Some people are natural parents, the kind that roll with their young child’s vomiting, midnight fevers, and unexplained week-long diarrhea. I am not one of those people. The first few years of my daughter’s life were the most challenging I’ve ever lived through. She was born at home without a problem, yet the usual childhood illnesses another baby could pull through at home have hospitalized my child multiple times. I’ve lost count of the number of visits to the ER. No matter why one’s baby needs a catheter, a blood draw, or an IV—again—stress takes over.
I’ve never felt so hard of an attack on my nervous system as during my first years as a mother. And though I love hiking through foreign landscapes, catching rail connections, and exploring city nooks, by the time my child was 2 and a half I was ready for a major break. So when my husband had a week off in April, I chose none of what usually makes up our travel plans and booked us a 5-night all-inclusive stay at an eco-resort in Mexico where I would have no other choice but to relax, where we could all wind down. All I wanted to do was lounge around, read a book, and play with her in the outdoors.
Playa Viva is on a beach in Juluchuca, half an hour south of the small Zihuatanejo airport and away from everything. There are no neighbors in sight.
One of the unique features of this resort deemed “sustainable by design” is one of the main reasons I chose this place for our Easter week getaway: it is open-air living. Our life in Las Vegas was not. Late March and October are usually the only 2 months that don’t call for either air conditioning or heating at one point throughout the day. If we could stay in a place that isn’t enclosed, where we could feel the sea breeze even while sleeping, I couldn’t pass up the chance.
As soon as our taxi dropped us at the heart of the resort, our shoes came off and stayed off for 5 days.
The on-site yoga instructor/masseuse with a welcoming smile showed us around. We had booked the farthest EcoCasita and slept there for the first night. The walls of this room on stilts slide open for full exposure to the elements. It was a wonderfully organic space and comfortable for the 3 of us. By the second night, we were upgraded to a Deluxe Suite, situated closer to the main building, with a deck in front of its doors—still no complete walls or enclosure, with plenty of ocean air flowing through. We were grateful for the bigger bed as we slept 3 across!
The soundtrack of our days and nights at Playa Viva resembled an Ocean Sounds CD, perfect for de-stressing. Waves were roaring during our entire stay. One of my pet peeves is heavy noise from typical groups of tourists in vacation spots, especially during nighttime festivities. There was none of that here. Our daughter, easily excited about the world and a natural chatterbox (yeah, even at 2), was probably the loudest person there. We caught up on sleep and awoke fresh to do nothing all day but enjoy the air and sea. It was our time to disconnect from our hectic schedules and ground ourselves in the elements. We even made a feeble attempt at kite flying. One night, everyone watched The Artist, projected onto an adobe wall, with sand at our feet and stars overhead. We also had a bonfire with pink marshmallows the size of my daughter’s brain. This intimate group and general harmony isn’t so easy to come by with busier travel itineraries—it was just what we needed, and we were grateful for it.
Besides shameless napping, lounging, and splashing, we did a whole lot of eating. Meals appeared miraculously, laid out in a beautiful and elaborate buffet-style display. I can safely speak for all families there when I say we immensely enjoyed the fresh lunch and dinner meals of authentic Mexican cuisine made with local ingredients. We were lucky to have at the helm of the kitchen crew the French chef Chooky, who took pride in his creations. One night, we even got to design our own pizzas on just-rolled dough to cook in the outdoor wood-fired ovens. Aguas Frescas, Mexican coffee, and fresh fruit were provided all day long.
We weren’t alone at Playa Viva. The resort is small, its full capacity being 22 persons. We got along wonderfully with the 2 other families staying at the time and took turns watching our children play together while one went on a run or another for a nap. We shared stories over delicious meals at the monks’ table.
The kids played endlessly in the pool or on the beach with sand and sticks. Playa Viva offers beads to make jewelry with and board games to enjoy. A book to pick up for a spell can be found in the eclectic collections on various shelves around the main lounge area of the resort. I confess—I traded my Letters on Life by Rilke for Cleaning Nabokov’s House, a contemporary fiction novel, which attracted me by title, since I’m a Nabokov fan. Yet, it was a simple read with zero depth, kinda what a needed during these lazy days.
Those guests who wanted to see more of the nearby pueblo or needed some adventure went on ATV journeys up the mountain, sea salt factory tours, or hikes to spot big snakes in the jungle behind the resort. Our 2 year old and my desire for calm kept us around the resort.
We did a lot of hammock rocking, book reading, and beach walking interspersed with dips in the pool. Unfortunately, the ocean in front of the resort has a strong and fast rip that during the days of high surf when we were there made it no place for children. My husband and I jumped in and out but swimming and surfing weren’t possible. I’m not a weak swimmer but was taken 200 meters north in the current within seconds when I did venture further out. This was the only hang up for me about the place, and it’s not about the resort itself but the unruly ocean in front of it that wasn’t good for swimming.
The joy of baby turtles made up for the lack of ocean time. There is a turtle sanctuary a couple of miles down the beach. A stroll along the sand gets you there in no time. There isn’t much to see as it’s a small volunteer operation, but we went to learn how the nests were arranged and check if any were ready for hatching. No one was there, so on another afternoon the staff at Playa Viva brought a nest of baby turtles just hatched for us to release. We got to watch them scurry to their home through the shore break and aid them by clapping and screaming to keep sea birds from snatching them up before having a fair shot at life.
As for the staff, all were friendly and kind. Julia, the manager, is the truest gem. Johnny, the do-it-all guy, made us the famed basil margaritas that are as good as everyone who’s been to Playa Viva claims they are. These were the best margaritas I’ve tasted, and this comes from someone who bartended her way through grad school. Johnny was also kind enough to procure a small and gentle horse—after our mere suggestion—for the children (and, yeah, us adults too).
We were spoiled at Playa Viva—the lack of stress itself a luxury. The nightly rate for an EcoCasita can seem hefty to some but considering the rest we indulged in, the outdoor environment, the insanely good food, and the top-notch service, the price was worth it.
After this downtime, we headed back to running around and made our way to our friends’ wedding in Laguna Beach, California. When others there asked us what we had done on our time away, I admitted, “Not much…It was great!”
Go: Playa Viva, Juluchuca, Mexico.
*NOTE: There are supposedly scorpions at Playa Viva, but we didn’t see any. The resort claims that there have been 3 incidents of stinging in the past 4 years on Trip Advisor. The resort provides a black light flashlight with which to check your bed each night before getting in. Had I known before going that there were scorpions, I don’t know if I would have taken my two year old. However, we were coming from Las Vegas where friends have found scorpions in their houses. Once we found out upon arrival, we just went with it and used a bit more caution checking the bed, put on slippers to go to the bathroom at night, scanned the shower area each evening. We didn’t have a problem and I got the recharge I so badly needed, but things may have been very different had my child been stung.
Read: Not Rilke’s prose! Try fiction instead that is still engaging but takes less of a concentrated effort to get through, in my opinion. My husband read The Hunger Games, the first book of the trilogy, and could be found in the hammock with it for most of the trip.