Houghton designer Katharine Polk let us in on her travel diary from her recent trip to Tulum, Mexico. Join her in the sun, surf, and sand, below.
After designing and shooting my collection for April's Bridal Fashion Week, next up on the agenda was planning my birthday trip in June. I have an affinity for palm trees, beaches, and frozen drinks and didn't want to travel too far since my schedule is so busy; an easy, short flight was a must! Tulum, Mexico, where I've been to before, made perfect sense then. I quickly found two hotels in which to split a 10-day trip with my boyfriend Michael Hooks. The planning had begun.
When I started thinking about this getaway, I wanted to stay at and visit resorts, restaurants, and explore landmarks that I thought would speak to the Houghton Girl and Bride. This is my firsthand research on the ultimate Mexican wedding venue, bachelorette party spots, and, naturally, honeymoon suites.
The two hotels we ended up staying at varied drastically in style and aesthetic, speaking to two very different girls and couples. The first half of our stay, we resided at Papaya Playa Project, a sustainable resort stretched out over miles of oceanfront paradise. For the “low-maintenance" Houghton Girl, Papaya Playa Project has a variety of private villas sans Wi-Fi, phones, or cable. This is the resort for you if you are looking to disconnect from the web and reconnect (especially after all the intense wedding planning) with your partner.
The rooms feature an open layout with rain showers, perfect for that romantic vibe. Papaya Playa Project is also great for a bachelorette party if you book one of their larger private houses that sleep six-plus. The staff at Papaya Playa Project is so gracious and friendly; on my birthday, they brought me a birthday cake with my breakfast! The staff will make sure you have anything you need including bikes to explore the town of Tulum and will even book you a couples massage overlooking the beach, with nothing but the waves crashing underneath you. And if you're there with the girls, book a table to celebrate their famous Full Moon Party.
Casa Malca was our second stop, a drastic difference from the open and rustic layout of the first resort. With both my boyfriend and I in creative fields, we were really excited to get an up close look at the famous art collection housed on the property. Casa Malca has recently expanded to 42 rooms, which are all surrounding the pool, looking out on the beach, or have their own private garden. The boutique hotel is built around the main entrance, formerly Pablo Escobar's home!
Lio Malca, the hotel's owner, is an avid and world-renowned art collector. He's made the hotel a museum for his guests filled with his extensive collections of KAWS, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. Everywhere you look, there is a colorful painting, sculpture, or commissioned installation by one of these famous artists. Each room and suite is also designed around the art selected for that room. This resort is perfect for the creative artsy type who will appreciate the art hidden in each corner and crevice.
Houghton beach brides, get ready…
Left: Love this pic, shot by Michael. It really evokes the simple and pure feeling of our trip. This look is so clean but feminine, which is perfect for a Mexican getaway. The tulle skirt is made up of pleated ruffles, so I could roll it up in my suitcase, and the silk cashmere tank is an elevated classic. This look can go from birthday dinner to beach elopement.
Top right: I bring my Polaroid everywhere with me and caught a snap of my babe after my birthday dinner at Nomadé in the wind chime alley.
Bottom right: A view from above; Mike and I ventured to the top of the tower at Papaya Playa to get a bird's eye view of the “Tree House” being built. P.S.: You can stay there for maximum romance factor!
Top left: A Houghton cotton lace and embroidered dress shot in Casa Malca’s tower. The Casa Malca tower leads to the roof of Pablo Escobar’s old home, which is a gorgeous wedding venue overlooking Sian Ka'an.
-Custom Houghton dress.
Clockwise top center: A special green smoothie called “Else of Capri” from the Casa Malca juice bar and exclusive Keith Haring print wallpaper cave.
Top right: Casa Malca's head chef Fabrizio made Mike and me a special six-course meal and took the time to talk to us about his training and style of cooking, which involves mixing his Italian background with the sustainable, home-grown, and fresh traditions of the Yucatan.
Bottom right: On our first day in Mexico, we arrived at our upgraded beachfront casita with a private plunge pool at Papaya Play Project. My view (and Michael!) as I floated around our pool.
Bottom left: Date night with my babe at Posada Margherita, where we took a break from ceviche and indulged in a freshly baked bread tray and homemade pasta.
Left: That look in my eye is me gazing at the banana, goji berry, and turmeric smoothie I would grab every day between breakfast and lunch.
Right: The new dining room at Casa Malca, adorned with raw wood and Keith Haring dining chairs, is the perfect setting for a reception dinner or a post-wedding day brunch. The light and the colors in here are selfie-ready.
Top left: Some inspiration for the creative types staying at Casa Malca.
Top right: Our view from the stairway to the roof deck at our oceanfront casita with a plunge pool at Papaya Playa Project.
Bottom right: Breakfast of “Huevo Divorciado” at Casa Malca.
Bottom left: The tower that greets you at the entrance of Casa Malca. This tower is the perfect spot for a bride and groom to emerge from the top for their wedding.
Left: Inside the private yoga studio at Papaya Playa Project
- Houghton “Custom Cotton” dress, Barneys Collection sandals, Celine sunglasses.
Right: The Tower at Casa Malca.
Top left: Michael taking it all in, in the private yoga studio at Papaya Playa Project.
Top right: Evening walks at Papaya Playa Project.
Bottom right: Polaroids in the Palapa Bar at Papaya Playa Project. Mike and I spent a lot of time here. Being that there was no Wi-Fi (!) in our private casita, and my birthday always happens to fall during the NBA Finals, the bar Wi-Fi was our only chance at catching the finals. We set up camp at that bar for every game, streaming those finals until the buzzer sounded that the Warriors had won!
Bottom left: Cooling off in the subterranean mosaic-lined sauna at Casa Malca.
Casa Malca’s second floor of the main house is an art gallery with a view. The ants are by Rafael Gómezbarros from his exhibit titled “Eye On The Crawl: Casa Tomada.”
The entrance to Casa Malca with chartreuse velvet suspended chairs. Side note: My new short hair look was thanks to my girl Melissa at Cutler Soho. I chopped off a good 12 inches before my trip, and it made getting ready as simple as keeping my hair wet.
Top left: Residual disco balls from the infamous Full Moon Party at Papaya Playa Project.
Top right: Lunch at Nomadé with Michael.
-George Frost “Poison” necklace and Vilebrequin swim trunks.
Bottom right: Shrimp tacos at Casa Malca.
Bottom left: The perfect silk jersey slip dress for a drink by the pool.
-Houghton “Papaya” dress (named after our trip!).
Found the ceremony spot for all my beach brides-to-be! Besides the amazing art, Casa Malca has no shortage of wedding venue-worthy spots, including this handmade palm frond tunnel on the beach.
My dream garden, designed by Kenny Scharf at Casa Malca—and a dress to match!
-Houghton custom “Jenne” dress in our signature floral print.
The Tulum ruins, which are a must for every honeymooning couple.
Wallflower: Kenny Scharf mural in Casa Malca's Philosophy Restaurant.
-Houghton custom hand-painted vintage Wrangler denim jacket in collaboration with Bohemian Ink designer Jessica Gatlyn.
Top left: Inside Casa Malca’s Philosophy Restaurant.
Right: Polaroid of me in front of some Kenny Scharf art. My quick and easy fresh skin look was achieved by using Kiehl’s Rosa Arctica Lightweight Cream, Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer, Aquaphor Lip Repair, Blinc Mascara, and Nars Sculpting Multiple Duo in Flamenco + Oahu.
Bottom left: Birthday lunch at Nomadé, which is just a beach walk from Casa Malca and where all their food is charred on an open fire.
Top left: Muddled blackberry and rosemary margarita called The Chillberry from Casa Malca.
Top right: Date night look.
Bottom right: Casa Malca has a juice bar wallpapered with Keith Haring floor-to-ceiling and a healthy menu with all original recipes made up of smoothies, including my favorited banana, turmeric, and goji berry smoothie as well as the chia porridge.
Bottom left: The “Malca Suite” at Casa Malca.
The grand entrance of Casa Malca is made up of an assortment of vintage wedding dresses, quilted and draped, creating 30-foot tall curtains with velvet couches and chairs suspended by chains over layered Persian rugs. If there was ever a wedding worthy venue for a Houghton Girl, this is definitely it.
Top left: Birthday strolls on the beach.
Top right: When the water is 85 degrees and crystal clear.
Bottom right: Beachfront suite at Casa Malca featuring an amazing painting by Vik Muniz.
Left: My birthday dinner at Nomadé during sunset—fresh catch of the day with salsa verde and open fire-roasted veggies.
Top left: Mike and I spent our days exploring the rustic and undeveloped grounds of Papaya Playa Project. The sustainable resort is built into the natural landscape of the Yucatan using the local regional materials like palm fronds, driftwood, and stained glass to enhance the outdoor experience.
- George Frost “Poison” Necklace, Freelife LA hat, Oliver Peoples sunglasses, and APC jeans.
Top right: Poolside vibes at Papaya Playa Project.
Bottom right: Sun-kissed noses at Nomadé.
Houghton Guipure Lace “Jonesy” ruffled bandeau top, What Goes Around Comes Around vintage Levi’s shorts, and Tuza “Snake Belly” necklace.
Bottom left: The beach scene at Papaya Playa Project.
I woke up like this… that morning light in our suite at Casa Malca.
When it’s just the two of you on the beach.
- Houghton Chiffon “Frieda” dress and Celine sunglasses.