Nudism during the pandemic

Great article from CNN about what Nudist’s are during during the lockdown.

British Naturism’s commercial manager Andrew Welch tells CNN Travel there’s been a rise in naturism in Britain over the course of the UK’s lockdown.

He suggests that, for some, deciding not to wear clothing could be the natural next step to spending all day in your PJs or your sweats, no longer required to wear smart office wear.
Welch also connects this uptake to the shift to a slower pace of life and a growing appreciation of the sights and sounds of nature. Plus, Welch reckons that the naturist community’s pivot towards the virtual world has allowed more people to connect with like-minded individuals from across the country — and the globe.
Luft says he’s seen a similar shift in Paris: “People have been following our videos [and] sent emails saying, ‘You’ve inspired us to give it a go.'”

“When you’re feeling confined and closed in and imprisoned, if at least you can take off your clothes that is some way to free yourself a little,” he adds. “So, even in our tiny little Parisian apartments with no gardens and sometimes no balcony or anything, we still have that possibility.”
But while naturism may be gaining some new followers, both naturists say that a big part of the movement’s appeal is embracing nudity en masse.

For naturists, replicating that feeling online is tough — as is the realization that heading off to a nudist resort for a vacation is unlikely to happen for many this summer.
“When you are naked with other people, you are already showing yourself physically, there’s nothing to hide, no disguise,” Luft says. “And so, you tend to be more open, develop deeper relationships, and you talk more openly.”

With travel largely curtailed, vacation resorts across the world have been impacted by cancellations and complications.
Naturist resorts are, in some ways, no different — many naturist travelers and fully clothed travelers alike are being forced to cancel holidays and business owners are balancing the financial implications.
But naturist resort owners suggest that their resorts could bounce back quicker than average, because they offer something specific and attract fiercely loyal clientele.

Certainly, the naturist travelers who spoke to CNN said they’re keen to book a vacation as soon as they can.

“Naturism is something that you can do in your own house — of course you can — but actually, it’s much more about the fresh air and the sense of sunshine and the breeze on your skin. I think people will be craving those opportunities to go and do that within our community,” says Welch.
“There’s nothing like opening the door of your tent one morning or your caravan and just stepping out into the sunshine with nothing on, it really is the most wonderful feeling.”

French couple Martine and Pierre Dutray own Resort Naturista Grottamiranda, a naturist resort in Puglia, southern Italy.
Right now, the couple are in France and unable to travel to their resort, but they hope to return in June and reopen.
They expect their summer clientele will be largely local visitors — customers from the UK and elsewhere in Europe may struggle to visit this summer due to continued travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines and Covid-19 fears.

Martine Dutray says she’s not concerned.
“Our clientele is really very loyal,” she says, adding that many who canceled summer trips in February and March have rescheduled for the fall of 2021.

“You make some very genuine friendships that just don’t seem to happen in the clothed world,” says Parisian naturist president Luft, speaking about his trips to naturist resorts.
“I feel that every year when we go on a naturist holiday, we always meet some really interesting people that we just wouldn’t meet anywhere else.”

5 reasons you need to try a nude beach. And soon.

1. You aren’t getting any younger. Naturism helps with body image, allows you to get over yourself. If you are holding out until you look better, you may not ever look better than you do right now.

2. Wet, sandy bathing suits are uncomfortable. Being naked gets rid of that. And the feel of the sun and wind on your naked skin is one of life’s great pleasures.

3. No tan lines. “nuff said”.

4. Sensuality. This doesn’t mane sex and many beaches are family friendly. But it does allow for incidental contact between consenting adults and a chance to start the horizontal dance of the ages/

5. Everyone is welcome. Getting rid of trappings like clothes and jewelry let’s you deal with people authentically. And everyone is welcome. Look for a beach near you or join one of the upcoming Duckling travel adventures to someplace safe, friendly and clothing optional.

Top 8 travel must haves for romance adventurers

We believe that adventure travel is one of the best thing you can do for your relationship. It often requires a leap of faith, stepping out of your comfort zone and realizing that mini vacations are sometimes as effective as more exotic, elaborate get-aways. But if you are a super cool

We’ve come up with the top 8 travel must have’s for romance adventurers.

1. Tilley Clothes. We love the scrunch up, throw in a bag, mix and match, wash-in-the-shower travel collection of casual elegant travel clothes. We swear by the hats, buy them online and roll them into a tube for light, easy packing. We know a nudist friend that once traveled around nude St. Martin with nothing on but flipfops and a Tilley hat. The hat had his passport, hotel key and money in it.

2. We try to keep the shoes to 3 pairs each. Limit yourself to a casual super comfortable pair, a pair of flip flops/burks and a dress pair if needed.

3. Beach bag. We’ve got an old one we bought at Chapters that scrunches up but carries a ton of stuff. It has a secret pocket to store emergency money, and is bright and beachy.

4. Swiss Navy Silicone Lubricant. It stays on even in hot tubs. And everyone (and we mean everyone says Sue the sex therapist) needs lube. We’ve used it as a moisturizer in a pinch and won’t stain clothes.

5. Baby wipes. They double as toilet paper and hand wipe’s and after play clean ups. We don’t leave home without them.

6. A collection of sealable plastic bags in different sizes. Good to keep things from leaking, important to put your liquids in for travel through security and great to keep things organized and cleaned up in the bottom of your bag.

7. Couple or personal business-type cards. We were first introduced these at Hedo where everyone had their names, email addresses and a picture of them in some vacation picture. Great way to stay in touch with friends and we now have quite a collection from all over the world. We got 500 for $20 off It allows you to give a fun description of your mission statement and they are a great way to connect.

8. Silk travel blanket — as warm as a regular blanket, yet takes up much less space. Pocket at bottom keeps feet toasty; blanket rolls up and tucks into a 12 x 4″ pouch you can toss in your carry-on. And silk is oh-so-nice on your skin and for cuddling together on long plane rides.

Cheap cruises. How you can choose a cruise the night before for a few hundred dollars.

We understand how difficult it is to be a travel adventurer on a budget. Once you are past the living out of a back stage in student hostels, travel can get pricey. Even as writers we look for deals. All inclusive resorts can be a bargain if you can travel at the last minute. We like, and as a great place to compare travel spots and see what’s new and well priced.

But they don’t always have the cheapest spots for cruises. As we are based out of Central Florida in the winter, it is only an hour each way to either the big port at Tampa, or the smaller (but well priced) departure center at Cape Canaveral. Each spot has cruises that leave a number of times each week and do either the Gulf and Mexico, or the western Caribbean. Cruise ships prefer to be a full capacity. They make money on the alcohol and day trips, and it makes the experience seem more robust for everyone if more rooms are full. If you can wait until the day before, prices for cruises can be remarkable. You don’t have to live in Florida to be able to take advantage of cheap cruises.
We found direct Westjet flights to Orlando from Ottawa for $69 (plus tax for a total of $90 each way booked off of for most of January and inexpensive flights can be had from most major centers.

The traditional last minute cruise sites such as:


We’ve booked directly off of the day before. MSC Carribeean has a few cheap cruises as well. Take Advantage Of Our Last Minute Cruise Deals. Here’s the press release they sent us:

Embark on a journey from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the most beautiful ports of call in the Caribbean. Onboard take in the peaceful view of the Caribbean Sea from your private veranda on MSC Poesia. Graced with Italian hospitality, she offers a luxurious Balinese spa, sophisticated sushi bar and eco-friendly design and much more.
7 Night Cruises from $449*
For more information call 1.800.666.9333

So, there is no excuse not to sail the warm waters this year. We’ll see you on deck and we’ll do it for about $30 a day.

Red light, green light (travel to Mexico)

With all the publicised violence in Mexico (mostly related to the war on drugs), we thought it would be appropriate to write about our experiences. We have visited Mexico more than a dozen times, have travelled by car through large areas and have yet to have anything resembling a bad experience. In fact, we have been greeted warmly by locals and have many wonderful stories of truly pleasant people. Some of the people we met are now counted among our friends.

Getting there from anywhere in North America is fast and easy. No visa is required and your passport is the only documentation you will need. Red light, green light refers to the way the customs process is handled. After having your passport stamped in immigration, you pick up your luggage and line up for customs. In Canada or the US, you generally play 50 questions with the customs officer and then are free to go. In Mexico, you walk up to the officer and push a big button. The light comes on green or red and it is totally random. Green means you pass without any questions and are free to enter the country. Red means your bags are thoroughly searched on the spot and in the open. No talking your way out of anything and the Mexican authorities have zero tolerance for drugs or weapons. While most of the time you get green, we have done the “red” routine on at least one or two occasions. Be prepared to have your tighty whiteys open to the world and if you happen to be transporting any bedroom toys, I hope you don’t blush easily.

From the airport onward it is smooth sailing. You can have a car pre-rented or pick one up there easily. Gas is cheap and the roads are good. You can also pre-book transportation to the hotel if it is not included in your package. Nightlife is plentiful and safe. Basic safety applies as it would in all countries including here in Canada. Common sense also applies. Keep away from illegal substances or activities and Mexico is a great place to travel through.

Some thoughts for the drivers though. You will see military checkpoints along highways. They too are inspecting for weapons or drugs. They are heavily armed and look intimidating but pose no problem at all to vacationers. Stop, smile and open the trunk. They may or may not want to quickly open any suitcases. You are on your way in seconds without problems. They don’t ask for ID. And stick to the speed limits. The Federal police have a knack for spotting tourists speeding and are more than pleased to pull you over and ask for a generous donation. Always a good idea to have some cash on you in case you need to cover a fine.

Given our affection for the country and people of Mexico, it is disheartening to hear the media play up the relatively few incidents (and very few which involve innocent tourists). Don’t be afraid to consider it for your next relaxing inexpensive vacation. If you are a first timer, stick to the tourist areas of the Yucatan or the west coast. We would be happy to be on a plane there tonight.

Desire/Temptations in Los Cabos. How to make friends naked.

How to make friends at a Nude Lifestyle resort
Desire Los Cabos
by Sue McGarvie, Clinical sex therapist
It’s not just that we’ve had 17 feet of snow this winter in my part of Canada, that has me wishing I could emigrate to Mexico. I have fallen in love with the lifestyle, and culture of our southern neighbors. The Mexico I experienced, was absolute paradise. Los Cabos Mexico, where I spent a week in March this year, is home to the most charming Latino waiters, almost perfect weather, the world’s yummiest coconut ice cream, and now arguably the best couples resort in the world. Move over Hedonism, the new Desire Resorts has got serious game.

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Los Cabos Mexico, which bills itself as a place of guaranteed sunshine, (only six days of rain all of last year), is located on the tip of the Baja, where the sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s a thousand miles of desert, along Mexico’s west coast, Los Cabos has come into it’s own due to a spectacular coastline and the advent of desalination, and with bevy of fresh water out of the sea that has turned desolate scrub brush into an oasis. This is where the wealthy Californian’s come to vacation (typical real estate prices for a vacation property is over a US million). And at the Desire Resort, it is where the sexually adventurous come to explore the romantic and erotic side to their relationship.

Desire Los Cabos, is similar to Desire Cancun in many ways. An exclusive, couple-only, clothing optional, all inclusive hotel, with a boutique resort feel, with a maximum capacity of 150 rooms. Desire comes with complete privacy and serious security. It’s the honeymoon of decadence and sensuality that you may have always wanted. I find that like with any nude place, the minute you take your clothes off, your inhibitions go as well. That means fellow guests are open, and conversation and friendships start easily all over the resort. However unlike with a typical nude or clothing optional resort, (like the Caliente resorts where PDA’s –public displays of affection- can get you kicked out), there are places where you can be overtly sexual with your (or possibly someone else’s) partner. It is more centrally located than in Cancun, (in the zone tourista, as opposed to Cancun which is way, way off the beaten path). This means there is no nudity on the more public beach, (too bad, as the Desire Cancun beach beds are one of life’s great pleasures). It also means swimming in the ocean is out (the flags read FATAL due to the undertow), but provided you wore a bathing suit, the beach was a delight to walk. With no beach activities, it meant that everyone congregated in the rooftop hot tub, and heated, extra-large, central swimming pool. This central congregation meant it was easier to meet everyone staying in the resort on a first name basis. This also meant you had less of the “gilded cage” feel, as you could easily walk to shopping, restaurants and leave the resort if you needed a change of scenery. So if you are social, and a perfect holiday is having everyone know your name and making friends, the west coast Desire may be a better fit for you, than the isolated, and spread out Cancun Desire. Overall I thought the food was good, (I hugged Antonio, my evening grill chef who made something he specially concocted just for me every night), and I loved the live music played outside between dinner and dance club opening outside on the mezzanine.

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They’ve set the lay out well, so that sexual interaction happens only on the secluded hot tub area, or in the playroom in the dance club. Which means that if you choose not to watch the sex going on, (although who’s kidding, everyone is curious to see if their pool buddies are doing anything more interesting than they do), you can completely avoid that section. So with sex only going on in very specific places, you can otherwise treat it like any other first class resort except that a good 60% of the guests are in various stages of undress.

This is the place where you can be nude (or not), overtly sexual with your partner (or not), and meet other couples for friendship or more. Or you can stay to yourself, and honeymoon in an erotic environment. As Sylvia the Guest Services manager said “The experience at Desire is strictly what you make of it”. So Desire can be called sensuously discreet. It’s there if you want it, but sex is done with ease and elegance. I would say that only about 25% of the guests (in my humble estimation) were in the “swinging” or lifestyle play. Some people were direct in their approach that they were looking for an exchange, but most were just having their partner only eroticism. What surprised me was how many “first-timers” there were, who had never even been to a nude beach before. There was a large group of people who booked off Expedia looking for a vacancy, and although seemed surprised at how sexually open the place was, very quickly dropped the laundry and joined in on the semi-clothed frolicking. When in Rome… seemed to be the philosophy, and the comfortable atmosphere relaxed even the most prudish. I watched a Catholic, grade 1 teacher go from cover-ups, to commando, to sex in public with her husband, over a three day period. Desire has a minimum age of 25 posted on their website, and the age ranged from mid to late 20’s, with the bulk of the guests between 30 and 50. Certainly a 60 year old plus couple wouldn’t be out of place, but most of the bodies were better than average, and a majority had been enhanced. The crowd was affluent, well-preserved, and well-groomed, (with more than their share of silicone and botox).

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The Los Cabos is less crowded than the always booked Cancun location (114 rooms), but my guess is that it will be as equally difficult to get a room over the next year as word gets out. During the high point of the regular travel season (March break, where every other resort was fully booked), Desire Los Cabos was at only 35% capacity. This isn’t a place you bring your kids, and around family holidays, the Desire resorts are slower. Times that are typically not “family holiday time”, you’ll find the parents have pawned off the kids and are engaging in the sensuous adult play that a trip to Desire offers. As an example, May, a warm month up north is 100% booked at Desire Los Cabos, when there are vacancies everywhere else.

A couple of things you may want to take note of when packing for Desire. With guaranteed sunshine, and predominate nudity, we went through far less clothes than anticipated. Although day time clothing needs can be put into a toiletry bag, most women dressed elegantly for cocktails, dinner and after dinner drinks, and for the
disco party, every night is theme night. So my suggestion is bring a big suite case full
of erotic costumes to be creatively silly. It is hot and sexually charged at the disco. Themes included Rodeo-cowboy, naughty school yard, pink, red, and black and white nights, jungle, along with emergency (fireman, nurse). Cancun had similar (but different themes), and it was an adult dress up, with a smile. You should also know that Desire has a camera verboten policy, so you won’t end up in someone else’s pictures naked. However, you may need to plan a day trip if you need pictures to take back to the kids because you can’t otherwise take photos.

Despite what a good job Desire is doing running its resort, it wasn’t perfect. The highlight was the staff and service. I can honestly say that I’ve never met a more gracious, more accommodating staff anywhere in the world. They learned your names from the get go, and made a point to make everyone feel special.

The food however, was a bit inconsistent at times. We had the best steak we’ve ever eaten on holidays, as well as the worst steak, only a day apart. I thought there could have been a more rounded out room service menu, and the pool lunch food was repetitive as the only option to eat. They had great bartenders however. I was very surprised as a therapist, (you would think even for strictly liability reasons), there wasn’t condoms in the playroom and hot tub areas. I also wished that the disco should open earlier for those of us who turn into a pumpkin after midnight.

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Most significantly, I also felt that there was a real thirst for information on what is the erotic lifestyle, and there was a need for clear, non-judgmental facts about what full swing, lifestyle play, group massage, bisexual swap meant to the new attendees. Having tourists books in each rooms were helpful, but those weren’t the questions it took five margherita’s, and a week of beating around the bush to ask. Everyone it seemed, was looking for information on “how do you spice up your relationship with group play without messing up what you have”, or just “how do you keep it hot after years together?” Desire seems to be marketing to the large middle group that one guest described as “Empty Nesters gone wild”, who are curious, open, but very tentative in trying out any kind of extra marital play. Not the serious swingers who are open to anything and everything, but more than the romance marketed by conventional couples resorts. With a few minor changes (better training of their activity staff, more ice breakers, and delicately written information packages), the Desire resorts will be the premiere location for sensuous couples world-wide. Book your holiday soon, because as they make the final adjustments, they will continue to be sold out year round.

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Club Fantastico. So you want to get naked?

Club Fantastico, St. Martin – So you want to get naked?
If you would like to try a safe, fun and slightly exotic walk on the wilder side of life, Club Fantastico may be right for you. Club Fantastico is the perfect spot to visit if you are looking to take your clothes off in public for the first time. So many people are curious about social nudity, but are intimidated about going to a big clothing optional resort. Club Fantastico is the right size for a gentle foray into an au naturel vacation. With an outstanding view of the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring islands, a large hot tub, pool, and space to lounge outside of your room, it calls itself “the home away from home for travelling nudists”.
Located on the French side of the half French – half Dutch island of St. Martin, it is a quaint little villa-style hotel that allows you to be clothes free all the time. Club Fantastico is small, but unique and is located inside the upscale Orient Village. It is also a quick ten minute walk from Orient beach, one of the largest and best known nude beaches anywhere. Away from home is the best place to start shedding your inhibitions and fears about body image. Trying a clothing optional experience is a great first step. And like with any nude place we’ve ever been to, nudity is encouraged but far from mandatory. However experiencing the feel of the warm Caribbean wind blowing across the entire length of your body is one of life’s great sensuous pleasures. Club Fantastico has a cozy, friendly and secluded environment that lends itself to casual acceptance. You can start disrobing in stages (or simply drop the laundry) and no one will think anything of it.

What makes Club Fantastico such an accepting place is the amazing management team. The happily married Mike and Peggy have been running Club Fantastico for the last three years after being involved with nude resorts all over the world. The welcome when we arrived was warm and heartfelt. It was very much the feeling of coming home. We had a hug and a cold drink from our hosts, despite having never met Mike and Peggy before, and an enthusiastic wiggle from the small house dog, a Yorkie named Mr. Bones. Given the social aspect of the spacious inn, you find yourself sitting and chatting with other guests in the comfortable rattan chairs. Nudists are a friendly lot. We also got to know our fellow guests through soaks in the hot tub and shared delicious French breakfast sitting around the pool. Breakfast, all drinks, and snacks are included with your stay. Every week, Mike and Peggy organize a group dinner outing to the nearby village of Grand Case. Grand Case is a small French village that is world renowned for its string of spectacular French restaurants along the beach. Grand Case is known as the “culinary capital of the Caribbean”. As locals, Mike and Peggy arranged dishes to be brought in from a number of neighbouring restaurants and a party, (with exceptional food) broke out. There are also weekly group dinners with all the guests at Club Fantastico. Everyone pitches in for groceries, and you have a real chance to connect in small groups and enjoy unparalleled hospitality. Mike and Peggy are so much an essence of the Club Fantasico experience that we recommend you only visit for the nine months they are in residence.
Besides the home like atmosphere and the safe nudity, Club Fantasico also allows a “honeymoon atmosphere” if you are looking for a romantic get away holiday. The premier rooms have their own wrap around porches with a great view of the ocean. Complete with outdoor showers, they are private enough to block out the world, while open enough not to feel like you are spending the week inside.
It is easy to stay on the property and enjoy the pool or you can venture to nearby Orient Beach and blend into the multitude of naked bodies all lounging on miles of white sand. If you go the beach route, chairs and umbrellas are available on site at Club Orient for a nominal day fee.
Did we mention the food already? Even the food served at the many beach-side restaurants will have your mouth watering. For the more romantic, any one of the many local corner stores will have fresh baguette, cheese , fruit and a fine bottle of French wine for sale rather inexpensively if you want to picnic on the beach. Most people rent a car on St. Martin, and the island is safe to drive around so you can be adventurous. Other things to do on St. Martin include a farmers market, a new zipline on the mountain at Pic Paradis, or ferries to the neighbouring islands of St. Barth’s and Anguilla. The Dutch side of the island features many casinos or specialty shopping for those so inclined. Club Fantastico offers a nude boat cruise around the island, with stops at secluded beaches and non stop activities. As Peggy explains, ‘the cruises are fun and slightly naughty (you may moon a few passing boats) but sure to bring a huge smile to your face.” Once you try the Orient Bay area of St. Martin, you become hooked for life. Either way, you are anonymous, away from home and can either tell your friends that you actually did it or simply keep it as a secret between you.
We’ve been to many beautiful spots in the Caribbean. Club Fantastico, while not the most luxurious or with the most amenities has become a favourite of ours. The quaintness of the inn gave us the opportunity to make friends, be nude all day long, and have experiences that only a local host can provide. The laugh out loud fun of being in a like minded group, along with the ability to have intimate alone time was the perfect balance. Throw in a world class beach within walking distance, fabulous food, perfect weather, and a safe interesting island and the combination moved it near the top of our favourite places list.

Romantic get away idea #14. Busch Garden for grownups

Busch Gardens for grownups

By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt, Relationship Therapists and Travel Writers.

As relationship therapists we regularly see couples that are struggling to re-kindle their romance. They are trying to come up with ways to enhance their relationship among busy work schedules, kids, in-laws and the sameness of day-to-day life. The statistics are pretty clear. With a 47.2% divorce rate, (source) couples who are trying to stay married decades after the spark has diminished are aware of the importance of both date nights, and the need for regular “romance adventure” get-aways. Rutgers University in New Jersey did a study that suggested that adrenaline-inducing adventure seeking is among the key characteristics of couples that continue to feel supported, loved and protected by their partners.

So when looking for affordable adventures for ordinary couples, we’ve come up with a series of ideas or what we call love excursions.

This month’s idea is prompted by cold, bleak December weather, and amazing rates for weekend flights to central Florida. Jet Blue, and American Eagle out of northern New York can get you to Tampa for as little as $220 each return including tax. The cheapest seat we found on Westjet with flights from Montreal and Ottawa was for $518 return all in.

We love the Tampa area for an affordable extra-long weekend holiday when you’re looking to re-connect. The weather is great, and with lots of large hotels, small inns and luxurious resorts in the area there is something for any price range.

This time we visited Busch Gardens. This was not the Busch Gardens we remembered visiting as a kid. They’ve got wild roller coasters, animated shows and up-close animal experiences. Nothing like screaming your head off and grabbing your partner as you shoot straight down the 200 foot, 90-degree drop of SheiKra to kick-start your adrenaline. Your body has a hard time differentiating general excitement from excitement about being with your partner, and roller coasters are a great way to ride out of your comfort zone.

However theme parks are not all created equal. Busch Gardens started as a bird garden to showcase the brewery that shares its name. But over 50 years, it has became a top-tier theme park, complete with a zoo, rides and shows. For people in the know, you can have any number of “up-close” animal experiences. This is where we met Dixie. She’s a hundred and twenty pounds, and stronger than she looks. She’ll blow you kisses and look at you longingly with expressive brown eyes. She held her hand out in a royal wave. She’s an artist, and painted a fridge-worthy picture in primary colours. Although we should note that she ate some of the harmless children’s paint before using it. Dixie is an orangutan.

Part of the Tiger and Orangutan Keeper Experience at Busch Gardens is completely interactive. At Busch Gardens you can play with orangutans. Well, through a protective barrier, but you can share hand signals in order for them to do handstands (which they are very excited to demonstrate), ask them to paint you a picture or mimic your facial expressions. The mammals love the interaction and respond readily. They are not coerced into performing and are absolutely loved by their handlers. The fact that they are so excited to interact with visitors suggests their daily human interaction is a very positive experience.

Busch Gardens also has Serengeti-like grasslands with a full compliment of African animals and an opportunity to play zookeeper with your partner. Seriously, you can muck out an elephant stall if that appeals to you as part of the Elephant Keeper Experience. If that doesn’t sound exciting you can watch a roaring tiger eat a thawed chicken carcass on a Serengeti Night Safari. With a little planning you can talk to the great apes, hug a three-toed sloth, and lay out enrichment items on the elephant habitat.

We were able to go on a Serengeti Night Safari with night-vision monoculars and watch a hippo chomp a pumpkin in half. We had the opportunity to pet a pen-full of kangaroos and wallabies as well as watch a hyena crunch leg bones as easily as we eat a sandwich. During the Night Safari we hand-fed a giraffe from our open-air truck while enjoying a beer in hand.

The night safari was elegant, upscale and fun. Hosted by two sassy employees from the education centre, the night safari included campfire stories, laughs and three stops for refreshments.

Busch Gardens’ Keeper Experiences are booked in small intimate groups of up to six. The animal handlers love showing off their animals and talking passionately about the work they do. The animals know that strangers in the back rooms mean extra treats. And couples get an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to safely interact with real animals. Few people know you can book this private, intimate time with the animals. For creating that adrenaline surge there is nothing more primal that being three feet away from a roaring, lunging tiger.

Eco Tourism. Why we love Giligan Island huts in Mexico

Azulik Review

By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt, Clinical Relationship Therapists, Travel Journalists

A poll of people in the baggage line up at the Cancun airport suggested most of the arrivals (direct from Ottawa via Westjet) were staying at one of the many all inclusive or big box resorts along the Cancun strip. With great beaches, warm weather and an easy four hour flight from Eastern Canada or the US, Cancun is a popular holiday destination.

We had made other arrangements. We jumped into a pre-arranged taxi ($80), and headed the two hours down the Mayan Riviera coast to Tulum. Known as the “eco coast”, Tulum is home to a few large resorts and many of small, six to 20 room boutique hotels. It is an area of authentic Mexican feel, lots more wilderness, and a bohemian, Jimmy Buffet laid back lifestyle. Many of the Tulum resorts have an emphasis on being green, which is new to Mexico.

We stayed at the adult-only Azulik resort, one of the three resorts that makes up Eco Tulum (along with Zahra, and Copal resorts located side by side). Azulik has 15 private villas ($260-320 a night), Zahra has 22 more traditional rooms, and the large Copal has 47 different kinds of cabanas. Copal’s huts range in size from family quad size, at $250 a night to a small at $35 a night without a bathroom. It was what we would call “high end beach camping”.

Tulum is in the heart of Mayan (or native Mexican) country. This part of the Yucatan is home to beatnik travelers, authentic Mexican music and amazingly fresh and healthy food. The Eco Tulum concept is to provide huts on the beach, and blend in as closely as possible with the natural environment. In fact, the whole resort fits into the landscape better than anyplace we’ve ever visited. There are no lights, no outlets (so leave your hair dryer at home), and a generator powers a ceiling fan during the day. The rest of the time you are feeling a bit like you are in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. If you are looking for an accessible, convenient, well groomed hotel- this isn’t it. Azulik is the opposite of a “big box resort” and we heard again and again how much guests were looking to stay anywhere but at one of the typical all inclusive’s. Each hut was unique, the pathways were made of sand and the stairways to climb into the hut were not for anyone with a disability. Some of the stairs were downright scary, but they had muted lighting at night, and the area had a very safe feel. Despite any drawbacks, the rooms were beautiful, clean, entirely made of wood, and offered a beach that would rival anywhere in the world.

The huts are incredibly romantic. It has the South Sea feeling, built on stilts over the rocks right at the ocean’s edge. It is the romance holiday everyone imagines. Think white sand, turquoise water, iguana’s lazily sunning themselves on the rocks outside your deck, canopy bed with mosquito netting, and a huge bathtub made out of a hollowed out tree. We watched the moon come up over the deck while we soaked in our outdoor tub, and star gazed on a suspended swinging deck bed that allowed a clear view of the sky and ocean. The wind blows constantly from the sea, and the waves ranged from gentle to spectacular during the week long visit. It would be an astounding place to be in a mild storm.

Azulik resort took the eco theme seriously. The resort has recycling boxes (including one for batteries), located at regular intervals. Azulik, and the joining Copal both had a clothing optional beach. Although not advertised, when asked, the front desk said clearly “that nudity was allowed on your decks, and on both beaches”. We estimated that a fifth of the beach users were either naked or topless. We certainly didn’t feel self conscious or frowned upon in any stage of undress on the beaches.

Azulik is the perfect spot for eco-minded honeymooners. Azulik does many weddings performed by Mayan holy men, and the ceremonies are absolutely unique. They are comfortable doing same sex, and pagan weddings as well. With no power you had evenings bathed in candle light, and two swing beds made for cuddling. In keeping with the green theme, you can rent a bike and easily cycle the four kilometers into Tulum for dinner or shopping. Six restaurants and some stores make up the Boca Paila cluster where Azulik is located. The small hub of stores, hotels and restaurants gives you a sense of authentic Mexico and community, but is not enough to disturb the tranquil feeling of being alone in your eco-hut.

The downside of no power is that you had to set up your candles in advance of going for dinner otherwise you returned to pioneer-like blackness. It is a way to get in touch with your circadian rhythm (we were in bed by 9 pm and up with the sun). We found the candle light too dim to read by, and would strongly recommend packing flashlights or head lamps for walking. The nights are cool by the beach, and with the wind blowing easily through the thatched huts, we were never too hot, but were often too cool. The wind made it the only place to be cold in Mexico in April.

One of the most notable things about Azulik is their Mayan Spa. A large spa, with massage villas scattered throughout the jungle and in elevated spaces overlooking the beach, the Mayan Spa was the most unique spa we’ve ever seen. They had both a Shaman and holistic healer on staff. They only use organic products, and many of the treatments are done with natural plants picked from the spa garden just before treatments. They are specially known for their traditional Mayan Temascal. A Temascal is a native sweat lodge that has been used for both healing and ritual purposes in Mexico for thousands of years.

Apparently Temascals are all different depending on the Shaman performing the ceremony. Azulik’s Temascal was so popular that groups of people came from all over to participate in the three hour ritualized cleanse. For the experience, imagine a clay hut that can fit up to 10 people inside with a fire pit in the middle. The shape of the clay structure and its meaning is to symbolize the womb and the re-birth after the Temascal experience. The Shaman does a smudging with copal bark (the sacred tree), for an initial cleanse. Throughout the Temascal, he used different herbs in conjunction with red-hot stones, misting, chanting and singing to cleanse the body and spirit. The Temascal goes through several “rounds” and at the end of each round, you can choose to stay or leave. During the pause between rounds, more rocks are added to the pile, increasing the heat of the Temascal. It was an interesting three hours, and really added to the uniqueness of the eco holiday.

Besides taking in spa services, or lounging on the Azulik beach (although it really is spectacular) you have a plenary of options if you feel the need to escape. You can do so easily (and safely) on your own or with one of the guided tours. You can cycle to the Tulum ruins (the locals suggest getting there before 10 am before the tour buses roll in), arrange snorkeling or dive trips, or do one of the organized tours to the big adventure parks. These include ziplining, four wheeling, cave diving, and paintball courses and were the Disney-like theme park adventures one would expect being this close to Cancun.

In keeping with the eco-theme of this trip, we opted to go on the Sian Ka’an community tour. This tour absolutely made our trip. Sian Ka’an is a protected natural reserve of 630,000 hectares that crosses traditional Mayan land and is now a UNESCO heritage site as well as a wildlife reserve. Sian Ka’an Community Tours is an international success story. Many Mayan’s had been living in “reservation-like” communities in the jungle without a source of income. Many Mayans didn’t speak Spanish (only their local Mayan dialect), and despite vast knowledge of the jungle and various biospheres, they were just eeking out an existence. With the help of a couple of non-profit NGO’s (including Equator Initiatives) that help indigenous peoples with sustainable development, the Mayan community near the Sian Ka’an reserve got together and started a business giving tours. All of the money from this low cost tour ($99 per person including lunch, snacks, park fees, and transportation) stays in the community.

Our seven hour tour included a guided hike through secluded jungle ruins. And adventure into an underground Mayan passageway built in 300 BC (where we got up close and personal with some fruit bats). We then went into the jungle on the Mayan reservation where we tasted edible roots, burned Copal bark, and burned dead termite mounds as a bug repellent. In the middle of the jungle walk was a 17 metre lookout tower where you could see over the tree top canopy. The end of our hike took us to the edge of a shallow, turquoise fresh water limestone lake. After a snack and washroom break we were taken in boats through the 1000 year old man made canal used for trade routes, across another lake and to the edge of a flowing river. Amidst tiny fish hiding in the mangrove roots, we donned life jackets and floated effortlessly three kilometers in a magical natural water ride. A crocodile-free area (the water is so clear that the croc’s avoid it as they can’t hunt effectively in the visibility), the river flowed at four kilometers an hour for 28 kilometers to the sea. During our section of the river we saw vultures, a variety of multi-coloured song birds, and tropical fish. We got out of the water to a hot, beautifully presented Mexican lunch, and then we piled into the van for the short drive to the cenote.

A cenote is an underwater sinkhole. A freshwater entrance to the Yucatan’s underwater river system. The Mayans feel that the Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world. They were once the only resource for fresh, safe water in the local Yucatan jungle. There are over 3,000 cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula, with only 1,400 of them documented. They are all different, and the one we visited was like a small, clear lake filled with fish. It was like swimming in your fish tank. We were able to snorkel, and see the entrance to the underwater caves that are so popular with divers.

Although Azulik’s private villas are adult only, both Zahra and Copal welcomed children. There wasn’t the typical children’s activities, but older kids would have loved the Sian Ka’an tour. As well, with local excursians that include a reptile zoo, manatee and dolphin feeding tours and more cenote caves that include some of the world’s most spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, there are many adventures to keep the kids (and adults) from being bored.