Exotic holiday Retreats Travel

Beachy Keen: Papaya Playa Project

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By Chere Di Boscio

Imagine this: 80 cabañas sprawled along a pristine 800-metre beach, with  dramatic views of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Incredible sunrises greet you every morning and gentle breezes rock you to sleep in the evening. You pass the days away chilling in a beach lounger with a book, playing volleyball and swimming, and spend evenings eating super-fresh food and hanging out in a spacious lounge under the stars, listening to music and meeting interesting urbanites from around the globe. Such is life in Mexico’s idyllic Tulum, where the Papaya Playa Project lies.

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Less a resort than a string of quaint cabanas strewn throughout the beachfront, the small, private huts come complete with plush towels and bath products–including all natural shampoo, shower gel and conditioner–and all are serviced daily by housekeeping. Linens and towels are replaced twice weekly, or more frequently if you would like; just inform the easygoing staff at reception of your preference.

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My own casita by the sea was furnished sparsely but practically and came with a double bed, mosquito netting and bright splashes of colour via a woven rug, ethnic throw cushions and yellow industrial lights; it also had its own private bathroom. Despite the total lack of soundproofing or insulation in the walls, sleep came easily and deeply, thanks to the fact that nights are very early here: this is not a ‘party’ hotel, and people were pretty much all in bed by 11pm, including (normally insomniac) me.

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The thirty cheaper cabañas offer bunk beds and share a newly renovated communal bathhouse, however, located just off the beach. This comes complete with private and outdoor showers along with an outdoor wash area. Judging from the bohemian crowd at Papaya, no one seemed to mind at all–and no wonder: the individual shower stalls and loos are lockable and cleaned constantly from early morning to late evening, and there really is nothing better than running in from a dip in the sea to a shower located just a few metres away, listening to the lapping waves whilst rinsing off in the sunshine.

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The Papaya Beach Project began as a pop-up hotel concept conceived by Design Hotels founder (and now lucky Tulum resident) Claus Sendlinger, who initially attracted the metro/boho set with  famous DJs and musicians to perform (rather quietly) on the beach’s “natural ampitheater.” He also ensured  local and sustainable foods plus organic “nutrient-rich food-on-the-go,” was on offer and vowed to  make the hotel as eco-friendly as possible. The Project proved so successful, it’s now become a permanent fixture.

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Despite its dedication to off-grid living, Papaya is clearly aimed at urbanites and caters to what they need most: detoxifying foods, tranquility, hip music, and of course, free WiFi throughout the resort. Though sockets are hard to find and electricity is at a premium, a charging station is available at the reception area for all your power needs.

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This may all seem a bit basic for those accustomed to international luxury travel, but there is clearly a need for many city dwellers to reconnect with nature, in a relaxing and modern environment. In fact, in just 15 years, the tiny Mexican village has grown from a cheap and  chilled-out backpackers’ paradise to the ultimate in barefoot chic, populated by bearded musicians and painters and slender, long-haired girls working in the arts and media. And then there are the stars.

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Cara Delevingne came here after the madness of Fashion Week and was seen smooching Michelle Rodriguez in the surf in March, while Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon and Cameron Diaz are all regulars on these  powdery beaches.

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Indeed, this little piece of heaven, situated on the strip of silvery sand separating  the jungle from Mexico’s only Caribbean coastline, has exploded as an upscale destination for the urban chic. It’s 90 minutes and a whole world away from that corporate mega-resort, superclub and package tourism hell, Cancun, but with increasing numbers of people visiting each year, all willing to pay premium prices for the most basic of accommodations, it’s only a matter of time before the big international resorts vie for a piece of the action.

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So take a cabana at the Papaya Beach Project. Revel in the fact that gekos may slip between planks in the floor. Marvel at the fact that there’s no air conditioning (though there is a fan in case you need it). Be in awe that you’re sleeping beside the sea, with nothing to hear but the waves in the evening and the birds in the morning. Who knows how long such pristine beauty will last?

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