OAXACA -- Fuse history with luxury, then plunk it into the perfect
setting and -- if you're lucky -- the result will be something like
the Camino Real Oaxaca here.
Situated on a pedestrian street in this city's historic district,
this sumptuous property is ideal for upscale customers looking for
a hotel with an intriguing past and contemporary comforts.
Accommodations at the 91-room Camino Real Oaxaca, a member of
the Camino Real Hotels & Resorts chain, do not come cheap, at
least by local standards. Rooms start at $185 in a city where
perfectly nice lodgings go for $50 to $100 a night. But the Camino
Real does not disappoint, as I found during two recent stays.
This historic hotel had its beginning in 1576 when the first of
its several adjoining buildings was constructed as the Convent of
Although originally a Dominican nunnery, the structure was later
called into duty as city government offices, a school and even a
jail. Since 1975 it has enjoyed a more hospitable incarnation as a
The Camino Real's guest rooms are clustered around three
handsomely landscaped interior courtyards, plus a central courtyard
that houses a lobby bar tucked beneath a shady colonnade. Each
courtyard has its own character and purpose: One is the setting for
a spectacular pool bordered by a manicured lawn. Another serves as
an outdoor restaurant and function area. All are beautifully
landscaped with lush foliage, fountains and blooming jasmine and
Perhaps the most inviting is Las Bugambilias, the outdoor lobby
bar just beyond the reception desk. Here guests can sip a very
properly made margarita and munch on cacahuates (spicy peanuts)
while the sound of Gregorian chanting loops almost imperceptibly in
In another courtyard is a freshly renovated structure called Los
Lavaderos, which served as a wash facility from the convent's
earliest days. Hotel manager Peter Maxwell said the restoration
yielded a few archaeological finds that include bones, stoneware
and a series of tunnels that may predate the convent.
Los Lavaderos, which consists of 12 stone pits in an octagonal
fountain with a cupola, is frequently used for outdoor receptions.
Plans call for a "minimuseum" to house the artifacts unearthed
during the renovation, Maxwell said.
Other areas of the two-story hotel also are worth exploring.
Upstairs are an antique bedroom and a small religious altar room,
both of which are furnished in dark colonial antiques carved in a
Baroque style. The convent's chapel, dating from the 16th century,
is an austere stucco setting for functions and meetings for as many
as 500 people. A closer look at walls throughout the Camino Real
reveals fading frescoes that describe the structure's heritage, as
well as numerous religious paintings, some of which date back 400
The guest rooms are equally intriguing, although thoroughly
modern. Because the Camino Real did not become a hotel until late
in its life, its rooms are quirky in size and layout. During each
of my stays, the rooms were thoroughly individual in character.
The first had the square footage of a large suite, equally
divided between bedroom and sitting room by a half wall. On my next
visit, the room was of an average size, but included a long, narrow
solarium with exterior walls that still bear the paint of original
All rooms have high, beamed ceilings and tiled floors, with
furnishings that are in Spanish-colonial style and upholstered in
colorful handcrafted fabrics of Indian designs. Guest rooms are
equipped with air conditioning, a minibar, a cable television or
two and direct-dial phones.
Bathrooms are clean, spacious and modern, thanks to an extensive
room renovation that was completed at the end of 1998. Other
in-room amenities include 24-hour room service, an in-house
water-purification system and same-day laundry and dry
There is more to the Camino Real than great rooms, however. El
Refectorio, the hotel's restaurant, offers the option of dining al
fresco or in its main room, which is decorated with memorabilia of
the former convent and original paintings.
I found its cuisine refined and nicely presented, but a little
pricey when compared with the host of elegant dining spots that are
within easy walking distance. Not to be missed, however, is a
lavish Sunday brunch.
Before or after dinner, clients will want to check out Las
Novicias, a relaxing bar adjacent to the pool. It is decorated as a
library, with overstuffed sofas and walls of leather-bound books.
But Las Novicias is not always bookish: On select nights local
musicians perform lively regional music.
Not surprisingly, the hotel's ample charms and small size
conspire to make it a bit hard to find an available room. I had to
try several different weeks to get three consecutive nights, for
instance, so it would be wise to advise clients to book several
According to Maxwell, clients also should reserve very far in
advance for certain dates, including Easter week, the Fiesta
Guelaguetza (which occurs during the last two weeks of July), the
Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 and the Christmas season.
The Camino Real also is becoming a popular spot for meetings of
50 to 100 people, Maxwell said. Besides four smaller meeting rooms,
its chapel and outdoor courtyard make memorable venues for meetings
and functions. He added that the hotel offers agents a discount of
50% on room rates on a space-available basis. The Camino Real
Oaxaca pays 10% commission.
Camino Real Oaxaca
Phone: (800) 722-6466