Put down your phone!” felt like a phrase I used all too often with my husband, prior to leaving for our vacation to Belize.

We had been sucked into the typical routine of working too much, not playing enough, and then “decompressing” through Netflix or numbing out on our phones. It was an unfulfilling and disconnected lifestyle to say the least.

We knew something needed to change, so decided to take a week in Belize to scout out hotels that exemplified wellness in search of places to lead our next transformational retreat. We wanted to take time to slow down throughout this incredible country and wander where the WiFi was weak, so we could find true connection.

Our intention with our retreats is always to find places to stay that are distinctive from your typical resorts – places where the WiFi is limited, the sound of howler monkeys doubles as our alarm clock, with jungle hikes and waterfalls to explore. We knew that in order for us to open up into joy, we needed to totally disconnect from our world at home and reconnect to ourselves, because we knew that if we needed this, the participants of our retreats would need the same thing as well.

Little did I know that this trip would not only help me learn more about Belize, but it would transform me, my marriage and the way I live my life.

As often seems to be the case, the weeks leading up to our vacation were stressful. We were working hard and not having much fun. The stress only increased the day of our departure after missing our flight and spending the night in a seedy hotel outside the Fort Lauderdale airport. Crabby, tired, and preferring not to talk, we plugged into our computers and each streamed our favorite TV shows…separately. Needless to say, our vacation of wellness and re-connection was not off to a good start.

Luckily, that didn’t last long. Arriving to Belize immediately helped enable a disconnection from the outside world, so that the inner journey could more easily be facilitated. We found that the more we disconnected from technology, the more we connected inside ourselves, and ultimately the more we connected to each other. Each place we visited in Belize seemed to help that process more and more, starting with our first stop in Punta Gorda, at a lovely hotel called Copal Tree Lodge, formerly Belcampo.

Meditating while being surrounded by greenery at Copal Tree Lodge. Photo by Jonny Roman. 

This place was incredible! If there were ever a place to give you a reason to disconnect from technology, this was it. Surrounded by dense jungle and greenery as far as the eye could see, there were no TV’s, weak WiFi signals in our room, and limited cell service…it was perfect. We found ourselves taking daily baths together on our porch, watching the sunset over the jungle, and going to bed in pitch darkness (no streetlights – yay!) as we listened to the sweet, gentle sounds of the rainforest outside our windows.

Taking a bath, overlooking the jungle at Copal Tree Lodge.  Photo by Elsie Storm.

While enjoying our meals at Copal Tree, our conversations started to open up as we watched hummingbirds playfully buzz around our table. We were no longer distracted at dinner by texts and phone calls, but instead were talking about how gorgeous our surroundings were, as our eyes were looking up, instead of down (at our phones). Throughout these conversations, I noticed that we were laughing together more, and in that laughter, my irritation began to slip away.

From a wellness retreat perspective, I knew that Copal Tree Lodge was a clear yes for me to host one of our retreats in the future. The kind and thoughtful staff made us feel welcome and at home, 70% of the food they serve is grown organically on site, there are benches around the property where you can sit, meditate and connect to nature, not to mention a beautiful infinity pool that had me smiling from ear to ear.

Swimming in the infinity pool at Copal Tree Lodge.  Photo by Jonny Roman. 

While difficult to leave, we knew there was more to come. More of Belize to explore, more of ourselves to discover, and a deeper sense of wellness cultivated in each new location.

Our next stop had us venturing even deeper into the jungle, to this incredible piece of land called Cotton Tree Lodge. Here, surrounded by rainforest, with grounds created to live harmoniously with the jungle surroundings, we had absolutely no connection to WiFi, and found the howler monkey alarm clocks we were searching for. With no distractions from technology, we were “forced” to lay in hammocks and watch iguanas dive bomb from tree branches into the river below. It was at Cotton Tree (one of our favorite places to host retreats), that we both started noticing how often we hold ourselves back from play, and get stuck in “serious adult mode.” We decided that we needed to un-adult ourselves and start playing more. So, we let our inner children lead the way, and went off rope swings into the river, jumped from bridges into the water below, and played with school children in one of the nearby villages.

Enjoying play and swinging off the rope swing at Cotton Tree Lodge.  Photo by Jonny Roman.

Our search for wellness and connectivity was working. We were having fun with one another again! As we allowed ourselves to become more present and playful, our connection with one another was growing deeper, and in that we were finding ourselves more connected to our spirituality as well. I found that the still, small voice within me was coming back more strongly and I was able to hear her loving guidance, instead of my Ego’s critical voice. And as I became more loving with myself, I in turn became more loving with my husband.

However, it wasn’t until we reached the small village of Hopkins when I truly felt the magic come back into our relationship again. It had been a good five days now since we had been living this new lifestyle of talking before bed (instead of Facebooking), and doing something every day that brought us joy. We stayed at Hamanasi Resort, which felt like it was curated for connection and romance. The hotel room porches were surrounded by dense jungle foliage (naked tanning anyone?), and instead of zoning out to a TV on the wall, we found ourselves in deep conversations, free from outside distractions.  With organic food straight from the garden, delicious healthy meals to fuel our body, and an abundance of adventures and fun created right on site, we were falling in love with each other more each day. This, we thought, would be the perfect place for a couple’s retreat.

Morning meditation at Hamanasi Resort.  Photo by Jonny Roman. 

At Hamanasi we adventured to jungle waterfalls, where all of the joy and magic of Belize came rushing in as the water cascaded on our heads. I watched as my husband truly allowed joy in, and I started to re-discover the man that I fell in love with – a man who was carefree, adventurous and happy. From that moment on, I felt like my husband was back, and we began to fall even deeper in love with one another.

On a Hamanasi adventure: Falling in love again in waterfalls at Mayflower Bocawina National Park.  Photo by Jonny Roman. 

We then went down the road to Hopkins Bay Resort and spent our 2nd wedding anniversary out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, catching fish for our lunch and snorkeling in one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. Once again, fun filled us as we took in our surroundings and became present with one another.

Snorkeling on our 2nd anniversary off of Hopkins Bay Resort.  Photo by Sequoia Ziff. 

By this point in the trip, while our disconnect from technology wasn’t total, the addictive pull was mostly gone. More and more with each day we found ourselves sleeping more soundly and feeling healthier, with an overall sense of lightness and joy surrounding us.

I felt like we had reached a peak in Hopkins and didn’t think that it could get much better than it already was, however, when we reached the town of Placencia, staying right on the beach at Naia Resort and Spa, I found a deeper relaxation come present, and I surrendered to Belize.

As the sun rose directly in front of our bedroom window, we found ourselves starting our days with romantic sunrise snuggles (instead of waking up groggy and hitting the alarm clock for just eight more minutes of sleep, as was our M.O. most days at home). And because we were getting more sleep, we had more of a desire to wake up early and make the most of our day.

Watching the sun rise over the Caribbean from the comfort of our bed at Naia Resort and Spa. Photo by Elsie Storm. 

At Naia, we started saying things like “I’m so grateful for you” and “I’m so in love with you”. We were both brighter, happier and present, and felt as in-love as we did when we first started dating.

In a yoga class one morning, I noticed that instead of looking at myself in a wall mirror, I was gazing out at lush tropical greenery. This reminded me that wellness begins when we connect with nature and remove ourselves from our typical comfort zone. Once again, we had found yet another incredible spot in Belize that exemplified wellness and we knew that we would be bringing groups back here.

As our trip came to a close, we looked back on where we had started that first night in Fort Lauderdale and were in awe of the transformation that had so easily taken place when we disconnected from technology and reconnected with ourselves.

We are now happier, closer to one another (and to ourselves), and our marriage feels stronger than ever as we are remembering who we are – both as individuals and as a couple.

We’ve made a pact to take a take a vacation just for us every year and to no longer bring our phones to the dining table or bedroom. We will also be more purposeful in finding additional ways to bring adventure and fun into our lives in Colorado, as the fun and joy doesn’t just need to happen while in Belize, or anywhere else we travel.

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, I wish for you the ultimate gift that you can give your partner: the gift of presence and play. Find ways to purposefully disconnect from the distractions around you, so you can reconnect with one another. You don’t need a lengthy trip to Belize to make this happen (though it does help), as the reconnection with one another all starts with the clear intention to do so.