by Max La Frenais
It’s hard to imagine that the luxury Hotel Cosijo actually exists in the small town of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, which although home to a stunning 16th century convent (with accompanying 16th organ) is most definitely off the well-beaten tourist routes of the central valleys of Oaxaca in Mexico. The unassuming facade of the hotel blends in perfectly with the colonial architecture of the Mexican village. Modest and tiny-looking from the outside, once you enter the rabbit hole of Cosijo, it morphs into an immense labyrinth-like wonderland. This is a common trick in Oaxaca; the dimensions of the buildings seem to shift and small wooden doorways seem to lead to vast flowery gardens and courtyards of remarkable beauty.
Through the entrance, a tumbler of delicious local mezcal and a series of looming fire colored walls awaits. These walls (inspired by the nearby pre-Hispanic maze found in Yagul) unfold throughout the hotel bordering each of the rooms. The deep, earthy organic paint used on these towering walls is a hotel secret but the overall effect is of being on a hospitable Mars, mirroring the landscape of the region.
The 10 rooms which form the segments of this maze hotel are completely obscured from one another. Each room has its own patio and hammock, accompanied by a unique species of Oaxacan tree, some of which actually grow inside the rooms themselves. Each room takes its name from its guardian tree: the Pirul Chino, Macuil Cinco Hojas and Huamuchil to name a few. All of the trees that grow in the grounds of Hotel Cosijo have small wooden labels attached to a branch for easy identification.
Seclusion and intimacy make up the ethos of the hotel. The spaces and passages are covered with pebbles and it’s recommended to the guest to walk around barefoot. Each room is different and strives to merge the bright colors of Oaxaca with a softer more relaxed design. However the one thing they all have in common is simplicity and openness while remaining private. There’s also no TV—creating a sense of calm and sanctuary from the rest of the bustling, always online, world.
One arm of the hotel labyrinth, the passage of guajes (an endemic tree famously giving Oaxaca its name) leads you to the temazcal—a Náhuatl word meaning “house of heat”—which is a low-ceilinged circular structure, similar to a sweat lodge. Incredibly dense river rocks are brought and scorched in an adjoining fire before being flung into a pit at the center of this ancient indigenous sauna. The hatch is closed, and while you sit inside, a concoction of herbal liquids is poured onto the rocks creating a deluge of steam, heat and fragrance. An intense experience, the temazcal is meant to cleanse all the toxins from your body and evil spirits from your soul.
After the temazcal, visitors can plunge into the lap pool (aka carril de nado), which is ultimately refreshing—especially after all the steam. Still on the spa tip: massages and yoga sessions are available in the large studio building located towards the back of the hotel. A gorgeous river runs past this building with fields of garlic, onions, frijoles and chayotes between the river and the picturesque green mountains close by.
Fruits, vegetables and herbs grown in the hotel garden are used in the fusion of traditional and contemporary oaxacan food, prepared by locals Moisés and la Señora Amalia. Plates including as Cerro Negro and Sabor del Valle, as well as a wide range of homemade moles, make up the menu—and everything is tasty, organic and healthy. As for drinks, there’s a range, but we certainly recommend the life-changing micheladas. While the rooms don’t have televisions, there is a projector facing outwards from the dining space where visitors can watch a films under the stars—either with dinner or cocktails.
If you have the desire to drag yourself away from the oasis that is Cosijo, the hotel offers off-road biking tours of the area exploring artisanal, archaeological and natural treasures of the surrounding villages. Hotel Cosijo is in a quiet, rural spot but is situated close to the road that leads to popular sites like Hierve el Agua rock formations and archeological site Mitla. And for those who are hesitant about being too far off the beaten track, the hotel is just a 25-minute drive to downtown Oaxaca—making it the perfect sanctuary that’s still close to the action.
Hotel Cosijo is located at Calle Libertad 21, San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, Mexico and reservations are available online.
Hero and pool images courtesy of Hotel Cosijo, all others by Leslie Parker