Mar de Jade (Puerto Vallarta tel. 322/222-1171 or 327/219-4060, Chacala tel. 327/209-4060 or 327/209-4070, fax 327/209-4080, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/257-0532, www.mardejade.com ), the holistic-style living center at the south end of Playa Chacala, offers some unique alternatives. Laura del Valle, Mar de Jade’s personable and dynamic physician/founder, has worked steadily since the early 1980s building living facilities and a learning center while simultaneously establishing a local health clinic. Now, Mar de Jade offers Spanish-language and volunteer programs for people who enjoy the tropics but want to do more than laze in the sun. A major thrust is interaction with local people. Spanish, for example, is the preferred language at the dinner table.
Previous visitors will notice, however, that Mar de Jade has headed upscale. Once, its lodgings were thatched adobe and brick or spartan apartments. Now, semi-deluxe and deluxe lodgings nestled into a flowery, jungle-like hillside garden complex accommodate guests. The approximately 30 rooms and spacious suites are simply but elegantly decorated with designer rustic tile, pastel-toned drapes and bedspreads, and interior touches of wood and stucco. Stone pathways lead to the beachside main center, which consists of a dining room, kitchen, offices, library, and classroom overlooking the sea.
While Mar de Jade’s purpose is serious, it has nothing against visitors who do want to laze in the sun, beach comb, and soak in the beachfront pool and whirlpool tub. Mar de Jade invites travelers to make reservations and stay as long as they like, for about $140 per person, double occupancy (for the simplest accommodations), to about $175 (for the deluxe master suites), November–April, including three meals a day, tax, and gratuity. Children with parents stay for about $30 each. Low season May–October rates run about 25 percent less. Discounts may be negotiable for stays of three weeks or longer.
The core educational program is a three-week Spanish course (fee about $300 for three weeks), although it does offer one- and two-week options for those who can’t stay the full three weeks. Volunteer work-study programs, such as organic gardening, kitchen assistance, carpentry, maintenance, arts-and-crafts instruction, and teaching English might be arranged. Sometimes participants volunteer to join staff in local work, such as at the medical clinic or on construction projects.
Civil engineer and builder José Enrique del Valle, who owns the jungle-forest parcel above Mar de Jade, has worked hard to put his land to good use. His dream-come-true, Majahua Spa Bed and Breakfast (tel. 327/219-4053, 327/219-4054, or 327/219-4055, www.majahua.com ), now regularly receives guests. José and his several staff members offer four luxuriously rustic and private accommodations, an open-air restaurant, and a sprinkling of spa services. The four lodgings, which blend artfully into the verdant tropical-forested hillside, are all lovingly designed and hand-built of stucco and tile, with various sleeping options (that include double, king-size, and kid-size beds), modern standard baths, and luxurious thatched palapa roofs.
Accommodations vary from the La Puerta honeymoon suite just above the restaurant and move upward, through mid-sized double suites A and B to the airy top-level view “penthouse” palapa suite C, big enough for five. In the middle, a small spa section offers massage, facials, and aromatherapy. High-season (Dec. 1–May 30) rates begin at about $130 for two, and run upward to about $350 for the big “penthouse” palapa suite. All lodging prices include breakfast.
For his more active guests, José offers to lead (or get a guide to lead) all-day wildlife-viewing and hiking excursions, including to a nearby extinct volcano (elev. 750 ft) crater lake.
José, along with the help of many others, notably Susana Escobido, have led Chacala’s transition from a drowsy subsistence fishing village to a growing tourist destination. Now, with the help of many U.S. and Canadian volunteers, Chacala people, under the umbrella of the national Techos de Mexico (Roofs of Mexico) program, have built modern-standard tourist accommodations into their homes. They invite travelers to come and stay at very reasonable rates, ranging $20–40 for two, sometimes including breakfast.
All the following home-grown budget lodgings, unless otherwise noted, can be reserved either by telephone or by email. The growing list now includes: Casa Gracia (tel. 327/219-4021 or 327/219-4067, sescobido [at] aol [dot] com); Casa Aurora (tel. 327/219-4027 or 327/219-4067, sescobido [at] aol [dot] com, $35–45), which has four rooms, fan, sea view, and parking; Casa Beatriz (tel. 327/219-4005), which has two rooms, fan, sea view, and parking; Casa Doña Lupe (alatawah [at] gmail [dot] com), which has one lovely room, fan, sea view, and parking; and Casa Concha (tel. 327/219-4019, conchaguanahani_234 [at] hotmail [dot] com, $25–35), which has three rooms, fan, sea view, and parking.
Chacala is a small village; all of the above are within three blocks of the beach and excellent fresh seafood palapa restaurants. For much more Chacala information, visit www.playachacala.com , www.casapacificachacala.com , or http://chacalabudgetrentals.blogspot.com/ .
Although not part of the Techos de Mexico, the Hotel las Brisas (tel. 327/219-4015, www.lasbrisaschacala.com ) is locally owned and operated. The rooms (sheltered beneath the rustic palapa of a good beachfront restaurant) could be heaven for beach-lovers, smack on the lovely Chacala beachfront. The nine smallish accommodations, mostly all upstairs, are conveniently removed from restaurant hubbub below. They are attractively decorated in pastels, with private baths, air-conditioning, cable TV, and in-house wireless Internet. Rentals run about $45 nightly; $35/night is the monthly rate. Get your winter reservations early.
Besides helping lead the Chacala community, sparkplug Susana Escobido offers her own lodging, the lovely seaview Casa Pacífica (tel. 327/219-4067, local Chacala cell 044-327/102-0861, U.S. tel. 760/300-3908, www.casapacificachacala.com ). Choose from three invitingly comfortable modern-standard rooms with fan, hot-water shower bath, and breakfast. Rentals run $60–70 d high season, $50 d low, with no breakfast low season. Extras include Susana’s airy Mauna Kea Restaurant (busy, especially for the great breakfasts, high season, closed low) on a breezy sunset-view hillside above petite Chacalilla Bay.