On the cusp of premiering his new indie film Hooked, a crowd-funded narrative about LGBT youth homelessness that’s donating half of its profits to shelter organizations (which recently premiered at NewFest), the Instagram and YouTube star better known as Maxisms treated six of his best friends to a luxe Central American retreat. We got the scoop, rounded up his top travel tips, and snagged some sexy, shirtless snapshots, too.
LUXURY RETREATS: You recently traveled to Costa Rica. Where did you go?
MAX EMERSON: This was my fourth or fifth time in the country. I usually go to San Jose, but Tamarindo, the small town near where I stayed, I now prefer because it’s much less crowded with great surfing. It has a beautiful beach and a surf town vibe.
LR: Luxury Retreats provided a complimentary stay for you at Diosa del Mar villa on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Gold Coast. What were your favorite things about your experience there?
EMERSON: Even traveling with seven people, we weren’t the least bit crowded. [Diosa del Mar villa] was a compound of cottages overlooking the cliffs, and really beautiful. We all had our own private cottages—we just had so much space. And everything was so completely taken care of that it literally took some getting used to. Just to have someone cooking your meals, shuttling you around—I’m used to doing 1-, 2- or maybe 3-person trips, and traveling with seven is usually like herding cats. Having someone putting a plan and a schedule together for us made it so easy. All of our activities were booked, the house was stocked with groceries, and if anything was off, our concierge was right there to fix it. Even when I screwed up. At one point, I was driving on a crazy beach road after it rained, went through a deep puddle, and chipped off part of our van’s bumper—which luckily was covered by insurance. But our concierge stepped right in to deal with it, made sure the van was switched out while we went on another tour, and kept assuring us that’s what she was there to do. We barely missed a beat. I’ve never had that before, and I’ve been on fully-staffed yachts.
I’ve modeled all over the world. But I’ve never yet had a trip like this one, where you can have it all. We’d sent over an ideal schedule of activities in advance, and we were able to do everything: four-wheeling, canyoning, kayaking, surfing, so many things. And the villa itself was so beautiful and filled with so much to do that sometimes we just wanted to hang out there. Every day there seemed to be really cool, pleasant surprises, too. For example, we’d heard that our concierge had a pet squirrel. We asked to see it, and she brought it right over for us to play with. The owners of the villa also took us out to dinner one night at a beautiful local restaurant, and at the end of the trip, we were surprised with sunset massages on the beach.
Usually I come back from a vacation and need to sleep for 12 hours straight. This was one of the rare ones where I came back fully recharged. I want to do it all again with my family.
LR: Tell us about your favorite adventure in Costa Rica. Where did you go, what did you do, and what happened along the way?
We were a five-minute walk from an epic surf beach with zero crowding. You can’t beat that. The Diosa del Mar house stands over a cliff which has a walkway to a private beach. If you shimmy around a rocky cliff, it opens up to a massive beach called Playa Junquillal. It’s covered in white sand and even has an area where sea turtles lay eggs. The surf spot was firing that day, with clean lefts about head high. We had a lot of beginners in our group, so a sandy break was definitely a safety requirement for us.
Costa Rica has the most consistent surf and perfectly warm water. This particular area we visited was special because usually the best surf breaks are overrun with tourists or full of locals who can get pretty aggressive.
LR: Is there any adventure or activity you’d recommend to someone coming to Costa Rica that’s a must-do? Other than surfing?
Sure! The volcano hike [to Volcán Rincón in Rincón de la Vieja National Park] and waterfall cliff jumping were huge highlights of our trip. Our hike was a couple hours long, and our guide knew thousands of facts about the area. He knew which plants were used as medicine, which toads were best for licking (the huge ones!) and which flowers would attract monkeys. The best part was soaking in the hot springs at the end, where you can cover yourself in mud, let it dry, and then rinse off in Mother Nature’s hot tub.
The waterfall we went to had several different heights that you could climb up to and jump from. Most people stuck to the 20-foot ledge, but if you were brave you could get up to about 45 feet. Anything past that and you’d have really sore feet hiking home. Life is about the journey, not the destination… unless that destination is a cliff-jump off a Costa Rican waterfall.
LR: Where else have you traveled to? What are your other favorite destinations, and why?
EMERSON: I absolutely love central America. And Australia has always been near on the top of my list for its natural beauty, but my top place is Thailand. Between the people, the food, the islands in the south, it’s all-around amazing. And I’m absolutely obsessed with good massages, so Thailand wins there too.
LR: What’s on your bucket list of cities or other destinations you’d like to experience?
EMERSON: I’ve never been south of Columbia yet, so I’d love to go to South America. And I want to take my boyfriend and brothers all to Thailand. No one in my family has really been further than Europe, so I really want them to come with me. It’s a matter of timing and coordination though. You really have to make an effort for things that are important.
LR: Do you have any tips for gay travelers? Or travelers in general?
EMERSON: As far as being fearful as a gay traveler, don’t let that ever stop you … but do your research. Like, maybe you shouldn’t do PDAs in certain places. Just look up the local etiquette—99% of how you’re treated comes down to respecting the local culture. Simple little things go a long way as to how you’re received, but you have to be aware of how you’re coming off. Luckily, in Costa Rica everyone seems super cool, so it’s no problem there.
LR: How do you feel that traveling as a member of the LGBT community has changed? What’s different now, as compared to any previous years you’ve traveled?
EMERSON: It’s funny, it has changed, though I still feel it’s best to keep a lower profile when I’m traveling outside the States. But [traveling while out] is increasingly wonderful, and I feel super-fortunate that I haven’t had any particular problems. But you have to remember that there’s 70-something countries where [being gay] illegal, even if it’s not enforced. Yet that’s no reason not to go! I’ve been to Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia and Singapore with thriving gay bars, so you just never know.
LR: As a frequent traveler, what are the things you appreciate most about any home-away-from-home you stay?
EMERSON: I travel carry-on only, so the more set-up a place is, the better. And cleanliness is a huge thing for me.
LR: What does luxury really mean to you?
EMERSON: For me, it’s having someone organize everything for you, to not have to plan, and to feel like a local without having to do any of the legwork. Often you have to find the line yourself between doing a package deal and completely winging it—so luxury to me is being able to have the best of those worlds. And that’s what happened for me in Costa Rica. Having a unique cultural experience without all the work that goes into it is really, really special.