Vacation like a champion: An Ironman's top 5 travel destinations

October 14, 2015                 3m read time
Chris Lieto

Not everyone can swim, run, and cycle like an Ironman champ, but everyone can vacation like an Ironman champ—more specifically, our favorite Ironman champ, ZOZI Guru Chris Lieto. While the sunny and island-y rank high on Chris’ list of five getaways, all of his favorites will thrill the adventure-seekers of all stripes.

Stargaze in my home state of Hawaii. Sip coffee in Austria. Monkey around in Costa Rica. (And if you get a chance to surf, take it.)  It’s actually pretty easy to be me on vacation in one of the following five spots. 

1. Costa Rica

Poás Volcano in Costa Rica jorgedasi

Poás Volcano in Costa Rica



It’s warm. It’s tropical. And there are outstanding surf spots. But what I like most about Costa Rica is that there’s a ton of variety—from mountains and volcanoes to lakes and rainforests. Head to the much drier Pacific side for stunning waves. Or the eastern Caribbean side, where the water is a particularly vibrant blue. You can go down south to the rainforest and hang out with the monkeys, or to the central areas and hike around volcanoes.

The best part? You can explore and get a feel for the whole country in a two-week trip. (And then plan to come back to your favorites.)

2. Bali

Terrace rice fields in Tegallalang, Ubud on Bali, Indonesia Honza Hruby

Terrace rice fields in Tegallalang, Ubud on Bali, Indonesia

Honza Hruby


Much like Costa Rica, it’s beautiful, tropical, and warm. But I’m also drawn to the rural aspects of the Indonesian island. When you get out of the busy big cities—where, I must note, there is great food and shopping—there’s mountain biking and trail running and hiking to waterfalls, and so many spots where you can just hang out and relax.

It’s a peaceful place to unwind and there’s a true spirit of slowing down, meditating, and taking a breath here. Head up into the mountains to Ubud to see the rice paddies and deep ravines (and Balinese arts and culture) or stick to the Bukit Peninsula at the southern tip of the island for top-notch surfing and cliff-top ocean views.

3. Hawaii

Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, below the Milky Way MarcelClemens

Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, below the Milky Way



I live here so of course I’m a little biased, but Hawaii has so many hidden places that I want to encourage you to not just stay in Honolulu and hang out on Waikiki Beach. (That’s fun too, but in a different way.) Hawaii offers up many, many remote beaches and other outdoor areas where you might be the only visitor. To discover the best of the best, you have to be adventurous, willing to get out of your resort, and up for going someplace unique. 

Take just the Big Island, for example. If you want to drive to the top of a volcano, you can do that. Explore a black sand beach? You can do that too. If you want to snorkel or dive or swim with dolphins, check out Kona Town. One of my favorite Hawaiian experiences? Head to the summit of Mauna Kea and watch the sun come up at 13,000 feet. Or, even better, watch the sun go down and then hang out under a blanket of stars. The visibility is so clear that you can see hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights tightly wound together in the night sky.

4. Southeast Asia

People in traditional costumes walk under an archway in the Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam. Chris Howey

People in traditional costumes walk under an archway in the Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam.

Chris Howey


I’ve not yet been to Cambodia, but I was blown away by Vietnam and Thailand and would love to return to Southeast Asia someday. The terrain is stunning, the culture fascinating. (And once again, the countries are warm and tropical.) In this part of the world, the people are so nice and so giving. If you show respect for them and their home, they’re going to open themselves up to allow you to experience amazing things.       

5. Austria

Wörthersee, Austria Luboslav Tiles

Wörthersee, Austria

Luboslav Tiles


I love being near the ocean and participating in watersports, so I don’t get to Europe much. But one of the most beautiful Ironman courses I’ve ever raced is the Ironman Austria, which takes competitors through the southern city of Klagenfurt. It's a small town developed by Italian architects 500-some years ago, which sits on Lake Wörthersee (okay, there is water), surrounded by green hills and mountains. I’ll never forget the packs of people cheering at the finish line and the end-of-race fireworks, even though just sitting and having a cup of coffee along the lake or in Klagenfurt’s historic city center can be just as special.

Chris Lieto

Chris Lieto has won 50-plus triathlons, including more than 10 Ironman events and two U.S. Ironman Championships. He also placed among the top 10 at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii three times, finishing with a career best of second place in 2009. Today, Lieto is most passionate about sharing his experiences and getting people excited about accomplishing their dreams.

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