The Sustainable Travel Edit: Papaya Playa Project, Mexico

By Beatrice Barbato

The Story

When we booked Papaya Playa Project, it wasn’t initially for its sustainable credentials but instead for its setting on a 900-metre stretch of Tulum’s most exclusive beaches.

However, within minutes, it became clear that it wasn’t only its location that made this place exceptional, it was also its environmental and social commitment, which are as integral to the hotel’s offering as its white sand beaches and enticing tropical climate.

The Location

Location-wise, Papaya Playa Project can’t be beaten. It sits on the fringes of a pristine beach two hours’ drive away from Cancun Airport, flanked by dense jungle as far as the eye can see.

Mexico is famed for its colours (Maya blue, Aztec red and Quetzal green are all pigments developed by the Mayans and Aztecs inspired by their surroundings) and this is no more evident than at Papaya Playa Project, where the rich hues of the jungle, sea, sand and sky are truly remarkable. In fact, the hotel makes a point not to detract from this with flashy designs or competing colours, instead opting for muted tones that are in concert, not competition, with its environment.

Source: Papaya Playa Project & Design Hotels

The Space

Every detail at Papaya Playa Project has been designed to seamlessly blend in with nature and the result is strikingly beautiful. It’s the thoughtful creation of Design Hotels, a heavyweight in the hotel design world, and sees the main hotel, restaurant and bar area crafted from local stone and straw to ensure they all but disappear into the sandy shoreline.

Rooms consist of intimate jungle cabañas, ‘casitas’ with private dipping pools, or expansive beachfront villas, all designed using traditional Mayan techniques and filled with natural woods, soft stone walls and rich local fabrics. Much of the charm comes from their rustic simplicity, forgoing the frills of other hotels and instead offering guests a more pared-back experience that embodies the ‘barefoot luxury’ ethos.

Source: Design Hotels

The Experience

Papaya Playa Project is a sybarite’s playground with 900 meters of private beach, beach clubs, restaurants, bars, yoga, traditional Temazcal Mayan steam baths, wellness experiences, and – most famously – world-class full moon parties. These moonlit fiestas draw in prominent guest DJs and musicians from around the world and are accompanied by an impressive menu of cocktails mixed using local herbs, fruits and infusions inspired by the land and sea. Revelling goes on well into the morning and takes place every month on the Saturday closest to the full moon, so be sure to keep this in mind when booking if you’re after a more tranquil experience.

Creativity and community extend far beyond just parties with an interactive agenda of everything from breathwork and stargazing to self-growth courses and art installations. There’s also a host of other excursions and activities on offer including diving, kitesurfing and full moon paddle boarding, all designed to foster a deeper connection with the surrounding area.

Source: Facebook: Papaya Playa Project

The Sustainability

Papaya Playa Project is exactly that – a project – underpinned by a mission to protect and improve upon its natural surroundings and its community. Whilst many other hotels in the area have opted for sprawling 1,500-room complexes that flatten the jungle and seriously impact biodiversity, Papaya Playa Project has limited itself to just 87 rooms, in turn retaining 93% of the original jungle.

Drinking and bathing water is treated using environmentally friendly technology which also uses less energy for processing than typical systems, only to later be recycled to irrigate the surrounding jungle and the hotel’s plants. These include a cashew nut orchard with 150 banana and coconut trees, soon to be joined by chickoo, papaya, pineapple, guava, jackfruit, breadfruit, banana, cashew, coconut, and watermelon, all of which complement the hotel’s organic and locally-sourced seasonal menus. Further commitments include plans to revitalise the soil naturally with micro-nutrients and organic fertilisers as well as a zero-emissions status and zero contamination community.

The Takeaway

Papaya Playa Project is a unique place where community, creativity, nature and hedonism come together in a wonderfully harmonious blend.  It’s not an easy concept to accomplish, but the execution is exceptional, and you’ll leave not only feeling relaxed and rejuvenated but also with a better understanding and connection to the place itself.

One final tip – watch out for the mezcal. It’s lethal.

For further information or to book, visit

Source: Papaya Playa Project & Design Hotels

By Beatrice Barbato

Beatrice Barbato is the former Head of Operations at Talia Collective.