The cold has sunk in and settled. We’re in the middle of winter, and, if you’re like me and didn’t get away over the winter break, the longing is deep for sunshine and warmth.

At the end of February, I’m leading a retreat in Costa Rica – a part of my job that most people would think is a walk in the park, or day at the beach, as the case may be. It certainly is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of my job, but, after years of doing this, I’ve come to learn that I need a retreat post-retreat and, for me, a package deal at an all inclusive just isn’t going to to cut it. After leading a week-long healthy living retreat, I’m not going to strap on a wrist band to drink bad drinks and slop cheap food on my plate at a red lamp heated buffet. I don’t want to sleep in deodorized rooms, with chemically laundered sheets and towels, whilst spending days on end laying by a chlorinated pool.

My goal with any holiday is to always come back feeling better than I left, and a lot of that  involves where I sleep, what I eat, what I breathe, what I do and the impact my staying there may leave behind. A hotel that reminds me not to leave my bleached and perfumed towels on the floor in order to conserve on laundry wasn’t quite what I was after in terms of environmental sustainability.

As what we eat is always at the forefront of our minds, my husband and I tend to travel to places and choose our accommodations based on whether there is a functional kitchen and a local farmer’s market to get our food. Even better is when we can find a place to stay where they take care of it for us. Hard to find but not impossible.

This is how I came to find Cayuga – a sustainable hospitality company dedicated to the management and development of hotels, lodges and other tourism related projects in Latin America and the Caribbean that have an ecological, conservationist or sustainable aspect to it. What this meant to me was that I wouldn’t need to send a list in advance asking that no air fresheners be used in our room, that scent-free detergent be used on our sheets, to please refrain from putting out the tiny shampoo and conditioners, and that I could count on breakfast being more than toast and jam, fat-free strawberry yogurt and boxed orange juice.

Based on the location of my retreat, I chose The Harmony Hotel, a Cayuga property, as the spot for my retreat post-retreat.

dream vacationThe Harmony Hotel is one of many trend-setting sustainable hotels popping up across central America and into the Caribbean. Going eco for your holiday doesn’t mean you’ll communing with the hippie lot and roughing it either. A healthy, eco-sustaimable holiday takes “guilt-free” to a whole new level. Well beyond asking guests to simply hang up their towels to avoid undue washing. There is much more to sustainability than that. Sustainable vacationing is about choosing a way to have a holiday that will fully support the local community, the environment and the health of both the staff and the guests.

Top 8 Ways To Know If Your Holiday Is Truly Healthy

  1. Supports local projects that promote the sustainable development of the community.
  2. Employs a majority of staff from surrounding communities.
  3. Focuses their landscaping on native flora that support the local fauna.
  4. Sources food from local growers and suppliers.
  5. Hotel has an environmentally sustainable wastewater system in place.
  6. Chooses environmentally friendly garden and pest treatment options.
  7. Uses all-natural soaps, detergents etc.
  8. A compost/recycling program for hotel food, paper, plastic and glass waste.

These are things we rarely think about when we book that all inclusive package to lay at the beach for a week sipping on daiquiris. The thing is, if we don’t think about these things, can this way of vacationing continue? Short of this list drawing up in your mind the perfect fodder for a Portlandia sketch — I was tickled to note that The Harmony Hotel took it a step further, opting for bamboo straws instead of plastic, heating water for guest rooms with solar power and even compensating for the hotel’s carbon emissions with a “Plant a Tree” project where guests and staff plant trees in the local community.

Yes. This is my dream vacation in the making.

Photo Credit: Meghan Telpner, 1CostaRicaLink

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