Tag Archives: Belize

Hydra Greece

Islands without Cars


Next time you get stuck in rush hour traffic, take a deep breath and imagine you are on vacation on an island where there are no cars. Take an imaginary escape to a place where people walk, ride bikes, or straddle a scooter on narrow village lanes. These places really do exist, and here are eight of our favorites.

Gili Islands, Indonesia

East of Bali and just off the northwestern shore of Lombok Island lie a trio of tiny treasures known as the Gilis. This name simply means “small island “in the Indonesian language, and it’s an apt description for three specs of land where you could walk anywhere in about 20 minutes. Gili Air, Gili Trawangan, and Gili Meno each measure less than a mile from coast to coast and are home to only a few thousand people. There are no cars, no scooters, and no golf carts on the islands–just bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. Scuba diving is big in the surrounding waters, and Trawangan is a favorite with the partying backpack crowd. Meno, with less than 500 residents, is the place to go for truly deserted beaches and a fully off-the-grid environment.

Gili Islands

The smallest of the Gili Islands, Gili Meno showcases scenic and remote beaches and several snorkeling sites. Its serene ambiance is popular with honeymooners. Photo: Nuture/iStock

Burano, Italy

Long considered one of the most picturesque towns in Italy, Burano is accessible only by water, and just a boat ride away from Venice. Like its famous neighbor, this island is crisscrossed by canals that serve as liquid thoroughfares. Burano’s claim to fame is its distinctive multi-hued houses. Most every building in town is painted in a variety of pastel shades from across the rainbow. To take in this collection of residential street art, you’ll need to lace up the walking shoes, as the narrow alleys that connect neighborhoods are free of motorized vehicles. Burano is famous for delicate lace fabrics, an industry that uses traditional knitting skills once used to repair fishing nets. One landmark that’s a must-see when touring the town is Il Campanile Storto di Burano, aka the leaning bell tower of Burano.

Burano Italy

Colorful Venetian houses along the canal of Burano have inspired many artists, who have made the island home. Photo: Javen/Shutterstock

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

When your puddle-jumper flight sets down on Nicaragua’s Corn Island you might think you’d come as far away from the crowds as possible. This small island offers quiet beaches, small unpretentious guest houses, and a laid-back Caribbean culture. But true solitude seekers can go even one step farther by hopping aboard a native panga boat for an eight-mile crossing to Little Corn Island. Just don’t expect to be greeted by a taxi when you arrive. The only internal combustion engine on Little Corn Island is the village generator, and it only runs from evening to morning. The island, which is just two miles long and a mile wide, is connected by a series of walking paths. A handful of small guest houses provide comfortable if basic accommodations in a pristine setting that is sure to please solitude seekers.

Little Corn Island Nicaragua

Both Little Corn and Big Corn islands in Nicaragua are known for their white sand beaches, turquoise bays, and lack of crowds. Photo: Riderfoot/Shutterstock

Cay Caulker, Belize

You won’t be dodging cars on the quiet, unpaved streets of Caye Caulker — the most you’ll have to contend with is the occasional bicycle or golf cart. This smaller sibling of Belize’s popular Ambergris Caye delivers a just-right mix of isolation and civilization. There’s an airstrip that accommodates small commuter flights, and regular ferry service from the mainland. Everything is within walking distance, and most of the restaurants, hotels, and cafes are clustered towards the north end of the island. But just in case, there are those golf carts for those days when you’re feeling lazy. Caye Caulker is just a short boat ride away from the Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which offers some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean.

Cay Caulker Belize

Pastel buildings on the beach near the ferry terminal on Cay Caulker set the stage for this low-key, relaxed island in Belize. Photo: ANPerryman/iStock

Panarea, Sicily

Italy’s Aeolian Islands have been a favorite getaway since the days of the Caesars in Ancient Rome. Today, the smallest member of this cluster of volcanic outcroppings attracts its share of modern A-listers, but they tend to keep things on the down low. While the island has more than its share of excellent dining and drinking opportunities, it’s not a bling-heavy club scene. Instead, there’s a trend toward elegance through simplicity. In fact, the lack of streetlights across the island means you can enjoy stargazing from a guesthouse terrace. It’s a walking-friendly place, as most everything is located close to the port district on San Pietro harbor. Mechanized transport is confined to the golf carts that serve as taxis on extremely narrow roadways.

Italy Aeolian Islands Sicily

Cala Junco is a small bay on the island of Panarea, one of the Aeolian Islands near Sicily. Lipari and Salina islands are seen on the horizon. Photo: Michal Krakowiak/iStock

Hydra, Greece

No Cars? No Problem. Per a 1950’s presidential decree, cars, motorbikes, and all other forms of wheeled conveyances are banned on Hydra. Other than walking, the only approved mode of transport on this Greek island is on the back of a donkey. And while the stated reason for banning all types of wheeled machines is to preserve a historic culture and traditional way of life, it also makes sense on a more practical level. The steep hillsides that surround the island’s crescent-shaped harbor are cut by narrow paths and stairs that would not accommodate most other forms of transport. A long-time favorite with in-the- know travelers, Hydra offers an eclectic mix of accommodations and restaurants. One thing to take into account when planning a stay: if you want to enjoy the elevated views of the Aegean Sea from your terrace, you’ll need to be ready to do some uphill trekking.


Panoramic view on the Greek island of Hydra where mountains overlook the capital town of narrow alleys and colorful buildings lining the waterfront. Photo: Romas_Photo/Shutterstock

Koh Phayam, Thailand

Thailand, the way it used to be. That’s how visitors fortunate enough to discover Thailand’s Koh Phayam describe this quiet island, which sits in the Andaman Sea just south of the border with Myanmar. From the mainland, it’s a two-hour ferry ride or a 45-minute speedboat dash out to Koh Phayam. This is a place where long stretches of white-sand beaches are fronted by nothing more than palm trees and the occasional thatch-roofed food stall. The island offers a collection of small guest houses, almost all within walking distance of the ocean. If you want to do some more distant exploring, the only options will be a rental scooter or a motorbike taxi. Some of Thailand’s best dive sites lie just offshore, and water sports lovers can also try kite surfing or paddling trips into mangrove lagoons.

Koh Phayam

Ringed by a handful of beaches with golden sand Thailand’s Koh Phayam remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Photo: querbeet/iStock

Brijuni Islands, Croatia

During a stroll on Veliki Brijun, you might come across zebras, llamas, ostriches, or even an Indian elephant. The largest island in Croatia’s Brijuni Archipelago is now a national park. But during the Soviet era, the island was the official residence of Yugoslavian president Josip Tito. The exotic animals that are now housed in a safari park were gifts to the former strongman. The island also boasts a number of natural attractions, including several sets of fossilized dinosaur footprints and a 1700-year-old olive tree. The best way to take in Veliki Brijun is with a walking tour, though the park also allows a tram-style “tourist train” to make the rounds. Most visitors come for a day trip that starts at the mainland city of Pula, but there are two hotels on the island for those who want to linger a bit longer.

Croatia Brijuni Islands

Aerial view of the archipelago of the Brijuni islands and the National Park where you can explore pathways and trails on foot or via bicycle. Photo: rusm/Getty Images

For more island destinations around the world that don’t allow cars watch the PBS program titled Islands without Cars with host Kira Cook. While she takes you on journeys to colder climates, you’ll meet the locals and get a real taste of the islands. Her website is: https://www.islandswithoutcars.com/


Trinidad Carnival

Best Places to Travel in February 2023


You survived the holidays and you’re ready to embark on a new journey. February is a time to celebrate whether it’s as big and worldwide as Carnival or a quiet getaway with your Valentine. It’s also an opportunity to take advantage of off-peak rates and you’ll encounter fewer tourists to share in the experiences.

St. Croix, USVI

Every year on Saturday before Fat Tuesday the island of St. Croix celebrates Mardi Gras with the same vigor and raucous as those in New Orleans. At the helm is Krewe de Croix, a group of Louisiana ex-pats and Mardi Gras aficionados. Everybody joins in and follows the parade along the scenic North Shore of the island, beginning at La Valle and ending in eastern Cane Bay. There’s plenty of food along the way as well as music and floats to guide the party. This year’s festivities take place on February 11 beginning at noon-DS For more information on events in St. Croix visit: https://www.gotostcroix.com/

St Croix Mardi Gras

St. Croix Mardi Gras is only a one-day event where most of the island joins in. Photo: gotostcroix


In countries around the world, February means Carnival! And one of the most iconic pre-Lenten fetes takes place on the Island of Trinidad. This is the home of steel pan music, and a highlight of each year’s Carnival celebrations is Panorama, which brings steel band orchestras from more than 30 countries together in a melodic battle for top honors. And that’s just the beginning. Carnival week is a time for calypso and Soca competitions, limbo contests and street parades where dance troupes decked out in dazzling over-the-top costumes show their moves. Add in plenty of lavish parties and there are plenty of reasons to mark your calendars for this year’s big event, which takes place from February 15- 22.-PH

Trinidad Dancing

Dancing at the sambadrome during the Carnival celebration in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Photo: Mauro Repossini/iStock

Abaco, Bahamas

One of the largest islands in the 700-island chain nation, Abaco is bringing a Rum and Music Festival to its shores. The event brings a roster of musicians while hotels like Firefly Sunset Resort, Hope Town Inn and Marina, the Abaco Inn, On the Beach, and Sea Spray Resorts will host the experience and guests. This small friendly island makes an ideal location to host intimate beachfront concerts along with a selection of rums for tasting. The Hope Town Music and Rum Festival runs February 7-12.-DS

Hope Town Abacos

During the rum and music event on Abaco visitors will want to explore the Hope Town lighthouse on Elbow Cay. Photo: Wirestock/iStock

Tulum, Mexico

For a funkier take on the Carnival season, head to the Mexican Rivera hotspot of Tulum. During the winter high season, this is an A-list destination prized for its stunning beaches, wellness culture, and offbeat-but-upscale vibe. February Carnival celebrations take place all across the Yucatan Peninsula, but Tulum’s take on the party adds an extra helping of glamor, glitter, and funkiness, thanks to an eclectic mix of jet-setting millennials, celebrities, new agers, Instagram influencers, and pride posies, plus a smattering of aging hippies, and colorful locals. The action kicks off with the famous Full Moon Party at Papaya Playa Project, is pretty much non-stop all month, and builds to the big parades happening over the weekend of February 17 to 19.-PH

Tulum Carnival

Celebrations in Tulum can last the entire month of February and into March. Photo:Katiekk/Shutterstock

Rhodes, Greece

Often viewed as a summer destination when cruises and tour operators bring in hordes of tourists, Rhodes can offer you an escape from the crowds during February. Visit Old Town, the Medieval city, a World Heritage Site, where you can explore the 200 streets and alleys on your own. Wander through the picturesque town of Lindos where whitewashed homes line the labyrinth of village streets and overlook a beautiful cobalt-blue bay. Here you’ll be able to dine with locals as many tourist spots shut down until summer. Imagine being able to roam the walls, terraces, and columns of the Acropolis without bumping into others trying to capture the spiritual space on their phones and cameras. Pack a raincoat for that cloudy day and a jacket for cooler temperatures that average 15 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.-DS

Rhodes Greece

Explore the ancient Greek architecture at the famous tourist attraction of the Acropolis of Lindos in Rhodes without the crowds of summer. Photo: frantic00/iStock

Ambergris Caye, Belize

In the final days of February, the island of Ambergris Key is home to Belize’s most colorful festival —literally. El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro is a cultural tradition dating back more than 150 years. It centers around a character known as Juan Carnival, a legendary Lothario credited with 1,000 sexual conquests before being done in by his jealous wife. Festival participants atone for their collective transgression by burning Juan’s stuffed effigy and doing a lot of painting. Buildings, monuments, street signs, and people are all fair game for decoration during this three-day flurry of brush strokes. Adding more fun to the festivities are troupes of cross-dressing men who stage dance competitions, with top honors going to the most outlandish performance.-PH

Belize Carnival

Everybody joins in during the Carnival in San Pedro, Belize. Kids paint their bodies and face while adults keep the party going for three days. Photo: Tony RathFollow/Flickr

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

If you want to celebrate Carnival, there’s certainly plenty going on in the capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to fuel your party cravings.  It might be the second largest and most popular after Rio, so don your sparkling costumes and head to the streets for some Latin music and wild dancing. February is also a month you can have some quiet time. Head to the southern beaches and you’ll share the sand with sea birds and surfers. The island’s longest stretch of sand is at El Médano, a favorite spot for locals and is also popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders when the winds are up.-DS

Tenerife Spain Medano Beach

The perfect view of Playa el Médano with Montana Roja in the background on the island of Tenerife. Photo: Anita Bonita/iStock



Best Belize Snorkeling Resorts


The small Central American nation of Belize has a big attraction. Stretching the entire length of the country’s Caribbean coast is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. This wall of living coral is home to an incredible variety of marine life, and you don’t need to be an undersea explorer to discover these underwater treasures. A select number of beach resorts and island lodges put snorkelers within easy swimming distance of some of the best waters in the Caribbean. Here are three of our favorites.

Blackbird Caye Resort

This private island lodge is located 25 miles off the coast of Belize on Turneffe Atoll, which is one of the Caribbean’s only true coral atolls. Blackbird Caye Resort is a collection of 18 oceanfront cabanas all set along a two-mile private beach. Though rustic in design, with thatch roofs and local architecture, these cabanas offer a full range of comforts including air conditioning and screened balconies with hammocks and chairs. Guests can arrive by boat, or fly direct to the resort’s private airstrip. The palapa-style waterfront restaurant focuses on chef-prepared island cuisines, and socializing takes place at The High Tide Bar. Nearby are the infinity-edge pool and a water sports center offering kayaks and paddleboards.

Blackbird Caye Belize Turneffe

Cottages at Blackbird Caye face a deserted beach and the sheltered lagoon of Turneffe Atoll. The surrounding waters are among the most bio-diverse in the Caribbean. Photo: Blackbird Caye

Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most biologically diverse of the four atolls found in the Caribbean and offers some of the best snorkeling in the world. The clear, shallow reefs around Blackbird Caye Resort provide easy access for snorkeling and are an excellent environment for beginners and experts alike. Blackbird Caye’s fully equipped dive center runs dive and snorkel boats, offering both morning and afternoon snorkeling excursions to area coral reefs. Snorkelers can also sign up for the full-day trip to Half Moon Caye to snorkel in Belize’s famous Blue Hole. This trip also includes a stop at the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, where snorkelers can encounter everything from nurse sharks and tropical fish to turtles, spotted eagle rays and moray eels. The dive center also offers snorkeling lessons, equipment rental and private snorkel guides and boats. https://www.blackbirdresort.com/

Turneffe Atoll

Butterflyfish patrol a coral head in the waters of Turneffe Atoll. Numerous sites like this are just minutes away from the docks of Blackbird Caye Resort. Photo: Blackbird Caye

Blue Marlin Resort

Blue Marlin Resort delivers world-class adventures, combined with home-style cooking, personalized guest services, and barefoot island living. This remote dive and adventure resort is set in Southern Belize, on the island of South Water Caye. Surrounding the island is the country’s second-largest marine reserve, and a 90-mile-long barrier reef. This setting provides guests with easy access to pristine snorkel and dive sites that are just minutes from their room. The property includes 15 individually designed guest accommodations, ranging from standard rooms to private cabanas and island-view cabins. Groves of coconut palms shade the resort’s manicured grounds, with hammocks and beach lounges for relaxation.

Blue Marling Beach Resort Belize

The Blue Marlin Resort sits at the north end of a 15-acre island off the coast of Belize. It is reached by boat from the port of Dangriga. Photo: Blue Marlin

Swimmers and snorkelers can enter the water from the resort’s private dock, and beach snorkeling is accessible directly off the southern tip of the island. Guests can access snorkeling sites by kayak, and the resort staff can also provide shuttle boat service to nearby reefs. Snorkeling is just one of the many activities offered at Blue Marlin. There is a dive shop and angling center offering flats, reef and deep-sea fishing trips. The resort staff can organize bird watching trips to the Sanctuary on Man-of-War Caye, manatee sightseeing in the Tobacco Range, beachcombing excursions, mangrove explorations and tours to the Smithsonian Marine Research Station on Carrie Bow Caye. https://www.bluemarlinbeachresort.com/

Blue Marling Beach Resort Grounds

Private Cabanas at the Blue Marlin Resort are set among coconut palms, where porches provide views of the Caribbean Sea and colorful coral reefs that begin just yards from shore. Photo: Blue Marlin

Sunbreeze Hotel and Sunbreeze Suites

The Sunbreeze Hotel https://www.sunbreeze.net/ takes full advantage of its beachfront setting. Broad verandahs and balconies take in the Caribbean Sea across a palm-shaded sand courtyard. The resort’s signature restaurant, the Blue Water Grill, serves up memorable water views and ocean breezes, and the upper deck at the 360 Degree Bar provides panoramic vistas of island and ocean. This compact, 43-room property is conveniently located next to the airport, near the ferry landing, and within easy walking distance of the shops and cafes of downtown San Pedro. As an alternative to hotel rooms, the affiliated SunBreeze Suites https://www.sunbreezesuites.com/ offers 20 one-bedroom compact suites, with kitchens, living and dining rooms and private balconies.

Belize SunBreeze Restaurant and Pool Deck

The pool deck at Sunbreeze Resort on Ambergris Caye. A recent addition to the resort is the second-story addition to the waterfront bar, which delivers 360-degree island views. Photo: Sunbreeze

Snorkeling adventures at SunBreeze can begin right off the beach, with acres of shallow grass beds and coral heads to explore closer to shore, and a mile-long barrier reef within swimming distance. Just a few steps away from the pool is the headquarters for Ambergris Divers, which offers daily snorkel excursions to nearby reefs, and to the famous Shark Ray Alley, where swimmers can mix with southern stingrays and harmless nurse sharks in shallow water. More adventurous snorkelers can also join divers on all-day trips to more distant Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef. After drying off, guests can claim a hammock spread between palm trees, nap in lounges set on the pool deck, or book a session at the hotel’s on- site spa.

SunBreeze Suites Sundeck And Dock

The docks at Sunbreeze Resort are the starting point for daily boat trips to area snorkeling sites, including the Hol Chan marine reserve, home to the famous Shark Ray Alley site. Photo: Sunbreeze


7 Islands to Visit Before the Holidays


One of the best times of the year to squeeze in a trip is during the fall. November and early December are ideal as the crowds are gone, the rates are lower and the weather is void of storms. Here are some options for that last-minute getaway before the holiday season kicks in.

Puerto Rico

While the Island of Enchantment is a year-round destination the pre- winter season is ideal for a long weekend getaway. November is the official start of the holiday season as Christmas trees and lights are up early and the parties begin. Each town hosts the lighting of the Christmas tree adding decorations throughout the month accompanied by fireworks, traditional Christmas music and food. From November 2 through 30, 2019 town plazas turn into street festivals where artisans and food vendors set up stands for the continual celebrations. The island celebrates its discovery by Columbus on November 19. An official holiday, Discovery of Puerto Rico Day consists of parades, fairs and cultural activities and is celebrated in most towns.

Puerto Rico San Juan

While Old San Juan is magical on its own, it’s even more so during the holidays. The scenery changes as Christmas lights are added to churches, arches and plazas. Photo: Anita S/ Pixabay


The high season in this island nation is during the summer when the beaches, towns and restaurants are hopping. Off-season begins in November and runs through March when rates are lower and crowds have dispersed. And, Bermuda, warmed by the Gulf Stream holds onto its warm waters into November making a dip in the sea possible. During the fall the humidity is lower with cooler temperatures making outdoor activities more pleasant. Hike or bike along the Bermuda Railroad Trail that covers 18 miles. The abandoned tracks wind through lush vegetation and along rugged cliffs and bypass classic old bridges. Although September first isn’t a national holiday, it’s widely celebrated as the beginning of spiny lobster season, which lasts until March. The island’s favorite fare is offered at restaurants around Bermuda. You can even catch your dinner with a local licensed lobster diver and cook it that evening.

Bermuda South Shore Horseshoe Bay

Bermuda’s south coast is lined with pink sand beaches. One of the most famous crescents is the scenic Horseshoe Bay at the heart of South Shore Park. Photo: Bruce/Flickr


November is the transition month on Maui, right between the island’s dry and wet seasons. It’s the time when humpback whales return to frolic in the waters during their annual winter migration. The season runs through May and sightings are possible from shore as well as a variety of guided boat excursions. Visit Lahaina Arts Society at Lahaina Cannery Mall on Saturdays from November 9 to December 29, 2019. Local artists will be on hand to present and talk about their work. The outdoor festival features photography, paintings, pottery, jewelry and more. The Hawaii International Film Festival runs from November 21 to 23, 2019. Included in showings are documentaries, film shorts, experimental films, animations and digital works. The event reflects the diverse multicultural face of Hawaii supporting Asian and Pacific films.

Maui Lahaina

Dusk along the Front Street shops of Lahaina on Maui. For Christmas, the town’s 60-foot famous banyan tree is wrapped in thousands of Christmas lights. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson


While sister, Harbour Island is known for its pink sands; Eleuthera boasts it’s own stretches of rosy hues. There are over 100 beaches to choose from ranging from blushing pinks to alabaster whites. Every Friday night brings a traditional Bahamian fish fry where you can sample a plate of peas n’ rice along with the fresh catch. Held at Anchor Bay in Governor’s Harbour, there are Bahamian dishes and specialties, music and dancing starting at 6:00 p.m. On November 30, the Ministry of Tourism Thanksgiving Crafter’s & Cultural Festival also takes place in Governor’s Harbour. It’s a chance to buy local hand made items and take in a fashion show, live band performances and see junkanoo dancers. To kick off the holiday season head to the annual tree lighting in the garden of the wellness center of the Cancer Society in Central Eleuthera on Saturday, December 7. The event includes live music, dancing and native foods.


A quiet and tranquil beach scene at Current on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. The small quaint town is located in North Eleuthera. Photo: Trish Hartmann/Flickr

Key West

November brings cooler weather and lower humidity just right for exploring the streets, shops and galleries of this quaint town. Discover the literary history of Key West at Custom House Museum in an exhibit (November 1, 2019 through February 9, 2020) of writers who have found the laid-back character of Key West an ideal venue to pen their novels and plays. The holiday season kicks off with Harbor Walk of Lights at the Historic Seaport on November 22. Along the walk, you’ll see the Key West traditional tree made of foam trap floats, a pine decorated in a nautical theme and a lobster trap tree. Check out the Key West Film Festival that runs from November 20 to 24, 2019 showcasing multiple genres and categories. Films and events are hosted at landmark venues throughout the town.

Key West

Sunset cruises are are a common scene at Mallory Square in Key West. Guests enjoy champagne, wine and cheese and await the green flash. Photo: J. Philipp Krone/Flickr

St. Barth

It’s the seaside sophistication of St. Tropez blended with the laid- back Caribbean lifestyle that fascinates visitors coming to this French isle. High season begins mid-December so getting a room or villa from November through early December is doable. The beaches won’t be vacant but it will be easier to find a spot on the sand at one of the sixteen white strands. November 20 to 24, 2019 draws sailors from around the world to the annual St. Barth Cata Cup, a regatta of small catamarans. The Formula 18 catamaran race starts and ends at St. Jean Beach. Christmas is big on the island and every year the port of Gustavia is decked out with lights and holiday décor transforming the harbor into the Christmas Village (December 6 to 22, 2019) where shops, galleries and food outlets become one meandering holiday market. Visiting yachts come in for the season transforming the harbor into a canvas of glistening watercraft.

St. Barth Gustavia

Gustavia Harbor in St. Barth lights up around the holidays with trees, Christmas decorations and visiting yachts strung up with lights. Photo: Martin Varsavsky/Flickr


Belize offers a slew of activities for the adventure seeker. While many come to dive and snorkel the 180 miles of coral reefs others come for land-based activities like hiking, and exploring caves and Maya ruins. One of the most celebrated holidays is Garifuna Settlement Day, which takes place each year on November 19th. While the Garifuna only make up 4 % of the population of Belize, their cultural contributions play a big part in today’s society. The traditional event includes drumming, street dancing and parades and traditional Garifuna foods. Each year the coastal town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye lights up along the water during the San Pedro Holiday Boat Parade where spectators gather along the shoreline, docks and seaside bars as the boats pass by on Saturday December 7, 2019.

Belize Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is just one of the small Caribbean islands of Belize with balmy breezes and turquoise waters. Visitors come to bird watch, kayak and dive the Barrier Reef. Photo: amon1500/Pixabay



Divi Trees Aruba

Caribbean Volunteer Vacations


If checking in to a Caribbean beach resort seems a bit self-indulgent, you might want to check out some of the ways you can give back while traveling to the islands. There are a number of organizations that promote and coordinate volunteer programs that let you add a philanthropic mission to your time in the sun.

Tidy Up

Aruba is known as one happy island. And one thing that makes the locals happy is having a clean island. Visitors can help by participating in the Aruba Reef Care Project, which is the island’s largest single volunteer environmental initiative. Locals are joined by divers and snorkelers from around the globe, who sweep the shores to remove glass, plastics and other debris from a number of popular reefs and beaches. The annual event draws more than 800 participants. As an alternative, visitors who prefer to stay dry while doing good can volunteer at the Donkey Sanctuary, to help with the daily chores of feeding and caring for the animals. http://www.aruba.com/aruba-vacations/volunteer-vacations

Aruba Snorkeling

During the annual beach and coastal cleanup, volunteers scour the sands of Aruba’s beaches, some also don mask and snorkel or dive gear to hunt for submerged litter. Photo: iStock

Pooches in Paradise

Go beyond the beach resorts to discover the real Jamaica, and make some new canine friends in the process. Volunteers with the Animal Care Project spend time at an island shelter for abandoned dogs, assisting with everything from feeding, bathing and brushing the animals to walking them and providing love and play time. Participants typically spend mornings working with the rescued dogs, and have afternoons and weekends free to explore beaches, waterfalls and area villages. The shelter is located in St. Mary Parish, near the resort town of Ocho Rios. Volunteers stay in simple, comfortable dormitory-style accommodations, or have the option of staying with a local family. In addition to animal care, the program organizers also coordinate teaching, sports, and community development programs. www.volunteerhq.org

Jamaica Dogs

Headquartered near Ocho Rios, Jamaica’s Animal Care Project provides volunteers with a unique opportunity to combine an island vacation with a chance to work with rescued dogs. Photo: Lori Newman/Flickr

Restore the Shore

Even if cruise ships aren’t normally your thing, you might want to consider signing up for a sailing with the Fathom organization, which organizes cruises with cultural and philanthropic elements to destinations across the Caribbean. Most recently, Fathom has partnered with Princess Cruises to visit islands hard-hit by the 2017 hurricanes. Participants on these seven-day trips will come ashore to work with locals to rebuild in the storm-ravaged communities. In addition to special disaster relief trips, Fathom offers a broad range of cultural programs in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and is currently working to expand to more islands. www.fathom.org

Cruising Caribbean

After the 2017 hurricanes, the Fathom volunteer organization created a number of special itineraries with Princess cruise lines, giving passengers a chance to participate in island rebuilding. Photo: Steve Hughes/Flickr

Be a Sport

If you love team sports, the Amigos de las Americanas program is a great way to give back while also engaging in your favorite pastimes. Participants sign up for immersive programs in the Dominican Republic, working with local community members to develop a youth sports league. Prior coaching experiences is a good thing, but not mandatory, as there are many skill sets needed to organize and run a league, both on and off the field. This four- week program was developed with the partner agency, Plan Dominican Republic, which helps place participants with a local host family. In addition to working with young athletes, the rewards include a chance to experience the country like a local, and opportunities to improve your Spanish through authentic cultural immersion. www.gooverseas.com

Dominican Republic Pargue Colon

Volunteers can participate in a number of educational and civic programs in the Dominican Republic, and immerse themselves in the nation’s rich culture and history. Photo: Getty Images

Monitor a Manatee

The coastal wetlands of Belize are one of the last unspoiled habitats for the West Indian Manatee. You can help ensure the survival of these large, gentle sea cows by joining a Wildlife Volunteer Adventure with Discover Corps. You’ll join marine biologists working to save the country’s endangered manatees, monitoring the health of the animals, taking environmental measurements and census counts. The program exposes participants to three different marine environments, including coastal mangrove lagoons, the Caribbean Sea and jungle rivers. Monitoring and counting activities take place in the mornings, leaving free time each afternoon to relax on white sand beaches, snorkel on coral reefs or explore the natural wonders of Belize. A highlight of each weeklong trip is a chance to visit the pristine ecosystems of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. www.discovercorps.com

Belize Manatees

A group of manatees glide through shallow sea grass beds in the coastal waters of Belize. Though threatened elsewhere, these gentle mammals thrive in Belize’s marine preserves. Photo: David Harvey/Hamanasi Resort

BVI Snorkel

Unique Caribbean Snorkel Adventures


Sure, you’ve explored the shore in front of the hotel, and maybe even signed up for a boat trip to a nearby coral reef. But are you ready for a snorkeling adventure with a wow factor and maybe some bragging rights? These adventures exist in places across the Caribbean. But though they can be thrilling, they aren’t dangerous. Here are five of my favorite Caribbean snorkel adventures that go beyond the usual reef tour.

Blackbeard’s Treasure Caverns, Norman Island, BVI

Legend has it that the infamous pirate known as Blackbeard once stashed chests of gold and plunder in the sea caves of Norman Island. But even those who doubt that tale would agree that the real treasure is the chance to snorkel into this trio of semi-submerged caverns, which are cut into a cliff face just south of the popular harbor known as The Bight. It’s suitable for all ages, because there’s always a hint of sunlight in the caves, and no branching passages. I’ve brought dozens of snorkelers to this site during charter trips, and usually give them a waterproof light so they can hunt for marine live in the nooks and crannies, and admire the purple and red patterns on the rock faces inside.

BVI Snorkel

The caves at Norman Island are said to have once held treasures hidden by the pirate Blackbeard. Snorkelers can safely explore these mysterious caverns. Dale Harrison/Flickr

Bimini Road, Bahamas

Legends of the Bermuda Triangle meet tales of the lost city of Atlantis just off the shores of the tiny Bahamian island of Bimini. On the island’s western shore, a half-mile-long line of rectangular limestone blocks runs parallel to the shore. This unusual formation was first discovered by free diving legend Jacque Mayol, and in the years since, all manner of experts have speculated about the origins and purpose of the structure. Some say it’s the remains of a wall or a pier, while others have pegged it as a highway that was once part of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. I’ve explored this site on scuba dives several times, but actually enjoy it more when seen from above. When floating on the surface with mask and snorkel, you can make out the full extent of the formation in the clear waters below, and then form your own opinion on its origins.

Bimini Snorkel

A snorkeler descends in clear Bahamian water to examine the unique formation known as the Bimini Road. Some believe it to be part of the ruins of the ancient city of Atlantis. Photo: Atmoji Photography/Flickr

Great Blue Hole, Belize

The aerial view of Captain Jacque Cousteau’s Calypso floating in the center of a gigantic submerged crater in the center of a Caribbean coral reef became a world-famous image. This perfectly round geological anomaly measures more than 1,000 feet across, and plunges down to more than 400 feet. I’ve done deep dives into the Belize Blue Hole, but honestly, the most interesting sights are right at the top, where the shallow rim of the hole is ringed in growths of coral. It takes a two-hour boat ride from Belize City or one of the resorts on Ambergris Caye to get to Lighthouse Reef and the Blue Hole, but the reward is a chance to glide over the cliff-like edge of the hole into deep water, then spend time watching tropical fish among the corals. Keep an eye open, because there’s always a chance to catch a glimpse of large tarpon or reef sharks emerging from the shadows below.

Belize Great Blue Hole

The Belize Blue hole is a massive 400-foot-deep pit set in the center of Lighthouse Reef. The rim of the hole is covered in coral gardens that are ideal for snorkelers to explore. Photo: Kasia Kaczy?ska/Flickr

Dos Ojos Cenote, Riviera Maya

Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is riddled with cenotes, which are natural sinkholes in the limestone bedrock that fill with clear fresh water. Many of these cenotes are connected to underground rivers that form the longest underwater caves in the world. But you don’t have to be a bold explorer to enjoy these amazing places. With just a mask and snorkel, I’ve swum in dozens of these natural pools. Often, the walls overhang the water, creating a chance to swim into the twilight zone and discover marble-white stalactites hanging from the ceiling. A personal favorite is Dos Ojos Cenote, where swimmers can follow a set of guidelines through a maze of caverns that connect a pair of sunlit pools. You can explore for yourself, or hire a guide to lead the way.

Riviera Maya Cenotes

The cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula are filled with clear fresh water. At Dos Ojos, snorkelers can swim through overhanging ledges that lead to stalactite-decorated chambers. Photo: Guillén Pérez/Flickr

Lac Bay Mangrove, Bonaire

This snorkel adventure is more about relaxation than excitement, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable. It begins with a trip to the undeveloped east coast of Bonaire, and a stop at the Mangrove Information Center within Lac Bay National Park. Here, you’ll sign up for a guided kayak tour that leads through the twisting channels that lace the mangrove forest. Once you reach a hidden bay deep in the reserve, you’ll have a chance to get out of the boat and wade in waist deep water. There’s not much to see out in the middle of the sand bottom bay, because the real show begins when you swim closer to the tangled underwater roots of the mangroves themselves. These roots provide shelter for numerous species of small and juvenile marine life, making Lac Bay the island’s primary fish nursery. If you are lucky, you might also be treated to a swim by from one of the bay’s resident snook or tarpon.

Bonaire Snorkel

A snorkeler glides through a sand channel in the mangrove forest of Bonaire’s Lac Bay. The tangled roots of these trees create habitat for small fish and other marine life. Photo: Mangrove Information Center

Belize Turneffe Island Resort

Central America’s Small Island Retreats


Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping to a remote tropical island, far from cruise ship crowds and high-rise hotels? But unless you have a boat and plenty of time, your options are limited. Fortunately, there are some small islands off the Caribbean coast of Central America that are just a plane flight and a short boat ride away. Here are three such places where you can play castaway without giving up the comforts of civilization.

Turneffe Island Resort, Belize

For anyone who has dreamed of traveling to a remote tropical atoll, but can’t spend weeks getting there, this might be the answer. A two-hour flight from Miami or Houston, followed by a 90-minute boat ride or scenic helicopter hop, puts you on a small private island in the middle of the largest—and one of the only—coral reef atolls in the Western Hemisphere. Turneffe Atoll sits in the Caribbean Sea, 25 miles off the coast of Belize. At the southern end of this 30-mile long coral plateau, a 14-acre private island is the setting for a small resort that offers 12 guest rooms and ten private villas. Interiors are finished in rich mahogany and teak woods, and provide direct ocean views. Guests enjoy the splendid isolation of a remote tropical island, with no signs of civilization for miles around, but they can remain connected with Internet access and phone service.

Dive Boats Turneffe Island Belize

Dive boats and fishing skiffs sit at the docks at Turneffe Island Resort. In addition to daily dive and snorkel trips, the resort runs excursions to Belize’s famous Blue Hole. Photo: Turneffe Island Resort

On-site amenities include a lounge with TV, DVD player, movie & book library, an on-site spa, pool, outdoor social deck, restaurant and beach bar. With some of the best reefs in the Caribbean just a short boat ride away, and the famous Blue Hole within range of day trips, diving and snorkeling are favored activities at the resort. The expansive sand flats and mangrove forests that stretch north from the resort also draw sport fishermen, who come for both fly fishing on the flats, and blue water fishing outside the reef. To support these activities, Turneffe Resort has a dedicated fishing tackle shop and a PADI dive center. Sea kayaks, paddleboards and sailboats are available for guests who wish to explore the lagoon, and there are weekly activities such as beach BBQs and live entertainment.

Turneffe Belize Rooms

Rooms at Turneffe Island Resort are constructed from polished teak and mahogany wood, and include handcrafted furniture. Upper floor rooms have vaulted ceilings. Photo: Turneffe Island Resort

The Villas at Dunbar Rock, Honduras

The Villas at Dunbar Rock isn’t just on the water, it is entirely surrounded by water. This one-of-a-kind boutique resort rises like a giant house of cards above a small rock outcropping just off the coast of Guanaja. The greenest and most mountainous of the Bay Islands, Guanaja is cloaked in forests where hiking trails lead to secluded beaches, freshwater springs and waterfalls that cascade from the slopes. There is only one road, and most travel takes place by boat. The Villas is a self-contained, multi-level compound that includes a dive shop, restaurant, and resort facilities, with guest facilities occupying various levels, with water views in all directions.

Dunbar Rock Honduras

The Villas at Dunbar Rock rise from the water, with rooms spread across four levels. The upper deck is a favorite gathering place for meals and sunset socializing. Photo: Dunbar Rock

Getting to Dunbar Rock involves a puddle jumping flight into Guanaja’s small airstrip, then a ten-minute ride across the bay. From the resort’s dock, stairs rise through the various levels of the property, which includes ten guest rooms and suites. All accommodations have private balconies with direct water views. There’s in-room AC in case the sea breezes don’t suffice, and Wi-Fi for those who just have to stay connected. The place to be for relaxation and views is the top level, which provides huge 360-degree panoramas of ocean and island, and features a stunning infinity-edge pool that perches on the edge of the platform. The top level also holds a fitness center, dining room, bar and a great room with a pool table and media center. Meals are typically served family style, and include a variety of regional and international cuisines. Down at water level, there is a small beach, and a PADI dive shop offering daily scuba and snorkel trips to area reefs.

Dunbar Rock Penthouse Honduras

On the top floor of Dunbar Rock, the sitting room of the presidential suite delivers sweeping views that take in the lagoon and the shores of Guanaja Island. Photo: Dunbar Rock

Barefoot Cay, Honduras

Travelers can enjoy both isolation and easy access at this upscale retreat. The resort occupies a four-acre island perched right off the southern coast of Roatan, which is the largest and most developed of Honduras’s Bay Islands. Ten minutes by road and a two-minute boat ride away from the town of Coxen Hole, guests of Barefoot Cay can enjoy the intimate serenity of a private island, but are still close to shopping, dining and adventures on the big island. The resort’s beach is located inside Roatan’s barrier reef, which creates calm and protected water for swimming or paddling. The setting is also positioned perfectly for the easterly trade winds that create a tropical breeze over the cay.

Barefoot Cay Resort Honduras

Million dollar yachts sit at the docks of Barefoot Cay. This small, private island offers solitude, yet is just minutes away from the facilities of Roatan island. Photo: Barefoot Cay

Barefoot Cay’s one and two-bedroom villas are fitted with louvered doors that lead to living space and a private deck and beach. Guests are pampered with premium linens and Heavenly beds. Interiors blend traditional island charm with modern amenities such as Internet access, flat-screen televisions with both cable service and Apple TV connections. Each en suite bathroom includes a Balinese shower. The two-bedroom oceanfront villas are ideal for families and groups, as they include separate private entrances for each bedroom, and a central living area and gourmet kitchen. Water sports are a key focus at Barefoot Cay, and the island includes a PADI 5-Star dive center and full service marina. In addition to the pool and swimming beach, there is a snorkeling reef, and complimentary kayaks and paddleboards. The Cay’s signature restaurant showcases locally sourced ingredients and seafood, and guests can also enjoy causal dining at the pool cabana, or take in the view from the upper deck of the Lookout Lounge.

Honduras Roatan Barefoot Cay Pier Palapa

The over water palapa at Barefoot Cay sits at the end of a long pier that extends towards a shelter barrier reef, providing snorkelers with easy access to the corals. Photo: Barefoot Cay

Belize Biancaneaux Lodge Outdoor Shower

Outdoor Showers: 15 Top Resorts with Amazing Private Open-air Cascades


There’s nothing like standing under the cool, cleansing flow of an outdoor shower set amid natural surroundings. While lathering up in bubbles, you might hear the songs of birds, monkeys chattering in the trees or the sea rolling ashore. Bringing you closer to nature and pictured here is a close up of a private courtyard outdoor shower at the Blancaneuax Lodge in Belize.

Panama Canopy Lodge Bird Watching

Central America’s Favorite Active Adventure Lodges


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.

Birding Central

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.

Canopy Lodge Exterior Panama

The Canopy Lodge is tucked into jungle foliage on the banks of the Guayabo River. The clear waters of this stream are used to create a natural swimming pool. Photo: Canopy Lodge

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.

Canopy Lodge Bird Watching Rooms

Guests at Panama’s Canopy Lodge can begin their bird watching activities right from their room balcony, and also have access to a dedicated observation deck. Photo: Canopy Lodge

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.

Birding Tour Panama Canopy Lodge

The staff of the Canopy Lodge organizes daily birding excursions into the surrounding woodlands of the Anton Valley. The lodge also maintains an extensive library of birding guides. Photo: Canopy Lodge

Diver’s Delight

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.

Anthony's Key Resort Honduras

Waterfront villas at Anthony’s Key are located on a small private island that are a one-minute boat ride away from the resort’s central facilities and dive center. Photo: Anthony’s Key

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.

Honduras Dive Spots

The Bay Islands of Honduras are ringed by colorful reefs that are covered in both hard and soft corals. The most popular destination is Roatan, which offers more than 200 dive sites. Photo: Anthony’s Key

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.

Anthony's Key Resort Ship Wreck Dive

In addition to reef diving, guests at Anthony’s Key Resort can explore one of several shipwrecks that were intentionally sunk as fish havens and dive sites. Photo: Anthony’s Key

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.

Belize Hidden Valley Inn Pool

The pool deck at Belize’s Hidden Valley Inn is constructed from native stone and surrounded by tropical foliage. The hot tub is a favorite gathering place after a day of active adventures. Photo: Hidden Valley Inn

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.

Hidden Valley Inn Caves

Guests at the Hidden Valley Inn can sign up for guided tours that can include hidden caves. These caverns were sacred to the ancient Mayans, and some hold historic artifacts. Photo: Hidden Valley Inn

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.

Belize Hidden Valley Inn Trails

The Hidden Valley Inn is located in the heart of Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge regions. This landscape of hills and rivers is the country’s prime area for eco tourism and adventure tours. Photo: Hidden Valley Inn

Maldives One And Only

Dream Sleeps: Resorts with Water View Bedrooms


Imagine falling asleep to sea breezes and the sound of the surf. Or waking to a sunrise over the water. A select number of resorts around the world have elevated the bedroom into a showroom, rewarding guests with spectacular one-of-a-kind views that make water and sky star attractions to create a slumber like no other. Here at the One & Only Reethi Rah Maldives resort sunset’s afterglow sets the mood for relaxation on a cabana bed perched on the deck of an over water villa.