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The sun setting on the beach at the Imanta Punta de Mita (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

The Temptation of Punta de Mita

I hold three squirming baby turtles, about 12 hours old, in my hands, at sunset on a private beach in Punta de Mita, Mexico.

They are a dark, smoky gray color, and touching them feels like running my hands over rough sandpaper. After I carefully place them on the sand, I scoop the 86 baby turtles that remain out of a large bucket of water and help send them on their way.

They are motionless for a few minutes, so still that I think that I have somehow killed them. But they’re just tired. It’s exhausting to be born.

All of a sudden, they begin to march toward the water, and even though they can’t see yet, they know where to go. If you turn them away from the water, they turn right back. Their GPS is better than my iPhone’s.

Of course, a good sense of direction runs in the family. Their mother was born on the very same beach and had returned to spawn 40, 50, or even 60 years later.

I happened to be staying at Imanta Punta de Mita the day these babies were born. As part of conservation efforts, the staff gathers the eggs so they are not eaten or killed, guards over them as they hatch, then returns the hatchlings to the water so they will have the best chance of survival. I felt lucky and privileged to play a part in the process along with the other guests at the resort.

Punta de Mita, a swath of lush jungle complete with lapping blue waters and sandy beaches, is part of Mexico’s Vallarta/Nayarit region, an hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta. In the waters where Banderas Bay meets the Pacific, dolphins frolic alongside humpback whales that come here to mate and calve in winter.

Punta Mita (sans “de”) is a trademarked gated development with residences, two resorts (properties in the Four Seasons and St. Regis families), and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. I saw a mix of families and honeymooners at the hotels lounging at the pool, cavorting on the beaches, and savoring delicious food under umbrellas.

I’ve never been one to be stopped by a guard gate at a hotel, so even if you’re not staying at Punta Mita, I recommend exploring the offerings, like the calming Apuane Spa at the Four Seasons. Or indulge in sophisticated Asian dishes (try the lobster rice noodles) at Aramara while gazing at the Pacific.

Nearby, the St. Regis boasts equally beautiful grounds with rooms and suites fanning out from the lobby all the way to the water. Ever hear of Mexiterranean food? I hadn’t either, until I experienced Sufi restaurant, which combines Mediterranean and casual Mexican. Whatever they call it, it’s great, and features fresh fish caught nearby.

Outside Punta Mita’s gates, you’ll find the village, centered around a small pedestrian promenade filled with seaside cafes and markets. Try Cafe des Artistes (an outpost of the location in Vallarta) and a playful take on Mexican cuisine at Rosa Mexicano.

To get to Imanta, I am glad that I opted for the SUV at the car rental counter. After fording a small bubbling stream, I begin the eight-minute drive through a blissed-out jungle paradise built around 80-year-old palm trees to the main entrance. Before the road was finished, it took three hours by car to reach the resort. The principal owner, a Mexican businessman, spotted the land 25 years ago while sailing and snatched up 250 acres of property next to the vast Sierra de Vallejo biosphere reserve. Smart move.

Built to resemble Southeast Asian temples, the resort’s villas and suites spill down the edge of the jungle, overlooking waves that pound the beach like a steady drumbeat. (After extensive research, I can confirm that the Observatorio Bar is the best place to watch the sunset in the region.)

I got a sneak peek at what is quite possibly the world’s coolest tree house, which is in use by the owners now but will be open for bookings in the near future. My prediction? This arboreal masterpiece will soon be splashed on the cover of design magazines. Know, too, that a stay at Imanta respects the environment and the local community; solar panels heat the pools, and 70 percent of the resort’s staff hail from the nearest small town.

I knew I had to squeeze in a visit to Sayulita, a half hour north of Punta Mita, to see the sleepy surf town that has recently exploded in popularity and to try a ChocoBanana, a chocolate-covered frozen banana dipped in coconut flakes. The town square serves as hub to spokes of tiny streets filled with favorites like Burrito Revolucion and Joyeria Sol for locally made jewelry.

Back at Imanta, I sprang for an in-room massage. The spa comes to you here, so instead of just relaxing your muscles, you are inspired by the chirping of jungle dwellers and ocean waves outside your window. And perhaps lulled to a light sleep, as I was.

Tempted yet?

Annie Fitzsimmons is on the beat in Mexico. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, on Twitter @anniefitz, and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.