Checking in to Hotel Verana is, initially, more complicated than expected.
First, a plane ride to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Then, navigating an hour-and-a-half bus ride through the jungle to a small dock where boats to the nearby village of Yelapa embark a couple times a day — if you’re lucky. After about forty minutes in a motorboat on the occasionally choppy water, with worlds of green, crumbling rock faces, and lonely beaches zooming by, a second small dock appears, unassumingly, to mark the water entrance to Verana. Guests will then ascend cliffside stairs and about half a mile up a well-worn trail to finally arrive at the hotel. The view, from there, is as incredible as you might expect, a reprieve from lengthy, multi-step journey that immediately makes it worth the while. Luckily, a small but sturdy donkey follows behind, strapped down with luggage and whatever else so the climb isn’t too grueling.
I would’ve never found Verana, on my own, as a novice traveler who is just beginning to embrace the wisdom that leaving home can bring. The hotel was selected as a base camp for the inaugural edition of Trust & Travel, helmed by Jade Moyano and Erin Rose Belair, a trip that’s one part workshop, one part retreat, and one part godsend. After years writing solely about music, culture, and entertainment, the bloom was off the rose, and the ability to dip my toes into writing about place, hospitality, and movement was a welcome release. Travel writing had been a nut that wouldn’t crack, a too-tender bruise on a peach, all my drafts gone liquid with rot, fear and self-doubt. Here, in an environment guided and curated by these two passionate, expert women, my trust in myself would return.
But none of the internal excavating of our writing workshops would’ve been possible, it seemed, without the backdrop of Verana. Greeted at the top of that final crest by a pool full of waterlilies, an expansive view of the ocean, the coastline, and the neighboring town, Yelapa — not to mention the surrounding jungle — the views alone were staggering. And this hotel, for the most part, is completely outdoors, meaning those views become part of the fabric of the space itself. Past the small entryway that served as the front desk, a spacious, stone alcove outfitted with benches and cushions became a meeting point for when the stormy, tropical rains did pass through, and the bar next to it was a welcome staple for any gathering of writers. I mostly abstained from alcohol on the trip, but the selection and service appeared to exceed expectations for a small mountain hotel.
On the website and elsewhere, Hotel Verana is dubbed a “handmade hotel,” and this phrase stood out to be both on the journey over, when trying to parse what that would mean, and throughout our stay, when the meaning became abundantly clear. The lodging areas of the hotel, or “rooms” as they might be more traditionally called, are spread out across the expanse of the mountainside, all requiring a quick hike up stone steps to reach them, or move in between them. Down near the covered seating area and bar is another patio expanse, where breakfast comes with the sun, lunch is served midday, shaded by umbrellas, and most dinners are served under the stars, tying the cycle of the day back to the Circadian rhythms of light and weather.
Built out of the mountain by founders Heinz Legler and Veronique Lievre, the hotel was initially intended to be a single house, but quickly grew into an outcropping of buildings tangentially connected by proximity. Since it is only reachable by boat, it’s the rare property that offers total privacy from the outside world — even if hiking a couple miles across the jungle trails to Yelapa is technically possible. Despite the often humble amenities, the rooms are still lush with crisp linen, extremely comfortable beds, and the kind of service that’s immediately inviting. Every room and house is a little different from the others, offering a totally unique experience for each guest.
Aside from the vast common area, that functions as a gathering point and communal space for workshops, meals, and afterparties, another public area was the infinity pool at the top of the property at Casa Grande, offering more astonishing views and plenty of room to sun and swim. Different areas of the hotel were more private, but still shared among our group (who had taken it over completely for the retreat), like the pool house with another, small infinity pool, or the Palapa, a completely open-air space that my roommate and I shared — and shared with nature, insects, frogs, animals, the other guests, or anyone passing by. As a noted introvert, I assumed I’d hate staying in an area that thrust me in the thick of things, but even I adapted into a willingly social creature more quickly than I would’ve predicted.
Sleeping outdoors — a couple of the rooms offered real walls against the jungle, most did not — required mosquito nets, and closer proximity to wildlife at night than I’ve ever faced. But other natural amenities like outdoor showers, with lemongrass body scrub offered up in a shell, and that view of the ocean looming, made living in harmony with the environment begin to feel quite lovely after all. Other small touches, like delivering coffee trays at sunrise, kept the hotel’s promise of handmade touches, and even if the whole world was still available on phones and computers, the near-wild atmosphere encouraged real disconnection from technology in an instinctual way.
As the backdrop for a workshop and retreat, Verana was an incredible venue, and the founders of Trust & Travel selected it partially for this reason — it lends well to groups and a communal feeling is built into the space via the layout and overall privacy. But, it’s also the kind of space that adapts to its surroundings, and would be worth visiting on a solo trip, with friends or in a couple, or within another small group setting. The beauty and isolation of the place immediately offers a sense of self-restoration, a sense that was enhanced, on my stay, by the kind of women I encountered there, and the work we committed to do together. So even if the journey to get to Verana is more demanding than traveling to most hotels, the payoff is more rewarding, too.