A Winter Break In Mexico: Fun In The Sun At Papaya Playa Project in Tulum

Papaya Playa Project in Tulum, Mexico
Because beach life is the best life… Picture courtesy of Papaya Playa Project.

After a busy summer working in Ibiza, as much as I hated to leave the island (I cried four times between waving goodbye to our village and touching down in London), I was excited to go home and see my family and friends in the UK and Germany.

Nevertheless, before immersing myself back into city life and the whirlwind of Christmas festivities, I felt in dire need of some R ‘n’ R. So, fully embracing the spirit of ‘treat yo self’, I decided to book my first proper holiday in over three years and jet off to Mexico for a bit of winter sun before continuing on to Germany, where my family is based.

It was my first time in the Caribbean, and, admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. Lured by stunning pictures of white beaches, turquoise waters and incredible hotels on Instagram (is this not how everyone decides where to travel to these days?), my friend Bonnie of The Style Traveller and I chose Tulum, on the Mayan Riviera, making our first stop the relaxed and picturesque Papaya Playa Project, a design hotel that puts importance on wellness, good food and parties fuelled by soulful music.

Welcome to the jungle…
Relaxation HQ.
The hippy spirit is alive and well at PPP.

Spreading out over the rocks and into the jungle terrain right by the glittering ocean, we instantly fell in love with the boutique resort’s easy charm and stunning natural surroundings. Our casita, a shack hidden in the tropical foliage complete with private plunge pool and rooftop terrace to watch the stars from, perfected the concept of rustic simplicity on a luxury level.

It would make a gorgeous bolthole for any traveller, but, if you ask me, PPP is the perfect couple’s hideaway thanks to its huge queen-size bed (with a generous daybed attached at the end), secluded backyard and open-plan shower area, complete with that all-important rain showerhead. We concluded very quickly that the whole space must have basically been designed to have sex, everywhere.

Hair up, clothes off. Let the holiday begin!
Hair up, clothes off. Let the holiday begin!
Rustic chic with Mayan influences - captured by C. Lamb for Papaya Playa Project.
Rustic chic with Mayan influences – captured by C. Lamb for Papaya Playa Project.
The word ‘smunt’ was invented for this scenario.

A big part of the PPP philosophy is to reconnect with yourself and nature, so there is no Wifi in the rooms, which allowed our phone-addicted selves to properly switch off. However, the internet in the restaurant and bar area is easily strong enough to upload those envy-inducing Instagram posts and snaps – that is, if you can tear your eyes away from the insanely beautiful beach right in front of you, or, indeed, your delicious breakfast.

We devoured poached eggs on sourdough bread with avocado and grilled ham, as well as a tropical fruit platter, pretty much every day, with cold pressed juices helping us to reset and recharge our bodies. For lunch, we often shared a selection of zesty ceviche, yummy tacos and fresh salads, while our go-to dinner staple was the addictive local chicken and lime soup.

See more of our Mexico snaps on Instagram at @liv_tribethemag and @tribethemag.
Choose life. Choose a juice.

Still feeling somewhat battered by our ten-hour flight from London and the accompanying jet lag, on our first full day at PPP we treated ourselves to the most heavenly two-hour body treatment. The Holistic Massage is the hotel’s signature wellness service and combines a complimentary body scrub (only with the 80-minute option) with the most intricate, indulgent all-over body massage you can imagine. The treatment takes place on a balcony overlooking the ocean, so you can hear the waves crashing onto the shore as you lie back and relax – an experience that can only be described as utter bliss and is worth every single one of the $150.00 it costs.

While we were hoping to find a gym at the hotel (there wasn’t one, but we made use of our spacious back yard), fitness fiends can take part in a daily group yoga class at 8.30am, but I admittedly never quite made it out of bed on time.

Spa time!
Yes, this is real.

To be fair, we could barely tear ourselves away from the pristine white sands and azure waters anyway, but when we did, we made the most of PPP’s complimentary bicycles and explored the local area.

The insanely gorgeous beach at PPP.
When in the Caribbean…

Downtown Tulum makes a nice spot for a bit of shopping and lunch, while the historic Mayan ruins – the only of their kind located by the coast – are a sight to behold. Sadly, we didn’t make it to one of the nearby cenotes, but I hope it won’t be my last time in Mexico so that’s one to put on the list for my next trip.

Cycling to the ruins of Tulum.
Bonnie and I being distracted by yet another beautiful view.
But there you go. Only a 15 minute bike ride from PPP.
Another day, another pose. We loved this colourful graffiti.

Another big part of the PPP experience is music, and from the early afternoon a soulful and chilled soundtrack drifts down to your daybed on the white sands. In the evenings, the pace steps up a gear, especially on Saturday nights when Papaya Playa is very much the place to be.

We were advised that in Tulum, each night the party moves to a different destination, and if you are lucky enough to be in Tulum around the Full Moon, PPP’s outdoor bash is absolutely unmissable, come rain or shine. Even electronic music hero Solomun dropped by to play a packed-out Boiler Room session there last year – check out his set at the bottom of the page!

The DJ booth at Papaya Playa.
Disco balls and palm trees…
PPP resident Nuno Carneiro on the decks. Picture via Papaya Playa Project on Instagram.
PPP goes off! Picture courtesy of Papaya Playa Project.

While we spent our first two evenings – which fell on the quiet Monday and Tuesday nights – recovering from jet lag and general life, on Wednesday we headed into Downtown Tulum to sip cocktails at Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar, which uses fresh sugarcane cut to size in a converted VW Beetle in their drinks. Championing live music, we just happened to be lucky enough to be in Tulum for the annual jazz festival the bar helps to organise, and the potent drinks and funky beats soon got us into the party spirit.

The atmosphere was lively yet laid-back, as Tulum seems to attract a more grown-up crowd of locals, surfers and hipsters rather than the wild Spring Break associations that tarnish Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Despite our best intentions, the next morning I woke up an involuntary Mezcal expert after a mini bar crawl through Downtown.

The sugar cane bug! Picture via Batey Tulum on Instagram.
Caning it, quite literally. Picture via Batey Tulum on Instagram.

On Wednesday night, we instantly fell in love with the dark glamour of jungle bar and restaurant Casa Jaguar, which bewitched us with its sultry ambience, delicious food, strong cocktails and driving techno beats. Hidden away under all-encompassing foliage, with fragrant mist creeping through the leaves (a natural mosquito repellent burnt to keep the buggers away), religious iconography and dark flower arrangements scattered throughout the venue, you’ll feel like you have stepped onto a Tim Burton set.

Casa Jaguar is a mysterious, magical jungle dream. Picture via Instagram.
Can I move in though. Picture via Casa Jaguar on Instagram.
Just #goals. Picture via Casa Jaguar on Instagram.

It’s fair to say that barely five days into our holiday, Tulum had made a lasting impression, and we are already plotting our return next year! Check out part two of our Mexican adventure, which saw us set up camp at the incredible Azulik Tulum, here, or enjoy some premium Tulum party vibes with Solomun’s Boiler Room set straight from Papaya Playa Project in March 2015!

Credit: All images by Olivia Ebeling for Tribe Magazine unless stated otherwise.


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