Travel

the best Island in Fiji, Turtle Island

Fiji was always one of those destinations I had as a dream destination but the distance and the expense were a bit out of my reach. But when I was asked to go cover Turtle Island for Islands Magazine, my suitcase was packed before I could hang up the phone. And my husband was inviting along as well (a nice perk of being the spouse of a travel writer). It is by far the best beach resort in Fiji! 

I’ve written before about how much I hate long-haul flights but I can overlook my phobias for a destination like this! I’m not a great flyer but it’s a means to an end and for a wanderluster like me, it’s a necessity. Just having a ticket that said ‘Fiji Airways‘ on it made me all giddy! I did notice that my itinerary indicated that I would be taking a sea plane to the tiny private island but that was not going to stop me.

The sea plane was actually one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done. Five of us who would be visiting the island arrived on the same flight. But since the tiny seaplane can only carry so much weight, we were each weighed, along with our luggage and only four of us, sans luggage, could travel out on the first flight. I put on my headphones, strapped myself in to the tiny seat, and our barefoot pilot motored us out across the waves until the wind and waves gave us the momentum to get airborne. I was beyond excited to get to Turtle Island, the best beach resort in Fiji.

The 30-minute flight was breathtakingly beautiful, flying low over the Pacific dotted with tiny islands. As we coasted in to the dock at Turtle Island, we were met with music and singing from the island’s staff. Two of the island’s “warriors” scooped me up and carried me off the plane across the water, a long-standing tradition, while my husband waded in. Instantly, we were greeted with their traditional “Bula” welcome and warm, genuine happy-to-meet-you hugs. 

Sea plane to Turtle Island
getting carried off the seaplane by Turtle Island warriors

We were introduced to our Bure Mama for the week, Elle, our personal concierge who did everything from stock the room daily with fresh baked goods to intuitively bringing us cocktails as we hung out on our hammocks to packing our beach bag for daily excursions. Bures are the private villas – there are only 14 on the entire island so it truly is a private escape and the best beach resort in Fiji. 

Bure at Turtle Island, Fiji
Our bure
Our Bure mama Turtle Island
Elle, our bure mama

In 1972, U.S. cable TV exec Richard Evanson was looking to escape the frenzy of corporate life and a sour divorce. He wound up in a bar in Fiji and after a night of heavy drinking, found himself the proud (perhaps hungover) owner of a 500-acre barren and deserted island. Days later, he journeyed to the island with nothing but a generator, refrigerator, and tent with plans to live in seclusion. A villager from a neighboring island saw his helicopter land and, out of curiosity, made his way over by boat. They became fast friends and together, they, along with other villagers, planted over 500,000 trees and began transforming the island into Richard’s own private, tropical paradise. He loved the seclusion but in the late 1970s, Columbia Pictures took notice of the island while scouting for a destination to film a remake of Blue Lagoon. He was ambivalent, but soon found himself building wood and straw huts, or Fijian bures, for the film crew. He realized the potential of the island, and in 1980, welcomed his first guests to Turtle Island. With only 14 bures today, the island maintains its charm as a secluded, authentic and preserved destination. Richard still lives on the island (although he is in failing health). His son, Richard, Jr. runs the private island resort.

The best island in Fiji, Turtle Island
isn’t this magical?

There’s not much to daily life on Turtle Island. Any that’s perhaps the best thing about this place. This was by far the most relaxing trip I’ve ever taken. And my high-strung, type A husband fell into this groove as well. Mornings were all about me time. We’d join the other guests for a communal breakfast at a table on the beach then retreat to our own private beach to lounge in hammocks at the water’s edge. Periodically, Elle would show up and offer us fresh coconut water, in the coconut of course, or offer a snack or cocktail. Following a communal lunch of local delicacies, we’d retreat to the outdoor daybed on our bure’s front porch for a boozy nap.

hammock at Turtle Island, Fiji
that hammock!

This was pretty much my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of activities if you choose. My husband went scuba diving several times, lots of guests snorkeled each morning, there are private beach excursions, horseback riding, hiking, and plenty of island life to explore. 

the outdoor day bed for naps

As I mentioned, there are only 14 bures on the island and with the exception of a couple of family weeks, it’s a couples-only resort. That means that there are only 28 guests on the island any given week. So privacy and solitude are the island’s attraction. We had one of the last bures on the island and I could seriously go hours without seeing another person. So if you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, this is it.

dining at Turtle Island, Fiji
communal dining on the beach

But part of the fun of traveling is meeting other couples, right? That’s where the communal dining comes in. It’s certainly not a requirement, but it’s kind of nice to share an evening meal on the beach and talk to others about what they did that day.

We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary there and were surprised to return to our bure one afternoon to find it transformed as a place of celebration. I can’t imagine how much time, or how many flower petals, it took, but it was amazing. We were then whisked away to “Honeymoon Beach” for a solo afternoon on the beach and arrived to a dozen of the staff there to greet us and sing some really special songs. I cried. 

our bed decorated for our anniversary
Honeymoon beach Turtle Island
celebrating our anniversary at Honeymoon Beach

It’s this level of service that makes this resort so incredibly amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I won’t say they go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, it’s simply part of their culture. It comes naturally for all of them. They genuinely want you to have the time of your life. Every staff member, there are over 100 to take care of the 28 guests (do the math), learns each guests name and you’re greeted throughout the day with “Bula, Beth,” or the occasional “Bula Bula!”

It’s just one of those special places where I truly left a piece of my heart. And I absolutely plan to return someday. Many of the guests we met are return visitors, some making their first trip there over a decade ago, but they return every few years, to the same staff, to the same bure. It’s like a home away from home, and by far the best beach resort in Fiji.

one of our rare couples’ photos

Being a luxury resort on a private island, it is on the pricey side but once you experience the level of service and sheer tranquility of the area, you’ll know it’s worth the price and a special place that stays with you forever.

The desert is one of the best vacation spots in Jordan

I get asked this a lot. “Where’s your favorite place?” “What’s the best place you’ve been?” So in today’s pandemic-fueled If you can’t look forward, look back world, I thought I’d tell you about the places I’ve been that left a lasting impression. That’s actually a bit misleading. I LOVE everywhere I go. Because I love to travel and I find something interesting or memorable in every destination. Even the bad experiences, of which there are few (although a “hike” through an unexpected rather buggy, really muddy, rainforest in a sundress and dressy sandals springs to mind…). So I wanted to tell you about my favorite vacation spots in Jordan.

First, you might be wondering if it is safe to travel to Jordan. That was the whole purpose of my trip. The country’s tourism bureau wanted to show tourists that it is safe to travel to Jordan. The country places a very high priority on ensuring that its visitors are safe no matter where in the country they travel. And I can tell you in my 10 days there, whether I was in the desert or the crowded city of Amman, I never felt unsafe.

Favorite #1: Jordan

Back to that question I’m often asked about my favorite trip. I generally answer with, “It depends.” It depends on the experience I had rather than the place.  So if I’m talking about learning a new culture and pure once in a lifetime experiences, Jordan would definitely be my favorite.

Read more: Why You Should Add Jordan to Your Bucket List, ASAP

Traveling to Jordan

Hands down, it was Jordan. When the trip was first offered to me, I honestly had little interest. I’m not much of a history buff, and at the time, I was not that adventurous of a traveler. This trip, however, would change all of that! I was apprehensive about going, but a friend who had been on the same trip the year prior said, “You have to go. It’s the trip of a lifetime!” So I committed to going but had my usual frequent “I’m just going to cancel” internal discussions up until the day I left. 

I did minimal research on the country (note to self: get better at this) mainly to ensure I packed appropriately. The cultural norms and the weather dictate attire. You have the heat and dust of the desert, but women are expected to cover most of their arms and legs (capris and three-quarter length tops are acceptable). I even bought a one-piece bathing suit for the Dead Sea portion of the trip — only to learn that bikinis are perfectly acceptable in these tourist-heavy areas.

I would meet the other ten people traveling, only two who I knew at JFK Airport on the afternoon of our flight. I didn’t know if we’d all be sitting together on the plane, and it was doubtful since I jockey my long-haul seat assignments much like a Vegas oddsmaker. I wanted a row to myself to sleep (I don’t sleep well sitting up on planes), so I watched the seating chart several times a day leading up to the flight. Anyway, we would all meet, nine women and one man, at a restaurant for dinner before boarding our flight to Jordan on Royal Jordanian.

Believe it or not, as much as I travel(ed), I’m still nervous and anxious through that whole boarding process until we’re in the air. (Thank you, Xanax.) As I sat on the plane, in my empty row mind you!, getting my area and all of my nighttime comfort accouterments in order, I pulled out my wallet to get my credit card for my nightcap(s), and it was not there!  I suddenly realized that my anxiety in the evening got the best of me, and I had left my credit card in the portfolio at the restaurant. At this point, the cabin doors were closed. I texted my husband, but by the time he responded, we were in the air. I panicked. Despite being an accomplished traveler, no, I did not carry cash, and I did not have a backup debit card. I did have another credit card, but it was not set up for cash withdrawals. And despite my bank advertising that they’re a 24/7 business, when I landed in Jordan, their phones went unanswered. I eventually worked it out, so I’ll get on with the details of the trip. 

We landed in the capital city of Amman, where we’d spend the first night before we began a 10-day, 10-hotel (!) journey around the country. I barely remember that first night after our long, arduous journey, but the city was teeming with activity as we walked the streets to dinner. Again, in my awake-for-24-hours-hungover-by-Xanax-and-wine coma, I vaguely remember dinner, WAY too much food as generally happens on these trips, but my palate absolutely loved the new flavors I was experiencing. But honestly, all I really wanted was a good night’s sleep. 

food vendors in Amman

So I better get to the highlights of why this is my favorite trip ever and tell you about the vacation spots in Jordan or I’ll lose you. Keep in mind that we were in 10 different areas of the country with multiple excursions and experiences. Every single experience left me feeling giddy with that “I can die happy now” feeling but I’ll share the highlights with you here.

The Wadi Rum Desert

Again, I’m a bit of an unapologetic diva when it comes to traveling. I like comfort — things like soft bed sheets, room service, and a luxe bathroom. So, the desert doesn’t fit into my travel mantra. But, hands down, this was (so far) the best experience I’ve ever had in a things-you-only-get-to-do-once-in-a-lifetime sort of way. 

Our guide Ramzi looking contemplative

Wadi Rum is a vast desert in Jordan with virtually every type of geographic wonder you could imagine – colossal sandstone mountains, desert valleys, canyons, dunes, and stone arches. It has served as the film location for several movies, including ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Martian,’ and it’s one of the best vacation spots in Jordan for those up for a little adventure.

Me, (hating myself in photos) in front of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” from Lawrence of Arabia

Our Wadi Rum experience began as we climbed into the back of pick-up trucks and took off across the sandy desert, racing each other, stopping for the occasional photo opp, and just experiencing the amazing scenery. Clearly, our hosts wanted to impress this group of travel writers because we arrived at a spectacular spot in the desert just as the sun was falling, where our guides created a semi-circle of luminaries as we sat and watched the sunset across the stillness of the desert.  It was one of those sights I will never ever forget. 

Wadi Rum is one of the best vacation spots in Jordan
riding 4x4s across the desert

There would be no luxury hotel for my weary head. To fully immerse in our desert experience, we would be staying at a Bedouin campsite, Rahayeb Desert Camp. It was camping, albeit in individual yurts with attached yet primitive bathrooms. But like a true camel in the desert, I learned to “hold it” as I entered my bathroom before the 10 p.m. power curfew only to find a spider larger than my hand perched on the mirror above my sink. I was in for another sleepless night. 

Read more: Camping with the Bedouins in Southern Jordan

Our desert camp
my room (sans the spider)

Fortunately, my night would be short as we had a pre-dawn wake-up call to ride camels across the desert to watch the sunrise. Three Bedouins, one who looked to be about ten years old, helped us each mount a camel (three words I thought would never come out of my mouth as a phrase) in the pitch dark. If you’ve never mounted a camel, it’s a great feat of strength, both mentally and physically, as the camel lurches forward onto his front legs, making you feel as though you’re going to fly over the so-called handlebars. Still, the trick is to relax and just let the wave of the animal’s movement take over. It was pretty spectacular. A group of us traipsing across the desert as the sun rose above the mountains. Me. In the Middle East. On a camel. Watching the sunrise. Best moment of my life! (Wow! I got misty-eyed writing that sentence.) Truly a highlight and one of my favorite vacation spots in Jordan.

this boy got up early!
Apprehension, adrenaline, exhaustion
camels at sunrise – spectacular!

And then my cell phone pinged. Seriously! A text message. In the middle of the freaking desert!

The City of Petra

Again, I’m not much of a history buff, but the city of Petra gave me pause! We stayed at the nearby Petra Marriott Hotel, which offered quick and easy access to this iconic site. The travel diva in me came out as right after check-in, I ventured down to the hotel’s spa for my first hammam, or Turkish bath, experience. When in Rome… er Jordan. Right?

The spice man at the market in Petra; yep, I bought some!

Petra is one of the top vacation spots in Jordan for history lovers. Two pieces of advice. 1) Get an early start. Seriously. I could have spent two whole days there just exploring.  2) Splurge and hire a guide. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a travel writer, it’s how much more enriching a destination or site can be if you have a professional guide.  And as with many adventurous tours, wear comfortable shoes, take plenty of water, wear a hat, blah, blah, blah.

our group walking the siq

So what exactly is Petra? Because I didn’t pay much attention to history in school, I decided to let Google answer this. “Petra is a famous archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert. Dating to around 300 B.C., it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs, earning its nickname, the “Rose City.” Perhaps its most famous structure is 45m-high Al Khazneh, a temple with an ornate, Greek-style facade, and known as The Treasury.”  So there. To most people, The Treasury is best known as the site in the “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” movie. 

Petra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In 2007, Petra earned the designation as one of the New Seven Wonders of The World. 

Read more: Petra’s Fascinating History

Our tour of Petra started with a walk down the Siq, a narrow gorge bordered by towering pink sandstone cliffs.  It’s about a one-mile walk to The Treasury but can (and should) take longer, especially if you have a guide. The trail has so much history along the way marked by facades, tombs, and residences.

walking the siq
more of the siq
things you’ll miss if you don’t have a guide

The gorge gets quite narrow, claustrophobic almost, but suddenly, The Treasury comes into view. And it is stunning! It’s a massive 43-meter tall Greek-style temple carved into the sandstone. And while most people consider this Petra’s main feature, it’s really only the beginning. There are so many uncovered civilizations and ruins spread throughout the area. 

The Treasury behind me

The Monastery sits high on a hill and is just as spectacular as The Treasury, in my opinion. It’s not easy to get to. It’s a hot, dusty climb up 850 steps carved into the rock. So the adventurers in us decide to take the donkeys up. This is not for the faint of heart. We were terrified, but laughing so hard, as the donkeys mechanically prance up the stairs, occasionally fighting each other for position, as you’re hanging on for dear life. A nerve-wracking but hysterical experience!

Riding donkeys up to The Monastery
NOT riding the donkeys downhill!
The Monastery

At night, people walk the Siq to see The Treasury at night when it’s surrounded by luminaries and guides put on a brief show. You’ll need a flashlight as the towering sandstone walls block out even the moonlight but the night I went, it was fairly crowded. 

Petra is simply amazing and something everyone should see if given the opportunity. But I’ll be honest, the not-so-history-savvy in me was equally impressed with Jerash, another site of ruins in Jordan that were only unearthed in this century. I definitely recommend a few hours at this site as well.

The columns of the oval forum in Jerash

I can’t possibly share this level of detail on everything we saw in Jordan. But it was like each day built upon the one prior. But here are a few other highlights.

The Dead Sea and The Red Sea

The two seas are perhaps the most popular vacation spots in Jordan for water lovers. The Red Sea is home to several stunning diving sites, as is The Dead Sea.

Snorkeling and lounging on a yacht on the Red Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea; this is the view of the Sea from Marriott. I’m not posting a bathing suit shot!

The Jordanian People and Countryside

There are so many unique vacation spots in Jordan. One of our stops included a stay at Feynan Ecolodge, which is located at the southwestern edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve (Jordan’s largest nature reserve), near the villages of Qurayqura and Feynan, respectively. The property is about 215 km (or 133 miles) south of Amman.

We piled into the back of beaten up pickup trucks and bumped and tumbled across the desert passing a few Bedouin camps as our scarfed driver navigated the dusty path. The 26-room, open-air ecolodge sits alone in the middle of the desert. This destination ranks up there as one of the best places in the world to see the stars. At dusk, we all climbed onto the roof on the lodge and spread out the cushioned mats and laid back as our guide took us on an incredible stargazing journey.

My room at the ecolodge
Picking olives in the countryside
Beekeeping in Um Qais
Learning to cook in the home of a Jordanian

A lot of people ask, “Who are the Bedouins?” The Bedouins are simply the Arab nomads who traveled across the Middle East. They typically travel(ed) in caravans with camels carrying their provisions and set up campsites along the way. They are tribal and live communally with some interesting cultures and traditions.

Up next: My favorite tropical beach experience! Turtle Island, Fiji

Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel Reopen and Introduce Enhanced Health and Safety Measures

In addition to Omni Hotels & Resorts’ brand-wide safety program, the properties are following local mandates and guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (May 21, 2020) – Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel have proudly and safely re-opened their doors. As part of reopening, the hotels are following new protocols and safety measures put in place as part of Omni Hotels & Resorts’ brand-wide program, Omni Safe & Clean.

The program is part of the hotel brand’s new “Stay A Part Of” campaign. Even with empty hotel rooms and closed doors, Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel were determined to demonstrate how the true meaning of hospitality transcends physical barriers. At a time when the world is being told to socially distance and physically stay apart from one another, Omni has launched its new Stay A Part Of campaign to encourage guests and associates to Stay A Part Of what matters most during this unprecedented time. The spirit of this campaign laid the foundation for Omni as its associates worked diligently to adapt traditional hotel operations for reopening in a post COVID-19 world.

“While our doors have been closed, we have worked tirelessly to ensure we can provide our guests a safe stay when they feel comfortable returning,” said Peter Strebel, president of Omni Hotels & Resorts. “I think we’re all really craving togetherness right now and we look forward to hosting families and friends again, allowing them to make memories together that will inevitably be a little sweeter after all of this time apart.”  

Omni Safe & Clean guarantees that Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel will Stay A Part Of Safety with new guidelines including:

  • All associates will wear masks and gloves and will be subject to daily health screenings, including daily temperature checks
  • Check-in and -out process will be limited or contactless wherever possible
  • Room keys will be disinfected
  • Additional staff members will be scheduled to clean high-traffic areas
  • Additional guest sanitizing stations will be added throughout the hotel
  • Lobby furniture will be repositioned, allowing for social distancing
  • High-touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected every hour
  • Room service/housekeeping will deliver items to guests without contact
  • Elevated disinfecting will take place after each guest’s stay
  • High foot traffic areas will be designated as one-way passages and include wider aisles wherever possible
  • Physical distancing indicators will be placed on the ground at key waiting areas such as hotel check-in, event registration, hostess stations and food lines to help attendees maintain necessary distance

Additionally, the hotels are committed to Stay A Part Of Hospitality through various aspects:

  • Stay A Part Of TravelOmni is offering Select Guest members (or new members), a 30 percent discount on best available rates on new bookings made now through September 5, 2020, for stays now through September 12, 2020. Offer is subject to availability with more information located HERE.
  • Stay A Part Of CommunityIn partnership with Feeding America, Omni helps provide one meal for every completed stay through its Say Goodnight to Hunger programOmni is committed to helping local communities during these trying times, and donations will be doubled for any group bookingsmade throughout the summer months.

For more information or to book accommodations, visit omnihotels.com/hotels/amelia-island and omnihotels.com/hotels/jacksonville.

About Omni Hotels & Resorts

Omni Hotels & Resorts creates genuine, authentic guest experiences at 60 distinct luxury hotels and resorts in leading business and leisure destinations across North America. With more than 25 iconic golf courses and 16 award-winning spas featured in dynamic locales nationwide, every Omni proudly opens its doors to share the true spirit of its destination. Reflected through local color, personalized service, unique wellness options, signature restaurants and creative culinary offerings, Omni leaves a lasting impression with every guest and a heightened level of recognition and rewards delivered through its Select Guest loyalty program. As a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance, Select Guest is further expanded through the DISCOVERY® loyalty program offering members additional global benefits. Omni is committed to reducing hunger and is on a mission through its Say Goodnight to Hunger initiative to provide millions of meals each year for food banks to feed children, families and seniors in communities in which it operates. Omni Hotels & Resorts is the official hotel of the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions. For information or to book accommodations, visit omnihotels.com or call 1-800-The-Omni.

HAWKS CAY RESORT WILL REOPEN ON JUNE 1, 2020

The iconic Florida Keys resort is set to begin welcoming guests with new safety protocols

DUCK KEY, Fla. – May 21, 2020 – Hawks Cay Resort will reopen its doors on Monday, June 1, 2020, when the Florida Keys reopens its border to visitors. In compliance with state and local government reopening requirements in the Florida Keys, the resort will open at a limited occupancy and with a long list of new health and safety procedures. 

“Hawks Cay Resort has a longstanding commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our guests and staff, and that hasn’t changed,” said Hawks Cay Resort Vice President and Managing Director Sheldon Suga. “As we all respond to the changes and challenges of COVID-19, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our core values of safety and customer service.”  

Following guidelines issued by public health agencies and the American Hotel Lodging Association, Hawks Cay has implemented a series of new cleaning and social distancing protocols including, but not limited to:

  • Health and wellness checks for staff with an “approval to serve” sticker displayed on name badges 
  • Digital menus accessible via guest smartphone at all restaurants
  • Limited seating at dining outlets and new takeout package options
  • Facemasks are required for all staff and guests
  • Increased cleaning frequency in all public spaces
  • Guestrooms will be cleaned and sealed before guest arrival and daily housekeeping will not be available
  • Social distancing in all public areas

For a more detailed list of safety and cleaning procedures, please visit www.hawkscay.com/covid-19.

“We look forward to seeing guests back at our pools and dining in our restaurants, but it will be a different experience as we adjust to social distancing measures and other cleaning protocols,” continued Suga. “We know it’s going to be an adjustment for our guests, so we’re doing our best to ensure that we’re giving our guests a place where they can feel safe and still have fun, which is what everyone needs right now.”  

Hawks Cay has released several new promotional offers in time for summer travel such as the Advance Purchase option that provides a savings of up to 25 percent and a Drive to Duck Key package to encourage road trippers with a discount and resort credit. For more information or to book your stay, visit www.hawkscay.com

About Hawks Cay Resort

A recipient of the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award and a member of the Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection, Hawks Cay Resort is located on Duck Key in the Middle Florida Keys. Situated roughly halfway between Key Largo and Key West at mile marker 61, this 60-acre, tropical destination is easily accessible by car, boat or plane yet feels worlds away from everyday life. Alongside the aquamarine water of the Atlantic Ocean, guests enjoy offshore, flats and backcountry fishing; diving; kayaking and standup paddle-boarding programs; Cliff Drysdale tennis program, and the only resort-based Dolphin Connection program with complimentary daily viewings in the continental U.S. The resort boasts 177 guestrooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, six restaurants, saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kid and teen clubs and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa. For more information, please visit https://www.hawkscay.com/.

The ultimate packing for Patagonia guide

There’s one thing you should know about me. I don’t like cold weather. I mean, I abhor (and that’s a strong word) being cold. But when a destination calls that’s a bucket list experience, how could I say, “no?” So when the invite to visit Patagonia came, I began ferociously reading everything I could get my hands on about packing for Patagonia. One thing that was clear in everything I read? Pack for 4 seasons, no matter how many days you’ll be there. Patagonia has a very unique climate and can experience wild temperature swings, strong winds, and simultaneous sun and rain. 

So how’s a warm weather take-me-to-the-beach type of girl supposed to pack for this trip? My winter coat is 20 years old and (ahem) way out of style. My ski gear (I haven’t skied in 10 years) was purchased long before my menopausal muffin top appeared. But being the OCD planner I am, I did my research, connected with a few of the best outdoor outfitters, and lo and behold, I managed to have the perfect gear for my week in Patagonia. 

I would be staying at Patagonia Camp, the uber-luxe yurt resort. If you don’t know what a yurt is, it’s essentially at tent. But think about a tent that’s more like a 5-star hotel suite. So here are my tips for packing for Patagonia.

What I packed for Patagonia:

I kept reading about wind pants in my research and I was clueless. So I went straight to the outdoor source, REI, and they graciously offered up these rather comfy REI Co-op Screeline Hybrid pants that are yes, wind resistant, but honestly, just fun pants to wear anytime. The description says they’re “crafted for high-performance hikers and climbers.” Yeah, that’s not me, but truth be told, I wore these pants every day of my trip. They were not only a great fit, but did the job of keeping me warm on even our windiest days. As I was packing for Patagonia, these were the first item in my bag!

My REI hybrid pants and Flash 22 backpack – don’t leave home without it!

Duluth’s Flexpedition Pants were my back-up pants, you know, for when my first pair needed a rest or rinsing. These pants were a bit stretchier, which certainly came in handy for the amazing meals at Patagonia Camp. I loved being able to roll up the cuffs on a sunny day as I stripped away layers.

Consider the four seasons when packing for Patagonia
Layering was critical to ward off the cold. I had my Obermeyer base layer tights underneath my Flexpedition pants on our coldest hiking day.

Of course, layering was the key to the game in terms of planning for unexpected weather. 

Depending on the day’s forecast, I started with a short sleeved or long sleeved cotton underlayer. But my staple was Obermeyer’s Lilia Fleece jacket. I specifically chose a fleece with a hood just as an added layer of protection, and since I would be layering, I wanted one that didn’t fit too snuggly. And yes, I’m wearing this bright orange jacket in every photo taken that week.

Packing for Patagonia doesn't have to be stressful
My Lilia fleece jacket that was perfect for warmer days. I lived in it all week!

On the coldest and windiest day of expeditioning, I was glad I had Obermeyer’s baselayer tights. I was a bit concerned about having two layers around my muffin top waistline, but the yoga waistband made for a comfortable fit.

My husband offered me his backpack but I wanted something a bit more fun and colorful for photos. I chose the REI Co-op Flash 22 Print Pack in a floral pattern. I mean, it’s all about appearances, right? It was lightweight and held all of my gear for the day, especially my “just in case” layers and my stash of granola bars and chocolate, you know, in case I got lost in the desert.

And speaking of getting lost, my fear is dying of thirst. So I kept my trusty Takeya Insulated Water Bottle with me 24/7. And I like my water cold. Icy cold. So I loved that this water bottle kept ice frozen all day. And yes, I may or may not have put wine in it as lunchtime. 

I’ve been investing in my face lately (read into that what you like) so I wanted to be diligent about keeping the sun off of it. I ordered this sunhat with a strap to ensure it stayed on during windy conditions. 

Because I’m not that hearty of an outdoors person and I was terrified of getting sore, blistered feet, I was very careful in selecting my hiking shoes. I tried on dozens of pairs and much like my wedding dress, I just knew when I found “the one.” (I guess I should say the same of my husband.)  I ordered these Columbia waterproof hiking shoes from Zappos. One day, we hiked to a waterfall and ended up in a bit of mud, but the shoes did their job and kept my feet warm and dry. 

If you’d like to read more about my experience in Patagonia, be sure to read my articles on Lonely Planet and Orbitz.

Thanks to REI, Obermeyer and Duluth for helping to outfit me for my trip.

The best places for wellness travel in Mexico

I thought I was taking care of myself. My friends and my kids kept asking, “Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself?”  I always replied, “Of course.” But, did I really know what “not okay” felt like? Apparently not, because late one night I would call my daughter and tell her I was having a heart attack and that I need to go to the ER. The difficulty breathing, the tightness in my chest, the haziness. Four hours later, the doctor, after a battery of tests and hearing my personal situation, would proclaim that I was having a panic attack.  That’s when I decided that embarking on wellness travel in Mexico might be a good idea.

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One year ago, my mother suffered a brain aneurysm and for the past twelve months, my life has been consumed with her care. I left my home, and my husband, in California to move to Florida to be with her. When I wasn’t at her bedside, I was busy mothering my high-maintenance (but lovable) young adult children, serving PR clients, flying across the U.S. to see my husband, and apparently not taking care of myself. 

Read more: What You Need to Know About Caring for a Dying Parent

So an invitation to experience wellness travel in Mexico caught my eye. I knew I needed to press the reset button on my mind, body, and spirit. Despite the daily schedule of events that started with a 7:30 am workout (I am NOT a morning person) and “light“ spa meals, I knew I needed to reestablish some healthy habits so I signed up for a solo adventure.

Twice a year, Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa at the Islands of Loreto hosts a wellness week. It’s in a remote part of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where the desolate desert opens up to expose a beautiful waterfront resort. When I walked into my room, I was surprised to find a rather spacious one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, living room, and oversized balcony looking out over Danzante Bay. But, the best feature just might have been the open-air soaking tub that looked out over the bay. (After living in a tiny Los Angeles apartment, I’ve come to appreciate the joys of bathtubs.) 

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First, those of us participating in wellness week would meet our team for the week — Claudine, the spa director; Chef David Fuertes (who would be preparing healthy, and in some cases, vegan meal)s; Rebecca Broxterman, a celebrity fitness trainer; and Beth Manos, a yoga instructor and wellness coach. I was excited for a little tough love.

Our first day started bright and early with a 7:30 HIIT workout in the gym with four stations of exercises. I thought I was in fairly decent shape going into this, but the circuits proved me wrong! It felt good to sweat, breathe heavy, and I actually embraced the post-workout soreness. After a light and healthy breakfast — and the requisite green smoothie — we headed off for a meditation and yoga class. I’ve been trying to get into a better meditation practice and I’m a true yoga junkie, so I welcomed this part of the day.

Read more: The Ultimate Meditation Guide

Our days would continue with the early morning workouts followed by meditation and yoga, mixed in with plenty of healthy meals, including some cooking demos. And yes, cocktails flowed freely – we were at a luxury lifestyle resort, after all.

But the best part of each day was certainly the spa’s hydrotherapy room. It generally takes about an hour to go through the seven stations, but I managed to spread it out to two hours every day, taking full advantage of the wellness and detox properties. It’s a mix of hot and cold experiences intended to get your blood circulating, detoxify your body and provide deep healing relaxation. Just what the doctor ordered! There are jacuzzis, a dry sauna, a steam room, a cold plunge pool, a salt bath, and an aloe bath.

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We were encouraged to stay active during the day so afternoons were open for paddleboarding, kayaking, and biking. Villa del Palmar is home to one of the most scenic golf courses, TPC Danzante Bay, which, for non-golfers like me, offered great hiking trails with some spectacular views.

As my experience with wellness travel in Mexico came to an end, a number of people that were part of the wellness week commented how different I looked at the end of the week from when I arrived. I took no offense. I knew I had arrived looking tired, haggard, and disconnected. But I left with nothing but a renewed sense of self and the concept of “put on your own oxygen mask first.”  

Read more: 7 Wellness Resorts You Need to Visit

On the plane ride home, I took up the task of reorganizing my day to make me a priority. I no longer wake up and check email or Facebook. I’ve always put off my workout until later in the day. And, too often, work or other responsibilities get in the way and it never happens. So, even though I’m not a morning person, I now make a workout part of my morning routine. And it feels good to get it out of the way. I take longer to drink my coffee, enjoy a long walk with the dog, and don’t let my to-do list get in the way of meditating and journaling. In fact, I don’t even turn on my computer until after I’ve fully savored my me time, followed by a visit with my mother. Thanks to that hydrotherapy room and a few purchases from the spa, I’ve turned my bathroom into a mini-spa — and my bathtub is certainly getting its own workout. 

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Sometimes, it just takes a jump start — like a wellness week — to reboot your schedule and your motivation. I figure I’ll be due for a tune-up in about six months. At another luxury wellness resort, of course.

Read more: The Beginners’ Guide to Creating a Morning Routine

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