Three resorts that blend outdoor recreation and natural relaxation
If spending a vacation straddling a poolside lounge isn’t for you, we have the answer. The jungles and shores of Central America are prime territory for active adventure sports, from trekking, biking and birding to snorkeling and diving. And best of all, you don’t have to give up creature comforts to enjoy active pursuits. Get a room at one of these prime active adventure resorts and you can combine an active lifestyle with some relaxing rewards.
Panama sits at the meeting point of North and South America. Species from both continents mingle at this natural land bridge, creating some of the most bio-divers ecosystems in the hemisphere. In addition to the land animals, there are hundreds of varieties of migrating birds passing through on their annual flights north and south. Add in the many more species that live full time in the country’s woodlands and mountains, and it’s not surprising to learn that the Audubon Society recorded a world record bird count in Panama, tallying a total of 954 species in a single day.
Birders come from around the world to immerse themselves in the forests of Panama. Those in the know travel to the highlands of village El Valle de Anton, where they book a stay at the Canopy Lodge. This birdwatcher’s haven sits within the gigantic crater of an extinct volcano, surrounded by the protected forests of the Cerro Gaital Natural Monument. Adding to the setting are the clear, cool waters of the Guayabo River, which flow through the resort grounds.
The 12-room lodge serves as both a base camp for daily birding excursions into the nearby forests, and as a comfortable watch station, where birders can tally their daily counts right from their room balconies, or from the resort’s dedicated observation gallery. In addition to daily-guided birding excursions, guests can also enjoy eco-themed activities that range from hiking, biking and horseback rides to cultural tours and relaxing soaks in mineral-rich springs and natural mud baths.
The Bay Islands of Honduras are revered by scuba divers, who come to explore some of the most colorful and biologically diverse reefs in the Caribbean. For more than four decades, the region’s first choice for underwater explorers has been Anthony’s Key. From simple beginnings as a diving outpost, this property has grown into a world-class resort that now includes an on-site spa, a training and research center and a group of unique over-water bungalows set on a private island. There are plenty of water and beach sports to enjoy, along with educational programs, land-based adventures and cultural tours.
For most guests, it is diving and snorkeling that remains the primary reason for a visit to Anthony’s Key. At the heart of the resort is the dive center, which is a PADI five-star facility and Continuing Education Center. This waterfront complex includes a full-service rental, retail and repair facility, a pro-level photo shop, classrooms, equipment storage areas and an on-site hyperbaric chamber and clinic. Also on the premises is the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences, where divers can participate in a range of projects that includes dolphin research and reef restoration.
There are numerous dive sites that can be accessed right from the beach, and a fleet of custom-built 42- and 48-foot dive boats sits at the docks, ready to transport divers to the more than 200 dive sites that ring the island. Because Anthony’s Key is located on Roatan’s northwestern corner, this fleet can reach all of the popular sites on the island’s western and southern shores, along with sites to the east that are beyond the range of dive centers situated on the island’s southern coast.
Walks in the Woods
Belize has the lowest population density and the highest percentage of forestlands of any country in Central America. The country’s wild landscapes range from coastal wetlands to mountain woodlands and one of the world’s most pristine tropical pine ecosystems. The higher altitude areas of Belize’s interior are a particular favorite with hikers and adventure travelers, as it is a land of flowing streams and waterfalls, where mysterious caves and ancient cities are cloaked in jungle green.
Of the various eco lodges scattered through the mountains of Belize, the property that strikes the ideal balance between basic and luxurious is the Hidden Valley Inn. The Inn is set within a private 7,200-acre nature preserve located in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. Here, nearly a half-mile above sea level, temperatures are cooler, and air conditioning is not a necessity. The Inn and its 12 cottages are built of native woods and stone in a style that delivers an authentic, rustic style while also providing a full range of creature comforts and unique touches such as fireplaces, private outdoor showers and claw-foot tubs, along with some conveniences not usually associated with jungle lodges such as Wi-Fi and laundry service.
Hikers have exclusive access to more than 90 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through the reserve, which is a haven for rare birds, tropical wildlife and a diverse range of plant life. Guided and non-guided tours lead to waterfalls, clear-water creeks, and aqua-blue jungle swimming holes. After the walk, guests can relax in the hotel hot tub, or enjoy a treatment at the Inn’s holistic spa. There are complimentary mountain bikes to explore more trails, and the resort’s activity directors can arrange for additional adventures such as horseback rides, visits to Mayan ruins, caving excursions, zip line adventures and canoe trips.