Have you ever gone on a trip that you weren’t really sure you were going to be completely into only to discover someplace so special you couldn’t imagine never returning? I first heard about Zipolite not long after I returned from my 2010 trip to Tulum, Quintana Roo, where I had such a nice time. The novelty of being naked on the beach in Mexico left me wanting more. Options in Tulum by then were limited to a couple of nice hotels, in addition to a handful of inclusive resorts which are really not my style. I wanted to find a place more connected to nature, not walled off end-to-end, with an enduring connection to Mexico’s still-thriving ancient cultures.
Doing my research on the web, I was disappointed to discover that there weren’t really many options, aside from private hotels with clothing-optional pools scattered around Mexico. Zipolite was the only place that stood out, but at the time the articles about it on the web were less than impressive, most describing it as an intensely hot place full of phased out naked hippies with nothing to do, not exactly a glowing tourist endorsement, right? But I had recently ended a relationship and started a new job which allowed me to take vacation time as needed, so I decided to take a week to go check this place out.
I hoped to find a gay-friendly place where I’d feel safe, be close to the beach if not directly on it—and a clothing optional pool would make it about perfect. I decided to use Trip Advisor to narrow down my options. As it turns out, there weren’t many hotels with pools in Zipolite since water here is a limited resource, but two hotels stood out: Heven and Nude. I’m pretty relaxed in my own skin, but the concept of people walking around a hotel naked seemed like a bit much at the time so I decided to go with Heven.
Heven seemed more than adequate perched on a hill with spectacular views of local landmark Isla Roca Blanca framed in beautiful Italian architectural details, and an infinity pool overlooking the Pacific. The hotel grounds were clothing-optional except the kitchen area, where a daily hot breakfast was included in my rate. Heven seemed idyllic, so I confirmed my reservation, booked my flights, and spent some time before my trip looking at photos and other information I could find about Zipolite, including whatever gay spots I could visit to meet others.
On the day of my arrival, I was greeted by one of the owners, Andrea, who showed me to my room and made sure everything was to my liking. (I later met the other charming owner, Victor, during a return visit to Zipolite.) As beautiful as the pictures of Heven were on Trip Advisor, it was even more satisfying in person. Arriving during a typical chilly San Francisco summer, something about the warm tropical air, the brunt of the sea breeze rising along the hill above Bahia Camarón, and the warm sunshine brought it all to life in a way that was so much more than I had expected.
My room, Flamboyant, was ground level with a small patio and chair just a few steps from the pool. The room was actually quite huge, more an apartment than simply a room. Andrea told me many guests stay there for months at a time, making themselves at home using the well-equipped kitchens in each room to make their own food. The room had a very comfortable king-size bed with a mosquito net I never needed to use. My windows all had screens, except the front door, which had a pass-through string curtain that served the same purpose. The bathroom and kitchen had hot water and there was no shortage of space for me to unpack and make myself at home. I wasted no time getting undressed to enjoy a dip in the beautiful pool before dinner. A lesbian couple was also there enjoying their honeymoon, so I respected their space as I soaked in the afternoon sun.
That evening I ventured down the hill to the pueblo of Zipolite, along the main beach. It is a charming little town of mostly packed-sand roads with cobblestone streets in the center of the town, which is commonly called el Adoquín. It was really dark along the road, and there were lots of dogs. Though I never felt unsafe, I recommend bringing a flashlight or headlamp for walking to and from Heven after dark. A few generations ago, a bunch of Italian immigrants settled here, so along with Oaxaqueño and other regional Mexican cuisine, you’ll be surprised to find outstanding Italian restaurants serving fresh pastas, delicious thin-crust pizza, and other mouthwatering Italian delights. In addition to restaurants, you’ll also find a pharmacy, grocery stores, gift shops, cafés, and various other businesses. In the mornings, I recommend visiting Le Castellet Cafeteria, where you can enjoy delicious fruit crepes and be served a perfect Italian cappuccino in a family-owned restaurant in a beautiful garden setting. In the evenings, artisans and craft-makers set up table to sell their wares, and a troop called Circo performs circus-style shows that surprise and delight!
As it turned out, most of my days in Zipolite I ended up venturing down the hill from Heven past Shambhala to Hotel Nude, which I discovered was not at all uncomfortable after all. The pool and camas along the hotel are reserved for hotel guests except by permission from the management, though anybody is welcome to visit the restaurant and bar, and to enjoy the long line of beach chairs out front where there are plenty of sombrillas to keep you comfortable in the sun. The friendly staff will bring you food and drinks, and keep a tab running for you to pay when you leave. You can also buy sunscreen, cigarettes, or most anything else you may need to stay comfortable from the office.
My first day visiting Nude I made my first new friend in Mexico, a nice guy from Puebla who has since become one of my best friends. Pio and I first made our connection visually, admiring each other’s tattoos and the irony that we each have beautiful tattoos of the Sacred Heart. As it turned out, it was his first trip to Zipolite, too! We spent the next few days talking and laughing, enjoying each other’s company, learning about each other’s lives and cultures, and dining together along the beach at nearby restaurants, El Alquimista and Posada Mexicana. He was a guest of the hotel, so he invited me to hang out by the pool in the evenings. I returned the favor by inviting him to enjoy the pool at Heven, which he enjoyed as well.
Over the next few days, we made our way down the beach to Playa del Amor. The thing I love the most about Zipolite is that once you’re on the beach, you can be as naked as your comfort permits down the entire beach, which stretches about 1.5 kilometers to Playa del Amor, the easternmost point of Zipolite. The entire beach is clothing-optional, but make sure to keep regular beach wear handy for detours into town or to restaurants along the beach where nudity is not allowed. Toward the east end you’ll find Lola’s, where you can stop for a drink or bite to eat. Lola’s decor is made up of surfboards and beach chairs facing the waves. Even if you decide not to eat, it’s a great place to relax in the sun and cool down after walking the long beach in the blazing sun before continuing over the hill to Playa del Amor.
Playa del Amor is separated from the main beach by a small hill with a paved walking path. At the top of the hill along the path you’ll find Vista del Mar, a nice bar where you can buy soft drinks during the day, or alcoholic beverages later in the afternoon and evening. Make sure to go in to meet the friendly dueños and take in expansive views from the patio, which juts out over a high cliff offering expansive views of Playa del Amor on the east side and Playa Zipolite on the west. You won’t be disappointed!
Heading down to Playa del Amor, you’ll find a small beach with two palapas. The first is the fisherman’s palapa, where they keep a boat to catch fresh fish offshore. Watching them bring the boat back on shore is a show in and of itself! At the other palapa, you’ll find a bar where soft drinks or beers are sold. There is a grill where some days, if you’re lucky, you may be served grilled fresh fish served with spicy salsa and warm tortillas. You may also rent a sombrilla here, which they’ll set up in the sand for you. The beach faces the water to the southwest and southeast, with a giant rock island jutted up against the beach between the two openings creating a large and small cove. Over the hill from the southeast cove, you’ll find tide pools suitable for use as baths, though this area can be quite dangerous if the tide is high or the surf is rough. The beach along the larger cove is covered in grainy sand with lots of broken shells washed ashore. The water is shallow, but there are some jagged rocks not always visible during high tide, so make sure you understand the underwater terrain before venturing out. When the water is not too rough, you can swim quite a ways out amongst the fish that live in the fairly shallow offshore waters, but the currents in Zipolite are notoriously strong so an abundance of caution is to be advised.
In the end, my week in Zipolite went by all-too-fast, and I couldn’t help but weep when it was time to go. I returned to San Francisco certain I would come back. In fact, it became my default vacation spot for the next few years, where I returned several times a year to disconnect and recharge. Despite the lackluster reviews I read in advance of my trip, I had an amazing trip, making enduring friendships that have strengthened over the years. As a result spending so much time here, I have friends all over Mexico, since it is mostly a spot popular with Mexican vacationers, rather than international tourists who mostly venture to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City. In fact, I made so many friends in Zipolite over the years, I eventually decided to move to Mexico. Ironically, now that I live in Mexico, I have less time to venture to Zipolite, though it remains close to my heart. The experiences I have had there made memories to last a lifetime, and, literally changed my life forever.