The Little Restaurant in Mexico that Does Big Things at Christmas Time

Linda and I often return to the old country for Christmas — that’s what we call the U.S. since moving to Mexico a few years ago — but this year we decided to stay put and spend the holidays in the Riviera Maya. That gave us the opportunity to attend an annual Christmas event hosted by one of our favorite local restaurants, Gilly’s Tequilaville in Akumal.

Akumal is a small town of less than 2,000 residents located approximately 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. The area is popular with tourists because large numbers of sea turtles can be found swimming in the area year-round.

Akumal actually means place of turtles in Mayan, an indigenous language still spoken by a large number of people in the area.

I know from experience that some of our readers are geographically challenged, so I decided to include an interactive map showing the location of Akumal and Gilly’s Tequilaville:

Gilly’s Annual Toy Drive

Every year beginning around mid October, the owner of Gilly’s Tequilaville quietly begins to collect toys for the children of Akumal and other nearby communities. Gilly’s Tequilaville is very popular with American and Canadian expats in the area and the majority of the donations come from them.

The gifts are distributed on the morning of December 24th without any fanfare or media attention.

We stopped by to see hundreds of people patiently waiting in line for the chance to go into the small restaurant to choose a toy and take a picture with Santa Claus. It was very heart-warming to see all of the happy, smiling children.

Everyone patiently waited for their turn to choose a toy

Santa was on hand to spread Christmas cheer

People from the surrounding area — many of them expats — donated toys and/or money to buy toys

There were hundreds of smiling faces that Christmas Eve morning

This year, 492 presents were given out to local children. 

You might be wondering if they had enough presents for all of the children that showed up — I know I was wondering that, so I asked –the good news is that they did. In fact, they had 10 presents left over that they plan to save for next year’s toy drive.

Let’s Wrap This Up

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you already know that I don’t write many posts recommending particular restaurants, but I did write one about Gilly’s Tequilaville back in 2016. They have the best breaded fish fillet around and I have literally eaten hundreds of them over the years.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Akumal area, I recommend that you take the time to stop by Gilly’s Tequilaville to grab a bite or have a couple of drinks. And, if you stop by anytime between October and December, feel free to bring a toy along with you.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico ( to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

23 Comments on "The Little Restaurant in Mexico that Does Big Things at Christmas Time"

  1. That is so awesome. Thanks for sharing as I know many expats love to help with charity work or participate in some way in giving back to their communities. I need to find a place like this in Cancun that has a toy charity at Christmas. I am sure there is, just haven’t found it yet.

  2. We love Gilly’s Tequilaville. It is so wonderful they do this every year. Awesome people.

  3. Roberta Laity | December 28, 2018 at 9:40 am |

    We love this restaurant! Next time we go we will leave a donation for the toy drive.

  4. Kathy Thompson | December 28, 2018 at 9:54 am |

    This is a wonderful way for Expats to give to yhe communities they love. Here in the beach commubities north of Merida there are many Rxpat organizatiions doing great work, Christmas toy drives, bicycles for kids, spay and neutering of dogs, and numerous Apoyo progtams that fund education of local children some up to University. Great work happening everywhere!

  5. Tracy and Glenn McDougall | December 28, 2018 at 10:10 am |

    That certainly looks like a really fun time. Good on Gilly! We have been going to Tequilaville every year for the past five or six years, when we first discovered it. The guy who used to own it, Ken, is actually a fellow-Canadian from Toronto. We were very sad to hear that he had moved back to Canada and we wouldn’t be seeing him again. That being said, Gilly is a great guy and the food is excellent. I agree with you, the breaded fish fillet is the best. I do miss the pork ribs though, and maybe, if Gilly sees my review, he’ll put them back on the menu. See you in February, Gilly!!! Happy New Year everyone!

  6. Love this, thank you for sharing.

  7. Emilia May at the bibliotheca also helps children in the area with school shoes and Christmas wishes. She is a great lady!!

  8. Edith Henneberg | December 28, 2018 at 11:27 am |

    Rueben’s restaurant does the same on Isla Mujeres but on Kings Day – January 6 – so if anyone is in IM you still have time to donate!

  9. Awesome that they do this. We were at Gilly’s last year based on your 2016 recommendation, and you’re right, the breaded fish fillet is amazing!

  10. I will be in Akumal at the en of January I will have to try this restaurant out

  11. Ethel Merts aka Fran Clark | December 28, 2018 at 6:44 pm |

    A beautiful story of Christmas giving!! Thanks for sharing!! Happy New Year to you and Linda!!

  12. Linda Harasim | December 29, 2018 at 8:53 am |

    Frankly, I find this story a bit unsettling. It is introducing new cultural norms, based clearly on US standards and values, A white man dressed in a red suit that was a fiction concocted by Coca Cola, who emphasizes consumer products for children (Gilly’s shop apparently goes along with distributing American-made toys.) Americans who have chosen to live on the Mayan coast seem impervious to and unable to respect local culture. Americans are pushing their culture instead of learning to appreciate local culture. If there are local human needs and human rights to address, then target those. Do good, do not promote American consumerism, But the emphasis of FAT WHITE MAN IN A RED coca cola SUIT giving away American toys, promoting consumerism does not sound like something to celebrate. It reminds one of colonialism in Africa and South America. Is this a “good feeling” story for Americans living in the Yucatan?? Sad. How about Americans trying learning about Yucatan cultures and traditions, and adopting those?. Slow down the message of “consume”, especially consume American values and products. Be honest! Life here has far better values for us to learn, than consumerism.

    • Hi Linda,

      I have to admit, your comment took me by surprise. It’s not every day that I hear someone complaining about good Samaritans donating toys to children, many of whom come from lower income households. Come to think of it, this is a first for me.

      You clearly have strong convictions about the use of the image of Santa Claus to dispense toys in Mexico, but you’re incorrect if you think that the American expats here are responsible for introducing him to the locals. Santa Claus has been in Mexico for a very long time now, even longer than I’ve been alive.

      You might want to check out the Mexican-made film Santa Claus that came out in 1959. On second thought, you can skip that one – it wasn’t very good.

      Every year in Mexico, Santa’s image appears on television, movies and in print ads. It is not uncommon to see Mexican nationals dressed as Santa at charity events like the one at Gilly’s or trying to cheer up sick children in hospitals.

      Since you specifically mentioned the Yucatan in your comment, you might be interested in the following article about Dón Lázaro Herrera Fuentes. He lives in that area and has been dressing up like Santa Claus and giving out donated toys to local children for over 37 years:

      Okay, let’s put the Santa thing aside. You seem to be under the impression that the event mentioned in the article was organized by American expats – it wasn’t. The event was organized by a Mexican businessman named Gilberto, or Gilly for short.

      One thing that I do agree with you on, is that it is also important to address local human needs. That’s why we, and many other expats, also donate money to buy school supplies for local children and send them on field trips.

      But, this is Christmas time and that means that many children are expecting toys (either now or on January 6th for Día de Los Reyes Magos) . It’s hard to explain to a 7-year old that he can’t have a new soccer ball because it would be promoting consumerism.

  13. Paul, thank you for your time and energy pulling this site together. My husband and I just purchased a pre-construction condo in the area and we hope to move there soon once he retires from the fire service. I’ve learned so much from your posts, they’ve made me more confident in our decision.

    And thank you for thoughtful response to the comment above. It shows that you and Linda are a true part of your community and are the kind of expats we hope to be.

    All the best to you and Linda in the new year!

  14. That is wonderful!. FYI; Those wanting to help kids: In Mexico is celebrate kid’s day, on April 30th (if wrong with the date, please, correct it).

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