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Magnificent Obsession

Architect Miguel Aragones created a paean to the sea with a luminous and airy Acapulco hotel that was almost a decade in the making.

By Elzy Kolb | Photography courtesy of Hotel Encanto


Architect Miguel Aragones created a paean to the sea with a luminous and airy Acapulco hotel that was almost a decade in the making.

It took Mexico City-based architect Miguel Angel Aragones nine years to compose his “personal tribute to the sea,” which he achieved in the form of the newly opened Hotel Encanto in Acapulco’s Punta Diamante area. “Encanto” translates as “charm” or “spell” and Aragones wanted the 44-suite luxury resort to be a nurturing haven that would enchant its guests. He imagined a serene space with views of Puerto Marques Bay and the Pacific Ocean visible from virtually every place on the property, creating a resort that would envelop everyone who visited in magic.

It’s not hard to understand how the location itself might cast such a spell. There’s a dramatic contrast in the terrain, with rugged mountains towering over a tranquil bay as well as ocean beaches that have lured people to Acapulco for decades.

Acapulco is one of the oldest coastal tourist destinations in Mexico, but its history goes back long before the advent of spring break or even hand-tinted picture postcards. Settlements in the area by the Nahua Indians have been documented as far back as 3,000 B.C. The first Europeans … Spanish colonists … arrived in the 16th century, and within a couple of decades, Acapulco became an important port for trade with Asia. The region’s commerce and prosperity attracted pirates, who made a colorful contribution to Acapulco’s history. Among the brigands and buccaneers were Francis Drake, who was eventually knighted, and Captain Henry Morgan, who has been immortalized on countless bottles of rum.

In more modern times, the buzz about Acapulco as an exclusive resort was ignited in the 1920s thanks to visits by the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VIII (and who later abdicated and became known as the Duke of Windsor). During the next three or four decades, the region was a magnet to international royalty of the hereditary and box office varieties, some of whom were easily recognizable by a single name: e.g., Liz, Frank and Bardot. Celebrities such as actor John Wayne invested in hotels in the area, luring even more jet-setters into town to enjoy the beaches and vibrant nightlife.

Some of the glitz wore off as increased transportation options and overbuilding made Acapulco more accessible to families and middle-class tourists in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hurricane Pauline delivered an additional brutal blow in 1997, killing hundreds of people and racking up more than $7 billion (USD) in damages.

For Aragones, restoring Acapulco’s reputation at the top of the high-class destinations heap was part of the challenge. He views Acapulco as a historically glamorous area, and with his work on the Hotel Encanto, he aimed to bring some pizzazz back to the resort town.

The Encanto project is very much a family affair. The architect’s brother, Rafael Aragones, owns the hotel and their niece, Mariana Aragones, is the hotel’s general manager.

According to Mariana, incorporating scenic views was the most important design element, adding that the goal was to be able to see open water “from everywhere … from different angles … so even in the hallways you’d be surprised by a spectacular view.”

The mountainous terrain of Acapulco’s Punta Diamante area created construction challenges. Analysis of the rocky site took three years, and dealing with the bedrock demanded special consideration. The environmentally conscious architect wanted to protect the beauty of the land and committed to planting 50 trees for each one that had to be cut down during construction. In some cases, trees were preserved on-site regardless of the location, and these beautiful specimens continue to grow through openings in the terraces and even in the shallow end of the infinity pool.

There are no plans at this time to apply for LEED® certification; however, in the interest of conservation, a water-treatment plant was built on-site, and construction and decorative materials were chosen for ease of care and durability. For example, the walls are concrete, and floors and built-in furniture are crafted from Mexican marble. “It’s very clean and simple to maintain, plus it’s fire proof,” says Ms. Aragones.

The simplicity of the interior and exterior design was meant to highlight the natural beauty in which the hotel is situated. “The idea was for the furniture to merge with the architecture so the most important thing would be the ocean, not looking at what’s in the room,” adds Ms. Aragones. The rooms have an open-air feel, with 16-foot ceilings and glass exterior walls. Corner suites deliver a 180-degree view that encompasses both the ocean and the bay. Even the showers come with a view through semi-opaque glass that delivers privacy without obscuring the scenery. Each room is equipped with simply styled Hunter Douglas blackout shades to further preserve privacy and to enhance the possibility of sleeping in on a sunny day.

Finding local sources for materials and furnishings was another goal. In addition to the Mexican marble floor and furniture, the restaurant seating and wall panels are crafted from distinctively grained machiche wood. Decorative custom pillows from Chiapas and handcrafted black pottery vessels from Oaxaca adorn the rooms.

The suites are minimalist, streamlined spaces in a monochromatic white color scheme, creating a blank slate for the glorious natural setting. Minimalist does not equal monastic, however. Each of the spacious suites contains an abundance of amenities, such as high-thread-count linens, private terraces, and in some cases, private pools.

Miguel Aragones was involved in all aspects of creating the hotel’s luxurious and laid-back vibe—from collaborating with designer Ezequiel Farca on the furniture designs to choosing music for the public spaces to spicing up the lighting design with concepts inspired by a life-long interest in chromotherapy. The architect’s design aims to express emotion through architecture and considers ambient touches like aromatherapy, silky Egyptian cotton linens, and colored lighting valuable tools in achieving that goal.

Chromotherapy, also known as color healing, has been around for centuries. Across ages and cultures, there has been a consistent belief that colors can have a profound impact on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. We see examples of chromotherapy ranging from depictions of ancient Egyptian healers using prisms to focus refracted sunlight onto patients to Kohler’s present-day inclusion of several soaking tubs with integrated color lighting systems in its catalog. Color therapy specialists say blue can be used to enhance serenity, imagination and intuition; amber is for boosting wisdom, clarity and confidence; violet stimulates beauty, creativity and inspiration; while green produces balance, love and inner calm; and red fires up our vitality, courage and self-confidence.

After dark, LED lights in a variety of hues wash over Encanto’s public spaces and guest rooms, inside and out. The monochromatic white color scheme, and hard, sleek concrete walls and marble surfaces are softened and enhanced by the colors. The architect-selected spectrum of tints rotates in the halls, dining rooms, pool area and on the façade, dramatically altering the ambience. In the suites, guests can enjoy the computerized color programs or override the settings, perhaps choosing a single shade to suit a mood or forgoing color altogether in favor of conventional lighting.

The simplicity of Encanto’s design ignores trends and will prevent it from ever going out of fashion. “The hotel has such personality, tranquility,” notes Ms. Aragones. Besides the wonderful natural light coming off the sea during the day, there’s “a nice vibe at night.”

Hotel Encanto opened in November 2009, but the architect frequently returns to the hotel he designed and even continues to create new musical playlists. “My uncle loves the ocean,” says Ms. Aragones. “He comes here very often. He fell in love with the project because of a combination of the hard work and the many years he put into it. It was created by him and he feels like it’s home.”

Elzy Kolb is a White Plains, New York-based freelance writer, editor, and copy editor. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Westchester Magazine,, and other industry publications. She can be reached at