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5 Tropical Trips to Take in 2017, According to World-Traveling Instructors

ooking for a little escape beyond the bike? You deserve it. So we asked instructors to share the top travel destinations to put on your 2017 bucket list, stat. Dive into this list, then get ready for sunsets, snorkeling and plenty of seafood…

1. The Islands of Thailand

What to do:
Thailand’s islands are chock-full of outdoor activities. Snorkel in crystal clear water, visit small villages filled with colorful markets or hike in the jungle. Thailand also boasts many elephant camps — but it is essential to support a humane preservation, so do your research before you go.

The island of Koh Samui is known for beach bungalows and attracts more of an urban crowd — but it’s still bursting with #islandvibes. NorCal Instructor STEPH STOKES recommends indulging in a luxurious yet affordable massage here. Check out Magnolia Spa, Café and [Yoga] Studio (21/22 Moo 2, North Chaweng, Koh Samui, Suratthani, Thailand) for massages starting at $18 or pamper yourself at the Luxsa Spa (101 / 28 Moo 1 | Hansar Samui Resort & Spa Hotel, Bophut, Ko Samui 84320, Thailand) where massages start at about $43.

The island of Koh Tao is consistently named as one of the best places in the world to attain your diving certification — probably due in part to the ease in which divers can spot whale sharks, barracudas, tropical fish and reef sharks in calm and shallow seas.

Stokes’ final suggestion? Koh Phi Phi. “It was my favorite island and seriously breathtaking,” she shares. “Make sure to take a water taxi out to Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed. There’s also a great sailboat adventure that takes you cliff jumping and to Monkey Island, where — yes — there is an island full of little monkeys.”

Where to eat:
Try Le Grand Bleu on Koh Phi Phi (137 Koh Phi Phi, Moo 7 Ao Nang, Krabi 81000, Thailand) for excellent cocktails, the SALA Samui Restaurant on Koh Samui (10/9 Baan Plai Laem, Moo 5 Bophut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320, Thailand) for a high-end meal, and Coconut Monkey on Koh Tao (25/92 Moo 2 Tambon Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand) to curb your coffee needs.

When to visit:
Aim for January through March, when the Gulf of Thailand Islands, including Koh Tao and Koh Samui, are at their driest. Visit the Andaman Sea islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, in December and January for their best weather.

Pro Tip:
Book your ferry travel between each island in advance to avoid sold-out dates. One-way tickets run around $16 per person, but can dip as low as $7! Find availability at Ferry Samui, Phuket Ferry, Seatran Ferry and Lomprayah.

2. Santa Barbara, California

What to do:
Instead of escaping to Malibu or the Hamptons, try a long weekend in this quiet, Spanish-inspired colonial coastal town instead. “It's just far enough from LA to feel like you left, but close enough for a weekend rendezvous,” says LA instructor DANIELLE MCCLEEREY.

There’s plenty of sightseeing in Santa Barbara. Journey through the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA), tour the Old Mission Santa Barbara (2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA) or stroll through the beautiful botanical gardens (1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara CA).

If you’re looking for an extra excursion, make your way through the Santa Ynez and Los Olivos wine country. “Santa Barbara is so close to Santa Ynez and Los Olivos, which is home to some of my favorite wineries like Sunstone, Zaca Mesa, Artiste and Carhartt, just to name a few,” says McCleerey. “A day of wine tasting followed by a night of delicious Italian food and maybe some live music? Sign me up.”

Where to eat:
Enjoy ocean views and Italian cuisine at Toma Restaurant & Bar (324 West Cabrillo Blvd. Santa Barbara, CA), Mexican platters at Los Agaves (600 N Milpas St. Santa Barbara, CA or 2911 De La Vina St. Santa Barbara, CA) or head down to Stearns Wharf (217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA) for shopping, sights and tourist-friendly restaurants.

When to visit:
Try taking a trip to Santa Barbara in the spring or fall. You’ll beat the summer crowds and still snag the signature low-70s weather.

Pro Tip:
Ditch the hotels and immerse yourself like a local by renting a house on AirBnB or Homeaway. Stroll along the promenades and wharf area in West Beach, enjoy the quiet beach in East Beach or spot celebs in Montecito.

3. Lisbon, Portugal

What to do:
“Lisbon is a gorgeous seaside city that has amazing seafood and it’s great for exploring on foot,” says SoCal instructor MOLLY SCHREIBER. “You can also take a quick train to Sintra — a magical little hillside town dotted with 19th century architecture — and São Jorge Castle [Saint George’s Castle — R. de Santa Cruz do Castelo, 1100-129 Lisboa, Portugal), which is a 12th century Moorish castle.” The castle was conquered in 1147 by the first king of Portugal, which freed the country from the Christian Crusades. It is seated upon a hilltop and has excellent views of the entire city.

To soak up even more history, take a trip on the Santa Justa Lift (R. do Ouro, 1150-060 Lisboa, Portugal) to the top of a Neo-Gothic tower and tour the Jerónimos Monastery (Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal), which was constructed in 1501. Add adventure into your vacation with a sea excursion or hit the craft beer scene.

Where to eat:
Check out Bairro do Avillez (R. Nova da Trindade 18, 1200-466 Lisboa, Portugal) and A Travessa (Tv. do Convento das Bernardas 12, 1200-638 Lisboa, Portugal) for some supreme seafood.

When to visit:
Lisbon enjoys a long summer season from May to October, but its Mediterranean climate keeps it mild year-round.

Pro Tip:
April can hit upwards of 77 degrees Fahrenheit too — which is perfect for snagging a great travel deal and still enjoying warm weather!

4. Sayulita, Mexico

What to do:
This small fishing town just 45 minutes outside of Puerto Vallarta is often referred to as Mexico’s best-kept secret. “There are so many private beaches, and it’s easy to grab a surf lesson after lunch in town on the main beach, Sayulita Beach,” says NYC instructor NINA RUTSCH. “But don’t worry — they also have massage stations such as Nirvanna Spa (Manuel N. Navarrete 10, Centro, Sayulita, Nay., Mexico) on the beach for those who don't want to jump in.”

Keep the good vibes going with yoga at Paraiso Yoga (Calle Playa Azul 23, 63734 Sayulita, Nay., Mexico), Haramara Retreat (Playa Escondida, 63734 Sayulita, Nay., Mexico) or Hotelito Los Sueños (Calle Rosalio Tapia 10, Nanzales, 63734 Sayulita, Nay., Mexico), which also features cooking classes. Sayulita also hosts a myriad of art, such as paintings at JaLu Gallery (48, Av Revolución, Sayulita, Mexico), traditional folk art at La Hamaca (Revolución 110, Centro, 63734 Bahía de Banderas, Nay., Mexico) and jewelry at Galeria Tanana (Av Revolución, 63733 Sayulita, Nay., Mexico). And remember — if you need a bit more action, you’re just a quick trip from well-known Puerto Vallarta.

Where to eat:
Find the best street tacos at The Real Fish Taco (a vendor on Calle Delphin 10) and filling foods at Burrito Revolución (José Mariscal 10, Sayulita, Nay., Mexico).

When to visit:
Sayulita is a little humid and jungle-y, so the summers are hot, September and October welcome the rainy season, and late spring seems to be just right.

Pro Tip:
Don’t miss one of the most unique beaches in the world on The Marieta Islands. It’s a bit of a long journey to get there, but the islands house an amazing secluded beach inside a dormant volcano in the ocean. Don’t worry — there’s a large sunny opening at the top. And yes — it is as cool as it sounds.

5. Maui, Hawaii

What to do:
Whether you like to relax on the beach with a cocktail in hand or get up-n-out with your travel companions, Maui has something for you! “It has the best of both worlds for a vacation,” says Chicago instructor BRENT LOCEY. “You can relax and recharge by the pool and ocean or you can be extremely active.”

Looking to venture off the beaten path? Take a drive on the Road to Hana, hike the mountains to a freshwater waterfall, snorkel in clear waters, cliff jump at Black Rock or horseback ride along the beach.

Where to eat:
Visit one of the oldest and most authentic luaus in Hawaii — The Old Lahaina Luau (1251 Front St, Lahaina, HI) — which includes amazing entertainment and plenty of food to feast on with your ticket. The treat yourself at The Four Season’s Tuscan-inspired beachfront restaurants, Ferraro’s Bar E Ristorante (3900 Wailea Alanui Dr, Kihei, HI).

When to visit:
According to Frommer’s, travel to Hawaii peaks in December due to colder conditions elsewhere, but ironically enough, Maui’s best months are in the spring and fall. Aim for April through June or September through November for great deals and picture-perfect weather.

“Waking up every morning in paradise to watch the breathtaking sunrise is perfect,” says NYC instructor KENDRA KEMERLEY. “Give yourself at least seven to 10 days when you go.”

Pro Tip:
Looking to surf? Head to Maui in December, January or February for better conditions and bigger swells.

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