How Playa Viva Guests and Local Community Work Together

Around mid-November a yoga retreat from Breathe Together Yoga Studio in California graced us with their presence at Playa Viva. During their stay a few of its participants took a local tour with Johnny around town, visiting the schools, the local coconut candy factory, and the small stands selling homemade jams and other edibles. During their tour, they saw something peculiar happening: they noticed large barrels of water being trucked in and families washing clothes in the river. They asked Johnny what was happening and he explained how the town’s water pump had failed.


A couple weeks prior to the retreat, the pump that brings water into the town of Juluchuca had given way, leaving families to either purchase water or, for those who could not afford it, make trips to the river every day. The cost to replace the pump totaled about 2,000 USD. Raising funds proved to be a real hardship for the town, only garnering about $150 USD during the first round of collections. Most families simply could not afford to pay for the new pump and the supplies necessary to install it.

Guests who went on the local tour brought this need back to the rest of the group who immediately jumped on board with support and offers to help. They discussed with Johnny how much money the town needed, learning that the town still needed to raise $900. A second round of collections was in process where officials were going door-to-door trying to collect money for the pump from the residents.

The group decided collectively to donate a minimum $700 to the purchase of the new pump, which PV would buy and then receive reimbursement from the president, town, and The Ocean Foundation (our fiscal sponsor).

Everyone in the town who made the pump possible!

After receiving the generous donation from the Breathe Los Gatos Retreat, a new pump was purchased and water once again flowed to Juluchuca. Helping restore water to the town was an enormous victory — leaving the town grateful and its donors filled with compassion.

“Helping restore water to the town for me was the highlight of my vacation. Unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene – is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. It also plays a large role in keeping people poor. I was beyond thankful for the privilege to join the retreat at PV and being able to share that thankfulness by giving back to the town who hosted us, warmed my heart and filled my soul.” – Charlene Chen, Retreat Participant


How a Family Vacation Engages the Larger Community

This past Thanksgiving Playa Viva had the pleasure of hosting (for a second time!) Dana and Ron Robinson and their three kids Sofie, Nella, and Tymen. Ron is a chiropractor and his wife Dana is a kids and prenatal yoga teacher based in Chicago, IL.

This time, they came with a plan to engage with the local community of Juluchuca. The two of them graciously offered their skills to the community during their stay with us. Ron, a chiropractor, gave free adjustments sessions both to Playa Viva staff as well as at the local health clinic. Dana, a yoga instructor, taught a kids yoga class to a group of students at the primary school.


Juluchuca, the town neighboring Playa Viva, is a small traditional Mexican town of about 500-600 inhabitants. The local health clinic provides basic services for minor injuries and illnesses, and serves the residents of not only Juluchuca, but the neighboring towns of Rancho Nuevo, Ceiba, and Las Salinas. To receive the kind of treatment that Ron was offering, residents from these towns would have to travel at least to Zihuatanejo, if not farther, and many were in great need of such service.

The clinic helped to publicize Ron’s service, but most people found out by word of mouth within an hour of the first patient that was treated. Once word got around, families from all over Juluchuca and even the neighboring towns, from toddler to grandmother, came to stand in line and receive an adjustment.


Ron had contacted me early on about his family’s interest in serving the community in Juluchuca and how they felt it important to serve in whatever capacity they could.

For me service has been a part of my life since I have been little.  My parents have always been involved by volunteering for local events, groups etc, but never internationally. They have always been leading by example and that is one thing that Dana and I have consciously made an effort to do as well for our kids.  We want our kids to experience different cultures, by not just being a tourist, but also by being connected through service.  For me this type of service allows for those you are serving to directly participate as well, which fosters a relationship and deeper connection.” – Ron Robinson

While Ron was making adjustments at the health clinic in town, over at the primary school, another special event was taking place: the kids yoga class. Dana came with great experience teaching yoga to not only kids, but also to pregnant mothers, babies, toddlers, and of course adults too! Dana started her own studio in Crystal Lake, Illinois called Sweet Feet Yoga, which centers around the importance of bringing the benefits of yoga to each stage of life.


Ron and I both feel so blessed to be gifted with talents and skills that can be shared around the world no matter where we are … We had a  great time connecting to the community of Juluchuca through chiropractic and kids’ yoga.  The smiles on every person’s face after receiving their first chiropractic adjustment or experiencing the joy of their first kids’ yoga class were priceless.  Working as a family to connect and serve others gives us an opportunity to grow closer to each other, as well as closer to others that we may at first think are different from us, but in the end are not so different at all and become people that we care about, pray for, and hope to see many more times in the future.  Thank you to everyone there at Playa Viva for an experience of a lifetime.  We will definitely be back!” – Dana Robinson

The girls at the primary school expressed great interest in learning yoga and were overly excited to learn all they could from Dana.


At Playa Viva, we are committed to promoting transformational experiences just like the ones mentioned here. We are now working with the community to offer yoga more regularly for Juluchucans (both children and adults!).

It always starts with just one class.


Stay tuned for more info!

Meet the Playa Viva Volunteers!


Volunteers are an enormous source of support for the Playa Viva team. Our volunteers come from all over the world and support our work in multiple aspects and bring a multitude of experience. We have volunteers supporting our farm and food production teams, our permaculture team, our kitchen staff, our turtle sanctuary, as well as teaching English in Juluchuca. Volunteers stay on average one to three months and have the option of utilizing any personal skills they might bring by taking on a personal project.

We are incredibly grateful for all of their hard work, so we wanted to share with you our current team of wonderful volunteers. Thank you all for your support!

Dani Schugg, USA

Service: Oct 15-Dec 15


Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m originally from southern California, but lived in Madrid, Spain for the past year teaching English at a primary school.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?
I found out about volunteering at Playa Viva through a family friend who knows David, the owner.

Why did you decide to volunteer?
I was looking for another opportunity to teach English, in Latin America this time, and Playa Viva seemed like a great fit! I was also very intrigued by Playa Viva’s core values as a sustainable hotel and wanted to see what all the rage was about. Also, have you seen the pictures?? They alone will convince you to come to Playa Viva.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?
I have a pretty mixed schedule. I teach English at the local primary school (grades 1-6) twice a week and at the high school twice a week. Then, I work in the kitchen the remaining shifts with the best chefs in Mexico!

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

In my two months, Juluchuca has become a home away from home. From getting tacos at Lupe’s to chasing the piggies with my camera every chance I get, it’s hard to pick just one highlight. I will miss hovering over Inés, Olga and Abraham watching them work their magic in the kitchen, and I’ll for sure miss my celebrity status amongst the kiddos.

Andy Ollove, USA

Service: Nov 1-Dec 15

img_6599Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’ve been living in New York City for the last 8 or so years and before then Baltimore. Before Playa Viva I was working in local food systems, helping to connect low income communities around the country to affordable and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Otherwise I spent my days biking around the city and lamping in parks.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

Me and my girlfriend Sarah found Playa Viva via WWOOF.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

We decided to come for all of the reasons: its social and environmental mission, its location in the beautiful Costa Grande region of Mexico, the opportunity to learn basic farming and gardening skills, and possibly the biggest reason of all: to freshen up our Spanish.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

At Playa Viva I work as part of the food production team with Abel & Güero, cleaning garden beds, harvesting greens, turning compost, and representing Playa Viva at the weekly farmers market in Zihuatanejo. Additionally I am working with the organizers of that market to run a couple workshops intended to increase the capacity of their market and reach new local customers. This is work that I’ve done in the United States and wanted to share with the community here.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

My favorite part of the day is the starry-skied ride to work everyday in the brisk morning on the back of a pick up. Drinking coffee with the sunrise and watching the mist disappear from the water is a great way to begin a day of work.

Sarah Labriola, USA

Service: Nov 1-Dec 15

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m originally from Los Angeles but have been living in New York where I worked for the NYC Parks Department.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I found out about Playa Viva through the website WWOOF

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I decided to volunteer because I wanted to learn how to grow food and work on my Spanish. I chose to apply to Playa Viva because the volunteer program seemed more structured and dynamic than others.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I have been working on the food production team on the farm as well as helping out in the kitchen.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The highlights for me have been watching the sunrise every morning and jumping in the ocean after a hot day on the farm!

Tristan Borrensen, Denmark

Service: Nov 15 – Jan 1(?)

img_6554Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from Copenhagen, Denmark and I used to be tour guide around in the Copenhagen canals.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

By the Mexican WWOOF list

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I have done WWOOFing before in Chile and I desired having more experience in farming and agriculture, improving my Spanish and also learn more about real Mexican rural culture.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

Currently, I am working on the trails signs. The signs need to be engraved, painted and polished so hopefully they can lead and teach the guests about this wonderful area of Playa Viva for many years.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The first week I was “chaponando”, in other words, cutting weeds and maintaining the trails with a machete. It was pretty hard – but as a true ranchero or “charro” I held on too tight – consequently, I got a bunch of “bulas” on my hands. Secondly, I have repaired and sowed the tent of the turtle sanctuary, which a famous Youtuber has captured and used in his film about Playa Viva. I’ve been training the little kids of Juluchuca in football and also play with the adult Juluchuca team. I’ve been to a quinceañera and have been enjoying some beers with the locals Saturday nights. I have met a lot of great people and the delicious food here abounds and astonishes your eyes.

Johanna Ledermann, Germany

Service: Nov 30-Dec 30

img_6580Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m from Leipzig, Germany. Before I arrived I was finishing my BA in cultural studies with a thesis focusing on sociology of food and agriculture, working on a biodynamic farm and volunteering in theater and film festivals.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I found out through a random search looking for farms to work at in Mexico.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I was interested in learning more about the flora in Mexico and how organic agriculture is carried out in the context of supplying a hotel. I wanted to work with locals since they are a lot more knowledgeable than many expats starting farms in Mexico and playa viva is facilitating this exchange.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

Since I’m interested in the whole cycle of food I am working in the production team and in the kitchen. I will happily share my skills in permaculture aligned with the vision of playa viva.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

Since I haven’t been here for a long time it’s hard to already identify a highlight, though it was and is definitely amazing to get to see so many different plants I only knew from pictures out in the terrain of Playa Viva.


Mercedes Falk, USA

Service: Dec 1-Dec 30

img_6579Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from Wisconsin and I was working on a small farm helping produce vegetables and manage food processing in the certified kitchen on site there.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I met Melissa, the Volunteer Coordinator, a year and a half ago in Belize and subsequently found out about volunteer opportunities at PV via her awesome posts!

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I decided to volunteer because I had plans to come to Mexico to improve my Spanish speaking skills and I love working with food so much that I wanted to combine my desire for bettering my Spanish with a hands-on volunteer experience on a farm.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am working on the food production team and I will be working in the kitchen. Growing food and seeing it from start to finish is one of my favorite things to do so being on both of these teams seems like the perfect, full-circle experience.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

Besides staying in Juluchuca and seeing all the pigs and chickens that are freely integrated into the town life, the highlight of my experience so far (all two days of it!) has been how friendly the staff has been in welcoming me and having patience with my gringo Spanish skills.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Melissa, at

Social & Ecological Regeneration: A New Chapter

Over the last few years, I’ve been working in conservation and sustainable development on various contracts throughout Asia and Latin America. Through the work I’ve done, I’ve learned how complicated and challenging it can be to balance environmental protection and preservation with economic development.

Sustainable tourism has been a popular strategy throughout the developing world for facilitating economic development while preserving the resources on which tourism depends–both the physical environment itself as well as the well-being of the host community. However, sometimes sustainable tourism is not always the “win-win” solution it promises to be. Playa Viva is overly cognizant of this reality, which is why they created my role: Social and Environmental Impact Custodian.

Playa Viva’s sustainable tourism model is different than most, however. Rather taking pristine landscapes and developing them “sustainably” (i.e. use of local natural building materials, renewable energy sources, and minimizing waste), Playa Viva practices “regeneration”– a process of rejuvenating and restoring what has been lost through prior unsustainable practices.   

The tree house

Playa Viva’s land was once a monoculture coconut grove — a result of the boom-and-bust coconut oil industry that began in the 1920s and crashed in the ‘60s and ‘70s when coconut oil fell out of favor. Damaged from these extractive industries, much of the land in the state of Guerrero was left degraded and infertile.

Under the model of regeneration, we also use local natural building materials, renewable energy sources, and minimize waste, but we feel it is incumbent on us as environmental stewards to regenerate and restore this land to as close to its natural state as possible to ensure that both people and nature thrive. As such, the team here has been working diligently over the last decade to restore mangrove and coastal forest ecosystems, grow edible and medicinal crops organically, and foster better education, health, and economic opportunities in the surrounding community.  

Salad greens, vegetable garden, and tree nursery

So what’s my task here?  To establish a system for continuous monitoring and evaluation of Playa Viva’s social and environmental impact. They want to be absolutely certain that Playa Viva’s impact on the land and in the community is positive, sustainable, and adheres to the values on which we are founded.

The ultimate vision of Playa Viva is to create a model and living legacy for sustainable and regenerative resort development, whereby we revitalize and nurture the land on which we are built and the community by which we are surrounded.

To wrap my head around our “regenerative” concept and the whole systems thinking applied here at Playa Viva, I created a regenerative concept map. In this map you can see how PV’s core goals and objectives for social and environmental sustainability are interwoven and interlinked–how we are continually nurturing the earth and our community, and, in turn, our own lives and the people around us.


I have been here only a few short weeks and I’m already learning multitudes. I am continually impressed with all that has been achieved here in just eight years. I’m thrilled, excited, and overly grateful to be part of a community that is trying to better this world and heal our planet.

Solar Panels at Playa Viva

Conservation Role Models

AFAR Magazine included Playa Viva in a list of “Conservation Role Models” in a round up of hotels where you can “Go for Good”, a listing of hotels where you can stay and help support great causes.  Playa Viva support of great causes starts with creating a positive social and environmental impact in the local ecology  (watch these videos about Playa Viva’s work in the local community).

Just recently, Nick Wolf, with Gente Viva, our organic farming partner, asked if I knew of a company called Good Hospitality.  We first met this organization back in 2014, when they were trying to raise funds for a hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. The proceeds from the hotel operation were intended to support a local primary schools for children who need it most.

Dutch-based Good Hospitality has an interesting initiative. They have created a barge hotel, as a floating pop-up hotel. Another good part of the story – Good Hospitality partnered with a local hospitality school to train the under employed in local Amsterdam are in order to help them find more permanent work.  See this wonderful set of videos about the training workers for the opening of the hotel and the human stories around finding more permanent work.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 1 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 2 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

The hotels covered in the AFAR Article as well as Good Hospitality are all part of of a trend, spending your travel budget to align with your values. We salute Good Hotel and Good Hospitality on the progress they are making in supporting education of those with less in order for them to make more of their lives. We hope you will join these hotels and Playa Viva and travel to locations “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”

“Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values” — voting with your dollar (investing and spending)

Recently, I’ve been reading alot about the growth of the social impact investing space and wanted to address this in the context of social impact spending and how we vote with the dollars we spend as much as those we invest.

JuluchucaSaltIn an article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of the Threshold Group,  she addresses the size of social impact investing marketplace and key bottlenecks to growth.  Similarly, in an article by Colin Close with InvestCloud, he discusses how impact investing is moving from fringe to mainstream.  The basic idea is to invest your dollars with your values.  Original SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) was mostly values based with churches and other groups putting up “negative” screens and asking investment advisors and portfolio manager to exclude certain investments which did not match with their values such as guns, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc.  The market has moved from exclusion to inclusion, from “screening out” to “advocacy”, as many of these same financial advisory groups are advocating for companies they invest in to make “positive” changes related to corporate governance, community engagement and environmental impact.

It all sounds great especially when you read that the returns from ESG/SRI has been as good as or better than the market in most cases. How do they define this? They take one index (basket of stocks) and compare it to another. One that broadly represents the market like the S&P 500 and the iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF. Go look it up, here is how it is described:

  1. Exposure to socially responsible U.S. companies
  2. Access to a broad range of stocks that have been screened for positive environmental, social, and governance characteristics
  3. Use to invest based on your personal values

Now, take a look at the list of top 10 companies. They include Coca-Cola and Pepsico. I don’t know about you, but the sale of sugar water and bottled water is not in alignment with my values. Sure, I guess I could ask for a further screening to exclude these two from the top 10. But, if these are included, who’s making the list and what are their values based on?

Julia with Odin at Playa Viva
Julia with Odin at Playa Viva

When Playa Viva was just building it’s first buildings, we had a special guest,renowned American environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who was pondering moving to Playa Viva to live. During our time together Julia taught me what is meant by really living by your values and doing as much as you can, and should do, to save our planet.  I do aspire to many of her choices and the discipline she exercises in the execution of those values. The key to what she taught me was — We make small decisions every day in how we act, what we chose to do, and not do, how we plan ahead, how we make the hard choices in order to live with little to no impact on the earth.  We invest in impact by the daily decisions we make, by the way we spend (not just invest) our dollars.

pv_3We, at Playa Viva, have developed a motto over the years — “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”  We know we are not perfect and much of what we do is aspirational at best. So when you look to make your vacation choice, we hope your vacation investment looks deeply at your vacation decisions. We ask that you engage with your vacation choice, hopefully it is with us, about your values to make sure we are in alignment.   Sure, I cringe every time I look under the bar and find a few cans of Coca-cola products. But they are under the bar, specifically for those customers who just can’t live without their fix. While on top of the counter is always a glass “jarra” full of Aguas Frescas, fresh water/juices, made with locally harvested fruits.

What do you reach for to quench your thirst? Does your vacation meet with your values?


Been Too Long Since We Blogged…so Restarting with “Award Winning”

Why has it been so long since our last blog post? Simple, we revamped the website about a year ago and the blog was not part of the new site. But many of you were still searching, finding and commenting on content on our blog; so we decided to bring it back and incorporate it into the new website. While much of our content updates have been visual, posting photos on our Instagram page with links back to our Facebook page, we still have a need for words, for WordPress and for non-visual content that provides a narrative update for what we have been up to at Playa Viva.

So what have we been up to since the last post? Stay tuned as we provide updates on the same topics we have covered before: Green, Sustainable and Regenerative Travel, Architecture, Building, Community Development, Volunteering, Local and Organic Agriculture, etc.

One notable item is the new Treehouse at Playa Viva. It was designed by Kimshasa Baldwin at Deture Culsign and the construction was completed by Will Beilharz and his firm ArtisTree.  The end result is stunning and has become an iconic image for Playa Viva.

Most recently, the treehouse can now be called “award winning.” NEWSFLASH: the “Treehouse Suite at Playa Viva has been selected as one of the finalists in the Lifestyle Guestrooms category…,and all winners and finalists will be featured in the June issue of Hospitality Design magazine.”

Also, Kimshasa and Will along with David Leventhal of Playa Viva also presented at the Boutique Design Magazine’s BDWest conference. The session was entitled: “EARTH STAYS: MAKING SUSTAINABLE DESIGN HAPPEN IN A NANOSECOND.”  The focus was how an introduction by Mary Scoviak of Boutique Design in April of 2015 lead to the design and construction of the treehouse opening in October 2015 (a nanosecond in hotel design and building).

More about the design and building process in future posts. Please come experience the Treehouse for yourself.

Treehouse 1

Photo by Leonardo Palafox