A Return Trip to Playa Viva: The Same but Different

“Back to Playa Viva? For the third time?”

When my fiance (now wife) said she wanted to visit Playa Viva again for our honeymoon, I had my reservations. Not because we both don’t love it—we do—but we tend toward exploring new places. And I thought that would continue. Even the fact that we’d been to the resort twice already was unlike our typical travelling. Most vacations for us are about exploring what is new or foreign.

But then we went. Again.

Reflections on a third vacation in paradise

After resettling at home, I realize now that I couldn’t have been more wrong in thinking that another Playa Viva trip would be boring. Instead, this trip ended up being a complete respite but the typical hustle and bustle of our trips. We were somewhere comfortable and familiar. And it was so great to see the continuation of so much of what we love about Playa Viva, plus the new aspects of the property.

Because we weren’t somewhere new, I was able to completely immerse myself and focus on what it is about Playa Viva that makes it so special. Some of that on our trip was what had changed; some of it was what they had always done.

Accommodations

The first big change for us on this trip was staying in the treehouse. I don’t know where to begin—it was so unique. Right away in the first few moments after we arrived, we sat in the hammock inside the treehouse, watching the waves while half-reading our books. It was amazing to hear the ocean while simultaneously feeling as though we were in the forest. The treehouse is built as one with the trees and they flow through the space.

At night, the treehouse really comes to life. Not only do the stars and turtle-friendly lighting give it a magical glow, but the sounds of the forest pull you deeper into the experience. It made me think of all the options that my white noise app offers. Nothing that compares to the nature of Playa Viva.

Comida

Most days upon waking at Playa Viva—after taking a second to make sure it’s not a dream—you think about eating. Or at least we do. 

The food has always been something we look forward to when we visit; this time was no different. Well maybe the only difference was that we had our favorite meals on this trip, thank you, Chef Daniel. 

What we have always loved most are the staples that they have prepared each time we have visited: the tortillas, salsas, queso fresco and beans. These “basic” foods have always been something I remember about my time there, and I was so glad to get to enjoy them again this trip. And I can’t go without my coffee. This trip it was the fresh coconut milk that put the coffee over the top. It was so rich and creamy and just … tasted right in our environment. Chia pudding at breakfast was also pivotal—grabbing a small bowl before yoga in the mornings before indulging on chilaquiles afterward.

Another favorite of ours on this trip was a ceviche bar lunch one day. It was the perfect meal in the middle of a hot day, and Chef Daniel’s team prepared everything with purpose and intent. The fresh flavors and spices (which were customizable, mine being slightly more mild than my wife’s) really felt almost cooling in the heat.

The farm

Not only was the kitchen team clearly hard at work, but so was the permaculture team. The use of produce from the property directly has always been a detail that I have really enjoyed about dining at Playa Viva. This time we noticed a wider variety of vegetables and other ingredients from the farm at every meal. And after meeting with Amanda, the lengths her team has taken to make this possible are clearly evident.

I say all this as someone who has worked with food for 15+ years. And who is married to a passionate vegetarian. (Choose which of those makes me qualified to obsess over food.) But I am always looking for places where fresh produce is incorporated as much as possible. And places where a connection to the land and community is evident. Food isn’t grown in a vacuum, and I wish more Americans would realize this. At Playa Viva, it’s obvious that while a lot of farming work goes into creating a wonderful dining experience for guests, that bounty is also shared with staff and the local community. Providing more whole plant options that are grown locally with the best intentions … that’s how to have a lasting impact.

Community

Playa Viva has had close relationships to Juluchuca and its greater rural area for as long as we’ve been visiting—since 2012 and I’m sure before. One in particular made our third trip especially memorable.

There’s a local family who lives off their land in the mountains a few hours from Playa Viva’s coastal location. I’d previously enjoyed a few delights because of this family—that delicious coffee I mentioned earlier being one of them and handmade chocolates, too—but I didn’t really know the family’s story and had never chosen the Sierra Mountain excursion. This time around we knew we wanted to fit visiting the family and exploring the hills into our mostly relaxation-focused vacation. 

Many other guests have attested to how fun it is to ride the ATVs into the mountains and the beautiful views to be had, but for me this excursion was all about the family. Getting to meet four generations and spend a day learning about how they’ve built their life off the land gave me a new perspective on our whole trip. Gone were the luxurious meals of our quick Mexico City layover. Instead, it felt like I was finally, truly in Mexico. 

This family grows all their own foods and sells some of the surplus to the community. Their cacao is something incredibly special; some of its heritage traceable back to the Aztecs. We were able to see how they grow their cacao and their process for making it into chocolate. But while my wife split off with the patriarch for a property tour, I chose to split off and help prepare lunch—an experience I’ll never forget. Having cooked professionally for my whole career, their open air, dirt floor kitchen brought me back to why we cook. It’s about feeding the people you care about with the food you’ve cared for. Even though there was a language barrier between myself and the family, we were speaking a language that is universal. You don’t need expensive china and fancy equipment to achieve the same end result: nourishing people and sharing a table together.

Where your vacation meets your values

Of our three tips to Playa Viva, this was my favorite for many reasons, but ultimately it was the ability to fully relax and learn new details in a space I was already comfortable with that left the most impact. The motto of “where your vacation meets your values” really rang true this time around. Our Playa Viva honeymoon was about so much more than adventure.

I share many values with the staff of Playa Viva and getting to learn more about how those values are implemented and the resounding effect they have was so special. Hearing Amanda on our farm tour speak about the rule of three where anything the permaculture team decided to change or add to the ecosystem must have at least three positive results … that sums up Playa Viva right there. 

A certain peace comes with the familiar, and I found that peace on this trip. I came in knowing what to expect to some extent and could easily get into the flow of vacation mode. But Playa Viva did more than alleviate the exhausting side of travel. Despite my familiarity, there was so much to discover and learn while we were there. Change is always just under the surface; that is the only constant. Knowing that the changes being made to an already near-perfect spot are informed with conscious thought and the larger impact in mind, is something worth writing about. And continuing to explore on trips to come.

Blog written by Ben Miller, Playa Viva Guest in 2012, 2017 & 2020

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