8 Perfect Nature Breaks to Take This Year
Swim with penguins, parrotfish and sea lions—all at once. Or trek to a lake so primal, it's legit boiling. Or just go save a rhino. Point is, heed the call of the wild. As Aristotle once noted, "In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous." And as scientists have since added, there's something of the salubrious, too: In one of the most sweeping studies of the topic to date, researchers at the University of East Anglia recently found that exposure to nature reduces the risk of everything from type II diabetes to preterm birth to premature death. And though any wilderness break should do the trick, here are eight of our favorites for this year.
Almost two years after Hurricane Maria tore a disastrous path through the Caribbean, gorgeous Dominica is ready to have you back—or there for the first time. Mind you, this island isn’t a sun, sand, sip, and repeat kind of a place. The volcanic landscape is bubbling over with waterfalls, hot springs, and other geothermal goodness. Itineraries lean choose-your-own-adventure: Hike through dense rainforest to the gin-clear waters and 40-foot waterfall of Emerald Pool—or the Hades-issue flooded fumarole that is Boiling Lake; explore the mysterious caverns of Titou Gorge; or snorkel at Champagne Reef, so named for the bubbles that steadily stream from the geothermal vents below. Of course, all that adventuring earns you some serious downtime, and two new luxe eco-resorts have you covered. Following a ground-up rebuild post-Maria, the long beloved Jungle Bay Eco Villas has just reopened on the southwest coast of the island with 60 sweet villas, lush landscaping, phenomenal views, two yoga studios, an infinity pool, and an all-natural spa. Meanwhile, the six sustainably-crafted villas of the new Secret Bay are brimming with A-lister extras: think plunge pools and personal chefs. And if you simply can’t tear yourself away—and you’ve got a pile of spare cash lying around—keep an eye on the newly announced Residences at Secret Bay, a luxury collection of 42 villas currently under construction.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Traditionally, Indiana hasn’t gotten much love for its outdoor offerings. (That’ll happen to you when you’re the home of the world’s most famous car race.) But the Hoosier State is boosting its nature cred with the brand new Indiana Dunes National Park, the first national park to be designated here. Just 50 miles from Chicago, the park is the definition of easy access but is no less legit: These 15,000 lakeside acres are home to 352 bird species (or at least the ones that have been id’d so far), 46 mammal species, 23 reptile species, 71 fish species and 60 butterfly species—just for starters. Then there’s the place itself, a dreamy blend of beaches, forested dunes, oak savannas, and prairies. Take it all in from the hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and consider overnighting in one of the 67 campsites. But if you’re more of the adventure-by-day, actual-bed-by-night type, check out the new (but historic) Valparaiso Inn—just a 20-minute drive south.
Occupying a wild stretch of Vancouver Island’s west coast—traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation—this town borders the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region, all old growth rainforests, wildlife-rich estuaries, and secluded inlets. Put otherwise: Welcome to possibly the best surfing, hiking, kayaking and canoeing you’ll ever do. And if you’re into storm watching, note that it’s so good here, it gets its own tourism season. But another Tofino hallmark is what makes the place extra appealing now: In a food-and-drink scene already known to punch way above its weight, some recent openings have upped the ante. At the Tofino Resort & Marina, whose executive chef is the newly minted winner of Top Chef Canada, head to 1909 Kitchen for wood-fired pizzas, seawater-cooked wrinkled nugget potatoes with seaweed salsa verde—or just your own catch from the day’s adventures, expertly prepared. In fact, among the resort’s packages is one that involves no fewer than 20 hours of fishing and a cook-your-catch dinner at the restaurant. Another recent opening not to miss: Tofino’s first distillery, Tofino Craft Distillery, where you can sip small-batch vodka and West Coast-inspired gin. (A bottle of its neon-green Psychedelic Jellyfish Absinthe makes for an awesomely offbeat souvenir.) You should also hit a couple of longtime favorites: Tofino Brewing Company (try the surprisingly tasty Kelp Stout) and Picnic Charcuterie, where the likes of sea salami and other house-cured meats make for epic hiking or boating sustenance.
Colorado 10th Division Mountain Huts
Not one to rest on its laurels, evidently, the state that already claims the most huts and yurts has just added a trio of notable digs to its 10th Mountain Division Hut Association—a sprinkling of wilderness lodgings along 350 stunning miles of U.S. Forest Service Trails. These backcountry basecamps come equipped with beds, cooking gear and the occasional wood-burning sauna—though not necessarily running water. (Solar refrigerators and pump-operated cisterns are the kinds of things that make the huts’ amenities lists). As for the new huts, they definitely lean upscale by backcountry standards: There’s the sleek, modern Thelma Hut—think photovoltaic electricity and solar hot water radiant heat—where you and seven friends can lose yourselves in epic views through floor-to-ceiling windows while caretakers whip up dinner for you. Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, meanwhile, spoils you with chef-prepared meals, an onsite tavern, WiFi, hot shower—even flushing toilets. And if you’ve already got snow season on the brain, check out the Sisters Cabin, a solar-powered hut that sleeps up to 14 and is only open in the winter. Whichever property you choose, be sure to plan early and have a backup: Huts are increasingly hot and reserved through a lottery system. Just don’t be surprised if you can never go back to tents.
In a land of prehistoric creatures, arguably the best way to see them is very 2019: The newest of Ecoventura’s sustainably-minded yachts, Theory, launched its maiden voyage this March, one of only two Relais & Châteaux vessels in the Galapagos (the other belongs to Ecoventura, too). Though the 10 staterooms are meticulously and sustainably appointed—as are the lounge, dining area and gym—the sundeck is where it’s at. Whatever your lolling furniture of choice—day bed, chaise lounge, hammock—you’ll find it here, as well as an outdoor shower, BBQ and wet bar. And when you’re off on your daily excursions, you’ll be sharing the sights with only 19 fellow guests (at most), plus two naturalist guides. So the experience feels intimate, which is what you want when you’re face to face with massive tortoises, piles of iguanas, schools of hammerhead sharks, second-grade-humor-eliciting boobies, super-sized parrotfish, frisky sea lions, and for good measure, penguins that race around you underwater. Yes, penguins. Right here in the tropics—because in this living, breathing evolution lesson, why not? Though snorkeling here is a highlight, so is spying on some of the resident sea creatures from a glass-bottom boat. (Ecoventura also offers stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and Zodiac sunset cruises). Back on board, you’ll refuel on the genius chefs’ locally- and sustainably-sourced creations—and perhaps a perfectly chilled Ecuadorian beer.
Paparoa Track, New Zealand
Stunning limestone gorges, lush rainforests, and whole legions of Pancake Rocks. There’s a lot to love about the new Paparoa Track, the 10th of New Zealand’s famed Great Walks and the first to open in more than 25 years (the official debut is scheduled for December). The 34-mile point-to-point trail, which you can hike in three days and bike in two, traces the Pororari River along the South Island’s wild west coast, where you’ll enter the Paparoa National Park—a reserve that was largely inaccessible until now. There are also two new huts opening, and they come with a fee, the track itself is free. But don’t procrastinate if you want to go: Reservations are going fast. You’ll depart from Blackball, a historic mining town where you shouldn’t miss Formerly the Blackball Hilton, a local institution that got into a bit of a tussle with lawyers from a certain corporate hotel giant.
The Gray Barn and Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, NY
The Gray Barn, which opened early this year at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, is a win-win escape: You get to hang in a 150-acre retreat that’s home to goat-dotted pastures, a five-bedroom eco-inn, and stellar vegan breakfasts. The award-winning partner sanctuary for rescued farm animals gets the proceeds. You’re welcome to learn all about the farm’s outreach initiatives, or just soak up the epic tranquility (punctuated by the occasional baa, moo, or cluck, of course) from your private terrace. And if all that serenity leaves you craving an adrenaline rush, you’re right in the foothills of the Shawanagunk Range, also known as the Gunks, where you can hike—or test your finger-hold game on some of the best climbing routes in the Northeast.
Thanda Safari's Research & Volunteer Program, South Africa
If you're at least 18 and interested in conservation, consider yourself prequalified as a volunteer for any of the new two- and four-week programs that this renowned Zululand game reserve is offering in 2019. Sign up, and you'll find yourself helping with everything from data collection to local school visits. And you'll be getting a whole different kind of safari experience: Learn basic tracking skills, take Big Five walks (yup, you'll be looking for the likes of rhino on foot) and star-gaze with the pros. Mind you, volunteer doesn't mean "free," but it does mean paying dramatically less than you would otherwise: approximately $1,465 for the two-week program and $2315 for the four-week program, both of which include your stay in a safari-style thatched chalet at the Intibane Research & Training Centre on Thanda Safari; all your meals; all activities and—for good measure—an Ulwazi shirt.