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

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.