The vibe: Robinson Crusoe meets eco-warrior
Location: Juluchuca, Zihuatanejo, Playa Icacos, Mexico | View on Google Maps
The AFAR take
In 2008, when Playa Viva opened five biophilic hotel rooms on a 200-acre reserve between the Pacific Ocean and the purple Sierra Madre range, it rewilded a barren site and began to offer support to communities in the nearby village of Juluchuca for education, health care, and employment. More than 15 years later, the beachfront resort has grown to 19 accommodations, including a handful of mobula ray–inspired bamboo tree houses built in 2021.
In January 2023, nonprofit impact assessor B Corporation certified that Playa Viva benefits its communities and habitat with a score of 110—the highest of any hotel. The resort’s score is based on such practices as low-impact construction with natural and locally sourced materials, an on-site permaculture farm supplying produce to the restaurant, a solar power plant that ensures the resort is 100 percent off grid, and biodiversity restoration projects, including a sea turtle sanctuary. Playa Viva also donates at least 10 percent of annual profits to environmental and community projects, regardless of financial performance.
Who’s it for?
Outdoorsy travelers and adventurous families who want an active, meaningful holiday with volunteering opportunities (kids under five stay free); socially conscious couples who would be happy to help pick up washed-up trash on their sunset beach walks. The all-inclusive resort is popular among yoga practitioners for its five- to seven-day yoga retreats. Ocean swimmers and families with young kids should take note that at times swells can get big (there is no lifeguard), but as an alternative, there’s a beachside infinity pool.
This isn’t the place for people who are squeamish about bugs—especially scorpions. You’ll get a black light torch upon check-in for scanning the sandy paths after dark (and I did see a few), especially during the hotter months between April and June.
Playa Viva is located 40 minutes south of Zihuatanejo’s international airport, but it feels wild: The population of the closest town, Juluchuca, is fewer than 700. The crashing waves of the open ocean can at times feel deafening (they’re a blast to boogie board), and when the sun sets, rainbow light fills the sky. There is zero light pollution, and during my stay, I saw a partial lunar eclipse from the hammock of my tree house. On another night, I joined volunteers of La Tortuga Viva (the locally run organization founded by Playa Viva in 2010) and watched an Olive Ridley sea turtle laying and burying her eggs in a fenced-in nursery, later helping to transfer them to an incubation area on nearby dunes.
Playa Viva donates at least 10 percent of annual profits to environmental and community projects, regardless of financial performance.
Of the 19 accommodations, seven beachfront tree houses hover six feet above the sand and offer ocean views from almost every part of the room, including the mosquito net–covered beds. However, with only a couple of walls on either side of the bedrooms as opposed to four, they’re not for people who are overly concerned with privacy. The bamboo structures designed by holistic architecture practice Nomadic Resorts are also ill advised for people who need TV or air-conditioning—though relief from the heat comes often via sea breezes.
Most families with little ones will feel more relaxed in the dozen terrestrial palapa-roofed suites and casitas. (We avoided catastrophe in a tree house with our crawling nine-month-old daughter, but not without stress.) Those rooms feel more enclosed and private and most can sleep up to four people, with flexible bed arrangements such as kings that can become two singles or trundle beds.
Food and drink
Buffets of health-conscious Mexican cuisine feature as many organic ingredients as possible, from both the resort’s farm and nearby growers and producers. Think house-made tortillas topped with fresh cheese, colorful salads, chilaquiles, ceviches, grilled marlin, tortilla soup, and zucchini noodles. Guests can mingle over meals at large wooden tables in the open-air dining hall with earthen walls, which feature found fragments of sea turtle eggshells and shards of broken dishes. They can also request a private table, as my husband and I did one night to celebrate our anniversary.
Alcoholic beverages and blended drinks (for an extra charge) are available at the outdoor bar, where the specialty is a delicious frozen basil margarita. To see where the basil and other produce is grown, the permaculture manager takes guests on tours of the property’s 49-acre carbon-capturing farm (kids will love the piglets and fruit samples).
Staff and service
Personable, familial, engaging. Typically the staff and “holistic hosts” (concierges slash yoga instructors) dine alongside guests. Several members of the team were eager to hold or babysit my preciosa daughter.
None of the accommodations are fully accessible, but room 10 (a King EcoCasita) is the closest thing, with its entrance ramp instead of stairs and close proximity to the resort’s common area.
Beyond sun and sand
Though guests are advised not to book any activities for the first day or two, there is enough to occupy anyone here for weeks. Off-site options include an ATV tour of a local family’s farm (including a home-cooked lunch with them) and marine biodiversity trips with conservation group Whales of Guerrero where guests may see humpback whales between January and March. On property, guests can join sweat-inducing temazcal ceremonies for purification and intention setting, and there are a few Aztec archaeological sites for exploration nearby. Yoga is on offer six mornings a week in the sea turtle–inspired shala, or yoga pavilion. Intermediate and advanced surfers can take advantage of the often large waves in front of the resort, while beginners can ask for a lesson at smaller breaks about a 20- to 30-minute drive away.