My wife and I don't mind traveling rough. It's often worth giving up the conveniences of the tourist-zone to get a truer sense of your destination and its people. But I'll never claim that the first hot shower, well-cooked meal, and comfortable bed on our return don't feel like heaven.
Playa Viva manages the remarkable feat of providing many of the comforts and luxuries of an upscale resort while still offering enough unfiltered access to the rural Pacific community and coast to gain something of an understanding of it. More remarkably, it does so while living its values-- limiting its impact on the environment and treating its neighbors and staff with fairness and respect. My five star rating isn't meant to suggest an experience devoid of trade-offs. It's an acknowledgement that those trade-offs are well-chosen and worth the cost.
We stayed at Playa Viva for a week in early July with our two sons, ages 4 and 6. With over 200 acres of land, over 1km of breathtaking beach-front, a pool, a turtle sanctuary, an archaeological site, two lagoons, and endless hiking trails (some impassible during the rainy season, all requiring bug spray and long pants), Playa Viva had more to offer than we had time to explore. The many expeditions and time spent lounging in the pool or playing in the waves took up the better part of our daylight hours most days.
Each morning, local fishermen who volunteer at the turtle sanctuary brought in a bucket full of baby turtles that hatched overnight for us to release on the beach. The experience of watching dozens, sometimes hundreds, of baby sea turtles cross the beach and disappear into the waves defies description and would justify the trip all by itself. Witnessing a sea turtle laying its eggs requires a bit more luck and a willingness to sprint across the sand on short notice late at night or early in the morning. Over the course of the week, I managed to catch this remarkable moment three times-- once around 10pm, once past midnight, and once at 6 or 7 in the morning.
We stayed in the impressively elaborate and (relative to the other rooms) spacious bamboo-and-thatch Private Casita, which sits apart from the other structures on the far side of the common area. Like the other rooms, it features an open-air design, which both helps offset the lack of air conditioning and immerses you (for good and for ill) in the sights and sounds of the outdoors at all times. Watching coatis harass the birds on the coconut trees or spotting any of the dozens of colorful and charming local birds from the comfort of your room is delightful. Falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves and chirping insects is a peaceful experience, but the mosquito netting around the bed can block enough air flow to make some nights uncomfortably warm, even with the aid of a fan.
The Private Casita is bordered by a thicket that swarms with fireflies at night. Sometimes they even fly into the room to dance constellations over your bed as you drift off to sleep. Less magical guests are the (thankfully small and harmless) ants which will stream into the room quickly and in disconcerting numbers if you aren't militant about sweeping up crumbs and busing plates. Beds must be checked each night for (rare, they promise!) scorpions using a black-light. Wasps, spiders, and giant beetles all put in occasional appearances as well, though they're more often a curiosity than a problem.
The open air design also means that "private" is a relative term, even in the Private Casita. While the shower itself relatively well-screened, the sink and dressing area in the Private Casita is pretty clearly visible from the (often empty) upper floor of the common area, so dressing after a shower can require a bit of careful positioning. Folding doors can be closed to obscure much of the sleeping area from the outside although secondary beds are immediately adjacent to the main one, not in another room.
Every room has a hot shower (courtesy of very effective solar water heaters and draining into a gray-water system that waters the plants), comfortable bedding, a commode (feeding into an impressive black-water processing system, though toilet paper must be thrown in a basket rather than flushed), electric lights (run off a photo-voltaic array), a safe, and other amenities. Wonderful smelling handmade soaps are provided, as well as daily turn-down service and cleaning. The electricity is sufficient to charge electronic gadgets during the day, though anything as hefty as a hair dryer would be off-limits.
Until the addition of a few more rooms justifies doubling the solar array, a generator is used as an occasional stop-gap. While it was barely audible from our room, other guests complained that it was a good deal louder for them. There are plans afoot to move the generator further away.
Dining is family style at long tables in the common area, encouraging you to meet and mingle with your fellow guests. The food, much of it prepared from organic, locally-grown produce by a team of talented cooks and chefs, is uniformly excellent. A wide array of dishes is served at each meal and requests and dietary restrictions are cheerfully accommodated. At lunch and dinner, freshly-made corn tortillas, sliced avocado, handmade cheese and salsas materialize at the center of each table. These ingredients make superb tacos which could constitute a meal of their own if so many other excellent foods were not on offer.
The dirt road to Playa Viva runs through the small, sleepy community of Juluchuca, from which much of the staff walks each day. A local tour in Playa Viva's van gives a good sense of the town, which is populated by fisherman, farmers, and makers of astonishingly tasty toasted coconut treats. Dwellings are modest, vehicles a luxury, and sports (particularly soccer) a popular pastime. The nearest ATM is in Petatlan, perhaps 15-20 minutes away, so plan accordingly.
As for technology, a projector can be set up after dark to screen films. A very decent selection of films is available, but guests are welcome to bring their own DVDs. The remote was damaged beyond repair, so subtitles and other extras are (or at least were) a no-go. Wi-Fi is offered, though it was down for most of our stay (the salt air seems to destroy everything eventually). The good news is that the repair person doubled the modest connection speed. The bad news is that the wifi signal is spotty even in the common area and doesn't reliably reach the Private Casita at all. Cell phone coverage is poor for some, acceptable for others (maybe depending on the bands each phone supports?), but text messaging seemed only to work for staff.
Of the expeditions officially offered, the local tour, kayaking, and the wildlife refuge were all well suited to younger children-- most of the others were not. While not directly offered in any of the literature, child-care can be had at reasonable cost so parents can go on expeditions or have quiet time to themselves-- a fact we learned unfortunately late in our stay.
The van used for transportation can present a few challenges. The rough dirt roads, and the sweeping turns and hills on the highway can make for a nauseating ride in the back seats (and the last row of seats gets very limited air flow from the A/C). Riding near the front, when possible, helps tremendously.
Alcoholic beverages cost extra -- $1.50 for beer (sadly, only Corona and Victoria) and $5 for the basil margarita (superb), as of the time of our stay. The selection of wine was limited and pricey. I didn't ask about other mixed drinks, though the bar seemed reasonably stocked.
It was a pleasure to discover that all of our fellow guests were truly amazing people. Even the 7 teenage boys who were visiting at the time were remarkably respectful and polite. Perhaps it's just the sort of place that attracts interesting and decent people. Whatever the reason, we felt lucky to have met them and hope that we'll cross paths with them again.
Playa Viva provided an amazing experience for our whole family. It's not for everyone, but if you don't mind trading a convenience or two for the remarkable experiences it has to offer, it's a destination well worth visiting.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Playa Viva is a sustainable boutique hotel with 8 rooms on a private beach located 30 minutes from Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa International airport. Play Viva is located on 200 acres with 1.3 kilometers of beach front. 85% of the property is in a Private Reserve for use of guests and includes a turtle sanctuary, archaeological site, working permaculture farm, forest restoration, estuary and much more. Come enjoy yoga, surfing or any of the many local activities. Playa Viva is off grid, operating 100% on solar power, solar thermal water heating, grey and black water management systems and built with local materials and craftsmanship. We specialize in farm to table, sourcing much of our food locally and can handle a wide variety of dietary concerns from vegetarian and vegan to many types of allergies. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Playa Viva Hotel Petatlan