When you discover a hidden gem, trying to explain it in words never fully captures the mystique, which is why the old cliché “you have to see it, to believe it,” rings true with my most recent Glamping Hub trip.
Nestled between the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains and the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, near the small village of Juluchuca, Mexico, I recently returned from a luxury eco-resort called Playa Viva.
We flew into Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa and were greeted by Oscar, part of the Playa Viva team who drove us to our destination (approx. 45 minutes south of the airport). My jaw dropped as we turned off the desolate road into the secluded oasis that is Playa Viva.
Truth be told, I originally went to photograph and write about their award-winning, beachfront tree house – and while it was every bit as incredible as I imagined - I was even more blown away by their dedication to sustainable tourism, a concept that has recently peaked my curiousity.
Eco-luxury and sustainable tourism revolve around the commitment to renewable practices, and promote the idea that development should be a positive experience for the surrounding community, while making a low impact on the environment and local culture.
The more I learned about their regenerative practices, the more impressed I was at how well they balanced luxury with sustainability.
Some of Playa Viva’s renewable and regenerative features are:
· Supporting an on-site nature reserve
· Cultivating an edible landscape and permaculture
· 100% off-grid solar system (which uses cleaner and more abundant energy)
· Sustaining the resort on smart water conversation measures
· Making use of natural and local building materials and craftsmanship – Playa Viva was built using natural designs – all of the pottery, light fixtures, soaps etc are made organically from local designers, while the building materials were harvested on site, such as the palm fronds, bamboo, and clay used in wall pigment colours
The property is over 200 acres and includes an estuary, a turtle sanctuary, coconut grove, miles of private beach, state-of-the-art outdoor yoga pavilion, as well as their own organic farm and garden where local workers and international volunteers come to learn about the ecology and ecosystems in this part of Mexico.
On our daily beach walks, Geoff and I remarked at how rare it was to be exposed to such stunning, unspoiled, and untouched land. It felt like a privilege to walk for hours along the white sandy beach without coming across another soul – or any other development for that matter. As we strolled along the sand, we were flanked only by the ocean and a coastal forest. It was pretty spectacular. I don’t know when I’ll get that kind of opportunity again.
“Tropical glamping” definitely isn’t for everyone but it is part of what makes Playa Viva so charming and unique.
The twelve “Eco Casitas” (casita means little house) on the property are all open-air accommodations with unparalleled oceanfront views. They are made with eco-friendly materials, and outfitted with organic sheets, towels, biodegradable soaps (made on site), as well as organic shampoos/lotions/conditioners in the “outdoor” bathroom (a little lizard joined me in the shower one time which is why I always remind people that “tropical glamping” might not be for everyone, just depends on how you like to travel!)
Every night we returned to our private bamboo hut in the sky to find anonymous fairies had re-stocked the gorgeous ceramic water jug with fresh water (as an enviro-friendly spot they don’t have any plastic bottles on site) and had set up our white mosquito nets that made me feel like a jungle princess while working wonders at keeping bugs out. I thought we would see/hear/feel more mosquitos than we did so I was pleasantly surprised. They provided organic bug spray (which smelled like Le Labo perfume so I sprayed it all the time and we dubbed it “L’insecte” - the new scent for summer) – which also could be why those little buggers steered clear.
At night, it’s usually hard for me to turn my brain off and fall asleep but the sound of the ocean waves lulled me to sleep and every single morning I woke up and said: “I had the best sleep ever!”
With their emphasis on wellness and self-care, mornings were spent watching the sunrise, then yoga and meditation at the yoga pavilion, which was a gorgeous structure that overlooked the ocean and had its own koi pond. I’m not usually a morning person but it was such an energizing way to start the day. Yoga was followed by a homemade family-style breakfast, including fresh green smoothies, and the most delicious coffee. The beans were sourced from a local, family-run coffee farm, a short ATV ride up the mountain.
We were lucky to be there when the baby sea turtles from the adjacent sanctuary hatched overnight so we learned about them and released them into the ocean! Years later, after maturing and enduring epic sea migrations, they return to the EXACT BEACH where they were born to mate and lay their own eggs. Apparently, they are able to find their birthplace and navigate by sensing the invisible lines of the magnetic field. Each part of the Earth’s coastline has its own “magnetic signature” which the animals remember and later use as an internal compass. What smart creatures!
In addition, they have a masseuse on-site, and you can opt-in for any of the excursions they provide such as snorkelling, kayaking, a visit to local shops, an archaeological site, etc.
While they did have WiFi in the main area, we mostly tried to stay off the grid and just read, talked, and played cards (crib and rummy). One night the staff set up a bonfire in front of the tree house and our “host/yoga guru” (Deb Dove) from Hawaii played and sang along to the ukulele.
Before arriving, I was sceptical about the food situation. It’s all-inclusive so breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided, and as a sustainable resort, the food is organic and local. They cater to all kinds of allergies and food intolerances, which they asked about prior to arrival. (I don’t have any) but I was impressed by this attention to detail. That being said I was a little worried that I might be left feeling hungry in-between each “healthy” meal.
I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.
I left Playa Viva, CRAVING their delicious, organic food and wishing I could eat like that every day of my life. Not only did the food taste amazing but I also felt good about what I was putting into my body and was MORE THAN sufficiently full. The local Chef would present each meal in Spanish and the host/bartender (Luis!) would translate in English. Even Geoff, who’s a self-proclaimed “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, raved about the food.
Beers were 1.50 and they had an honour system where you could grab your own from the cooler and toss the bottle cap into a long, wooden plank that was carved into twelve sections and numbered for each room (ours was the most full by the end of the stay).
My favourite indulgence was their signature Organic Basil Margarita. No exaggeration: best drink I’ve ever had. Luis would bring fresh basil from their garden to pick and blended all of the natural ingredients in front of us as we chatted and then we’d race to catch the sunset with our frosty drink. Mmm, talking about it is making me thirsty.
While there was plenty of privacy and opportunity to squirrel away by yourself, all of the farm-to-table meals were served family-style, which gives you the opportunity to get to know the other guests. We met people from all walks of life, hailing from New York, Seattle, Washington, even a group of women from Toronto! A couple of them connected so much a few years ago that they return the same week as an annual reunion – kind of like a high-end, adult summer camp.
All in all, this hidden gem might just be one of my favourite destinations to date. Playa Viva showcased the natural beauty of Mexico while highlighting the very best of sustainable tourism. I am already plotting my return…