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Shape up at beach Bikini Bootcamp in Tulum, Mexico

Bathing suit season is just around the corner and before you know it the six months of comfort food we’ve stored in our nether regions will be revealed on a beach or at a public pool near you.

If you have a few to lose before you’re willing to make your jiggly bits public, and you’re itching for a vacation somewhere warm and lovely, you may want to consider a visit to Tulum, Mexico, the home of Bikini Bootcamp and a growing destination for visitors looking to use their vacation to get in shape instead of just lounge by the pool with a Mai Tai.

“This time of year we are extremely busy as everybody is in need of some time in the sun welcoming an opportunity to reconnect with their bodies that have been hiding under their winter coats for the past months. They realize that summer is just around the corner,” said Bikini Bootcamp owner and founder Melissa Perlman.

I returned last week from a 6-night stay at the Amansala resort in Tulum, home for the past nine years to the Bootcamp. The name is cheesy, but the regimen works. My reward for six days of six hours of fitness was the loss of a dress size and five lbs.

Set on Tulum’s main beach, Bootcamp participants reside in tree-house like eco-chic palapas. They’re well-maintained but quirkily rustic. It is a grown-up version of sleep-away camp. You’re advised not to flush your toilet paper and a lizard will likely greet you in the shower in the morning.

All meals are included in the camp cost and consist mainly of locally sourced fruits like papaya, mango and pineapple (all in technicolor not available in the U.S.), vegetables and steamed fish, caught just a stone's throw away.

An average day begins with a two to three mile run or walk along the beach, made palatable to those of us with a limited lung capacity by the accompaniment of Amansala’s three golden Labrador retrievers, Miel, Guero, Kisu. Next up is something called a Beach Blast, led by one of the camp’s in-house trainers Josh Nilsen or Kita Knight, a biophysics expert with a unique knowledge about what movement burns the most calories. On some weeks a visiting instructor is flown in to show off their specialty classes. I was graced with Denver trainer Teddi Bryant, owner of Hot Mamas Exercise, who specializes in whipping women of all ages into shape, particularly after a pregnancy.

The Beach Blast consists of circuit training starting with push-ups along the water’s edge, planks hovering just above the water, sprints with coconuts lifted high above the head and lunges off the sides of beach chairs. At one point I actually dragged a 50 lb beach chair along the sand like a cabana boy on steroids to work my triceps.

That’s followed by a much needed break with some fresh hibiscus tea prepared by Amansala’s chefs.

Midday can be devoted to sun worship or to organized jungle hikes, bike rides or swims through the local lagoons. The ruins of Tulum are just a 20 minute bike ride away and the eco-park Sian Kan only an hour.

The evening brings more workouts, among them kickboxing, pilates, Zumba, African Dance or Bryant’s specialty, “Skinny Jeans,” particularly apt this season.

“The student is to feel a total assault from the waist down. So much so, that when class is over, you legs and butt should be tingling. The class incorporates mostly isometric and pilates exercises with at least 60-80 repetitions -- to whittle, tighten, reshape and shrink the muscles in your legs and middle,” Bryant explained.

It did wonders for my muffin top.

Then comes an hour of yoga and an evening of salsa dancing.  All told you will work out around 5 hours a day.

The clientele consists mainly of women in their thirties and forties, looking to reinvent themselves in some way—post-divorce, post-breakup or mid-career crisis. But there is the odd gentleman in the mix and I would be lying if I didn’t reveal this might just be a great place for the single male traveler to meet a mate. One male bootcamper, who didn’t want to reveal his name lest his bosses realize he took a week away for something called Bikini Bootcamp, told me this was the best workout he had ever gotten, and frankly he enjoyed the views, beach and otherwise.

If the cost of $1,900 is prohibitive Tulum is still a great destination to Spring clean your body over these next few months. If anything, the tourists alone will inspire you. Nowhere to be seen are the stereo typical chubby fanny-packed travelers. And even though you’re just 100 kilometers south of Cancun you’re more likely to see joggers on the beach at 5 am than revelers stumbling home. Everyone, it seems, is there to soak in the sun and get themselves into shape.

If you opt out of  Bikini Bootcamp you can stay in any number of smaller hotels from the super chic Coqui Coqui (from $375)to the humbler, but homier Hemingways (from $170). Jogs on the beach are free--as are the coconuts --and you will absolutely see groups creating their own circuit trainings of push-ups, sit-ups and core work in the sand.

One of the best work outs you can get for your arms and upper backs is to take kite-boarding lessons, offered at the hotel Posada Margherita, starting at $100 power flow at Utopia where classes were offered on a very simple raised platform right on the beach for $15 and Ashtanga at Yoga Shala, also $15 for the drop-in or $50 for unlimited yoga all week.

A word to the wise, ATMs are few and far between on the Tulum beachfront and most drop in classes accept only American dollars or pesos.In the absence of prepared meals there are healthy options all over Tulum. I highly recommend the fish tacos and smoothies at Matteos.

There is something about Tulum that is inspiring towards healthfulness. Are you working out harder because you’re in a bikini or are you in a bikini because you’re working out harder? Who knows, and does it matter as long as you get results….and a tan.