We did it. We made it through another year. We survived the “end of the world.” We narrowly avoided an ominous fiscal cliff. We should feel emboldened and invincible. So what better way to ring in 2013 than a year of inspiring adventures? We’ve compiled a list of some of the best places in the world to commit to a healthier lifestyle, learn a new skill, get of your comfort zone, conquer your fears and simply experience life beyond a computer screen.
Maybe this will finally be the year that an ideal weekend getaway sitting idly next to a pool will finally be replaced by an active escape to heal the body and mind. Challenge yourself to an all-encompassing health and wellness vacation at Travaasa Austin, which provides guests with a uniquely active way to relax—a custom selection of daily classes, activities and adventures that are tailored to create an overall sense of well being. Take a mid-morning cooking class and learn how to create a healthy regional dish. Spend the day doing yoga, or aqua zumba. Try out your balance on a slack line. Or experience miles of hiking trails throughout the property’s 210-acre nature preserve. Then calm the mind, with soothing acivities, like guided meditations in the Zen garden or intimate equine encounters at the onsite stables.
Or head to the Caribbean, where the frustration of learning a new skill is always allayed by the soothing scenery. Try your luck at stand-up paddle boarding at Barbados’ Colony Club, one of the West Coast’s most luxurious boutique resorts, which rents out boards, offers private lessons and group tours. It’s a fun way to get off the beach and explore the clear blue waters, not to mention the deceptively effective full-body workout it provides. It might just seem like a gentle way to navigate the waters, but the balance and paddling it requires results in an intense core strengthening and oblique workout. If you’re a quick study, challenge yourself to the annual SUP race around the island (21×14 miles). Or spend the afternoon learning how to surf at Punta Cana’s sole public beach—Playa Macao. The small seaside hut that is home to the Macao Surf Camp seems modest, but the local school can accommodate anyone interested in hanging ten. There’s even a resident “surfing dog,” Jack, an adventurous Labrador whose tide topping moves might prove to inspire, you to get back, and stay on, the board.
For anyone that needs to be further away from civilization to truly disconnect, the mountains of Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula provide a rugged, rural escape from busied city life. The Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs, is an historic ghost town turned in-the-know getaway for nature lovers whose favorite soundtrack is silence. The private reserve (complete with a full inn and restaurant and cozy stand-alone cottages with kitchens and hot tubs), provides guests with wonderfully remote hiking and snowshoe trails that wend through crisply scented spruce and aspen forests, where you can come in close contact with fellow lovers of these quiet Quebec trails—wild caribou, moose, elk, and even lynx.
If you can’t seem to see the forest through the trees, head north to the fjords of Norway, where the new National Tourist Routes, an astounding nationwide initiative to renovate 18 rural fjord routes, provides unprecedented access to the West Coast’s most remote destinations. And the best way to see the region’s incredible natural beauty might be the World Base Race in Friluftslek, an annual base-jumping competition that determines “the world’s fastest flying human being.” Equipped with nothing more than a wingsuit and parachute, two jumpers race off the edge of a cliff side, rocketing down 1,300 meters to a predetermined ‘finish line’ before deploying their parachutes at the last possible moment. It’s an electrifying feat, surrounded by equally stunning fjord scenery, even if you’re not flying—spectating can be just as dizzying.
Or stay grounded and hike the entire length of Colombia’s Tayrona National Park. The country’s north coast boasts miles and miles of incredible Caribbean beaches, but the most beautiful stretches can be found within the untouched wilderness of Tayrona. It’s one of Colombia’s most popular tourism attractions, but it’s easy for travelers to find themselves alone for hours, even days, at a time. Punctuate a day of hiking and leisurely swimming with nightly stays at varied eco-accommodations, ranging from camping on the shoreline to budget and backpacker friendly hostal hot spots, like Cabo San Juan de Guía, to remote luxury ecohabs in Cañaveral.
But maybe the perfect place to celebrate 2013 is on ancient Mayan ground. Call it a small token of gratitude for having so flagrantly misconstrued their calendar over the past few years. So, why not take a dip in the Ik-Kil cenote to pay homage? The cinematic cenote is one of approximately 30,000 natural sinkholes and caves in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but Ik-Kil, also known as “the Sacred Blue Cenote,” feels almost like hallowed ground. The crystal-clear azure pool (popular with swimmers and snorkelers) is at the bottom of a natural pit, some 85 feet below the ground’s surface. A ring of natural light illuminates the pool from overhead and is framed by a ring of cascading vines, waterfalls and lush Avatar-like vegetation, reaching all the way down to the water. There is also a Mayan ruin on the site, and Chichen Itza is only two miles away, for anyone who wants to delve even deeper into the local Mesoamerican history.
And read the second part of her blog on Tues, Jan 8!
Ramona Flume is an Austin-based freelance travel writer, whose work has appeared in several print and online publications, including Budget Travel and The Guardian.