice is the monochromatic color scheme. The ivories, creams, ecrus, beeches — shades of cooling lightness all around — are the same colors as the surrounding bleached sand and stone landscape. Dazed, I gaze up in my heavy, sweaty black travel clothes. This is most definitely real.

Designed by famed Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, the arches of the property before me are grouped into two sets. The first set of four arches houses the lounge, bar, and restaurant, which overlooks the infinity pool — an aquamarine circle of saltwater. Wide steps hug one side of the perimeter in a series of subtle concentric circles. This detailing evokes a sense of the organic, as if it's a naturally occurring body of water. Once inside, I am in awe of the pool's sheer size. Taking wide, broad strokes from one side to the other feels exquisitely athletic.

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The interiors (designed by Mexico City studio MOB) feature locally sourced furniture, textiles, and ceramics. There is a softness everywhere, a tactile woven feel that counterbalances the hardness of the brick structure. When a breeze rolls in from the sea, the fringe, rope, and reed of intricate hanging lamps, the lace-like hammocks, the iridescent curtains, and the shapely leaves of potted plants — all dance in a lulling rhythm. And when the sun shines especially bright, the water in the pool casts a pattern along the curved arches above.

A long walkway, veined in the center by a stream of water, connects these arches to a group of five others: these are the rooms. Sleeping beneath the double-height curved brick ceiling is an experience as monastic as it is luxurious. The room’s materiality and shape call to mind Europe’s ancient cathedrals, castles, and fortresses. Then, flinging open the doors to a spectacular balcony with a hammock and seating area overlooking the crashing Pacific, one is reminded of geography once again. The grand arch of the ceiling is echoed elsewhere: in a full-length oval mirror on the dresser and an imperfect globular one in the bathroom, surrounded by warm circular lights.

On my first night, I drift off to the lingering smell of incense and a citronella candle in a cool, buttery bed placed in the center of the room. The next day, I wake up early to the technicolor outlines made by the morning light. Piling into my soft balcony hammock, I swing through the cool air to the sound of birdsong, nearly dozing off once again.

During my stay, fellow guests appear beautiful and vaguely bohemian. So do the staff. Hoops, delicate line tattoos, and man buns are everywhere. Writing from a high, golden wood table by the bar, I hear Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English. The servers and bartenders convey a casual friendliness — quietly attentive yet relaxed enough that I often overhear laughter and playful storytelling. The atmosphere feels exceptionally intimate: I am always called by my first name when brought a plate of food or drink. Anna, one especially thoughtful member of Casona Sforza, wears the staff uniform on top (long, flowing white linens with a barely visible headset) but her socks bear the delightful print of marijuana leaves. She floats through the hotel with neon cat-eye liner, softly checking in on each guest like the hippest of spirit guides.

On the first night of my stay, I sit down with the hotel’s general manager, Olivier Janiky, and his successor-to-be, Ivan Mondragón Ortega. As we nestle into low couches over smoky, tangy mezcal and carambola (star fruit) cocktails, they tell me about the story behind Casona Sforza. It turns out there’s far more than meets the eye.


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It all began with a community project in the Sierra of Oaxaca called Pueblo del Sol, started by entrepreneur Ezequiel Ayarza Sforza to preserve the artisanal traditions of Indigenous Oaxacans. When the project needed funding, Sforza decided to turn the home he was constructing for himself into a small hotel that could help support Pueblo del Sol remain sustainable and community based.

“One hundred percent of the hotel’s earnings go to Pueblo del Sol,” says Janiky. The space also acts as the community’s biggest client. From the ceramics to the coffee, the soaps to the wood furniture, all products are made by Pueblo del Sol’s Indigenous artisans. In this way, Casona Sforza is not so much a hotel as it is a vehicle for preserving Indigenous land, community, and craft.

While a big part of Pueblo del Sol is about opportunity, it’s also about security. “The artisans have job security and community protection,” explains Ortega, “keeping these Indigenous people in control of their own land.” Their wellness is also prioritized, with meditation and ritual practices from their cultures serving as an important part of the community’s offerings.

My favorite Pueblo del Sol crafts in the hotel are the dreamy soaps. Made with 60% honey from the community’s beehives, their intoxicating fragrance and deliciously gooey texture make showering and handwashing feel like the sweetest luxury. Knowing now what it’s like to literally bathe in raw honey, I wonder how I’ll ever wash with anything else again.

Continuing down the path of sensory pleasures, the food is excellent, with the restaurant run by Argentinian chef Augusto Flamini. Menu items center around freshly caught local fish, along with regional classics like rich mole oaxaqueño for dinner and silky huevos rancheros for breakfast. Also notable are cultural fusions like Nikkei-style ceviche, sashimi, nigiri (served with sweet-sour pickled cucumbers, ginger, soy sauce, and chili oil), and Peruvian-style papas a la huancaína: creamy potatoes with olives and eggs.

On my second evening, I sit cross-legged on the plush dove-gray daybeds on the beach for “the show” — the glowing sunset for which Casona Sforza has a front-row seat. There seems to be a beach-wide sundown spectacle for a half-hour in the early evening, a chance to pause and soak in the Puerto Escondido sunset in all its orange-red-purple splendor. All along the coast, folks — and even dogs — gather for the same view. It’s breathtaking.

When I walk back along the path to the hotel, I see the space anew in its evening attire — candles lit all around the property, punctuating the night like bits of glowing amber. In the background is Casona Sforza’s omnipresent music — synthy and mystical. Tropical beats flow into remixed indie, soul, and funk, harmonizing with the hum of international chatter. I think back to my first evening. Going between English and Spanish, my dinner conversation with Janiky and Ortega became an accent salad as the night went on: Janiky’s French tinged (he’s from Reunión Island), Ortega’s Mexican (no doubt slowed down for my benefit), and the Argentinian sh pronunciation of the double “ll” later brought by Chef Flamini. Along with the ever-present sigh of the waves and the bump of the beats, it was the sweetest mix of notes — and a reminder that the most beautiful places are often made by the people behind them.

Where to Eat and Play in Puerto Escondido

Departures editor Sophie Mancini’s favorite spots around Casona Sforza.

  • Playa Carrizalillo

    Down a winding flight of stone stairs is a small, beautiful beach with crystal-clear water protected within a cove — ideal for beginner surfing and long lunches. Hang out on some lounge chairs (300 pesos per day for two chairs) at one of the many beach shacks. My favorite things to order: pulpo al ajillo (tender octopus in garlic sauce), clamatos (beer with ice, Clamato juice, salsa, lime, and a spicy salted rim), and a coco frío (cold coconut hacked open with a machete). Ask the server to “sacar la carne” — cut out the soft coconut meat and get it “con sal y limón.” Here you’ll also find a woman named Sonya, who walks the beach with her arms layered in pearls and hand-strung beaded necklaces. Each goes for about 300 pesos and she can shorten to any length you want. Ask to look at yourself in the little espejo (mirror) that she keeps in her fanny pack.

  • Helados Palma Negra

    After a swim in Playa Carrizalillo and a sweaty walk back up the endless stairs, I loved getting a fruit pop at this little ice cream shop along a strip of shops and restaurants. There are plenty of gloriously refreshing flavors to choose from, but my favorite was the maracuya (passion fruit) mango studded with star fruit. I walked along the strip, dipping in and out of little boutiques as it melted down my face and quenched my thirst.

  • Chicama

    Also in La Punta is a delicious Peruvian restaurant with a lively, intoxicating atmosphere. Order the ceviche, which comes swimming in lime and spicy sauces. Semi-cooked in these natural acids, the fish is cold, tender, and served with fun sides of crunchy popped corn and soft sweet potato. The floor is sand. All the waiters are lovely and also all seem to be from Argentina. Try their jengibre, or ginger cocktail, and sway at your table to the reggaeton.

  • Almoraduz

    Run by two Oaxacan chefs, Quetzalcoatl Zurita and Shalxaly Macías, the cuisine here is absolutely inspired and stands up to any in a big-city restaurant. Meals begin with tostadas and various spicy, smoky, citric salsas. Next comes a little gift from the chefs: a rich esquite broth in a shot glass. For the mains, I loved the infladita de chorizo verde (a meaty pile with plantain puree) and the tortellini relleno de camote (dripping in a mushroom sauce with thick oyster mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and delicate squash blossoms). The risotto de coliflor rostizada (in a luscious sauce with bits of salty pork belly) was not to be missed, nor was the lechón confitado (a hunk of tender pork under crispy skin with mole and sweet potato puree).

  • Savanna

    At the tip of La Punta is a sun-soaked eatery with a gorgeous, covered rooftop terrace looking out onto the beach. On the ground floor are sunken couches, where tattooed travelers who work remotely post up with their laptops. To eat, I enjoyed the col asada — a cabbage dish drowning in a savory sauce with crunchy quinoa bits. Post-meal, try their carajillo, an iced drink made from coffee and Licor 43. Not too sweet with a light foam on top, it’s the perfect energy booster — to return later in the evening for their DJ nights.

  • Lychee

    Lychee’s Thai fare is a delightful change of pace in a sea of Mexican food. The space is sexy, with low glossy wood tables and honey-hued lanterns under a palapa roof. It’s also home to what I have concluded is my favorite cocktail on earth: La Caribeña. With passion fruit, pineapple, and some other delightful concoction of tropical flavors, ask for it “menos dulce.” It tastes like vacation. The papaya salad is fresh. The green curry with shrimp reminds me of a comforting bowl I’d order in the East Village.

  • Playa Carrizalillo

    Down a winding flight of stone stairs is a small, beautiful beach with crystal-clear water protected within a cove — ideal for beginner surfing and long lunches. Hang out on some lounge chairs (300 pesos per day for two chairs) at one of the many beach shacks. My favorite things to order: pulpo al ajillo (tender octopus in garlic sauce), clamatos (beer with ice, Clamato juice, salsa, lime, and a spicy salted rim), and a coco frío (cold coconut hacked open with a machete). Ask the server to “sacar la carne” — cut out the soft coconut meat and get it “con sal y limón.” Here you’ll also find a woman named Sonya, who walks the beach with her arms layered in pearls and hand-strung beaded necklaces. Each goes for about 300 pesos and she can shorten to any length you want. Ask to look at yourself in the little espejo (mirror) that she keeps in her fanny pack.

  • Almoraduz

    Run by two Oaxacan chefs, Quetzalcoatl Zurita and Shalxaly Macías, the cuisine here is absolutely inspired and stands up to any in a big-city restaurant. Meals begin with tostadas and various spicy, smoky, citric salsas. Next comes a little gift from the chefs: a rich esquite broth in a shot glass. For the mains, I loved the infladita de chorizo verde (a meaty pile with plantain puree) and the tortellini relleno de camote (dripping in a mushroom sauce with thick oyster mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and delicate squash blossoms). The risotto de coliflor rostizada (in a luscious sauce with bits of salty pork belly) was not to be missed, nor was the lechón confitado (a hunk of tender pork under crispy skin with mole and sweet potato puree).

  • Helados Palma Negra

    After a swim in Playa Carrizalillo and a sweaty walk back up the endless stairs, I loved getting a fruit pop at this little ice cream shop along a strip of shops and restaurants. There are plenty of gloriously refreshing flavors to choose from, but my favorite was the maracuya (passion fruit) mango studded with star fruit. I walked along the strip, dipping in and out of little boutiques as it melted down my face and quenched my thirst.

  • Savanna

    At the tip of La Punta is a sun-soaked eatery with a gorgeous, covered rooftop terrace looking out onto the beach. On the ground floor are sunken couches, where tattooed travelers who work remotely post up with their laptops. To eat, I enjoyed the col asada — a cabbage dish drowning in a savory sauce with crunchy quinoa bits. Post-meal, try their carajillo, an iced drink made from coffee and Licor 43. Not too sweet with a light foam on top, it’s the perfect energy booster — to return later in the evening for their DJ nights.

  • Chicama

    Also in La Punta is a delicious Peruvian restaurant with a lively, intoxicating atmosphere. Order the ceviche, which comes swimming in lime and spicy sauces. Semi-cooked in these natural acids, the fish is cold, tender, and served with fun sides of crunchy popped corn and soft sweet potato. The floor is sand. All the waiters are lovely and also all seem to be from Argentina. Try their jengibre, or ginger cocktail, and sway at your table to the reggaeton.

  • Lychee

    Lychee’s Thai fare is a delightful change of pace in a sea of Mexican food. The space is sexy, with low glossy wood tables and honey-hued lanterns under a palapa roof. It’s also home to what I have concluded is my favorite cocktail on earth: La Caribeña. With passion fruit, pineapple, and some other delightful concoction of tropical flavors, ask for it “menos dulce.” It tastes like vacation. The papaya salad is fresh. The green curry with shrimp reminds me of a comforting bowl I’d order in the East Village.

Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.

Ana Hop Photographer

Born in Mexico City, Ana Hop is a photographer whose work focuses on portraiture defined by her use of natural light and the intimacy she is able to achieve with her subjects.

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