Montego Bay, a Perfect 3-Days in Paradise

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

I'm not really sure what took me this long to book a trip to Jamaica.  It's got all the things I dream about on the dreariest of New York winter days - endless crystal blue beaches, reggae music, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, and the friendliest locals.  The best part?  Its all just a short 3.5 hour flight from NYC.

I'd been excited for my tropical getaway from the moment the tickets were booked, but upon landing in Montego Bay I quickly realized I was in for a real treat. I was greeted at the airport by one of the Club Mobay VIP hosts, a hospitality service that escorted me through immigration & customs, expediting the whole process down to mere minutes.  Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in a shuttle that was headed straight to my hotel, the beautiful Half Moon Resort

Just 15 minutes later I was already at the hotel, being warmly welcomed by the staff and given a brief tour of the grounds. It's easy to see why Half Moon is one of Jamaica’s most luxurious resorts.  Some of the countless amenities on its sprawling 400-acres include over 50 pools, 3 restaurants, a cafe, 5 bars (including a swim-up option), 2 miles of private beaches, a stunning Spa, 11 tennis courts, 4 squash courts, basketball & volleyball courts, an 18-hole golf course, an equestrian center for rescued racehorses, and a standalone children’s village. 

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Views for days in Montego Bay

Views for days in Montego Bay

I spent my first two days in Jamaica taking full advantage of the hotel's many on-site activities and relaxation opportunities.  Long walks on the beach, Hobie Wave sailing, paddle-boarding, and practicing yoga in the outdoor cabana were just some of the ways I was able to stay active while enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean.  Down-time meant reading on my balcony, chatting with other guests in the swim-up bar, or indulging in a 90-minute massage  at the tranquil Fern Tree Spa.

Paddle Board Yoga

Paddle Board Yoga

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Every evening the hotel slips a piece of paper under each of the guests' doors listing a variety of both on and off site activities available the following day.   Some of the options included tennis lessons, scuba diving, a hike to a local waterfall, and zip-lining through the jungle.  I decided to treat myself to one of the off-site excursions on my last full day in Jamaica:  Rafting on the Martha Brae River.

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

The hotel arranged for transportation to and from Rafter’s Village (about a 30-minute drive in each direction). Once there, I had a short wait until a raft was available, but the time passed quickly as I enjoyed a complimentary fruit punch while listening to some live music by the outdoor bar.  The raft ride itself was one of my favorite Jamaican experiences. Each bamboo raft is poled by a local guide as you peacefully drift down 5 kilometers of lush, jungle-lined river.  The friendly guides make the ride even more enjoyable, as many like to talk about their beautiful country, of its local flora & fauna, or the meaning behind the colors of its flag.  Other guides enjoy serenading their riders with a few reggae songs, and some, I found out firsthand, may even let you have a go at poling the raft down the river, should you decide its something you'd like to try (tip: you should, it was fun!)

My time in Jamaica included everything I had hoped for and more: sun-filled activities, plenty of time for relaxation, new experiences, and fun adventures.  The only thing I would change about it for the next time, would be to schedule a trip that is much longer than just 3 days.

* I was welcomed as a guest of Half Moon Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

All photography by Renee Choi Photography

Costa Rica Calling... Pura Vida in Peninsula Papagayo

Oropendola Waterfall.

Oropendola Waterfall.

Winters on the east coast can feel impossibly long, especially by the time March rolls around.  This year the season seemed almost endless.  In addition to the usual snowstorms and frigid temps, we also skipped our annual trip to Florida and instead made two arctic expeditions (one to Iceland and another to Norway).  Now I'm not complaining - I enjoyed every moment wandering through snow-capped Scandinavia.  But let's just say that when the opportunity arose to visit Costa Rica's sunshine-filled "Gold Coast", there wasn't a moment of hesitation in my Vitamin-D deprived mind.

This trip to Peninsula Papagayo was special for a couple of reasons.  I was travelling with my sister (a fellow yogi & beach lover who I don't get to see often enough), and we'd be visiting the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.  I'd visited the southern coast a few years ago, and found it so extraordinary that I couldn't wait to explore the northern region.

Yoga at Andaz Papagayo Beach House

Yoga at Andaz Papagayo Beach House

We flew into the Liberia Airport, which was an easy 20 minute drive from our hotel - the beautiful Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.  The exceptional staff greeted us with fresh fruit drinks and gave us a tour of the grounds.  The luxury resort is large - there are two pools, three restaurants (all of which offer vegetarian options), two beaches, a fitness center, and a spa all on site.  There's also a third beach and a fourth restaurant at their Beach House property - a short 10 minute shuttle ride from the main hotel.

Between all of the relaxation opportunities and the local water activities (kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling, just to name a few) there was almost no reason to venture off the hotel grounds.  But we couldn't pass up a trip to Rincon de La Vieja National Park.  The incredible hotel staff not only arranged a private car to drive us, but also packed a picnic basket filled with fruits, veggie wraps, water, and juice for our little adventure.

Oropendola Waterfall

Oropendola Waterfall

Rincon de La Vieja was about an hour drive away. The beautiful 35,000 acre National Park is centered around two volcanoes (one dormant and one active), and is home to tropical dry forests, waterfalls, and local flora & fauna.  There's an array of trails and activities to choose from once inside the park (there's a small entrance fee).  Some of the more popular options include a scenic 10-km hike (great for spotting local wildlife like monkeys, armadillos, & tropical birds), relaxing in the Rio Negro natural hot springs & volcanic mud baths, and an exhilarating flight through the treetops on a series of zip lines. We decided on a shorter hike that would take us straight to the stunning Oropendola Waterfall.  The 20-minute trail led us through the woods, down a swinging narrow staircase, and to a platform that sits by the base of the 82-foot high waterfall. We were amply rewarded with a refreshing swim in the turquoise pool, surrounded by lush scenery in every direction.

One of our favorite experiences at Andaz was taking the Barista Class offered at the hotel.  The hour-long lesson is devoted entirely to coffee (one of Costa Rica's primary crops and natural treasures), and was given by Luis Herrera, the hotel's skilled barista and a passionate expert.  Luis explained everything from ideal bean growing elevation  to the preferred grind, and described the many different techniques used to brew coffee. He demonstrated how each manner affects the flavor & caffeine level of its cup.  It was really interesting to learn so much about a drink I enjoy every morning, and of course even more fun getting to sample some of the best coffee I've ever had.

I left Costa Rica feeling both rested and rejuvenated.  Perhaps it was the incredible massage at the Onda Spa, or maybe it was the swimming and daily yoga on the beach, but somehow this trip turned out to be the perfect mix of adventure, relaxation, and fun.  Until next time Costa Rica, Pura Vida.

Hiking through Rincon de La Vieja

Hiking through Rincon de La Vieja

Barista Class at Andaz

Barista Class at Andaz

Spa Day at Andaz Papagayo

Spa Day at Andaz Papagayo

Sunset yoga in Peninsula Papagayo

Sunset yoga in Peninsula Papagayo

* I was welcomed as a guest of Andaz Costa Rica Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Lisbon: A Perfect Portuguese Stopover

Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

I often find, when planning a trip, that deciding on a destination is my biggest challenge. There are so many incredible locations that I have yet to see, and my wish-list only seems to get longer with each passing year.  So when I learned about TAP Air Portugal's Stopover Program, where you can spend up to 5 days in Lisbon or Porto on the way to a final destination (150+ to choose from), it felt as though my travel prayers had been answered.  I would finally have the chance to explore Lisbon, a city that’s been on my list forever, as a complimentary stopover on my way to Paris.

Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Getting to Lisbon was easier than I anticipated, thanks to TAP Air Portugal.  I took a non-stop overnight flight that seemed to go much faster than its 7 hours.  The crew was accommodating and friendly, and dinner on board was delicious (I ordered a yummy vegetarian meal).  There was also plenty of in-flight entertainment options to choose from, I decided on this year's blockbuster 'Wonder Woman’ before falling asleep for a few hours. I woke up just in time to catch a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean right as we began our descent into Portugal.

Pink Street in Lisbon

Pink Street in Lisbon

My Lisbon adventure began moments after checking into my hotel, the posh Pestana CR7.   The hotel is a perfect blend of old & new, in a beautiful historic building that’s been renovated with every modern amenity. It’s conveniently located just around the corner from the the Praça do Comércio, where I sampled some snacks at the festive Christmas Market.  Also within walking distance was the colorful Pink Street in Cais do Sodré, which was even prettier in person (so much so that I couldn’t resist taking a quick yoga photo right in middle of the street!)  From there I made my way to the popular shopping boulevard Avenida da Liberdade, (I always seem to make my way to the shopping area!) and enjoyed a tasty Pastéis de Nata - a popular Portuguese pastry - at a local bakery. Afterward, I went for a stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Alfama.  This is really where I began to fall in love with Lisbon, its charm and beauty so apparent in this historic district.  A friendly local suggested I head over to Cacilhas, on the other side of the bridge, for dinner and sunset.  I don't think I could have asked for a more perfect way to end my first day in Lisbon.

Admiring Lisbon 

Admiring Lisbon 

The next couple of days included more exploration of the city as well as a road trip out west to the delightful town of Sintra.  Getting lost in Sintra's scenic roads was the ideal way to discover some of the renowned landmarks that lie in this region.  Nestled among lush hills were extravagant mansions, hidden towns, and Disney-style castles; it’s no surprise that this is where Portuguese nobility would spend their summers.  It would be hard to choose a favorite spot in Sintra, but some serious highlights of my visit there include the  Pena Palance, the Quinta da Regalaria, the Palace of Monserrate, and the Centro Historico (just outside of the Sintra National Palace).  Each place was truly more beautiful than then next, but one magical moment that will forever stay etched in my mind was watching the sunset from high above the oceanside cliffs of Cabo da Roca.

From the pastry shops of Lisbon to the Sintra mountain range, my heart is full from this incredible adventure.  Many thanks to TAP Air Portugal for the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of the world before heading to Paris, my final destination.  It feels as though I've only just begun to discover all that Portugal has to offer, but I know in my heart that I will be back again.

Until next time, Portugal...  Xx

Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

Yoga in Sintra

Yoga in Sintra

Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

Pena Palace

Pena Palace

Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

Handstanding in Sitra

Handstanding in Sitra

* In cooperation with TAP Air Portugal

All photography by Nathan Rose Photography

Magical Mexico, Where to Go For Your Next Getaway

I'm not sure what took me so long to plan a trip to Mexico, but I'm glad that when I finally did, it was to visit two of the most charming and beatufiul towns, Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita.

My home base throughout my trip was at the gorgeous Xinalani, an exclusive Yoga Retreat Center about 20 miles south of the airport in Vallarta.  Xinalani is nestled into the mountains on Quimixto Beach, and has the most breathtaking views overlooking the ocean and the jungle. My room, the Eco Chic Suite, was like a little oasis, complete with a private terrace, seating area, hammock, open-air shower, and mosquito netting surrounding the bed.  I'll admit I was a bit apprehensive about sleeping in a room that was partially exposed to the outdoors, but with the shades lowered at night, the soothing sound of the ocean was the perfect soundtrack to drift to off to sleep.

With it's twice daily yoga classes, beachfront bar lounge, assortment of spa treatments, and the delicious food, there was no real reason to leave Xinalani, but my wandering spirit urged me to venture out and explore some nearby highlights and neighboring towns.

Beachfront relaxation at Xinalani

Beachfront relaxation at Xinalani

Hammock happiness at Xinalani

Hammock happiness at Xinalani

One of our first outings included a 20-minute horseback ride to a local waterfall. Once there, you can swim in the water, or have a seat at the quaint little cafe adjacent to the waterfall.  It's the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cold drink or snack while taking in the stunning scenery.

Chasing Waterfalls in Quimixto.  Photography by Nathan Rose  Photography .

Chasing Waterfalls in Quimixto.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Another day-trip involved a short boat ride up to PV for breakfast, and then an hour cab ride north to Sayulita. I'd heard about the charm of this small town, but words simply don't do justice to describe the magic of this enchanting neighborhood.  With it's natural beauty, vibrant streets, and the adopted village trademark of Love, Sayulita is a place like no other.  One could wander it's colorful corridors for hours, never tiring of it's sights and sounds - the abundant artwork, flag-decorated roads, delicious food, assorted shops, popular beachfront, and medley of pretty hotels to name a few.  My only regret is having only one afternoon to spend in this fairy-tale village.

In Sayulita, at the charming Petit Hotel Hafa.  Photography by Mandy Martini

In Sayulita, at the charming Petit Hotel Hafa.  Photography by Mandy Martini

Rooftop lounging at the Petit Hotel Hafa in Sayulita, with Mandy Martini, Paige Rene, and Sergio the dog.  Photography by Nathan Rose  Photography .

Rooftop lounging at the Petit Hotel Hafa in Sayulita, with Mandy Martini, Paige Rene, and Sergio the dog.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Street art in Sayulita

Street art in Sayulita

Xinalani Retreat

Xinalani Retreat

Ocean View Room at Xinalani 

Ocean View Room at Xinalani 

Quimixto Beach

Quimixto Beach

Beach Yoga in Quimixto

Beach Yoga in Quimixto

The Bar Lounge at Xinalani Retreat... always an abundance of fresh fruit and a pretty place to relax.

The Bar Lounge at Xinalani Retreat... always an abundance of fresh fruit and a pretty place to relax.

Handstands in Sayulita

Handstands in Sayulita

Between the incredible hospitality at Xinalani - the friendly staff, delicious food, fun activities like Salsa dancing lessons - and our enjoyable excursions to explore nearby attractions, this trip could not have been a more perfect getaway.

It helps of course to have some pretty awesome travel-mates, which luckily was exactly what I had. This trip would not have been the same without these two lovely souls, Mandy Martini and Nathan Rose.

Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.