The stress and worry that accompanied me on the short plane ride down from San Diego, California disappeared the second my husband, my five-year-old daughter and I stepped into the open-air lobby of Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico.
There it was: Bahía de Banderas, a vast natural bay spanning some 60 miles of coastline. It was just as beautiful as I remembered, with its normally turquoise waters briefly tinted grey by dramatic late-afternoon clouds hovering in a bright sky. I fumbled for my camera, but my daughter was eager to rip open the bag of candy she had just been given, the first of many resort treats.
It had been seven years since our last visit to Riviera Nayarit, a 200-mile stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coastline. During that time, my father’s memory rapidly failed, at an age when some contemplate early retirement. This part of the world had been his vacation retreat, and though his memories might be fading, mine were still vivid, full of sun and mango-margarita-filled adventures with family and friends.
My reasons to return to Punta Mita were threefold: year-round bathing-suit weather; a beachfront resort with Four Seasons comfort; and a desire to visit this sentimental place with my daughter. The resort also happens to be located in a country known for cherishing family and maintaining especially tight bonds throughout generations.
We arrived without an agenda, but enthusiastically spent four days rarely separated—except for my husband’s morning ocean swims and my signature Punta Mita massage (cold tequila on knotted shoulders works wonders, trust me). My daughter developed an intense love of our elegantly appointed one-bedroom suite, eventually nicknamed “the womb” by my husband for its cocoon-like effect.
She could nibble on healthful, locally sourced in-room dining (try the fish tacos and San Blas shrimp burrito) while watching familiar TV shows. And she never hurried to vacate the suite’s heated private plunge pool, especially when it was illuminated for a swim under the stars. That was her happy place. I understood. The suite felt like home away from home, only better—it also had a giant patio hammock and a gelato cart within sprinting distance.
Outside, family paradise awaited. On inner tubes or pool noodles, we floated around the lazy river more times than I can count. Here, my daughter ordered her first cherry Icee—the empty cup brought home shells she painstakingly collected on the private beach. I floated with a margarita in hand while another guest ran against the current for exercise. Genius, I thought.
The heated Nuna pool stole my heart with its panoramic views from almost every angle. My well-traveled husband declared Nuna’s menu the best poolside food he’d ever had.
My favorite afternoon was spent snuggled up together on the beach in a shaded, plush canopy bed—between dips in the ocean. The tide was low enough to reveal minnows swimming in the tide pools along with the occasional black crab. My daughter climbed onto a small rock for a better view. As I pointed out the live barnacles beneath her feet, she leapt backwards, startled, and fell into the soft sand, nearly covering herself with it from head to toe. We all laughed, including my daughter, and for the rest of the day, we joked about the scary barnacles while we rotated through beach activities.
It turns out that when you’re rusty at Smashball, which requires that you hit a small ball back and forth with wooden paddles, attempting to teach a five-year-old provides comic relief to other beach-goers. We blamed the ball, but agreed future family time on a beach near our home in San Diego would be a must to improve our game.
Really, no place is as special to me as Bahía de Banderas. I have memories of fishing near the wildlife-rich Marieta Islands, just offshore, and exhausting my arms surfing. When I closed my eyes and listened to the rumbling of the bay, I could almost transport myself back in time… until my daughter’s giggles snapped me into present day.
Punta Mita wasn’t the same without my dad, but I felt reassured knowing new memories can be created with old memories totally intact.
As a family, we marvelled at the white spouts of humpback whales. With the help of a chef, our normally shy daughter learned to make a perfect tostada in the resort kitchen. We played countless games of “I spy,” spotting everything from lizards to birds chasing each other on the lawn. For the first time in years, our phones were used as cameras only, laptops remained closed, and our minds slipped fully into family holiday mode.
I’m forever grateful to the resort for sending us home happier, united and better-equipped to tackle a taxing, terminal disease. Afterwards, I rehashed our Punta Mita trip over lunch with my dad, and in an unusual moment of clarity, he looked me straight in the eye and exclaimed, “I love it there!” Me too, Dad.
Katie Dillon’s father passed away shortly after her Punta Mita visit.
Read more about Punta Mita in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read our “Concierge Recommendations” for Punta Mita in Four Seasons Magazine.
Katie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a lifestyle site covering parenting, travel, cooking with kids, home management and local happenings. After seven years of expat life in London and Hong Kong (Four Seasons Place in Hong Kong was her home for four years), she is now grounded in the seaside community of La Jolla, CA with her husband and preschool aged daughter. You'll also find Katie active on Twitter and Facebook.
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