Photography by Instagram/playaviva

Eco-Tourism: I Vacationed in a Treehouse in Mexico

When it comes to beach travel, my typical checklist is a little unimaginative (think: quality restaurants, good nightlife, beautiful beaches and modern gym facilities). But this year I wanted to step outside my comfort zone—go off the usual vacation grid, disconnect from my screens and get Zen with some relaxing meditation. Toronto-based travel agency Room and Wild, known for booking relaxing retreats in unknown hideaways around the world, found a destination that would accommodate my interests: Playa Viva, a boutique resort located in the small town of Juluchuca, Mexico, that’s known for its yoga program, eco-friendly initiatives and super-unique accommodations—like the bamboo treehouse villa that is often used for photo shoots.

The experience of living in the treehouse for four days can only be described as “tropical glamping.” Despite modern comforts like power outlets, running water and a luxe king-sized bed, I was completely immersed in the natural surroundings. Even my bathroom, although private, did not have a roof. This meant an outdoor shower and a toilet that regularly had to be checked for animals and insects. (One determined frog really took to my toilet bowl, so I had to be extra sure it hadn’t returned before I sat down.)

But frogs were the least of my worries. I was warned of the local scorpions and told to watch where I step, especially at night. Oh, and the bug net. Though the aesthetic of the white fabric covering the beautiful bed looked like something out of a movie, the fact that it kept me safe from the scorpions, tarantulas and pesky mosquitos was no fantasy at all.

Usually, on beach vacays I take a chill approach to mornings: Sleep in, order coffee to the room, head to the gym and make my way to the beach around noonish. But on this trip, Mother Nature had a different plan. When you’re basically sleeping under the stars and have full sun exposure, you wake up when the sun is up and sleep when it sets.

In the mornings, I’d go down to the beachfront for a yoga session. The sounds of the waves crashing and the birds chirping created the soundtrack to our morning hatha-style classes, which were way more gentle and meditative than my usual HIIT holiday workouts. Normally, not getting in my high-impact workouts leaves me feeling anxious, but the restorative practice fit the bill for my “out of box” travel experience.

The most impressive and impactful part of the trip wasn’t the treehouse, though. The resort’s environmentally friendly initiatives made me think a lot more about my wasteful habits. This eco ethos became apparent in my first few moments at Playa when I asked whether the resort would stock bottled water in my room. When the hostess looked at me like I had four heads, I quickly realized that this was the antithesis of what this place was all about. (Insert head-in-hands emoji.)

The resort is highly concerned about sustainable resources and reducing waste, which means each room gets a keg of clean, recycled drinking water and a set of glasses daily. (They have a very sophisticated built-in filtration system which means it’s A-OK to drink.) Many people also chose to bring a reusable water bottle from home. To be honest, packing my Swell bottle for vacations had NEVER occurred to me until then.  When I ordered a cocktail—the basil-lime margaritas were to die for—it even came with a glass straw.

For a split second, when I first pulled up and felt the natural, low-tech vibes of the resort, I panicked about whether there was even power in the rooms—I mean, how was I going to charge my iPad? Although tech use is discouraged in order for guests to get the full “unplugging” experience, all of the rooms and the main building have power. But instead of leaving a large carbon footprint like many of the other resorts I’ve been to over the years, the entire property is solar powered.

At large resorts it can be hard to eat well and stay on track diet-wise. There are often not enough healthy options, and even when there is fresh produce, the fear of whether it’s safe to eat is real. This food, though not fancy, was as healthy and organic as it gets. The resort’s 200-acre property is lined with different types of useful crops and even egg production, all of which is used in the meals for the resort guests. If it’s ripe, it’s picked and cooked. Whatever can’t be grown (or laid), as well as the meat, comes from small local, organic farmers.

But probably the most profound takeaway from my time in Juluchuca was watching how the community works together to make their world a better place. A few dozen locals dedicate full nights every month to help save the turtles, which are being terrorized by the badger population. Every night a few of these volunteers scour the beach, dig up turtle eggs and transport them to the sanctuary on the property. Other volunteers help manage Playa Viva’s farming initiatives or help with nutrition education and ESL tutoring in the town of Juluchuca. This gave me all the feels.