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Costa Rica’s Central Valley: The Fit Girl Essentials

Written on September 8, 2014 at 9:55 am , by

Written by Karina Dearwood, associate photo editor

Lush forests, colorful vegetation and a totally relaxed vibe are just some of the fantastic features you can expect from a visit to Costa Rica’s Central Valley. I spent a week in the region with stops in Bajos Del Toro, Arenal, and La Fortuna de San Carlos, and I’m already planning my next trip. Here’s what I suggest for yours:

Bajos Del Toro is in the cloud forest region of Costa Rica, which is exactly as it sounds.  Staying at the El Silencio Lodge & Spa, you’ll be treated to stunning views of lush green mountains with occasional wisps of white puffy clouds. Hearing the sounds of birds and water first thing in the morning was a refreshing wake-up call for this city girl! Hiking throughout the property is a must-do activity, where you’ll discover various colorful plants and come across three waterfalls, each more stunning than the one before, and all a must-see. Of course, the longer the trek, the more rewarding the food! Book a reservation for Las Ventanas Restuarant, where a farm-to-table feast full of nutritious, satisfying food awaits.

Next, stop by the Arenal area and don’t miss out on Rancho Margot. It’s a sustainable farm, restaurant and bungalow-style hotel all in one. Yoga classes are available twice daily and are taught in a large, open treehouse surrounded by a babbling brook and green forest. It’s not your typical Namaste, and we’re totally on board with that.

Wrap things up  with a trip to the Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort at La Fortuna de San Carlos. Natural hot springs? Check. Spa? Check. Incredible beauty? Check, check, check. At this point, you’ve earned some pampering. The hot springs are all broken down into several pools on multiple levels, with each pool at a different temperature. After romping through a few, relax with a Swedish massage at the spa. The setting is really what makes it one-of-a-kind: The body and facial treatments are all performed in small, secluded bungalows surrounded by natural vegetation. It’s completely private and you listen to the sounds of nature all around you. It’s only after this experience that you’ll be ready (albeit reluctantly) to take the flight back to reality.

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Fun, Fit Getaway: The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club

Written on August 5, 2014 at 11:12 am , by

Looking for your next active vacation? Check out The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which opened in December 2013. FITNESS recently visited the gorgeous oceanfront retreat for a long weekend. Here are the highlights from our fit trip:

In-Room Workout Gear Delivery*

Go on, pack all those extra bikini and sandal options—you can leave your workout gear at home. We’re not telling you to ditch your regular exercise routine—instead, reserve a pair of New Balance running shoes, socks, shorts and a shirt (all in your size) to be delivered to your room to use during your stay. Not going to lie, we thought wearing borrowed shoes would be weird. But our pair of Barringer 890s, a neutral cushioning shoe, arrived nearly brand new, yet broken-in enough that we didn’t get blisters when we laced up for several 3-mile runs. Plus, the new socks eliminated the ick factor. (WestinWORKOUT Gear Lending Program with New Balance, $5.)

A Personal Running Coach

We were lucky to run with Chris Heuisler, the RunWESTIN Concierge (best job ever?). Unfortunately, he’s not based at the resort. But you can go for a warm-up run with him and get his pre-race advice if you book the Westin VIP Marathon Package to stay at the hotel when you run any Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. Other perks include: speedy bib pickup, race day grab-and-go breakfast for two and in-room ice delivery post-race. (Deets and booking at runwestin.com. Follow Chris @RunWestin)

Ready-to-Go Running Routes*

Westin provides a pocket-sized map with 3- and 5-mile loops (created by employee runners) from the hotel, making it easy to get out and go without worrying about getting lost. The course took us through the surrounding tony resort community—where we did some serious real estate window shopping—and it was easy to veer off for a run on the beach.

Ocean Paddleboarding and Lagoon Swimming

SUP, people! The Paddle Surf Eco Tour, which begins on the beach right next to the Westin, is the perfect fit-vacation excursion. You hop on a stand-up paddleboard and cruise in the ocean along the coast of the resort, stop at a private white sand beach for fresh coconut water (super fresh: your guide cracks open a coconut with a machete), then hike through a rainforest to take a dip in an amazing lagoon.

Spa Time

Speaking of fresh coconut: They use made-daily coconut oil in the Punta Cana Signature full-body massage at the nearby Six Senses Spa. Book it for a relaxing end to a sporty day.

Healthy, Delicious Eats*

It’s refreshing to have plenty of healthy options when traveling and Westin includes SuperFoodsRx options—nutrient-packed, low-calorie dishes designed by doctors and nutritionists—on their menus at restaurants Anani and the beachside Brassa Grill & Bar. Try the crab cakes, cilantro lime shrimp salad and the Puntacana salad, made with arugula and other organic veggies grown at the resort’s ecological foundation. We also loved the berry yogurt parfait for a quick in-room pre-workout breakfast. Check out other great nearby restaurants, all waterfront: The Grill (our favorite for lunch), La Yola and Playa Blanca.

Other Activities

Not that into paddleboarding? There are plenty of other ways to play: kite boarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, horseback riding, tennis, golf and Segway tours. Of course, there’s ample opportunity for beach/pool lounging and umbrella drinks.

(*Available at all Westin hotels.)

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A Golfer’s Paradise: Vacationing on Amelia Island

Written on June 3, 2014 at 11:24 am , by

Written by Nichole D’Auria, art director

Nothing gives me greater hope than stepping onto a golf course and driving a ball 200 yards off the tee. Could this be the year I actually break 100? After suffering through what seemed to be the coldest winter on record, I was beginning to think I would never have the opportunity. Then, as luck would have it, the universe intervened and I was invited to spend three magnificent, sun-filled days at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort on the north coast of Florida.

From the moment I walked through the expansive lobby doors and past the two infinity pools, my eyes were set on the sand…the sand trap, that is. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A golf course on the beach? Was this heaven? After I made my way to my oceanfront room (all accommodations provide a view of the Atlantic), I knew I was in for a treat.

If you like adventure like I do, the Omni has a number of excellent options. With more than 1,350 acres, three world-class championship golf courses (which are so good that the Golf Channel’s popular Big Break reality TV series is filmed there), and an impressive tennis facility, guests can enjoy a wide variety of leisure activities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, horseback riding, sailing and swimming. I should know—I tried almost all of them. The resort also offers seven miles of oak-lined canopy trails to tempt joggers, hikers and cyclists alike. I tackled the trails on a Segway, which was both fun and hilarious.

I left Amelia Island happy, relaxed and reenergized, but wishing I could stay longer. There was still another golf game to play, a kayak to paddle, a restaurant to sample. I vowed to go back. Honestly, how many vacation spots can motivate and inspire you to look better, feel better and be better, all while enveloping you in a spa-like atmosphere? And hey, I still need another day—or three or four—on the golf course to finally break 100!

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Florida’s Best Kept Secret: Port Saint Joe

Written on May 30, 2014 at 3:23 pm , by

Written by Karina Dearwood, associate photo editor 

Out on the Florida Panhandle, about an hour east of Panama City, lies Port Saint Joe. The quaint Gulf County beach town offers a boatload of fun all in one spot—perfect for a fit gal! Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to visit the hidden gem for a few days and naturally fell in love with the laid-back vibe, active lifestyle and finger-licking good food. Here’s why you should add Port Saint Joe to your “To Travel” list:

To start, Gulf County has the charm and flair of the south—in the best possible way. The food is fantastic (po’ boys, hush puppies, sweet tea, the works!) and the people are beyond friendly (Now I forget this, being a New Yorker and all, but people outside of the concrete jungle actually wave and say hello to strangers). The fact that residents are also deeply rooted to the area, whether they are recent transplants or have been fishing there for generations, makes you feel all the more welcome.

To kick off my trip, I headed out on a pontoon boat through Saint Joseph’s Bay, up to the Intercoastal, where my fellow travelers and I learned about how the area is the world’s foremost supplier of Tupelo honey. We got a tour of a Donnie’s Bees, a small honey producing facility—did you know that even in this day and age, honey can only be cultivated by humans and not machines? Crazy! Donnie put us to work feeding the honeycomb through the machine, but we were rewarded with our own jar. I’ve been swirling mine into my tea ever since!

We then hopped back on our boat for an excursion through the Dead Lakes, which were formed years ago when sandbars blocked the Chipola River. A resulting flood killed thousands of trees, leaving eerie-looking stumps popping out across the lake. Add some fog to that scene because of some rainy weather? A perfect, tranquil spot. We had a fantastic guide, Matt Godwin from Off the Map Expeditions, who navigated the strangely beautiful maze with ease. 

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Adventuring in North Carolina’s Crystal Coast

Written on July 23, 2013 at 9:30 am , by

Climbing to the top of Cape Lookout is roughly the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 12-story building!

In our July/August issue (on newsstands now!), we explored the best sporty activities in the top 10 most visited cities across the country. But that doesn’t mean others don’t have something fun to offer! After visiting North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, it’s safe to say there are plenty of fit activities to take advantage of if you’re looking for more than a “lay on the beach and drink all of the margaritas” type of getaway. Here, some of our personal faves:

Surfing. Hang ten in these waters and you can definitely call yourself a surfer. The waves vary from two- to three-feet high—perfect for beginners—and can get all the way up to 19-feet during a tropical storm (obviously better for those well-versed on the board). We loved our lessons from Mike over at Hot Wax Surf Shop, but if the adrenaline rush isn’t quite your style, they also offer more low-key stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).

Beach Running. Rent a house from Emerald Isle Realty and you’ll only have to take a few steps before you’re at the beach. Perfect for lounging and getting in a quality workout! We were hosted by the company in one of their beachfront homes, and had a personal walkway leading straight onto the beach—no crazy maneuvering required! Waking up to the sound of the ocean each morning had us leaping out of bed and lacing up the sneaks for a quiet, peaceful jog along the water before diving into the day. If your feet are ready for it, head closer to the water and forgo shoes for some barefoot running so you can really feel the sand beneath you (and burn up to 60 percent more calories!). Watch the sun fully rise post-run and indulge in a little seaside yoga for a true feeling of bliss.

Lighthouse Climbing. If you want to see the Southern Outer Banks from a higher perspective, head over to Cape Lookout National Seashore over on Harkers Island. Accessible by ferry, we suggest packing a picnic to enjoy by the water, then climbing the 207 steps to the top of the lighthouse! The breathtaking 360 views allow you to take in miles of uninhabited territory, except for the wild Spanish mustangs over on Shackleford Banks. The park is a sea turtle nesting area, too, so keep an eye out for hatching nests. Once you’re finished, ask the ferry driver to slowly bring you over to the Banks, where you can get a closer view of the elegant horses. If you’re extra lucky (like we were!), you may just get a little show from the wild dolphins while you zip back to land.

Sightseeing in Beaufort. A short drive away, this quaint little town is not only voted America’s Coolest Small Town, it’s also the famous location of Nicholas Sparks’  A Walk to Remember (and we know you’ve seen that movie!). Stroll the waterfront docks while the sailboats and yachts come in and out, spot the wild mustangs from across the water, or tour the historic area of town. Definitely a walkable town for those who love window shopping, this is a fun way to take in a cool movie location, soak in a little American history and log those 10,000 steps!

Now you tell us: What’s your favorite way to explore a new place while on vacation?