If staying in a private house is a way to feel instantly at home in a foreign place, then staying in a house that refracts the essence of that place is an even fuller initiation. These five design-forward retreats—from a cliffside beach house in Careyes to a grand hacienda outside Mérida—with their yawning courtyards and breezy lounges aren’t just seamless with their surroundings; they’re built with the same humble yet beautiful materials and techniques that have been used in their regions for eons, from the ancient Mayan stucco to volcanic stone. Plus, they’re all rentable with us.
La Tropical – Mérida, Yucatan
The place: With 400-year-old stone churches and 19th-century mansions running the length of the Paseo de Montejo, Mérida feels more European than most colonial cities in Mexico. Yet the city strongly identifies with its pre-Hispanic roots, resulting in cultural contrasts that continue to lure creative nomads to its gently crumbling haciendas and lively markets where the local Mayan dialect can still be heard.
The house: A Midcentury-modern interpretation of a traditional colonial home, La Tropical is made from the same cool, fossilized coral slabs—Coralina stone—used in buildings all over Merida. Everything about the design is meant to bring the outside in: an entire wall of the house’s single bedroom opens up to the pool, and an oversize bathtub peeps into a garden of palms. Handwoven sisal rugs woven from the region’s henequen agave plant fibers cover the floors.
While you’re there: Merida’s zocalo is a short stroll away, as is the 19th-century Teatro José Peón Contreras, one of the city’s most prized neoclassical buildings. You can finish your paseo with a palate brightener nearby at Sorbeteria Colon, which turns out tropical flavors like soursop mamey fruit, sweet avocado, and coconut ice.
Casa Ayehualco – Amatlán, near Mexico City
The place: A country getaway an hour south of Mexico City, Amatlán is a serene alternative to more thronged Cuernavaca, or Tepoztlán. It’s also supposed to be an energetically mystical spot, thanks to its Aztec lineage (it was the birthplace of the Aztec god Quezalcoatl). Divine connections aside, the surrounding landscape of forests, trails and waterfalls make for a peaceful retreat.
The house: Casa Ayehualco, built by a prominent Mexican architect renowned for his hotel and residential projects, is an homage to local materials and textures. There’s hardly anything about the six-bedroom Casa Ayehualco that isn’t endemic: the barro cocido (terra cotta), native wood, and volcanic stone offering a nod to the two volcanoes to the east of Amatlán. Built around an interlocking plan of terraces, patios, open hearths and contemplative pools, Casa Ayehualco is a collection of warm, inviting spaces poetically arranged.
While you’re there: For guests looking to tap into the wellness side of things, the owners can arrange walks to forage for native medicinal plants or organize a private local temazcal (sweat lodge). An hour and a half from Amatlán, Xochicalco is a pre-Columbian archaeological site with well-preserved Mayan pyramids.
El Palmar – Playa Grande, Oaxaca
The place: The Oaxacan coast is a long, meandering stretch of sandy shoreline where whale and dolphin sightings are common between December and April. Oaxaca’s Playa Grande, with its empty beaches and nesting leatherback sea turtles, has the extra seclusion that’s lacking in nearby Puerto Escondido.
The house: Also built and owned by the architect behind Casa Ayehualco, El Palmar is set in a coconut palm and mango grove just 1,000 feet from the ocean. Each of the five private suites has its own garden and hammock, while triangular breeze blocks channel the ocean air into outdoor lounges. The dining room, centered on an open fireplace, is the site of seafood feasts (camarones a la plancha, or ceviche with mango) served by staff hired from local villages.
While you’re there: The owners envisioned ways for guests to participate in local life, be it visiting a school to read stories or taking a cooking class. They’ll also encourage visitors to take the four-hour road trip to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, one of Mexico’s most traditional areas, where women still wear the brightly patterned dresses that Frida Kahlo famously adopted.
Tekik de Regil – outside of Merida, Yucatan
The place: Beyond Merida, the urban patina gives way to thick jungle filled with subterranean cenotes, pre-Hispanic ruins and numerous haciendas left over from an era when the region was the seat of the henequen, or sisal, trade. Some were left in ruins, while others have been restored magnificently into modern restaurants or palatial places to stay.
The house: A half-hour outside of Merida, Tekik de Regil is one of the area’s oldest and most monumental haciendas dating to the late 16th century, then renovated a century ago by the same Italian architect behind the neoclassical José Peón Contreras theater in Mérida. The current owner is a Mexican banker who’s been lauded for his careful preservation of haciendas in the Yucatán. The wealth and sophistication of the families that once called Tekik de Regil home are present everywhere on the grounds, whether you’re walking through a colonnaded archway or visiting the marble-floored chapel. Two fully staffed suites are located in the main house, where Yucatecan artist Calocho Millet created brightly colored murals depicting Yucatecan plants and wildlife.
While you’re there: For those who want a deeper look at hacienda life, Tekik de Regil isn’t far from other notable examples, such as the restored Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, which is still a working henequen farm.
Casa Ensueño – Costa Careyes, Jalisco
The place: Since the 1960’s, Costa Careyes has been a magnet for those seeking privacy along the Pacific’s rugged coastline and to experience its fantastical art installations and castle retreats—including the wonderfully eccentric, cobalt-hued Mi Ojo.
The house: Casa Ensueño is a contemporary and more subdued take on the region’s signature cliffside castles, thanks to the interior design of Antoine Ratigan and the architecture of Mexico City-born architect Alex Pössenbacher. Set on a secluded promontory near town, the five-bedroom house with palapa-topped outdoor dining areas and fluttering black hammocks is filled with thoughtfully curated pieces from regional designers, many of them—woven basket lamps and handmade bedding—drawing on traditional techniques. A 165-foot swimming pool sits along the cliff face, a fine place to watch the sunset.
While you’re there: Just one mile from the house, the palapa-roofed Playa Rosa Beach Club is the social center of Careyes, serving risottos and ceviches with fish plucked right out of the ocean that morning. For those looking to tap into Careyes’s spiritual side, the cliffside Copa del Sol, which hovers over Teopa Beach, is a monumental shell made of concrete used for meditation and sound bathing.
HOUSE CALLS: PRIOR’s Bespoke team can design a trip for your group based at any one of these houses, safely helping you explore the surroundings when you are ready to travel again. Inquire at email@example.com.
The PRIOR editorial team, overseen by David Prior, works together to write and produce stories that inspire curiosity about, and the desire to connect to, places and people across the world.