BY DAVY ROTHBART July 18, 2017
The next frontier for adventurous—yet discerning—travelers? Vacationing in the buff. At least that's what a growing string of nude resorts are betting on as they fancy things up to lure a well-heeled clientele. Davy Rothbart ditched his drawers to find out whether there's actually such a thing as high-class nudity.
One Tuesday this past spring, a taxi dropped me at the doors of Desire Pearl, a fancy "clothing-optional" resort on the outskirts of Cancún. The lobby, dotted with white leather love seats and lit with a purple glow, had the feel of a private lounge for Vegas bigwigs. But there was something else, too, a prurient electricity I could feel as I wheeled my way to the front desk. Around every corner, I knew, were naked people.
I'm no nudist myself. My mission was born of curiosity. You see, an inventive new concept in the leisure economy had caught my attention, a travel trend that seemed wildly contradictory: luxury nudity. Could that really be a thing? I wondered.
After all, the nudists I've met in my travels have tended to be hippies and Burning Man types. You know, the kindly folks you'll discover soaking in hot springs outside of Taos, perhaps bleating low notes on a didgeridoo. In other words, not the crowd I'd expect to be psyched about high-end vacation options.
The free spirits flocking to Desire Riviera Maya Pearl Resort, I figured, had to be a different sort. With nightly rates during high season of $700 to $1,500, this place wasn't for hippies. So, then, who was coming? And how was it that Desire Pearl and a string of establishments like it were booked solid for months at a time?
The receptionist at the desk seemed to sense my urge to uncork these beguiling mysteries. And she quickly sniffed me out as a newbie, scared to take off my clothes. "You'll be fine," she told me. "Jacuzzi Happy Hour starts at four. You'll make some friends. Just go with the flow!" Easy for her to say, I thought, noticing that none of the staff (all quite attractive) were naked.
A bellhop ferried my bags toward my room, past pungent trees heavy with tropical fruit. The view from the balcony of my suite was lush and magnificent. On the beach below, a spider monkey rested his chin in his hands, as though smitten with the scenery himself.
No matter how much sex you've seen in movies or on bookmarked sites on your laptop, it feels crazy to watch real people go at it, just yards away.
But as I followed the monkey's gaze, I realized he was staring not at the ocean and its glisten of afternoon sun but at a 1,000 percent naked guy, squatting close by, rigorously applying suntan lotion to his penis, balls, and ass cheeks. My first sighting!
The guy must have felt me studying him, because he whipped his head around and locked eyes with me. "Howdy!" he called, with a friendly wave. I waved back, embarrassed for both of us, and quickly slunk back into my room.
A half hour later, still uneasy with getting naked myself, I grabbed a complimentary bottle of Chivas Regal from the nightstand and took a slug to work up the nerve.
With a beach towel over my shoulders—and my soft parts dangling in the breeze—I strolled out the door and past three young housemaids, who gave me a chipper hello. (Back home, they would've had me arrested.)
Soon I laid eyes on the social epicenter of the resort: the gigantic Jacuzzi, wide as a helicopter landing pad. Heavily lotioned breasts swiveled in all directions like turret guns on a tank, while here and there penises wiggled, waggled, and flopped, flashing in the Mexican sunlight like perch in a trawler's net.
Picture a gaggle of parents convened outside an elementary school. Now imagine those same people naked as hell, day-drinking in a jumbo-size hot tub—that's what Jacuzzi Happy Hour at Desire Pearl looked like. I sauntered my way down the path.
The receptionist was right: it was easy to make friends. Within a few minutes, I found myself deep in conversation with a handsome airline pilot and father of three from rural Wisconsin, a man I'll call Rob. (I've changed the names and identifying details of the hotel guests.) He was chilling—half submerged and totally nude—on the Jacuzzi's steps.
Although it may be a key attraction for some, the prospect of sex with strangers isn't explicitly advertised by Desire Pearl. There's talk, on the resort's website, of the "erotic," "sensual," "open-minded atmosphere" but almost no explicit mention of swinging. Why all this coded language? According to Daniel, one of two Americans who work at Desire Pearl selling vacation packages, the obfuscation allows for a level of discretion, even deniability. If your colleagues or acquaintances from church start Googling around about your vacation, they're not going to learn too much.
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