One of Playa Viva’s private casitas, breezy palapa-style huts eight feet above the sand. Photo: randolph langenbach
Baby turtles make their way into the ocean in the early morning light. Photo: Daniel Camarena
Grab a book—you’ll find one in the onsite library—and idle away the afternoon. Photo: Gerold Sinnhofer
Photo: Daniel Camarena
Lounge on the resort’s wide private beach (keep an eye out for breaching whales). Photo: Chris Cohen
It’s hard to know exactly when it will hit you. It could be the moment you walk through the terra-cotta-hued entrance and spot the ocean a mere 50 feet away. Or when the bartender, Johnny, puts a refreshing margarita—made with basil plucked right from the garden—in your hand. Or it might be when you’re standing on your private deck and notice that the beach stretches out to where you can no longer see it. But at some point it will become clear that two-year-old Playa Viva, a down-to-earth eco-resort on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, is certifiably paradise.
This means that David Leventhal and his wife, Sandra Kahn, hit their goal, which was to create the ultimate leave-your-worries-behind getaway that would also satisfy your carbon-footprint conscience and do-gooder soul. Their dreamy eco-retreat sits on a 160-acre nature reserve near the tiny town of Juluchuca (pop. 450), about 30 minutes south of Zihuatanejo. Built with local materials, the resort runs on solar power (in fact, it feeds the grid) and uses a gray-water system. (The site’s LEED certification is pending.) The plantation-style accommodations (dark bamboo furniture, mosquito nets, organic-cotton linens) feel like tree houses straight out of The Swiss Family Robinson, and with no in-room Internet access and nary a phone or TV, all you hear is the sound of crashing waves. (If you’re desperate, there’s free Wi-Fi in the lobby.)
Your room, though, might be the last place you’ll be. The resort offers a long list of activities that let guests mingle, support the local community —and play. Here's a short rundown: Surf, kayak, snorkel, horseback ride, do yoga, get a massage with a panoramic view of the water. Lounging in a hammock by the oceanfront pool is popular, as is hiking the trails that wind through tropical jungle and along estuaries. When you tire of board games and books in the in-house library, pop over to the organic garden to pick your salad ingredients or help tend the tomatoes, cilantro, and other produce. Some guests even tag along on shopping trips to nearby farms with the resort’s chef.
Dining is also part of the community gestalt: Meals (included in the room rate, as are beer and wine) are taken family-style in the open-air dining room with the few other guests. Freshly baked tortillas and homemade salsa accompany every plentiful spread. If he’s in town, Leventhal snags a seat at the dinner table and will ask for a review of your day—and arrange for herbal tea or a nightcap in your room.
Yes, this is the kind of place where you’d be perfectly happy to be marooned.
The Local Touch:
Deliver school supplies to a nearby elementary school (pack them in your suitcase); visit one of the three candy factories in town where coconuts are transformed into toasted sweets; join the daily baby turtle release at sunrise, one of the resort’s ongoing environmental projects. (Close to 4,000 were released during the author's recent four-day visit.)