On a Caribbean island that is famous for their all-inclusives, I wanted to get away from all that as much as possible and really get back to nature, and at Natura Cabana Boutique Hotel and Spa, I was able to soak in all the shades of blue of the Caribbean, as well as all the greens of the boutique resort's flora and fauna. I really enjoyed staying at this rustic eco-friendly hideaway tucked in-between the Dominican North Coast town of Cabarete and Sosua, located in a private residential area away from the tourists called Paseo de Sol. I highly recommend it to all who want to really get away from it all and truly rejuvenate.
I quit my full-time job in LA to travel and work freelance so that I could have a flexible schedule to work on my blog. I want to encourage a certain type of travel - a more responsible, mindful, greener art of travel. Of course, when traveling, there's no such thing as not leaving a carbon footprint at all. It's actually quite impossible. However, there are things we can do to travel as green and eco-consciously as possible.
I also wanted to dispel the myth that luxury travel fosters a disconnect between tourists and the land and people they visit. Luxury travel has the potential to be an intimate nature experience, culturally rich, and also environmentally responsible. It's all about finding the right travel providers and doing a bit of research ahead of your trip. My goal is to educate travelers that high-end travel does not have to be exploitative. And when it's not, your experience is all the more rewarding and special. Travelers can have a really fantastic vacation where they stay in luxury accommodations, eat fine cuisine and get the most out of the destination through adventure tours but also have a meaningful experience that does not deplete the resources of the place they're visiting. I hope you stumble upon something in FreshTraveler that will spark your interest in this type of travel and please let me know if you have any questions at all about how I can make this easier for you to travel with a lighter carbon footprint.
By supporting companies such as Coati Travel, an eco-travel company based in Costa Rica, we can travel well and travel responsibly.
In fact, they are currently offering eco-interested travelers the ultimate adventure with a chance to win an amazing Dream Green Vacation to Costa Rica. One lucky winner and three companions of their choice will be invited to experience the pristine natural beauty of Costa Rica with its lush rainforests and idyllic beaches, lodging at a boutique hotel in the hills of San José and the Cayuga Collection’s top luxury sustainable hotels, and regional flights on the world’s first carbon-neutral airline, Nature Air.
Get more information on how to enter online at www.coatitravel.com/dream
A quick glance at the ingredients of a candy bar can show you whether you're eating empty calories. As delicious as it may appear, empty calories are of no benefit to your health or the health of the people around you and I urge you to use the same analogy with travel. Be mindful of your travel choices and do not become an empty traveler.
As someone who has traveled my whole life, believe me when I say, eventually you will come to see that most five star hotels have the same amenities - 24-hour room service, cabanas by the pool, several onsite restaurants with a seasonal menu crafted by a celebrity chef, an in-suite jacuzzi tub, and luxe toiletries that make your skin tingle all over. After a while, keycard after keycard becomes almost impossible to differentiate.
What makes a quality place in my eyes is not the number of amenities it offers nor the number of shopping boutiques that are available onsite, but the quality of what is available. The quality of service and the quality of the food. This is why I tend to like boutique hotels over larger ones. They are small enough where you know the name of all the people who work hard to ensure that you have the best stay possible. In my experience, at a smaller place, you also get the privacy and space that you need to decompress and rejuvenate from the stresses of work or city life. However, I don't rule out larger hotel groups either. But when I choose to stay at a hotel chain, I like to know their values are aligned with mine and I stay at the ones that encourage a healthier, active and mindful lifestyle.
A mindful traveler takes the time to be conscious of his or her surroundings and is curious about life beyond the walls of the hotel. I urge you that when you travel, be more mindful in your travels and expand your horizons any way you know how. I believe that if we are all mindful travelers, seeing from an ever-curious, dynamic and fresh perspective (as FreshTravelers!), tourism can be a powerful force in both helping developing economies grow and also in helping depressed economies get back on their feet. Together through travel, I believe we can cultivate a higher level of understanding, open-mindedness and bring more peace, to both ourselves and in our world.
It's as simple as biking or taking public transportation instead of renting a car
or renting the most fuel-efficient car possible.
It's about a little prior research to find a locally-owned boutique hotel
or purchasing items from locally-owned businesses
or supporting the bigger hotels that treat their employees well and take the time to invest in the surrounding community.
It's about supporting the businesses who contribute positively to their surrounding community, regardless of whether they are big or small. It's not a 'BIG versus SMALL' or a 'ME versus YOU' mentality. It's about creating a win-win situation for everybody. This is the mindful way that I explore life. This is also the way that I choose to travel. I choose to travel to hotels and support travel businesses that are socially-conscious.
Since 2005, the adventure travel sector has grown. It is currently the fastest growing sector of the travel industry. Even during times with economic challenges, people who can afford to travel will travel... but they travel differently... for educational value, for learning, and they do it responsibly. In a way, the economy is forcing people to make more conscious choices.
Eco-tourism will continue to grow and expand. What Mother Nature offers is more fascinating than what theme parks can create. When you vacation in nature, you become grounded, your creativity increases, you are healthy and feel much better. Then when you come back to the concrete jungle, you bring what you learn back to others.
In terms of changes in the eco-travel industry since 2005, there are now more options available for luxury travel and more tourism properties are interested in getting their sustainability rating as a marketing move. This is a positive trend, with many luxury oriented properties being serious about sustainability. Boutique travel is growing, as well as luxury hospitality with a cultural aspect to it. Another change is that there are more and more people that are interested in understanding sustainability. Before, clients were mainly just interested in being in nature, now you have to educate your client on your sustainability practices to maintain your credibility as an eco-property. Also, more people are willing to pay for that education.¨
------ Steve Jacobus, the CEO of Coati Travel
Until August 31st, 2013, Coati Travel is offering a FREE eco-trip to Costa Rica for four people. See below for details on how you can enter! Best of luck and I hope you win! And if you do, please share your photos or stories with me. I'd love to feature it on FreshTraveler!
Since AeroMexico launched their daily direct flight from JFK to Cancun (only a 4 hour flight) back in July 2012, I've been meaning to make a long weekend trip down there to get out of the bi-polar summer weather that has been plaguing New York. When I finally got the chance, I decided not to stay in Cancun but take an ADO busapproximately 2 hours south (128 km or 80 mi) to Tulum, a pre-Columbian Maya walled city that served as a major port. It was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas. The Tulum ruins are the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. They are the only ruins with the picturesque view of the Caribbean.
I was excited to see the ruins and explore the nearby small cenotes (sinkholes), but more importantly, I was happy to find that there was quite a selection of eco-lodges to stay at here all the way up to the Si'an Biosphere Reserve.
I'm not a huge fan of staying in huge hotels. When I travel, I prefer the intimacy of a boutique property - the smaller and the more unique, the better. I love connecting closely with the staff (knowing their names) and also knowing that my stay is contributing positively to the local economy.
I decided to stay at Nueva Vida de Ramiro, a luxurious and unpretentious eco-resort on km 8.5 owned by Cancún-based architect Oscar Ortiz and his wife, Gea. One of the older eco-lodges in Tulum (located on kilometer 8.5), it opened in 1998 originally with 4 bungalows. Built 2 years after their son Ramiro woke up against all odds from a year long coma after a terrible motorcycle accident, Oscar and Gea named the hotel in honor of Ramiro's new life: Nueva Vida de Ramiro, or in English The New Life of Ramiro.
Today, it's expanded to 32 rooms - a combination of bungalows, newer suites and a few two-room eco-houses suitable for families with children on 7.5 hectares of preserved property. It was really such a breath of fresh air being there. Being an eco-lodge, there is no air-conditioning, but the breeze of the sea was just what I needed to keep me cool. The rooms come equipped with fans and mosquito nets around the bed. Hair-dryers are also not allowed on the property since it the electricity on the property is run primarily on solar panels and a generator. I didn't really need a hair-dryer on this trip and since the weather was so warm, my hair easily air-dried.
The bath products are also locally-made specially for the hotel. I really dug their Oatmeal Soap Bar and their Peppermint Mouthwash.
Most of the staff at Nueva Vida de Ramiro are hired from the local community and are from Mayan descent. The lush garden is kept by the very friendly Juanito, the resident gardener and local shaman. If you want to find a natural cure to one of your ailments, he'll gladly find you a solution in the hotel grounds. We were happy to find that aloe vera plants were in abundance for our sunburns.
The hotel is also very active in preserving the turtles that come to its shores to lay their eggs. The hotel sponsors 3 turtle conservationists who live rent-free in camper vans on the property. They patrol the area for turtle eggs and if nests are laid on paths where hotel guests can step on them, the eggs are carefully relocated to a nesting cage where they can safely incubate. From May to October, 120 turtles came onto the shores of the hotel's beach to lay eggs. The hatching will occur later this summer.
The hotel guests also receive a wooden hard-carved turtle made by Mayan artisans as a parting gift. The turtles are made of sustainably harvested wood.
Breakfast was included with our stay and we had a selection of local fresh fruits, fresh juice and coffee/tea. My favorite was the very delicious and soft homemade bread that we had with a local fruit preserve and butter.
We also sat on the beach and ordered from the hotel's restaurant Casa Banana. We had their lunch speciality - guacamole, chips and the seafood ceviche - which were all excellent.
The ceviche in particular was one of the best that I've ever tasted.
We rented bikes from Iguana Bike Shop and explored the area and the town.
We biked to a place called La Vita e Bella to have some Italian food (excellent penne with shrimp) before we headed to the ruins.
Very important:Be sure to bring a bottle of water with you during the bike ride, it gets really hot! I ended up needing to lie down for a moment to recover from the heat.
For a taste of real, authentic local life, here's a list of local hole-in-the-wall eats in town that were recommended to us by Mariela, the Operational Manager of Nueva Vida:El Curondero (a bar), El Camello (for the seafood), La Nave and El Asadero.
There are three cenotes located only a short bike ride away from the hotel (Cenote Encantado, Cenote Beh Ha and Cenote Tercer Cielo). Not all the cenotes were open due to the rains, but we were able to rent a kayak and snorkeling equipment for a hundred pesos (about US$10) and explore Cenote Encantado.
Afterwards, we stopped at a shop to purchase some Mayan Clay that detoxes your skin, regenerates cells, and relieves stress from Mayan Clay Spaand walked around the beach for an hour before jumping into the ocean to wash it all off. Our skin definitely felt good after being encased in sunbaked clay for that long. It was a rejuvenating weekend indeed for our bodies, minds and spirit.
All the photos of my stay at Nueva Vida de Ramiro were either taken by me or Daniel Para Mata. I hope you enjoy them! xoxoxo
No phone, no air-condition, a beach with no people. This was exactly what I needed to get away from the usual busy, busy, busy of my life in New York and rushing around from airport to airport catching plane after plane… I needed to slow down and remember who I was again. The beach brought back memories of my childhood home. Raised by the beach at what was the sleepy resort town of Pattaya Beach in Thailand, I remember a lot of my early childhood spent on the beach, in the water and ordering room service at a place that was a lot like Blue Osa.
Now that I was almost 30, and spending almost 10 years in the United States, 6 years of that in university getting my Bachelors and my Masters, I needed to reconnect with who I really was inside. So I spent time writing some poetry:
With head in the sky and my feet on the ground. I know that I'm safe and sound.
Who I am has nothing to do with how I look, my degrees, resume, or the amount in my bank account.
I know my value is measured by my character and drive.
I'm a girl in love with the world and I'm alive.
It's taken a while, but I've allowed myself to be just myself without judgement and I wanted to build a business around who I authentically am. I am doing it.
Out of the rainforest, I emerged anew and rejuvenated. More grounded and ready to rock it. The biggest change from this much needed time to myself was that I changed my position at FreshTraveler from "Host, Writer and Producer" to "CEO and Founder". I have bigger dreams and ambitions for my business. I realized I was thinking too small and playing it too safe. I didn't just want a web series or a blog. I didn't just want to exist online. I want my brand to also exist in reality. I want to build a lifestyle brand and as I embark on that exciting journey, I am more grounded stronger than ever to face any challenge.
Instead of taking what life gives and throws at me, I realized I can CREATE my life as anything that I want and ANYTHING is possible. So here I am, creating my ideal life - online and in real life - as a FreshTraveler.
4.30pm is the worst time to hail a cab in New York City. My advice: take a pedicab instead. A pedicab, one of those bicycle powered rickshaws is a summer staple of Manhattan. Not only are they eco-friendly and fun to ride in, they can also be your knight in shining armor.
Here's my pedicab to the rescue story...
Flashback to the summer of 2012: It's 4:45pm. It’s raining and it’s 15 minutes until my bus leaves for DC. I’ve been standing outside trying to hail a cab for 25 mins. Everyone’s off duty and I’m infuriated. I’m having a heart attack because I’m going to miss the last Tripper bus of the day going to Arlington, VA where I’m supposed to meet my friend Anna. And I already missed the earlier bus that I was supposed to catch. Argh. Off-duty cab after off-duty cab and another 5 minutes pass me by. 10 mins left until my bus leaves! I’m not sure what to do anymore. My clothes are soaked and I’m screaming inside. Suddenly, the solution appears. Low and behold, a pedicab pulls up before me.
I only need to go 3 avenues away, I tell him. 30 bucks, he says. I only have 20. He says 25. I only have 20 in cash and I need to catch my bus pronto.
Although a cab is much cheaper, I’d pay extra for the human powered vehicle as long as I don’t miss my bus!!!
He helps me put my two suitcases for my month long Best of the Road trip on his little vehicle and pedals his mighty legs through the sheets of rain and zig zagging through congested traffic and even through a red light. Go Mr. Pedicab Man!
We get to my bus 2 mins shy of it’s departure. Whew! A BIG thank you to Mr. Pedicab Man. I am eternally grateful.