Costa Rica: When an All-Inclusive is Awesome

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Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

By Josh Levin

As a seasoned traveler, I do not – repeat – do not, do all inclusives. Ever. I want to be free to explore. I don’t want watered-down, bottom shelf drinks. I don’t want to be surrounded by the rabble. But this year, on the advice of a friend, I booked a trip for my wife and I to the Westin Playa Conchal, located on the shores of the Conchal Reserve in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica. It forever changed my view of what an all-inclusive vacation can and ought to be.

Wanting something outside the “standard” Caribbean winter getaway and intrigued by Costa Rica, I booked a five night stay at the Westin. It was my wife’s 40th birthday and our first wedding anniversary so hope abounded that everything would be perfect.

westin-entrance

And perfect it was. The Westin Playa Conchal is part of a (relatively) new breed of deluxe, high end, all-inclusive resorts. The resort features 11 restaurants. We ate at all of them, and none disappointed, including:

Bamboo: Asian Fusion

Catalinas: French Fine Dining

Magla: Mediterranean

Faisanela: Italian

Mitra: International Buffet

Spirula: Pizza and Pasta Bar

Caracola: Poolside Snacks

Las Candelas: Latin American

Cauri: Lobby Bar & Bistro

La Sabana: Churascuria

El Ranchito: Latin American Grill and BBQ

We stayed at the Westin’s Royal Beach Club, which was a designated, secluded spot for adults, offering top shelf alcohol and a private buffet for breakfast and lunch. The rooms in the Royal Beach Club come with private check in and a private concierge who was on call 24/7 to help us make dinner reservations, and plan daily excursions. The Westin also has a Family Club, which offers similar services for families.

westin-room

Bathtub with a view…

Every night at the resort has featured entertainment, which were – and I say this as a complete cynic – amazing. Fire performers armed with poi, magic shows (we saw Costa Rica’s equivalent of David Blaine), and comedians (who were actually funny).

Costa Rican hospitality, I could only liken to Mexico and my experiences there. The staff and the locals are fiercely proud of their country and want you to experience all it has to offer. The Westin’s staff could not have done enough for us, throughout the entirety of our stay, and expected no tips at all…

The resort is also an hour away from all of the adventure activities one could imagine. There are guided ATV tours through the jungle; abseiling down massive waterfalls; and incredible, zip line courses which traverse the canopies of the rain forest.

costa-rica

The lush grounds

 

Travel to the Westin is pretty easy. There are direct flights to Liberia Airport (LIR) from most US metropolitan areas. From there, it takes about 45 minutes to get to the resort. Depending on when you decide to travel, rooms start at about:

$495 (US)/night

A note on the weather. Costa Rica only really has two seasons: dry and rainy. The rainy season occurs during the US Summer, and while it doesn’t get cold, I’m told that most afternoons have down pours.

So there you have it. An all-inclusive resort vacation in Costa Rica. Ditch the DR and check out the CR! I will definitely be going back again.

____________________________

Josh Levin is a recovering PR consultant turned tech entrepreneur and travel writer. A globe-trotter since the age of 13, he has lived in Sydney, Shanghai, and Jerusalem and now calls New York home.

josh-levin

Josh Levin, Jaunt Magazine Contributor

 

An Insta-Worthy Spa Guide

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The Cove, Shore Lodge – McCall, Idaho

The Cove, Shore Lodge, McCall, Idaho
Set on the southern glacial waters of Payette Lake and tucked into Idaho forest, The Cove at Shore Lodge is a retreat that embraces the outdoors, with sculptural fir tree logs lining the lobby and a tranquil stone hallway leading to intimate treatment rooms. The spa’s unique indoor/outdoor saltwater immersion pools – lined with local granite boulders and affixed with antique copper water pumps – pay homage to Idaho’s plentiful natural hot springs. Nature-based massages, facials and body treatments are performed using a holistic and organic skincare line, tailored to meet the needs of both serene pleasure seekers and active mountain enthusiasts.
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Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui

Mandara Spa , Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui
Located on the beautiful southeast shore of Maui, Mandara Spa truly embodies Maui’s natural beauty and sense of aloha in every aspect. The Mandara Spa is located on the lobby of the resort, overlooking the serene Hawaiian waters, Molokini crater and the island of Kaho`olawe.  The 9,153 square feet facility features twelve treatment rooms, some of which are Ocean view single treatment rooms and deluxe couple’s suites for facials, body treatments and massages. A welcoming relaxation area, steam room, lockers and showers is privately located in the center of the spa; separated for men and women. The spa also has a full service salon for hair, make-up and nails.
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Miraval Life in Balance Spa, Monarch Beach Resort – Dana Point, CA

Miraval Life In Balance Spa, Monarch Beach Resort – Dana Point, CA
Situated on the idyllic coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point, California, the newly opened Miraval Life in Balance Spa at Monarch Beach Resort is a state-of-the-art oasis and the only Miraval location in California. Renowned for its “Life in Balance” philosophy, innovative programs and wellness activities, Miraval Life in Balance Spa offers an expansive spa experience inspired by the resort’s oceanfront location. The spa offers more than 70 of the signature treatments developed at the company’s flagship Miraval Resort & Spa near Tucson, Arizona, each designed to “awaken the senses, create balance and promote a sense of well-being. You’ll also discover an entirely new catalog of services created specifically for Monarch Beach Resort,  featuring California-inspired ingredients like crystal salt stones, algae, and marine mud.
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Ventana Inn, Big Sur, CA

The Spa at Ventana, Ventana Big Sur, CA
The Spa at Ventana is a refuge from the stresses of daily life. Start your journey with a hot cup of organic tea or cool fruit-infused filtered water before you wander down to the outdoor clothing-optional amenity area. Like that? Clothing optional! Let the heat of the Japanese Baths and Dry Sauna gently unwind your muscles. Relax by the heated pool and take in the natural beauty that is Big Sur. The Spa at Ventana embraces the magical “Essence of Big Sur” introducing two new dreamy experiences to reinforce Big Sur’s reputation as a sacred site and healing vortex. The Lavender Dreams Experience is an 80-minute, head-to-toe spa experience combining the calming elements of Wild Lavender with earthy minerals, concluded by a luxe foot and pressure point scalp massage in a nourishing cocoon. Also, a new  50-minute Mineral Body Scrub stimulates circulation and leaves the skin soft and hydrated (and even safe for expecting mothers), featuring an exhilarating thermal salt exfoliation applied in a two‐step treatment and mixed with a guests’ essential oil blend of choice.
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Carmel Valley Ranch, CA

Spa Aiyana, Carmel Valley Ranch, CA
The spa spans 10,500 square feet and has 11 treatment rooms, most of which have private outdoor terraces. There are three couples treatment rooms, grouped in the same wing, allowing them to be sequestered for private functions, such as pre-wedding and birthday spa celebrations. The spa also features private men’s and women’s locker rooms, with steam saunas, as well as a co-ed Relaxation Lounge and Fitness Center. Treatments in the spa are each based on one of four specialized gardens, Lavender, Herb, Aiyana and Alchemist, which use the invigorating, restorative and relaxing energy found in the natural world. Services also include massage therapies, body therapies, advanced and organic skincare, visible results oxygen fusion, nail care, and waxing.
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Hacienda AltaGracia, Costa Rica

Auberge Spa at Hacienda AltaGracia, Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica
Central America’s largest spa, the 20,000 square-foot Auberge Spa comprises indoor and outdoor treatment rooms – some featuring soaking tubs and private outdoor gardens, locally-inspired facials and body treatments, a panoramic pool, state-of-the-art fitness center and steam and sauna rooms. Untouched by tourism, the resort is located in the purest valley of what is the last unexplored area in Costa Rica, AltaGracia offers a true retreat surrounded by untainted beauty.
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Castello di Casole – Tuscany

Essere Spa
Originally the estate’s wine cellar, Essere Spa offers a serene setting within one of the most dramatic spaces on the property. Barrel-vaulted ceilings and restored stone walls create a theatrical setting accentuated by long views across an expansive valley. Essere Spa, meaning To Be in Italian, brings one into harmony with body, mind, spirit, and all that is Tuscany. A full treatment menu is inspired by local ingredients – rosemary, grape and olive oil – with products from the renowned brands Comfort Zone and Germaine de Cappuccini. European spa and wellness experts offer an extensive collection of traditional and modern therapies. Pools and steam rooms, a spectacular couple’s treatment suite with deep soaking tub and shower, and luxurious private outdoor gardens promise to at least make you feel like Italian royalty.

Looking for Om in 2014? Here are some Yoga Trips for You

Namaste

Namaste

We all know yoga based vacations are gaining popularity with travelers looking for a balance between wellness and exploring a new place and intriguing culture. Our readers love ’em! Rachel Quinn, Head of Group Sales for Holidays for Humanity, also states that over 35% of their enquiries now include requests for yoga, alongside some other vacation “must haves” like white sandy beaches, water sports, and tropical encounters.

So, we thought we’d share several new ideas of yoga trips to kick off the new year right!

Yoga Vacations for Sailors in Turkey

This sailing journey is an exclusive one-of-a-kind voyage that offers guests a chance to practice yoga among the enchanting blue waters of the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The striking coastline, with its pristine beaches, idyllic villages, picturesque coves and remote ancient civilizations is waiting to be explored. This is an excellent opportunity to experience a taste of traditional Turkey in the unhurried pace of staying aboard a sailing yacht. Sit back, relax and let their experienced captain, crew and chef take you on an unforgettable journey. Rates start at $1399 per person based on seven-nights shared accommodation.

Yoga Vacations for Surfers in Costa Rica

Founded in the spirit of adventure, Rip Jack Inn in Playa Grande, Costa Rica is known for tropical bliss and friendly ambiance. They are just steps away from Playa Grande’s main surf break, and offer daily yoga classes in their beautiful shala. If you love to surf, practice yoga, and love great food, you’ll feel right at home here. Rip Jack Inn is also a member of Pack for a Purpose, and supports local community outreach programs. Expect prices around $170 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Purists in India

Shreyas is dedicated to promoting the authentic spiritual tradition of yoga in a holistic manner and is recognized as one of the finest yoga retreats in the world. What makes Shreyas unique is that, whilst yoga is taught in traditional ashram style (daily yoga, meditation sessions, chanting classes, a strict vegetarian, no alcohol policy and community service), their guests live in a luxurious environment normally associated with a star rated hotel. They enable their guests to integrate the ‘manifold facets’ and benefits of yoga into their daily lives without the austerity and rigor usually associated with ashrams. Expect prices around $550 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Beginners in Mexico

With personalized yoga, pranayama and meditation classes the Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita is a great place for beginner wellness travellers. Set on 14 acres, including a picturesque sugar sand beach, the resort is perfectly positioned along Cancun’s famed Riviera Maya. Intimate in design, with only 90 luxury suites, they offer a completely new kind of vacation experience focused on wellness, serenity, and romance, balanced by a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Expect prices around $750 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Nature Lovers in Nicaragua

Aqua’s explicit vision statement is to “lead luxury sustainable development in Nicaragua” and as such, they built, and operated their resort in close partnership with the local communities, and in complete concert with nature. Additionally, they are completely committed to sea turtle conservation, and encourage their guests to join along. They provide opportunities to work with trained staff in caring for the turtle eggs, protecting them in the nursery, and for those fortunate enough to be there during hatching, to help release them back to the ocean. Daily yoga takes place on their palm-thatched open air, ocean-side platform. Expect prices around $280 night/ based on double occupancy.

About Holidays for Humanity: www.holidaysforhumanity.com

Holidays for Humanity connects travellers with vacation options that appeal to their self, as well as their soul. By working with partners that promote sustainable and eco-friendly practices they offer a range of travel options including eco resorts and hotels, health and wellness, volunteering abroad, cultural and culinary and expeditions and tours.

The Best Hostel Food Around the World

Tapas at the Oasis Granada Hostel

Tapas at the Oasis Granada Hostel – Lisbon, Portugal

Our friends at The Daily Meal love to keep us informed on the best of the best when it comes to food around the world. This time, they’ve done a great 20 best hostels around the world for food (since we know hostels can get a bad rap, and most of the time, that reputation isn’t unfounded). If a hostel serves any food at all, the best most backpackers can expect to find is some cheap white bread and bad coffee. For many travelers, this lack of decent food is hardly a point of contention. After all, eating pricey gourmet meals often isn’t an option for those traveling on a budget, and as long as the hostel is well located, safe, and free of bedbug sightings, what more could a backpacker ask for? A lot more, apparently, according to recent research.

Plus Berlin

Plus Berlin All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

A hostel meal will likely never reach the ranks of Michelin-starred dining or compare to the breakfast buffet at the St. Regis. However, some establishments are offering culinary delights such as barbecue, ceviche, poutine, and a burger that even the locals clamor over, and these are just a sampling of some of the excellent dishes found in hostel dining rooms around the world.  

Ceviche at La Hamaca Hostel - San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Ceviche at La Hamaca Hostel – San Pedro Sula, Honduras

For a minimal fee, guests at PLUS Berlin Hostel can enjoy an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and dinner in the hostel restaurant.  The restaurant’s manager, Diego, is Italian and takes pride in the quality of the food. Options range from pizza and pasta dishes to German specialties. The hostel’s well-stocked bar also serves cocktails to get you ready for a night exploring the neighborhood’s nightclubs.

The Green Tortoise

The Green Tortoise – San Francisco, CA

So what makes a hostel’s food stand above the fray? “Food is part of the cultural experience you get when you visit a foreign country,” explains Andres Poveda Solano, co-owner of Hostel Pangea in Costa Rica, while Green Tortoise Hostel in San Francisco provides hearty and healthy free breakfast every day of organic oatmeal and fresh fruit, and free dinner three times per week including dishes like pasta primavera and Thai curry.

The Menaggio Youth Hostel's Cooking Classes - Lake Como, Italy

The Menaggio Youth Hostel’s Cooking Classes – Lake Como, Italy

Good food at a hostel enhances the backpacker’s experience. One of the charms of staying in a hostel is the opportunity it offers to meet people from all over the world, and for these hostels, the dining room is one place where the magic happens. Whether you’re enjoying a hearty breakfast on a terrace overlooking the scenic French countryside or participating in a free tour with fellow travelers of a Spanish city’s tapas bars, the food at these top 20 hostels will create memories you won’t quickly forget.

The 20 Best Hotels Around the World For Food

What hostels have you stayed in that had great food?

By Michelle Kiefer

A Thanksgiving Deal at one of Costa Rica’s Finest

The Parador Pool... not too shabby!

The Parador Pool… not too shabby!

Looking for something adventurous to do over Turkey Day? Parador Resort & Spa’s Stress-Free Thanksgiving Trip – Turkey Included, just might be your jam. Located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica in Punta Quepos, this is the perfect retreat for guests who are sick of Aunt Betty’s dry stuffing and want to spend the holiday in a luxurious resort with a backdrop full of howler monkeys, birds, and sloths (and no, we’re not talking about your husband). With a privileged location above the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by 12 acres of tropical rainforest, Parador Resort & Spa believes it is duty-bound to maintain, preserve and improve Costa Rica’s abundant natural assets.

A Parador Room

A Parador Room

The resort institutes property-wide recycling, water and energy conservation, composting and biodegradable soaps. Manuel Antonio National Park, a world-famous nature and wildlife preserve, sits just next door, offering adventures by land and sea. Because of its commitment to providing excellent service and high quality standards, Parador Resort & Spa was named “Mexico & Central America’s Leading Hotel 2011”, “Costa Rica’s Leading Hotel 2011” and “Costa Rica’s Leading Resort 2011” by World Travel Awards, the travel industry awards program that has been described by the Wall Street Journal as the “Oscars of the Travel Industry.” World Travel Awards was launched in 1993 to acknowledge and recognize excellence in the world’s travel and tourism industry. This is the sixth consecutive year that the resort has won this important recognition. In 2012, Parador Resort & Spa received Platinum Level “Leader in Sustainable Tourism” Adrian Award from HSMAI and National Geographic Traveler.  The resort was also recognized by TripAdvisor as one of the “Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Central America” in 2012.

Package includes:

·         4 nights stay in Tropical Room category

·         Daily buffet breakfast

·         A complete Thanksgiving dinner including a turkey

·         Two 50-minutes massage one for each

·         Welcome Dinner

·         15% off certificate for Pacifica Spa

·         Complimentary WiFi

Package is priced at $999.00 USD including taxes and service charges.

www.hotelparador.com