I wake up to the sound of birdsong and crashing waves just before the bell rings at 7.15am… It’s turtle time! I quickly dress and brush my teeth in the breezy, open-air bathroom before padding down to the beach where Lissett, a volunteer at the Playa Viva turtle sanctuary, is showing an oooohing and aaaahing group of guests a bucket of freshly hatched baby turtles. I soon see what all the fuss is about – they are insanely cute, with tiny little flippers, wrinkly necks and tons of energy! After going through the release protocol, Lissett gently empties them all on to the wet sand and they are off – scrambling through the sand towards the water – some making it all the way in one go, others getting washed further back than where they began, only to tenaciously resume their struggle once more.
I feel incredibly privileged to be witnessing such a primordial natural event – and grateful to know that thanks to the work of the sanctuary, the numbers of the endangered sea turtles are back on the rise – it’s so refreshing to see tourism having a positive impact on the environment for a change.
The last straggling turtle makes it in by 8am, just in time for yoga! We head a little farther up the beach and move through a relaxing vinyasa flow in the beautiful open-air yoga shala, gazing at the waves and the diving pelicans in our Warrior II poses. After yoga, we are definitely ready to eat and we gather together at the communal dining table for a healthy and abundant breakfast with a Mexican twist. Home-made granola, oatmeal, perfectly ripe papaya, organic yogurt, freshly squeezed orange and green juices, sauteed veggies in coconut oil and eggs in salsa verde served with avocado, local cheese and freshly made tortillas – it’s a feast!
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As a ‘Holistic Host’ I had the incredible opportunity to enjoy mornings like these while I lived and worked at Playa Viva for 9 weeks; teaching yoga, dining with the guests and giving massage treatments in the rooftop palapa. Although I loved the place at first sight, as I spent more time there I became deeply inspired by the positive vision that underpins everything at Playa Viva: from the company values and ethos to the sustainable and regenerative design and the many community projects that have been spear-headed by the resort.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
Playa Viva is definitely the kind of place you could happily spend days lounging by the pool or lying on the beach with your organic basil margarita and no one around for miles…But for those craving a bit more adventure or culture, the resort offers a range of unique activities and excursions. On the property itself, aside from daily yoga that is included in your stay, you can also visit the turtle sanctuary or hike the discovery trail – a self-guided 3km walk through the Plava Viva property that showcases local trees, medicinal herbs and exotic fruits (like cashew fruit!); a fascinating archeological medicine stone that was once used for grinding herbs; the organic, permaculture farm that supplies much of the produce for the Playa Viva kitchen; as well as several different ecosystems that have been cleverly designed to regenerate the landscape after many years of mono-crop coconut farming.
For those wanting more of an adventure, the Sierra Madre Mountain excursion is not to be missed! A thrilling (albeit dusty!) ATV ride takes you up into the mountains to visit a warm and achingly-hospitable family who live completely off-the- grid and in tune with their surroundings – they have no running water or electricity and they either grow their own food or hunt and gather what they can in the surrounding jungle. They treat you to their home-grown coffee and natural chocolate as well as a delicious home-cooked lunch with arguably the best tortillas…ever.
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For fun on the water, surfing, kayaking and SUP boarding can be arranged at nearby beaches and for those who love to shop, a 45 minute drive will take you into Zihuatenejo where you can happily trawl the markets for Mexican blankets, hand-embroidered clothes or the odd bottle of Mezcal, and enjoy a fresh seafood lunch overlooking the bay when you are all shopped out.
A unique and very special activity that I got to take part in while I was there, is the temazcal or sweat-lodge ceremony. While not for everyone, for those who are fascinated by indigenous traditions or spirituality, it’s a must-do. Guided by Lupita, an open-hearted and vivacious local shaman, you are led through a ritual with songs and dance honouring the four directions and Mother Earth before being cleansed with smoking copal in preparation for the lodge. Lupita explains the significance of the temazcal for her people, and how it is symbolic of going back into the mother’s womb where the heat allows us to release what no longer serves us so that we can transform.
Like a sauna, it soon gets pretty hot and sweaty, but Lupita keeps the group focused with songs, chants and musical instruments, with everyone joining in when they feel like it. After the first round, we rested and sipped herbal tea and coconut water to rehydrate, then went in for one more round – after which, Luptia lovingly sang away as she rinsed each person one by one – symbolising that the cleansing was complete and we had been reborn.
UNIQUE ECO-LUXURY ACCOMMODATION
Playa-Viva is best described as an eco-luxury, sustainable boutique resort, and while only a 35 minute drive from the Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo airport, it’s set on 200 acres of coastal forest and mangrove ecosystems and a mile long private beach – giving you the feeling of being completely nestled in nature, a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. All of the buildings at Playa Viva are beautifully designed with natural materials from the surrounding environment, and the 12 rooms seamlessly dissolve the barrier between you and the stunning environment, with sliding walls and partially open -yet fully private! – bathrooms, allowing you to fully enjoy the sea breeze and lush views. There are a range of accommodation options for singles, couples, families and even group retreats, from one-bedroom eco-casitas, 2 and 4 bedroom suites as well as a stunning bamboo tree-house featuring an in-floor hammock. The room rates include 3 generous meals per day, snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, daily yoga (except Sundays) and airport transfers.
FOOD WITH HEART AND SOUL
As the Holistic Host, I had the oh-so- hard (not!) task of dining with the guests at each meal. One of the great things about Playa Viva, especially for solo travellers, is the intimate dining experience. Everyone dines at one long table, allowing the guests to chat and get to know each other, and often Melissa the Social Impact Manager or one of the volunteers joins in to share with the group about the exciting projects they are working on. Of course, if you’re after a romantic dinner for two, a private table can always be set up on the beach upon request.
Generally, the meals are served buffet style, and as a naturopath I was very impressed with how healthy they were! There is an abundance of organic vegetables and greens from the garden at every meal, as well as sustainably sourced seafood and free-range chicken or pork served with Mexican staples such as black beans, rice and tortillas. Abraham, the head chef, tries to creatively incorporate as much of what they grow on the farm into his recipes as possible, from dried cashew fruit in the granola to tamarind sauce from their tree to cooking with home-made coconut oil. While I was there, the kitchen staff were up-skilling with some workshops run by an expert vegan chef from Zihuatenejo and had learned how to make chia pudding, coconut yogurt and a delicious vegan taco filling made from cooked jackfruit and spices.
A VACATION WITH VALUES
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Playa Viva though, is it’s deep commitment to the local community and environment. Awarded the platinum Green Leaders award by Trip Advisor, Playa Viva understands the importance of ecotourism and goes way beyond the notion of low-impact into the realm of regenerative practices, meaning that the design and the social and environmental impact of the resort is not just sustainable, but seeks to improve the surrounding land and positively impact the local villages.
The farm is run according to permaculture principles, the resort is totally off the grid with solar power, water is conserved and cleaned using natural living systems, even the homemade soaps are made from glycerin byproducts! In the community, Playa Viva has also hosted workshops for local villagers on organic farming and nutrition, provided English tutoring at the school, partnered with the local turtle sanctuary to regenerate the turtle population, collaborated with Pack For a Purpose to bring supplies to the local school and medical centre as well as provided small business training to local businesses such as the coconut-candy factories and the salt co-operative.
All in all, for the conscious-traveller looking for a holiday that will balance the body and mind, serenade the senses and enable your tourist dollars to benefit the local environment and community, Playa Viva ticks all the boxes.
P.S. Have you been to an ecotourism destination that you can share? Leave the details in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it.