Post updated: March 2021 – Originally posted this a couple years ago, and will likely so again in the coming months as we have another reconnaissance mission coming up soon.
I’ve been procrastinating for nearly ten years in writing something about naturism in Mexico, mainly due to the fact that every time I think I have a comprehensive perspective as to what that means – naturism in Mexico – we visit again and I feel even more adrift in making any sweeping generalization that would help a newbie know what to expect. To be fair, our “research” on the topic has been limited to extended stays at two very different resorts, Hidden Beach near Tulum, and Playa Sonrisa at the southern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. We once stayed at a small inn on Solomon Bay that is no longer in business (for reasons that were evident during our stay), and we once did a walk-through at eco-resort Azulik which used to give more publicity to its clothing-optional status than it does today, but neither of those exist as viable naturist destinations today.
We have also met many people along the way who speak to their fondness of resorts with names like Desire and Temptation, but we’ve had neither the desire nor temptation to visit either of those as that simply isn’t our style, and thus, you’ll have to search those out on your own.
We have been to Playa Sonrisa twice in the past five years, perhaps four times to Hidden Beach over the past ten, most recently at the end of March 2018 in an effort to escape the mind/body-numbing cold of a prolonged Northeast winter. If only by price tag alone, Hidden Beach is most certainly high end, which has the implicit consequence of attracting a demographic that is willing to part with a small fortune for a week of naked nirvana. While many put down roots for a week or two at a time, we’ve never managed a stay longer than an extended weekend, partially due to the cost (Hmmm… “A week at Hidden Beach or a month in Europe!?”), but also due to the limited scope of the property. Beautiful and luxurious though it is, a walk down the length of the naturist beach might be stretched out to five minutes or so should you choose to stop and ponder the horizon along the way.
During our most recent visit, we arrived while a particularly convivial (read: boisterous) crowd was monopolizing the swim-up bar. While I’m typically pretty laisssez-faire about what one might encounter at a naked place, I found the tequila induced dancing on the bar a bit over-stimulating, having arrived this time in desperate need of respite and tranquility. But speaking frankly, my personal state of mind upon arrival should have little or nothing to do with an objective review of whether one’s nakation dollars are well invested in a visit to a specific naturist destination. A place is what it is… The problem is figuring out what the place is before you arrive!
This, to me, seems a marketing nightmare for anyone charged with growing the market for clothing-optional recreation anywhere, but especially on the Mexican Riviera, which is such a bizarre mixture of Spring Break destinations and All-Inclusive mega-luxury resorts, each in their own right intended to produce an overdose of self-indulgence amidst a landscape where the other predominant feature is an infinite jungle punctuated with smallish enclaves of poverty. Perhaps the fastest road to sobriety after a fun-filled night at the swim up bar is the realization that the monthly income of a middle-class resident on the Yucatan peninsula is roughly equivalent to a one-night stay at Hidden Beach Resort. Talk about a buzz kill!
But again, the mind of this naturist is meandering again, as what I find most fascinating about clothing-optional recreation in Mexico is simply defining what that is. And it seems I’m not the only one confused about that. Even in France, where naturist options abound, it doesn’t take a great deal of research to determine the difference between Cap d’Agde – famous and infamous for the pervasive sexual undercurrents, or family naturist destinations such as Montalivet or Belezy, where not only the “naturist etiquette” page makes the expectations forthright and clear, but the entirety of the website creates an ambiance where you quickly come to realize that this is not a good place to get frisky in the pool.
At this writing, I find the webpage for Hidden Beach to be particularly perplexing, where the splash page immediately triggers a brief video, along with seductive music, as a beautiful woman walks across the screen leaving a trail of undergarments (maybe a swimsuit?) in her wake. At last, the motto… “Come out of your shell… at Hidden Beach Resort.” That said, the policies at Hidden Beach are clear and seemingly well enforced, and beyond the aforementioned dancing on the bar, we’ve yet to experience anything there that would get one thrown out of a Disney resort. Nudity, notwithstanding, of course.
I also find it interesting that what has disappeared from the Hidden Beach website is the home-grown collection of guest photos that was something like a TripAdvisor gallery, few of which featured full nudity, but most of which exemplified the people you actually meet and see at a typical clothing-optional destination, of which almost none (yours truly included) look like the 30-something models in the photos in the limited professional gallery that exists now. If you weren’t already intimidated by the naked factor, the beautiful people factor ought to frighten the self-conscious away, whether wrapped in a bathing suit or not.
At the other end of the spectrum, and essentially at the other end of the country, is Playa Sonrisa, a quiet little resort that requires a five hour drive from the Cancun airport that leads you to a place that feels like the end of the world. Interestingly, owner/innkeeper Murph maintains two websites for this little naturist haven in the jungle; the original patchwork site found at www.playasonrisa.com, and a spiffier updated version at www.playasonrisa.net. In either case, however, he wants it to be clear before you make the long drive that what you will not find there is a swim-up bar, themed lingerie parties, or anything else that resembles a pulsing night-life. Additionally, your willingness to make the long drive will literally save you hundreds of dollars per day without compromising the main attraction – the opportunity for a few days of clothes-free, stress-free living.
We have many good things to say about Playa Sonrisa, beginning with the genuine hospitality of the owners best epitomized in the ethos of the 24/7 honor bar, to their unrelenting efforts in providing the necessary creature comforts in a part of the world just beyond the reach of broadband internet and your typical 900 channels of cable TV. In fact, that is their marketing niche, appealing to those who desire to get away from it all, including their clothing. With only eight or ten rooms at most, there seems to be enough appeal for this decidedly more rustic approach to make it difficult to book there less than a few months in advance. and Murph goes to great lengths to make sure you understand that what they offer is quite the opposite of the all-inclusive indulge-a-fest opportunities that lie to the north.
It’s worth noting that we’ve blown right past the opportunity to stopover at a newer condo-quasi-naturist resort in Tulum called Intima Resort, partially because we’ve never been willing to spend the time, and also, by name alone, we can’t quite figure out what it is. (Note: we will be visiting in the coming months, at which point, we’ll update this post again.) And therein lies the conundrum of the entire naturist marketing debacle. In fact, my confusion was confirmed recently when I stumbled across a GQ Magazine article from 2017 intended to help readers realize their clothing-optional swinging dreams. While focused on a couple resorts that are only mentioned casually here, they also gave a shout out to Hidden Beach as well, which explicitly rejects such playtime activities as part of their culture or acceptable behavior. (Thankfully, Murph and Playa Sonrisa dodged the bullet of an honorable mention altogether!) But how is the average consumer to know?
Or more importantly, how is the average moderately open-minded person to know what to think when clothing-optional vacations come up in casual lunchtime conversation? What if that spawns enough curiosity that she might go home and Google “clothing optional Mexico” just to figure out what it’s really about? That brings to mind another thread I recently saw on Twitter about the prudes who are so intolerant “about lingerie dances at nudist places.” What’s the big deal, she says?
The big deal is that it’s very difficult for the average person who has never experienced social nudity to differentiate where nakedness becomes provocative becomes sexually charged becomes the exchange of bodily fluids. And it’s always the GQ article that’s going to get the most hits and the most citations, especially from those looking for a reason to tell those crazies to “Put your clothes back on and behave!”
So there it is.
People are confused about clothing-optional recreation in Mexico. Sadly enough, I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times, and so am I. That’s not a good sign.
Murph is looking to sell Playa Sonrisa (for retirement) and wants to “Keep it in the (naturist) family”, hope he can find a couple commited to maintain the wonderful naturist gem that it still is. It would be a shame to lose such a place. In any case Murph’s hospitality will be missed…
I thought that had been ruminating for quite some time. Indeed, Murph is a gem, and truly defines the experience his guests enjoy there.