November 15, 2016

5 Reasons to Stay @oceanbluesand - Ocean Blue & Sand Resort

Stroll along a powder white-sand beach. Swim in warm turquoise waters. Rejuvenate with a spa treatment. Refresh at the swim-up bar. Dine on savoury international cuisine. Enjoy a bowling match. Dance to the rhythm of bachata. The experiences are endless, but here are 5 reasons you should stay at Ocean Blue & Sand Resort by H10 Hotels in Punta Cana!


1|THE ROOMS 

Ocean Blue & Sand Resort is home to over 700 spacious suites that are tastefully decorated in a contemporary style and located in a series of three-story buildings, each encircling a charming Spanish-style courtyard. Rooms can accommodate up to 5 people (4 adults + 1 child), perfect for larger families who don’t want to book two separate rooms. There are also plenty of great toiletries should you forget something at home, as well as FREE Wi-Fi and room service from 11am to 11pm. Privilege guests can enjoy 24hr room service and private concierge.
  
The property was revamped in 2013 and will be refurbishing rooms throughout 2017. I stayed in a beautiful room in the Privilege section, which featured a separate Jacuzzi, living room area and inspiring pool and ocean views. 





2|DINING

The first property in the Dominican Republic to offer "No Reservation" dining, guests of Ocean Blue & Sand Resort can enjoy the freedom to dine wherever they want. And with nine speciality restaurants, the options are endless. Enjoy a night of Teppanyaki or opt for a romantic dinner at Bluemoon (there is a dress code here). The market style main buffet restaurant offers international cuisine and features 14 different theme nights, perfect for guests that enjoy long stays. Privilege guests can dine at the oceanfront Villa Marina for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  


A hotel favourite is Mikey's Coffee offering a selection of specialty drinks made using locally grown Dominican coffee beans, Stash teas and an array of delicious snacks in a café style setting.  It is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a fresh brew - in my case, with a little Rum! 


Sports lovers can grab a quick bite and wash it down with a cold beer at Overtime Sports Bar. If an important sporting event is taking place during your stay, let the hotel know in advance and they will make sure you don’t miss it! This is where I enjoyed eating French fries after the evening shows and a night of dancing at the onsite club.  



3|THE BEACH & POOLS  

The hotel’s pastel-hued buildings flank two large pools with beachfront access to the magical shores of Playa Bávaro, where you will discover endless ways to spend your days. Swim, kayak, snorkel or unwind under the shade of a palm tree. The choice is yours. To the left of the property find the picturesque beachfront market that sells an array of local goods. It is a great place to take a stroll, purchase keepsakes, or in my case, sit on the steps after closing to watch the sunset.  





Note: I should make mention that part of the beach underwent erosion during a major storm (it was rain season when I was there), but the property has been diligently working to return the beach to its former glory!
    


4|THE SPA 

While the kids bowl, play tennis, learn archery or participate in other fun activities under the watchful care of the Daisy mini and teen club, mom and dad can head over to the Despacio Spa Centre. Relax in the warm sauna before enjoying a restorative treatment. I had the "Tonque Hidratacion," a combination massage and facial using the exclusive Babor skin care line from Germany. Babor is one of the top 5 skincare lines in the world, and after my facial I can understand why! The spa offers an array of treatments and services, including the popular fish pedicure.   

For the couple who craves pure seclusion and pampering, the spa offers a private section where couples can enjoy a massage, hot tub and dinner under the stars. How's that for a truly memorable and romantic experience!


  

5|THE EXCURSIONS 

Enjoy an amazing day of fun with Runners Adventures. Go zip-lining, ride horseback in vibrant tropical landscapes, visit a local village, dine on a traditional Dominican meal, feed Squirrel Monkeys, and so much more!

At the spectacular Anamuya Mountain Range in Higuey, I visited the home of Maria to learn about the local production of chocolate (purchased by Nestle) and Arabica coffee beans, as well as locally grown fruits, fauna and flora. My favourite experience was hands down feeding the monkeys while they jumped on my head and arms. 





The amazing supermoon as seen in Punta Cana. The image on the left was captured by my friend Linda Morehouse - spectacular!



Look for H10 Hotels’ newest 5 star property, the Ocean Riviera Paradise that will be opening on December 15th, 2016, on the beachfront of Playa del Carmen in Riviera Maya, Mexico. 


A special thank you to the wonderful staff at Ocean Blue & Sand Resort who made sure my stay there was a pleasurable one. Click on the link to book yours!


November 04, 2016

Discover Mexico Central with Central Hoteles!

“The best city you will ever visit is when you have a friend to show you it, and that is what Central Hoteles strives to be for every guest!”


Built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan (the old Aztec capital), Mexico City is one of the world’s largest and most fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Cities. It is home to archeological sites, spectacular architecture, fine museums, trendy restaurants, picturesque neighbourhoods and bustling markets that beckon to be explored. At Zócalo Central, a Central Hoteles property, you book the flight and the hotel’s ‘Experience Planners’ help you plan the rest!



The Zócalo Central is located in the city’s historical epicentre, steps from iconic sites and everything there is to see and do in Mexico City. Formerly the Holiday Inn, the property was purchased two years ago by Central Hoteles group and was remodelled before opening on August, 2014. The hotel features modern amenities while staying true to the character and origins of this 400 year old historical building that once belonged to Hernán Cortés, the Spaniard who conquered Mexico City from the Aztec.
Central Hoteles is a 100% Mexican brand with focus on quality service and cultural offerings. “We wanted the property to highlight the genuine Mexican culture, history and hospitality that was missing from Holiday Inn,” stated Vladimir Mayllen, General Director, Central Hoteles. “We believe the best city you will ever visit is when you have a friend to show you it, and that is what we strive to be for our guests.” 



The hotel boasts 105 rooms with high ceilings; five of which are adjoining rooms to accommodate families, and ten suites that look out onto the magnificent Plaza de la Constitución, known locally as the Zócalo.  If you can’t book a suite, not to worry, the hotel’s impressive rooftop restaurant – El Balcon del Zócalo – serves incredible food with breathtaking views of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional that houses the murals of famed artist, Diego Rivera, husband of the legendary Frida Kahlo.


“To operate a successful city property, you need to offer travellers more than just beautiful accommodations,” continued Mayllen. “People don’t visit a city because of a hotel. They visit a city to experience the culture and then choose a hotel based on location, hospitality and design. We provide that and so much more.” 

Guests of Central Hoteles can also embark on a culinary adventure with Executive Chef, Jose Salinas, by requesting a private cooking class to learn the cooking techniques of traditional Mexican cuisine that begins with a guided tour through local markets to purchase fresh ingredients to experience the passion, love and dedication put towards each meal.



Whether you are looking to visit historical sites and museums, stroll picturesque markets and neighbourhoods, try the best local street food or dine in one the capital’s best restaurants, the hotel’s Experience Planners are ready and able to custom tailor every guest’s Mexico City adventure to ensure they live the vacation of a lifetime. 



In September, 2015, Central Hoteles opened their second boutique property in Mexico City, the Historical Central (seen below) that offers 81 beautifully designed rooms. In 2018, a third property will open in a former convent, and the Company shows no signs of slowing down. “We plan to open another 8 hotels in the next 10 years in cities across Mexico with continued focus on cultural experiences,” said Mayllen. Final locations have yet to be unveiled.



The hotel chain also launched their app so guests can order things such as room service, free bicycles to ride around the city, car rentals and other amenities and services through their app. Central Hoteles stops at nothing in order to deliver each guest the best personalized service.

It’s also worth noting that the Zócalo Central has great WIFI, lots of power outlets in each room, high ceilings, locally sourced and made toiletries, as well as free water bottles and fruit on each floor. Experience the beauty of Mexico City with Central Hoteles! Visit www.centralhoteles.com to book your stay. 



November 01, 2016

Escape to Quito - The City of Eternal Spring!

Sweeping across the Andean valley and bordered by mountainous volcanic peaks on latitude 0, the city of eternal spring has gone through a rebirth as one of the world’s must-see destinations thanks to its treasure-trove of unsung splendours.  



When National Geographic Traveller named Quito a must-see place three years ago, every intrepid traveller put this ancient city on their bucket list. Since then, the capital of Ecuador – a country best known for being home to the Galápagos Islands – has been declared ‘South America’s Leading Destination’ by the World Travel Awards for three consecutive years and was named one of the world’s ‘New 7 Wonder Cities,’ and here’s why!    

Quito is a true vision sitting at an altitude of 9,350 feet above sea level and hugging the equator at latitude 0 that have blessed it with eternal spring weather. It is the second highest capital city in the world, after La Paz in Bolivia, providing magnificent views that will literally take your breath away!


Founded by the Spanish in 1534 and located on Incan ruins dating back to 980 A.D., Quito showcases the best of both cultures and boasts the largest and best-preserved historic centre in Latin America. It was also the first city in the world to be named a ‘World Heritage City’ by UNESCO in 1978, offering an exciting culture and treasure-trove of unsung splendours that beckon to be explored.    



The heart of Quito beats along the cobblestoned streets of its Spanish colonial historical centre, where the aromas of local delicacies fill the air and women in ponchos sell homegrown fruit and colourful scarves from giant baskets. El Centro (the historical centre) is a living museum with scenic views at every turn which provides a glimpse into the city’s storied past. It is home to many inspiring museums, traditional shops, churches and picturesque plazas sure to captivate visitors. Quito also produces some of the world’s best chocolate, so be sure to visit a local chocolateria and enter chocolate heaven! 



Highlights include the 16th century Plaza de la Independencia, where gardens and fountains are flanked by whitewashed buildings that house the Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral, City Hall and the Government Palace. La Compañía de Jesús Church with its green tiled domes is carved out of Andean stone. The magnificence of its baroque façade is only matched by its rich interior, featuring elaborate wood carvings gilded in 23-carat gold. Plaza San Francisco is home to the twin bell towers of Quito’s first church, the Monastery of San Francisco. This sweeping cobblestoned plaza with its mountainous backdrop of Volcán Pichincha is the perfect place to enjoy a drink in an open air café and do some people watching.

  

La Ronda, meaning “small alleyway,” is one of the city’s most iconic streets. Here, the old-world crafts and food of Quito are sure to captivate, especially at night. Be sure to enjoy panoramic views of the city at El Panchilo Viewpoint, where the imposing sculpture of the winged Virgin of Quito stands guard over the citizens of Quito.



With government funded programs for the city’s arts and culture, Quito’s art scene has been exploding. Art lovers can view one of the country’s largest collections of Ecuadorian art at the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana which houses two museums. The Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo with its contemporary works are also worth visiting. 


The city is home to many exciting neighborhoods both north and south of the historical center. La Mariscal is teeming with great restaurants, entertainment and night life. If you prefer a more upscale ambiance, then head to the suburb of Cumbayá.

Quito offers many exciting excursions for travellers. North of Quito, visit La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) and straddle both hemispheres atop the 100-foot Equatorial Monument perched on Latitude 0 º 0'0 ". Then head to Museum of Intiñan (the real equator) where guests will learn about the ancient culture of the region, as well as take part in fun science experiments. At the Pululahua Crater, gaze into the world’s only populated crater with a 3200-hectare Geobotanical Reserve and experience one of the most magnificent views ever. 




Thanks to its location, rich volcanic soil and eternal spring weather, Ecuador grows some of the world’s best roses. Travel along Ecuador’s Flower Trail and head north to Cayambe - the rose capital of the hemisphere, if not the world – and tour the Hacienda La Compañía de Jesus in Cayambe. This lovely centuries-old rose plantation is complete with a chapel dating back to the 17th-century that once belonged to the Jesuit order. Tour the hacienda’s plantation and walk through an endless garden of roses. 




At the ancient train station of Chimbacalle - one of the few in the Americas – Tren Ecuador offers travellers exceptional journeys through the Ecuadorian highlands and coast region. Pass by the Cotopaxi volcano and enjoy a folkloric presentation at the Machachi train station to experience the culture, customs and traditions of Ecuador.   






Adventure seekers can enjoy a number of sports activities such as hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding through the regions glorious landscape covered in towering volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls and national parks.

With its exciting traditions, fascinating historical sites, breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and eternal spring weather, it’s easy to see why Quito is taking travellers to new heights! For more information on excursions, special events, programs and offers, visit www.quito.com.   

June 23, 2016

@SunwingVacay - Going Green No Longer Means Roughing It @SandosCaracol!


With the expansion of eco-tourism, an influx of eco-resorts have made their way to the Caribbean shores. With so many options, finding the right one is key. Enter the all-inclusive Sandos Caracol; a jungle-meets beach Mayan hideaway perfect for travellers with green sensibilities who still enjoy elements of a traditional all-inclusive holiday. Thankfully, at Sandos Caracol going green no longer means roughing it!



When I first arrived at Sandos Caracol I felt I had arrived at any other all-inclusive property where a welcome cocktail, friendly staff and Caribbean-like décor awaited me; until I checked-in and made my way towards the Elephant Bar to relax with my cocktail. The lounge looks out onto a beautiful cenote surrounded by lush tropical foliage. In that moment, I knew I had arrived somewhere special. Cenotes are natural wells with crystal clear water that connect to the underground rivers of the Yucatan peninsula. There is a certain magic they exude in their beauty and Sandos Caracol is home to five of them, and guests can even swim in one of them!     

 

The property is nestled on the edge of a lush jungle bursting with mangroves, cenotes and coral reefs on the white-sands of Mexico’s fabled Riviera Maya steps from Playa del Carmen. There are 956 rooms in 11 styles and 3 categories: Sanditos Family Section, Select Club (adults-only) and Royal Elite Ocean Front, which are spread across 78 buildings. My eco room was located in building 11 and offered ocean and pool views. It featured a queen size bed, a living room, two full ensuite bathrooms and a lovely terrace. The décor was simple, in keeping with the eco philosophy, though my room did not lack in any of the comforts or amenities I am accustomed to. I was part of the Select Club which came with direct access to a private beach area with loungers, private bar and snack area.  





After the land was purchased, Mayan ruins were discovered in the midst of the jungle, so instead of building along the beach most of the hotel was built into the jungle in order to protect this ancient Mayan settlement, using only 30% of the land to build on. Today, these sacred grounds can be visited by guests and serve as the site for the incredible Fire of Life ceremony that takes place every Saturday night. As I sat under a star filled sky, in the middle of the jungle, watching a Mayan Chaman and other villagers dance around open fires in their traditional attire, I felt myself transported to another time. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.



What stood out most to me about Sandos Caracol was their ability to provide ALL guests with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Mayan culture and their connection to these lands by offering informative and entertaining activities and events. Mayan pottery, Mayan astronomy, eco tours, underground Mayan cooking classes, birdwatching, sensory experiences, tree planting, survival classes, river adventures, nighttime ceremonies held by the sacred cenote, sun and fire tributes, and traditional Mexican games are only a few of the things that make up the Xcalacoco experience. Each day gifted me with a new and fun learning experience in ancient Mayan traditions.  



This wonderful property caters to both couples and families. Here, guests can enjoy a true outdoor experience with plenty of activities like snorkelling on the reef, swimming in a cenote, outdoor yoga, bike tours, Zumba, water volleyball, beach volleyball, water polo, soccer and tennis. And what better way to end a fun filled day, then with a relaxing spa treatment at Spa Sandos. May I suggest a relaxing beachside massage, I loved it! 

  


Kids will especially love this property! It houses an Aquapark with big slides and a Kids Club. But, what makes this resort truly unique for children is its ability to provide fun and interactive ways for them to acquire newfound knowledge and appreciation for plants, wildlife and ecosystems. The property is also home to many trails that can be explored on foot or on one of the many bicycles available free to all guests. Be sure to keep your camera handy though, because you never know when you will cross paths with a group of monkeys and other local wildlife that live freely and happily on the hotel grounds. The hotel employs a team of eco specialists, biologists and veterinarians who care for the surroundings, abundant animal life and the hotel’s onsite animal rescue. 





Sandos Caracol is an eco-resort and has implemented many programs and standards to care for the land and ensure guests experience a true eco vacation. There are no water bottles or disposable plastic cups anywhere on the resort. There’s an onsite vegetable garden and compost system fuelled by the organic leftovers from the hotel restaurants; seven in total, including a vegan and a teppanyaki restaurant, which also provided my favourite meal. I must give honorable mention to La Riviera, where I dined amid the jungle and beach. There are also six bars, two poolside bars and a nightclub. In the evenings, enjoy a cocktail while listening to a live band.
  


The property helps support many local communities and artists, so guests are invited to bring clothing, school supplies or other goods to donate. On Wednesday and Saturday night there is an open market where you will find locally handcrafted goods. I was taken aback by the incredible artists who would create incredible works of art right before my eyes.
    


The entire time I was there with my younger sister, who accompanied me on this trip, I wished my niece and nephew were there also because I know how much they would have loved Sandos Caracol and all the incredible experiences offered to guests both young and old. Visit www.sunwingvacations.com to book your stay!