Casa Malca: The world's most artistic hotel & former home of Pablo Escobar
Tulum may best be known for its cultural heritage and Mayan history; however, it has experienced significant change over the last 25 years, including the redevelopment of the area, new hotels, and the change in the type of traveller visiting.
The town was once exclusively a haven for the wealthy and successful, including prominent politicians, before becoming a hippie sanctuary in the 90s; a shipwrecked experience for those wishing to peel back the layers of inner-city life and reconnect with their spirituality.
In the 70s, the Mexican government granted Tulum dispensation to be a vacation destination. At the time, presidential retreats took place in the town's spiritual haven, where leaders are said to have consulted Mayan astronomers to make predictions.
Tulum was not open to tourists, even the Mexican people, until the 80s; this was due to the location's privacy, beauty, and spiritual significance. However, outside of politics, once the town in Quintana Roo opened to the public, the population soared from around 90 people to over 12,000. Casa Malca lies on the Caribbean coast, an archaeological area with meandering cenotes and historical sites.
During the mass opening of Tulum to the public, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar snapped up one of the most exclusive properties in the town, which is now home to art-lux boutique hotel Casa Malca. Said to be located in one of the most private sections of Tulum, Escobar would often hide there from authorities. This could be due to one of the unique features that Casa Malca holds; it is situated between the beautiful Caribbean coast and the jungles of the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve.
Once Escobar was captured and killed, the property lay abandoned for years; until distinguished New York-based art collector, Lio Malca, purchased the sanctuary in 2012 and began to create one of the world's most exciting art hotels.
About Casa Malca
The stunning Mexican property was extensively renovated and initially housed eight suites in the main house. Today the boutique hotel has 71 spacious suites and rooms spread across its 590-foot beach extension and 193,750 square feet of green space.
As part of its ethos of bringing guests the best of the jungle and the ocean, the eco-friendly hotel utilises locally sourced materials, antiquities, and rich artisan textiles to create a mystical experience for those lucky enough to visit.
As well as offering privacy, the hotel is every aesthete's dream come true; it is clear why supermodels such as Cara Delevigne and Georgia-May Jagger often visit. For example, there are no signs on entry to the boutique hotel, but a sizeable wall made from erected tree trunks provides passage to the stunning paradise. As you walk through the landscaped sandy path and waving palm trees, you are immediately greeted with sculptures and installations, ranging from a mammoth-initialled red carpet to towering artisan curtains made from vintage wedding dresses and swinging sofas.
Once inside, expect to find an extensive assemblage of Lio Malca's personal art collection, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, a colourful and abstract Holton Rower piece, a contemporary take on terracotta warriors by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, and an iconic KAWS bronze sculpture titled Companion, Passing Through.
The lobby is also home to a large Mark Ryden painting personalised to Malca. The pop surrealism piece, Rosie’s Tea Party, depicts a cherubic girl at a tea party representing the juxtaposition between childhood innocence and the mysterious recesses of the soul. The personalisation is lengthy, yet Ryden thanks Malca for his continued support and encourages the artwork’s permanent home to be Casa Malca.
The portal to the beach which houses further sculptures and artwork is home to many more treasures, such as the spectacular statue by Ravinder Reddy, Head for Diego. At almost 10 feet in height, the bronze giant head celebrates women, who have always been the focus of Reddy's work, continuing his fascinating relationship between classical Indian tradition and modern pop artwork.
What Malca is doing is truly ingenious, bringing the gallery to guests in an intimate and un-intimidating manner. The art collector and buyer encourages hotel guests to enjoy, immerse, and even touch the art; a far cry from the museums and galleries that are the traditionally homes to such pieces.
Rooms at Casa Malca range from 645 to 1076 square feet. They are all generous in size and offer panoramic views of either the beach or the jungle. Staying in the Master Suite (Ocean View), expect to be in the main house - where Escobar would have resided. The suite is on the second floor of the main house, where the larger rooms lie.
The room itself is magnificent and airy, with washed cement walls. Floor to ceiling windows lead to the generously sized patio with Jardin lounge, ocean views, and installations that live on the beach.
Each suite is carefully designed around the artwork it houses to create a sensory experience, ensuring exclusivity. The decor merges the periods of renaissance, baroque and classical. Ceilings are high, and the room includes a king-size bed with large, velvet headboard for a restful slumber.
Other features of the room include a master bathroom with a rainfall shower and L'Occitane toiletries. The console for the sink is made from local timber, and the basin carved from natural stone. Expect to stumble across books from the owner's personal library.
Suites include Fiji water, complimentary Wi-Fi, a Nespresso machine, air-conditioning and a stocked mini bar with local tequilas and refreshments.
Other suites on the property include The Townhouse Labyrinth, which is split over four levels offering further seclusion; as well as The Family Village suite and the Master Suites located on Casa Malca's beachfront.
Casa Malca has two impressive pools, including an underground adult-only grotto. There are two bars and three restaurants, and for those unable to get a room, the hotel offers a day pass for travellers to experience some of the immersive art and relax on the beach.
The property also launched its new Calma spa this year, offering a range of sublime treatments, including hot stone massage, facials, and hydrotherapy. Access to the spa is via a spiral staircase leading to rooftop, panoramic views of the jungle and ocean.
The infamous Haring Bar is a must to relax and enjoy a Keith Sour cocktail. Adorned with Haring's art, the lounge area is romantic, lowly lit by chandeliers filled with candles and rich artisan textiles which decorate the room. It is a must-see for art fanatics.
For a fine dining experience, try one of Casa Malca's three restaurants, each themed to reflect a different dining experience.
For those seeking a taste of Asia, try Ambrosia. Led by Mexican chef Jonathan Carbajal, choose between being outdoors on the beach or indoors surrounded by more Keith Haring artwork and Jenga-style interiors made from recycled wood.
Try the breaded Goude (Kushiage De Queso), a lightly breaded delight of gouda cheese, beautifully presented. The gouda is creamy and flavoursome, and the dish reminiscence of a twist on Spanish croquetas. It is accompanied by a Tonhkcatsup, a sauce that is sweet and prepared with oriental herbs and coriander, as well as a tartar sauce enhanced with parsley.
The Hamachi is a cold-water fish from Japan, and Casa Malca's tender, fresh offering with ponzu and fried leek adds balance to the flavours, whilst the shiso leaf adds texture and variation. For those looking for a kick, the chilli serrano is a great addition. The dish is perfectly accompanied with their hibiscus flower Jamaica Mezcal Margarita.
Other recommendations for Ambrosia include the short rib marinated for six hours and simmered for 26; the meat is tender and falls off the bone. The rich and flavoursome miso soup with shitake mushrooms, Wakamin, is delightful. Finish with the churros for dessert accompanied by three different sweet sauces, including dulce de leche.
Head of Mad Man
For the best seafood experience, try the Head of Mad Man, the newest of the restaurants located on the beach and inspired by the works of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The restaurant is a personal favourite of many guests and has an impressive spray-painted industrial mural.
It holds sentimental value to Lio Malca and guests can enjoy dishes including the fresh yet versatile Pear Salad, a fusion of blue cheese mousse, red wine and walnuts, finished with a rich, creamy balsamic dressing. Other recommendations include the catch of the day, Baja oysters served with a fresh chilli sauce, and Nigerian jumbo shrimp.
A gastronomic dining experience, Philosophy fuses both European and Mexican cuisine passed down from generations.
During the day, sit back and relax with a local beer or some light seafood. In the evening, enjoy the dining room, laden with eccentric treasures collected over the years, including antique dolls in caskets, further artwork, and books from Malca's collection.
Persian carpets are seen throughout, and candlelit chandeliers bring ambience to your dining experience. Sit comfortably on 19th century chairs to begin a dining experience, tantalising to the tastebuds with premium, locally sourced ingredients.
The freshly baked bread of the house, made from avocado leaves and red and green tomatoes is recommended whilst perusing the vast menu. Favourites include the expertly carved fillet of beef carpaccio, decorated with edible flowers and slices of mature parmesan. The meaty seared scallops are a delightful twist on a traditional European starter, where the pea-mint purée combined with the sauteed corn and shrimp butter add a punch of flavour.
The mouth-watering Tomahawk accompanied with baby vegetables and pattypan squash is the star of the show. Cooked to perfection and gently seasoned, you can cut through the dish with even a butter knife - perfect for meat lovers. The pineapple sauce adds an element of interest to the otherwise traditional dish.
For those with an unquenchable appetite wanting the best of both worlds, Surf and Turf is a must. The dish comes with 160 grams of high-grade beef filet and freshly caught Caribbean lobster. The presentation is exquisite, adding an element of fun to the plate. The steak arrives with natural jus, whilst the lobster is smoked in citrus for a burst of excitement.
KM 9.5, Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Phone: +52 984 240 2546
For further information and rates, visit Casa Malca HERE
Words by Jheanelle Feanny