Why (and where) I decided to take myself on a solo honeymoon
“You’re gonna want to throw yourself off a cliff”, was the first thing my seemingly dramatic friend who I looked to for post break up advice uttered to me the second I finally vocalized I wanted to go to St. Lucia by myself. I was, at the time, desperate for an escape from the reality I was living in, trying to break free from the prison of negativity I kept my mind in for years after enduring one traumatic event after another since college- victimized in emotionally abusive relationships, crippling my ability to think and even do nice things for myself. For the majority of my life I put everyone but myself on my list of priorities, which put me at risk to be taken advantage of in almost every aspect of my life. It was emotionally and physically draining- most days I was in pain not because of my intense gym sessions where I’d let my anger be channeled into how many weights I lifted, but because I was aching from a broken heart. I gave everything I had to my career, my family, my relationships, my friendships, to almost always be disappointed when I found out those efforts would be wasted- those negative feelings validated every time I was told I never did enough, never was enough, never gave enough, when in reality I gave every single part of me to everything and everyone else- leaving me completely out of touch with the confidant, brave, intelligent, woman that lived inside of me. And that woman wanted adventure, she wanted to laugh, she wanted a life well lived. And to start that journey she needed change.
In efforts to find her, I wrote down a solo bucket list of 25 things to help me get to my best self titled “The transformative 25.” It also was my 25th birthday. On that list were smaller attainable things like “treat yourself to a spa day” (as before that I had never gotten a massage in my life), “join a swing dancing group” (after all I had always been an old soul), “take a cooking class,” and then one of the really big ones: “go on a lavish solo vacation, a solo-moon”. I thought, what better way to reconnect with myself than to experience the joys of being completely alone in a place that was so vastly beautiful?
“But Zeinab, I’m telling you the second you get on that plane you’re going to feel so alone- it starts right there, by couples being greeted with glasses of champagne, you’re going to want to be there with someone.”
I heeded my friend’s advice, and decided to look for flights anyway.
I knew where I wanted to stay. Pictures of what my villa at Sugar Beach would look like had been plastered all over my solo-cation vision board for ages- a private escape nestled amongst the plush greens of the rainforest, overlooking the island’s infamous volcanic spires which gave striking contrast to the white sand beaches below. Nothing was stopping me, all I needed was to book.
My dreams were crushed when I discovered the single tax was most definitely a thing and it was (significantly) cheaper to go with someone to St. Lucia than it was to travel solo to the island of love- and I for one prioritized being able to move out of my parent’s house over a vacation that was going to cost me well over my first, last & security deposit.
But I wasn’t giving up- this time cutting out pictures from all my Conde Nast Traveler magazines and plastering them all over my bedroom wall hoping this manifesting juju thing would work. In the meantime I searched the web for more immediate answers: “Best places for solo travelers.” I was met with a wealth of options I knew weren’t apt for the ‘relaxing on a beach disconnected from civilization’ vibe I was going for, bombarded with search results that catered to solo backpacker types, most of which recommended budget friendly lodging options like hostels… which was, for me, a HARD no. I was past that stage in my life where I thought being jammed in a room full of strangers you’re forced to talk to for a week was a great idea.
Over time my vision from what I wanted out of this trip became clearer. The magazine cut outs that hang over my bedside table started to tell a story. I wanted to wake up with the ocean just steps away from my bed, to hear the sound of exotic birds and other animals by the jungle. I would make time for things like yoga, hiking, writing, paddle boarding, and soaking up sun whenever I wanted. Perhaps Costa Rica was the answer?
Almost a year rolls by and Memorial Day weekend was creeping up on my calendar with the rare occurrence that my schedule was wide open for that week. It was then or never. I searched for resorts in Costa Rica and although I found options I really liked, none satisfied my need for luxury, seclusion, beachfront access, and proximity to wildlife and nature. I wanted it ALL and was stopping at nothing to find it.
I broadened my search to Central America and then I came across a website with this in the header:
I most certainly did, I found home.
I had never heard much about Panama prior to booking my stay at the private island resort, and I was skeptical about how safe it was for a solo female traveler considering all the recent news headlines surrounding neighboring countries (my paranoid cuban grandmother never helped ease those doubts either). It had been years since I had traveled alone for leisure, and I would be lying to you if I didn’t feel the least bit frightened - especially since I was going to a remote undeveloped part of a country I knew barely anything about.
Nonetheless I flew to Panama City to then take a connecting flight to San Jose de David, before having a driver pick me up to drive an hour outside of the city to the small village of Boca Chica where I’d be whisked away by boat to my private island getaway. Confused? Let me illustrate:
Any and all fear was put to rest as soon as I was greeted at the airport by an older looking gentleman wearing a shirt with the resort’s logo carrying a sign with my name. I had coordinated my airport transfer with the resort and when I was finally shown all the signs of legitimacy I was looking for, I knew I was safe. Along the way my driver Gil, who I later learned had lived in Panama all his life, gave me a tour as we drove past through the various landscapes of Panama’s countryside- seeing everything from waterfalls that cascaded over high cliffs along the highway, to rolling hills with cattle where I caught a glimpse of a long time artisan making saddles by hand just outside his village home. Gil spoke about the region’s cloud forests, the Volcan Baru, and how people come to the area for all types of outdoor activities like hiking, climbing and white-water rafting (of which I have to come back for). One hour drive and a complimentary ‘duro de galleta’ dessert later, I arrived to the port, where two resort employees took my bags and loaded them onto a small ferry that was there to take me to the very place I dreamt about escaping to for years, the island escape that was exactly like the picture my vision board had painted: the resort at Isla Palenque.
I was escorted to one of only 8 casitas on the island where I put my bags down and took a minute to take it all in. It was nightfall by then, and although I couldn’t see much outside my bungalow, I was taken back by how the beauty of this place made me feel. I could hear the sound of the waves crashing just footsteps away from my porch, the howler monkeys that cried in the distance, the pride in my heart that came from knowing I actualized a dream that was once just a wish written on a list.
I wanted to weep.
I slept better that night than I had in years- perfectly prepped to be awakened by the sound of howler monkeys at the crack of dawn. After fixing myself a cup of tea (which was complimentary along with all the snacks that were available in my casita) I stepped outside to get a real look at where I was staying, and this time I actually wept.
As I pass under the virescent canopy I can't help but think I'm walking over hundreds of years of fallen leaves, billions of insects and more roots than God himself could map on a sunny afternoon. This place is so alive it makes the city seem barren, even with it's millions of people. Here life is at every level, in every direction, with more species that have ever been, and likely ever will be, classified. -Angela Abraham
I made my way to breakfast, which was also complimentary along with every meal during my stay at the all-inclusive Resort . Along the walk I was greeted by my name by staff I hadn’t met yet. I giggled to myself thinking they must have felt really sorry about the fact that I was the only lone guest on the island. I didn’t care :D
Every meal was served by the giant outdoor tiki bar/dining area situation next to the pool, and although I could have probably asked for them to deliver the meals to my room, I thought breakfast with a beachfront view by the pool was a far better option.
I walked over to the only table set for one and was given a fruit bowl along with the menu. I asked the server for melon juice, green tea and the palenque eggs benedict- which I would eat for breakfast each day for the rest of my stay and try to replicate once I got home because it was so damn good: poached egg over tortilla panamena covered in sofrito hollandaise.
The rest of my meals at Palenque fell nothing short of delicious, fresh, and flavorful- each dish made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients- some foraged from the island itself which I would later learn on my 2.5 hour hiking excursion through the jungle. Some of my favorite menu items included coconut fish curry with the catch of the day, chilled beetroot soup, beet carpaccio, stuffed tostones with fish, and octopus.
Here are some crappy iphone pics for reference :)
Even though I came to the island with no attention to really do anything other than to completely disconnect and bask in the island sun for a few days, I changed my mind when I took a look at the personalized itinerary that was prepared for me by the staff. All I had to do was let them know which I was interested in. I decided to opt for hiking through the jungle and a private afternoon yoga class by the beach-cancelled my paddle boarding class last minute because I’m a chicken and it happened to be choppy out and I heard paddle boarding was hard so…. next time ;)
The all inclusive resort also offers a ton of other activities & excursions like:
forest monkey tour
cooking & baking classes
cocktail pairing classes
There are so many things about this island and specifically this resort that had my heart from the beginning. The first being that Isla Palenque was part of a collection of sustainable hotels committed to offering guests outstanding travel experiences with minimal impact on the environment. And it was evident this was true when I realized they used solar energy to heat water, sustainably sourced their food, banned plastic and even captured methane gas from the on-property pigs as fuel for cooking. The eco lodge was also awarded a spot on National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World list, which is comprised of stunning properties all over the globe that offer rare travel experiences in some of the world’s most treasured places, while helping protect those places for generations to come.
My room was a stylish island pad surrounded by plush greenery in the middle of the palm groves with a private narrow pathway to the beach- complete with a full outdoor bathroom: toilet, tub, shower, and vanity. There’s also complimentary non alcoholic beverages and snacks stocked in each casita’s snack bar: plantain chips, nuts, chicharrones, sodas, coffee and tea. If you took a peak at my “solomoon” highlight stories on my instagram you’ll know how much I enjoyed hiding out in my room because really I didn’t need to be anywhere else.
I’d also like to note that there’s only 8 of these casitas on the island, meaning I was sharing the entire island with a very limited group of people- as far as I could count during my stay it was only 4 other couples that were on the property when I was there. This meant no packed pool, always a spot at one of the cabanas where I’d sit and read a book while enjoying some poolside service, and always enough privacy to walk around the property and enjoy the beauty of untapped nature in your own company.
There was nothing left lacking especially when it came to service, the staff was extremely attentive to my every need- from planning a full blown itinerary of activities based on my preferences, to making my meals gluten free, to everyone calling me by name when I came in to contact with any staff, and even the little bottle of hot sauce that was given to me as a guest favor. The people of this island and their commitment to making their guests happy blew me away and because of that will most definitely keep coming back.
So, is a solo-moon for you?
To say that I came back from this trip reinvigorated is an understatement. My ‘solo-moon’ wasn’t just some frivolous bucket list item I’d get to cross off a list, but rather an experience that marked the beginning of the kind of life I had envisioned for myself for years, with an improved version of myself I, alone, had put in tireless effort into becoming and vow to keep improving. Taking time away for ourselves is not a selfish act, in fact I argue it’s one of the most selfless things we can do, because without giving anything to better ourselves, we simply cannot give of ourselves to anyone else, period.
If you’re feeling like you need an eat pray love moment, you don’t need a month in India or Bali to help you navigate that path of finding yourself, but rather the willingness, drive, and discipline to manifest what the new and improved version of you looks like: what are you like___ months/years from now? What memories did you create? What legacy have you built? Are you building one? What stories do you carry? Years may pass before you get to a place where those dreams could come to fruition, sometimes where that dream is even clear. But when you work hard to be in a mindset where you’ll invite that in, the possibilities are endless. This trip proved just that.
Renewing the commitment to oneself with a little self care getaway will do anyone good if they’re willing to try it. I certainly intend to carry this with me as a yearly tradition no matter what circumstances life may bring me, and look forward to solo-moon 2020. Any suggestions? ;)
Here’s to more adventures and mindful moments of self discovery,