Tag Archives: Central America

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

 

Aruba Beach Divi Tree

Cyber Deals for 2021 from the Caribbean and Central America

 

Hotels are offering incredible deals for those making their return to travel. So, get back out there and see the world again as you take advantage of these irresistible deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, Riviera Pacifica, Panama

This Black Friday, The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and renowned for its family-friendly amenities, is offering a savings of 30% on room rates to guests who book its new Stay Longer, Save More offer for three nights or more. The promotion includes a savings of 20 percent on 60-minute spa treatments that parents can enjoy, along with daily breakfast for (two adults and two children under 12 years) that the whole family can indulge in. The offer also extends complimentary use of bicycles, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, tennis and volleyball courts; wireless internet and free parking, for the family. Guests can let The Buenaventura become a home-away-from-home as they enjoy the resort’s 118 renovated rooms and suites, Rates for the promotion start at $199/night. Visit: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ptykp-the- buenaventura-golf-and-beach-resort-panama- autograph-collection/

Panama Buenaventura Golf Beach Resort

Several pools and lagoons run throughout the property at Buenaventura Resort. Dining options include seven internationally inspired restaurants and amenities include ten pools, a spa and sports club. Photo: Buenaventura

Ocean Club Resorts, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Ocean Club Resorts, two all-suite resorts located along the pristine Grace Bay Beach, provide the spacious accommodations, comforts of home such as a full kitchen or kitchenette, screened in patio, and onsite range of activities that makes for the ideal 2022 getaway. Travelers who book a seven- night stay or more at Ocean Club (the East location) this Black Friday through Cyber Monday will receive 10% off the total stay. Available for new bookings only made between Friday, Nov. 26 – Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 for stays March 5 – 31, 2022. Valid on accommodations at Ocean Club ranging from Studio Suite to One Bedroom Ocean View. Offer not valid on bookings made for Ocean Club West. Reservations are based on availability. Use promo code BFCM21 at: https://www.oceanclubeast.com/

Ocean Club Resort Turks & Caicos

Ocean Club Resorts offer active vacations where guests can enjoy complimentary bikes, tennis, kayaks, and SUP boards. The resort fronts the world’s popular Grace Bay Beach. Photo: Ocean Club Resorts

Mount Cinnamon Resort, Grenada

Tucked away on the hillside atop Grand Anse Beach, Mount Cinnamon is an eco-lux hideaway with an enclave of 37 luxury villas and suites, each with their own veranda of sweeping views of natural unspoiled beauty. Book from November 26 to 29 to receive a 20% discount on stays between April 1 and December 20, 2022 of 5 or more nights. In addition, the booking will include one complimentary Cinnamon Signature Massage and a complimentary Grenada rum tasting session. All room categories apply with the exception of Cinnamon Heights. Daily breakfast is included as well as access to our Beach Cabana, non-motorized water sports, tennis, yoga and fitness facilities. Complimentary WiFi. Offer may not be combined with other resort promotions and is subject to availability. Visit: https://www.mountcinnamongrenadahotel.com/ and use booking code MC-CYBER21, blackout dates apply.

Grenada Mt Cinnamon Beach Resort

Mount Cinnamon overlooks Grand Anse beach on Grenada. Guests may choose to relax beachside at the beach cabanas or around the pool at the main site of the resort. Photo: Mount Cinnamon

Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas

This Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Atlantis Paradise Island is offering 20% off accommodations for guests booking five or more nights, and including a $100 daily resort credit. Included are two complimentary rapid antigen tests for return travel back to the U.S. Bookings begin November 25 through 29, 2021. Call 1-800-ATLANTIS or visit https://www.atlantisbahamas.com/ Blackout dates include December 27, 2021 through January 1, 2022.

Atlantis Lighthouse

Atlantis includes six different properties from the marina view village of Harborside Resort to The Cove, nestled between two private beaches. The enclave has 21 restaurants and 19 bars. Photo: Atlantis

Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Aruba

Once again the Aruba Marriot is offering cyber savings of up to 30% on bookings of four nights and up to 35% on bookings of five nights or more for stays between November 26, 2021 through January 31, 2022. For reservations from February 1 to October 31, 2022, travelers can save up to 25% on four nights or more. Book the deal from November 26 through 30, 2021 with promo code L9Z at https://www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/auaar- aruba-marriott-resort-and-stellaris-casino/overview/

Resorts World Bimini, Bahamas

Just 50 miles off the coast of Miami you’ll discover this 750-acre property that includes hotel, condos and a casino. The cyber deal offered is the exclusive “Fly & Stay” package for $637 per person including round-trip seaplane flights with Tropic Ocean Airways from Fort Lauderdale, FL along with a two- night stay at Resorts World Bimini, a Hilton property along with $100 food & beverage credit per person. Bookings begin November 22 and end December 4, 2021 for stays from January 2 through February 10, 2022. Visit: https://www.rwbimini.com/

Bimini Resort Bahamas

At Resorts World Bimini guests can explore the private island getaway by renting a golf cart. The resort has access to miles of white sand beaches and three scenic pools. Photo: Resorts World Bimini

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, Arenal, Costa Rica

Located right at the base of the Arenal Volcano, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is home to Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing hot springs, offering an award-winning thermal experience paired with unparalleled amenities and world-class hospitality. The deal is 30% off current rates, plus daily buffet breakfast for two. Flash sale will be exclusively available on November 29, 2021 for stays between August 27 though November 15, 2022. Use promo code CYBER at https://www.tabacon.com/

Tabacon Thermal Resort Spa

Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing mineral springs is located right at the resort. Guests are free to explore the Arenal’s rainforest reserve. Photo: Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa

Maldives Snorkel Resorts

Private Island Escapes With Cyber Sale Savings

 

One island, one resort offers up plenty of private space and a limited number of guests. For many, these dream destinations are worthy of the trip of a lifetime. And for a very limited time, planning a vacation to these idyllic islands will yield significant savings. Here are some of the indulgences that await during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale. Treat yourself to an exotic island getaway.

Coco Collection, Maldives

Comprised of two different boutique island resorts, Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kohlhu, of the Coco Collection creates a unique Maldivian experience ranging from lux amenities to eco- forward initiatives for guests to indulge in during their stay. The resorts are providing an opportunity for guests to save on their getaway to the Maldives with an amazing discounted rate of 50% off on bookings made between Friday, November 26 to Monday, November 29, 2021. Offer available for stays between May 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022. No minimum booking necessary, blackout dates apply. Use code BLACKFRIDAY when booking this special offer on www.cococollection.com.

coco collection maldives

It’s an easy access to water from these overwater residences at Coco Bodu Hithi located in North Male Atoll. Guests can choose island villas or water villas. Photo: Coco Collection

Cayo Espanto, Belize

Cayo Espanto, a barefoot lux private island resort off the coast of Belize, is offering guests a free airfare credit (up to $750 per person) with the booking of a seven night stay this Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Travelers looking to take advantage of this offer must complete their booking online at https://aprivateisland.com/ between Friday, November 26 and Monday, November 29, 2021. Booking code is not required; all reservations made during this timeframe will receive airfare credit with confirmation. Travel deal valid on new bookings only and may not be combined with any other offers. Blackout dates apply and reservations are based on availability.

Cayo Espanto Island Belize

Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, British Virgin Islands

Named after its location on Scrub Island, the serene 230-acre private-island haven is located one mile east of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It features 52 guest accommodations as well as a collection of two-, three- and four-bedroom villas, Ixora Spa, world-class restaurants, three private beaches and a 55-slip marina, is offering a savings of 25% for four-night nights along with a $50 resort credit for visits December 1, 2021 through Sept. 20, 2022. Must book November 26 to November 29, 2021 with promo code FOO. Visit https://www.scrubisland.com/online or call 877- 890-7444.

Scrub Island BVI

Evening view of the lagoon-style pavilion pool and marina at Scrub Island Resort. The marina offers 55 deep-water slips including five for mega-yachts up to 160 feet. Photo: Scrub Island

Saba Rock, North Sound, British Virgin Islands

The all-new Saba Rock is the ultimate resort destination in the British Virgin Islands with onsite amenities like snuba, diving, kiteboarding, island tours, spa and more. The one-acre island, which just reopened following a complete luxury rebuild following damage sustained from Hurricane Irma, is offering guests the opportunity to save up to 40% on a three-night stay or more from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Available for bookings made November 26 to November 29, 2021 for stays November 30, 2021 through February 15, 2022. The offer can be booked at www.sabarock.com using promo code BLKFRI. Blackout dates apply.

Saba rock resort BVI

The tiny island of Saba Rock offers guests water views similar to those from a boat. With just nine rooms, the casual beach boutique ensures guests a secluded stay. Photo: Saba Rock

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida Keys

Florida’s destination resort sits halfway between Key Largo and Key West along the Atlantic Ocean. The 60-acre property offers 177 guest rooms and 250 villas, a marina, six restaurants, five pools, kids and teen clubs and a spa. Active guests enjoy diving, fishing, kayaking, kite boarding, paddle boarding, tennis and more. The resort is offering a full week for travelers to save big on their next Florida Keys vacation. Book from November 22 to 30, 2021 and receive a 30 percent discount on two nights or more in the hotel or three nights or more in a villa with promo code CYBERW. Reservations are valid on stays from November 28, 2021, through October 31, 2022. To book, visit www.hawkscay.com

Hawks Cay Duck Key Florida Keys

Hawks Cay resort covers 60-acres and is truly a resort destination of its own. Hotel rooms, villas a spa and six restaurants and a full array of watersports keep guests happy. Photo: Hawks Cay

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

Bermuda

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

Maui

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

Eleuthera

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.

Eleuthera

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

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

 

 

Vieques Playa Negra

10 Beautiful Black Sand Beaches of the World

 

They are sexy, silky and mysterious. Some are hidden and hard to find while others are well known and favored by beach lovers. Images of dark, dramatic black sand beaches elicit the idea of exotic locales but many are found on nearby shorelines. As you travel the world make sure you add a couple of these intriguing coasts to your bucket list. Here, Playa Negra on Vieques is a favorite when visiting the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Panama Snapshots: Spectacled Owls at Canopy Lodge

 

Spectacled owls are common residents of Central American rainforests, but these nocturnal hunters are more often heard than seen. Their distinctive calls echo through the nighttime forests, then they retire at sunrise to spend the day roosting quietly in the shelter of the forest canopy. 

The photographer was lucky to find these two young owlets out and awake during daylight hours. This scene took place on a mountain hillside near Panama’s Canopy Lodge. The lodge is a unique live-in observatory, set in Anton Valley atop of Semaphore Hill. Guests can bird watch right from rooms that open into the forest mid canopy, while the upper observation deck provides 360-degree views of the valley, the Rio Guayabo and beyond.

Panama City La Isabela

Panama City’s Premier Downtown Hotels

 

Panama has emerged as Central America’s hub for international commerce and modern Latin American culture, and nowhere is this more evident that in the heart of its capital city. From the ultra-modern financial district to the historic streets of the Casco Viejo district, visitors will find an appealing mix of premier restaurants, eclectic shops, plazas, parks, and walking access to Pacific Ocean beaches. In recent years, the city has also seen the arrival of a number of world-class hotels and resorts. Here are four top choices for an upscale stay in the downtown district.

La Isabela Suites

Modern luxury melds with traditional elegance at La Isabela. This historic property, which dates from the mid 1800s, underwent a meticulous updating supervised by restoration architect, Francisco Montanes, who worked for almost two years with the cutting edge Spanish design group, Bersale, S.A., to restore La Isabela to its former elegance. Their vision was to adhere to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site guidelines and maintain the 19th century elements of La Isabela’s colonial architecture while incorporating touches of cutting edge design. This resulted in a unique historical harmony with an integration of styles, materials, and perspectives ranging from the 19th to the 21st century. To complement their efforts, selected pieces of Panamanian art are exhibited throughout the hotel.

La Isabela Panama

An interior courtyard at La Isabela Suites. This boutique property takes it’s name from the sweetheart of the US Army captain who once owned the historic home that was later converted to the hotel. Photo: La Isabela

La Isabela combines the largest suites in Panama City with the services of a luxury boutique hotel. Each one and two-bedroom suite includes en-suite bathrooms, a large living room and full kitchen. All suites open on to large balconies, and have access to a large internal courtyard with outdoor Balinese showers, or to rooftop terraces. Among the unique services provided by the hotel are in-room spa services and The Chef- at-Home Experience, in which a Michelin chef will prepare personal meals.

La Isabela Guest Room Panama

The living room of a two-bedroom suite at La Isabela blends vintage artwork, rich wood accents and period touches with clean, modern design elements. Photo: La Isabela

The Bristol Panama

This upscale favorite combines the coziness of a boutique hotel with the luxurious amenities of a larger resort. It is the first member of the Leading Hotels of the World group to open in Central America. The 215- room hotel sits in the heart of Panama City’s prestigious Financial District, where contemporary luxury, gourmet Panamanian cuisine, and the city’s rich architectural heritage merge. This location puts the Bristol within walking distance to many of the city’s best restaurants, shopping malls and nightlife venues.

Bristol Panama Lobby

The lobby of the Bristol hotel is decorated to create a sense of understated elegance, while also providing an appreciation of local flavor, and showcasing the works of regional artists. Photo: Bristol

The Bristol’s interior theme delivers a sophisticated twist on timeless Panamanian design, celebrating the art, architecture and history of the country. Deluxe rooms and executive suites combine a traditional ambiance with a wide range of modern comforts. On site is Salsipuedes, an award-winning gourmet restaurant that pays homage to the region’s traditional cuisines, with a spicy, soulful menu that updates traditional regional dishes with modern infusions of fresh local ingredients. Decorated with hand painted clay tiles, contemporary photography, and plenty of flowers, the restaurant takes in the best of Panama. The Bristol also offers a wellness spa located on the 25th floor.

Bristol Panama Bar Area

The bar area at the Bristol’s Salsipuedes restaurant is one of the city’s most award-winning dining venues, and a favorite with visitors and locals alike. Photo: Bristol

The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort

Panama City’s newest luxury hotel opened in the spring of 2018, redefining the city’s standards for luxury resorts. The resort features 182 elegantly appointed guestrooms and suites, each decorated with carefully crafted furniture and décor that showcases the work of Panamanian artisans. Authentic handcrafted Panamanian design elements balance the history and culture of the destination. These include Guna Yala-inspired traditional Mola blankets, handmade baskets from the Embera community and wood recovered from the depths of the Gatun Lake.

Panama City Santa Maria Master Suite

The seventh-floor master suite at the Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort includes separate living and dining spaces, and a large private terrace overlooking the golf course. Photo: Santa Maria

The Santa Maria is located within an exclusive golf course development next to the Costa del Este and Santa Maria business parks and just minutes away from both the airport and Panama City’s city center. Resort amenities include a world-class spa, chef-driven restaurants, and access to the only Championship Nicklaus Design 18-hole, 72-par golf course in Panama City. The hotel offers guests custom-curated tours designed to immerse them in the authentic culture of Panama and provide access to unique cultural attractions, including the Panama Canal, the Frank Gehry-designed Biodiversity Museum, and the country’s unspoiled Pacific islands and inland rainforests.

AQVA Pool Bar Panama City

The AQVA Pool Bar at the Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort serves a casual cuisine accompanied by golf course views, in an open-air setting that takes advantage of natural breezes. Photo: Santa Maria

Waldorf Astoria Panama City

This five-star hotel occupies an ultramodern tower in the heart of Panama City’s trending Calle Uruguay, where it is close to nightlife-lined Calle Uruguay and the Pacific Ocean. Opened in 2013 as the first Waldorf property in Latin America, the property blends classic Waldorf standards with a unique regional flair, using clean lines and neutral tones to create an upscale ambiance and an understated sense of luxury.

Waldorf Panama Lobby

The lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Panama City is decorated in earthy brown and ivory tones that are intended to create a sense of quiet luxury and understated elegance. Photo: Waldorf Astoria

The Waldorf Astoria has 130 rooms and suites, each with premium bedding and Egyptian cotton linens and marble baths with walk-in showers. One and two-bedroom suites add additional living areas and kitchens, along with ocean views from upper floors. Both rooms and public spaces showcase a bright, contemporary design that uses natural woods and subtle Central American influences. Dining options include a poolside terrace and bar with city skyline views, the French-American Brio Brasserie, a sushi bar and the Waldorf’s signature Peacock Alley bar and lounge. Guests can also relax in the four-room spa, fit in a workout at the Life Fitness center, or refresh in the 7th floor pool.

Panama Waldorf

A water level view of the pool and hot spa at the Waldorf Astoria Panama City. The pool deck and adjacent open-air lounge are elevated several stories above city streets. Photo: Waldorf Astoria

Nicaragua Mukal

Nicaragua Eco Lodges

 

The country of Nicaragua is a relative newcomer to tourism. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when a stable government was established, creating a secure atmosphere for travelers. Today, it is considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, and U.S. dollars are happily accepted. In the past decades, a number of resorts have sprung up along the Pacific Coast, while the interior has seen the rise of adventure lodges and historic hotels in towns such as Granada. The latest trend to hit Nicaragua is the advent of luxury eco lodges. We’ve found three of the best, one on the coast one in the mountains, and one on a private island in Lake Nicaragua.

The Beach

Known as the Emerald Coast, Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific shore is Central America’s newest beach resort district. As of yet, there are a limited number of properties spaced along the coast, and the most notable is a member of the Auberge Resorts Collection, which blends luxury and ecological responsibility. Mukul is set on 1,600-acres of low-density grounds at a private beach community that is just 10 minutes away from the Costa Esmeralda International Airport. The hotel was built with regional materials, timber from sustainable forests, non-toxic paints and energy efficient windows. Environmental initiatives include the development of rainwater catchment systems, gray water reclamation, and the planting of more than 1,500 trees. There are just 38 guest accommodations, designed in a style that combines modern elegance with traditional Nicaraguan roots, with interior furnishings and decors crafted by Nicaraguan artisans. Guests can select one or two bedroom beach villas, traditional thatch roofed Bohio suites or luxurious three to five-bedroom homes, all of which enjoy all the expected amenities and services of a luxury resort.

Mukul Nicaragua Pool Suite

A villa suite at Mukul includes a wrap-around deck with seating areas and a private plunge pool. Floor-to-ceiling windows are designed to maximize beach and forest views. Photo: Mukul

Mukul is the Mayan word for secret, and guests will certainly enjoy a combination of privacy and undisturbed ocean views. But private does not mean isolated. In addition to concierge level room services, the resort includes Spa Mukul, which has been named one of the world’s top spas. Each of the spa’s six sanctuaries offers a unique themed ambiance and signature spa ritual, designed to harness a different ancient healing tradition. Other resort amenities include a palapa lounge featuring dining and lounge areas, a swimming pool, and access to Tres Ceibas Beach Club. Nearby is the 18-hole Guacalito Golf Course, and guests have access to four miles of white sand beach and 12 kilometers of nature trails. The Mukul staff can also arrange a variety of adventures and cultural tours in the mountains, lake districts and historic cities of western Nicaragua. Unique experiences include helicopter flights over Nicaragua’s spectacular coastline, day trips to a private deep sea fishing lodge, and a visit to the sugar mill and sugar cane plantation, where the prized Flor de Caña rum is produced.

Mukul Pool

Guests at Mukul have access to a pair of infinity-edge pools that overlook the beach. The adjacent large palapa is the resort’s center for activities, and home to the signature La Mesa restaurant. Photo: Mukal

The Mountains

Nekupe means heaven in the indigenous Chorotega language, and a stay at the Nekupe Sporting Resort can certainly be a heavenly experience. This unique property is located within a 1,800-acre nature preserve in the mountains, an hour and a half south of the capital city of Managua. Tucked into the pristine cloud forest is an intimate resort compound that includes just four suites and four villas. Each guest accommodation is provided with its own local guide and all-terrain vehicle for navigating the jungle. The architecture follows the principles of Feng Shui, as each villa is aligned to specific cardinal orientations to receive positive and enhanced energies. Water sculptures and features are integrated into the design to replenish healthy energy, and a color palate of warm neutral tones mirrors the colors of the land. Guest rooms are fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows to usher in views.

Nekupe Nicaragua

The living room of the Grand Suite Villa at Nekupe Sporting Resort takes full advantage of the views of surrounding mountains, with windows and terraces that blend indoor and outdoor spaces. Photo: Nekupe

Adventure and wellness are the dual themes at Nekupe. Guests can enjoy horseback riding, hiking, sporting clay and target shooting, bird and wildlife watching and ATV rides. More relaxing activities include daily outdoor and indoor yoga, cooking and cocktail making classes, gardening and farming lessons, spa treatments, dancing or painting classes and excursions to neighboring towns or one of the many volcanoes. The resort follows socially responsible operating principles. The resort owners have reforested the surrounding area by planting more than 14,000 trees to attract butterflies and birds. The resort is solar powered, and includes green houses, plantain and wheat fields, a henhouse and a 13,000-square-foot organic garden that provides most of the resort’s produce.

Nekupe Nicaragua

Nekupe Sporting Resort is nestled into a mountain cloud forest in the highlands of western Nicaragua. Guests have exclusive access to the forest trails of a 1,600-acre nature preserve. Photo: Nekupe

The Lake

Jicaro Island Ecolodge sits on a private island in Lake Nicaragua, just a short boat ride away from the historic Colonial-era town of Granada. This intimate off-grid retreat is the creation of Karen Emanuel, a London-based businesswoman who fell in love with Nicaragua, and purchased the island in 2007. Three years later, the resort opened with nine two-level bungalows set on the shores of the lake. Each of these spacious, stand-alone structures has kitchens, social areas and large master bedrooms that open onto sweeping views of Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua. All structures and furnishings are fashioned from salvaged wood downed by a 2007 hurricane, and during construction, no large trees or boulders were removed from the site, and instead the lodge was designed and built around them.

Jicaro Nicaragua Lodge

Jicaro Island Ecolodge is located on a small private island on the western shores of Lake Nicaragua. It is a self-sustaining and eco-friendly resort that can be reached by water taxi. Photo: Jicaro

Health and well being is a key focus at Jicaro, which has a dedicated lakefront yoga deck, and a wellness center that offers a range of massage therapies and healing programs that take place in a pair of open-air treatment rooms overlooking Lake Nicaragua. Jicaro follows both Nicaraguan and internationally accepted standards for green operations. There is an on-site wastewater treatment center, water is heated by solar panels, and the resort uses only organic and biodegradable soaps, detergents and spa products. In addition to relaxation and wellness activities, guest can kayak to nearby islands, explore Masaya Volcano National Park, engage in cultural activities in surrounding villages and visit the historic city of Granada.

Jicaro Lodge Nicaragua

Guest accommodations at Jicaro Island Ecolodge focus on the water. Each of the resort’s nine bungalows feature open floor plans that deliver views, while also ushering in cooling lake breezes. Photo: Jicaro

Guadeloupe Marie Galante Beach

Off the Path Caribbean Beaches

 

The great thing about staying at a Caribbean Beach resort is that a prime patch of sand is usually just a few steps away. The downside is that you probably aren’t the only one within walking distance of that sand, and you’ll likely end up sharing a beach lounge with a number of other vacationers. Fortunately, there are still islands all across the region where you can find seclusion on the shore. To truly escape the crowds, you’ll have to venture beyond the range of cruise ships, and separate yourself from the resort districts by taking a puddle jumper or water taxi to a place less visited. We’ve come up with five of our favorite islands that are off the beaten path but reachable, and which reward those who make the journey with some of the most pristine and uncrowded beaches in the Caribbean.

Anse Canot, Marie Galante, Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe isn’t an island; it is a group of islands that together form an overseas region of France. And while the main island of Guadeloupe has its share of beachfront resorts, outliers such as Marie Galante are a different story. With no airport, this 60-square-mile island can only be reached by ferry or freighter. Once there, travelers will discover the Caribbean of yesteryear, where cane fields and farms spread across the landscape, and the only high rises are the traditional stone windmills that perch on hillsides. In a nod to the 21st century, there are taxis on call and cars for rent. After touring the back roads for a bit, and possibly touring the Rhum Belle Distillery, head to the undeveloped shores of Anse Canot. There are no beach bars, and no facilities, but you will find plenty of sand that is all yours to enjoy.

marie galante guadeloupe

Farming is the number one activity on Guadeloupe’s Marie Galante island, which means that the relatively small number of visitors can often stake out their own private stretch of beach. Photo: Michel Letertre/Flickr

Point of Sand, Little Cayman Island

This deserted swatch of sand stands in sharp contrast to the sophisticated luxuries of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. Little Cayman is the smallest and least developed member of the Cayman Islands group, with fewer than 200 full-time residents, and a single road ringing the shores. Visitors arrive aboard a small aircraft that lands on an unpaved strip, and there is no town to speak of, just a handful of small beach resorts scattered along the southern side of the island. It’s a great place for fishermen, divers, and nature lovers, who are vastly outnumbered by iguanas and rare birds. Bikes and motor scooters are often the preferred method of transport, but rental jeeps are also available. Whatever transportation you choose, the coast road will lead you east to the tip of the island, and Point of Sand Beach. The powdery white sands of this beach are soothing to the feet and pleasing to the eyes, as turquoise shallows extend to a snorkeling reef that marks the boundary with blue water.

little cayman

With only a handful of small resorts scattered around its undeveloped coast, Little Cayman Island provides almost total seclusion for those who make their way to beaches such as Point of Sand. Photo: Ray Bodden/Flickr

Otto Beach, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Even well traveled Caribbean veterans don’t know about the Corn Islands. Sitting 40 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, these small islands are way off the radar, and the cruise ship routes. It’s possible to fly from the mainland to a simple airfield on Big Corn Island, but to reach Little Corn will require a boat ride in a panga-style water taxi. Once there, plan on walking, because no motorized vehicles are allowed on this two-mile-long strip of sand and jungle. Footpaths connect the limited number of beachfront hostels and guesthouses that cater to adventurous backpackers and savvy travelers. There is one paved walkway that leads from the island’s only village to several east-side beaches, but for the ultimate in seclusion, you’ll want to follow a trail through the island’s wooded interior to the north shore, where there’s a good chance you will have the sands of Otto Beach all to yourself.

little corn island

There’s never a crowd at Little Corn Island’s Otto Beach, because getting there begins with a boat ride from Big Corn, followed by a mile of walking on a wooded cross-island trail. Photo: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner/Flickr

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Given the number of rich and famous that have visited, it would be hard to call Harbour Island a hidden gem. But it is certainly the crown jewel of the Bahamian Out Islands, and a place where a select few travelers can enjoy the seclusion that privilege provides. The island can only be reached by a puddle jumping flight, followed by a land and then a water taxi ride. Forget owning one of the quaint and colorful cottages that front the flower-lined streets of Dunmore Town that would set you back a minimum of seven figures. But for the price of an upscale Caribbean beach hotel, you can rent a bungalow that’s just steps from the island’s famous pink sand beach. This rose-colored strand has been featured on magazine covers and in countless fashion shoots, but on any given day, there are surprisingly few folks out sunning on this three-mile expanse.

harbour island pink

Harbour Island is famous for the pink sand beach that runs the length of its eastern shore. The absence of large hotels on the island keeps things from getting crowded. Photo: iStock

Petit Tabac, Tobago Cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Remember that deserted beach where Johnny Depp’s character was marooned on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie? It’s actually Petit Tabac, which is the smallest of five islands that make up the Tobago Cays. You can reach these uninhabited bits of land aboard a chartered sailboat, or by hopping a water taxi from nearby Mayreau or Union Islands. Bring provisions, and plan on a day trip, because as there are no hotels for overnighting—or any other signs of human impact. The Cays lie within a marine park, and are surrounded by coral reefs that attract divers and snorkelers. The scenic beach on Petit Tabac is shaded by coconut palms, and there is good snorkeling just a short swim from shore.

petit tabac

One of the five uninhabited islands in the Tobago Cays, Petit Tabac is a popular nesting spot for hawksbill, leatherback and green turtles. Photo: Christian Lendl/Flickr

Costa Rica Puerto Viejo

Costa Rica’s Best Caribbean Beach Lodges

 

Most travelers think Pacific when they are planning a Costa Rica beach vacation. From upscale retreats along the Gulf of Papagayo to fishing lodges in Quepos and surf clubs in Golfito, the country’s west coast has hundreds of resorts to choose from.

Not as well known are the limited number of small hotels and eco lodges that are scattered along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are a few on the dark sand beaches to the north, but travelers in the know gravitate to the southern shores, where golden sands flank a jungle-clad shore, and coral reefs lie close to shore. There are no high rises, and as you approach the border with Panama, a single road leads through small fishing villages to boutique resorts nestled into the rain forest, or set on wild beaches. Here are three of the best.

Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo

Adventurous surfers were the first to discover the coastal village of Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica’s far southern Caribbean coast. But the word is now out, and the town has become a lively destination for the backpacking crowd. Hotel Banana Azul is located on the beach a quarter mile from downtown—close enough for an easy walk to shops and bars, but far enough away to avoid the late night party scene. The property includes 14 guest rooms in the main hotel, which is built from local hardwoods. Also on the grounds is the two-story Villas Banana Verde, which are luxury accommodations with a full kitchen and a private plunge pool. All accommodations are equipped with wireless Internet and are in close proximity to the ocean-view pool, beach and restaurant. The grounds feature lush tropical gardens and each villa’s open-air design allows guests to cook and dine in their private outdoor space. It that’s not your thing, the Azul Beach Club serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Viejo Hotel Costa Rica Lounge

The lounge area at the Hotel Banana Azul showcases the warm, rich colors of sustainable local hardwoods and the cool counterpoint of native stonework. Photo: Banana Azul

The hotel provides a quiet, beachfront oasis, but it is also an ideal starting point for activities up and down the coast and into the surrounding rainforests. Guests can plan their own adventures or join daily-guided tours. A tasty favorite is the Chocolate Forest Experience tour, where guests learn the history of cacao cultivation, harvesting and chocolate making. Hikers and bird watchers can arrange day trips to Cahuita National Park, the Jaguar Rescue Center and the pristine Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge. The resort also offers a number of farther ranging tours that include whitewater rafting excursions, coastal sailing cruises, and trips into the mountains to hike, zip line and soak in volcanic hot springs.

Viejo Hotel Azul Pool Costa Rica

The pool deck at the Hotel Banana Azul is surrounded by lush tropical landscaping. It is just a short walk from rooms to the uncrowded sands of Playa Chiquita beach. Photo: Banana Azul

La Kukula Lodge, Playa Chiquita

Eco-conscious travelers will fall in love with La Kukula Lodge, which is about three miles south of Puerto Viejo. Set on the site of a former cocoa plantation now returning to rainforest, La Kukula Lodge is all about natural living. Fabricated from sustainably sourced local teak wood, the resort combines traditional craftsmanship with innovative architectural design elements to create accommodations that are both comfortable and environmentally responsible. All buildings are set on raised platforms, leaving the forest floor beneath undisturbed. This design also creates a cooling airflow that combines with design elements such as high, vaulted ceilings and shading roof overhangs to provide passive cooling, making artificial air conditioning unnecessary. Footpaths are narrow in order to maintain an uninterrupted canopy, allowing troops of howler monkeys and other animals to travel overhead without leaving the safety of the treetops.

La Kukula Lodge

A villa at the La Kukula Lodge sits on a raised foundation that does not displace the jungle’s natural flora and fauna, and allows small animals to roam freely through the grounds. Photo: La Kukula

Guests at La Kukula have options that range from single rooms to stand-alone two-bedroom bungalows or a two-story, three bedroom house that is ideal for large family groups, Amenities include queen or king beds set beneath gauze netting, terraces with hammocks, and rainforest showers with large windows that provide private jungle views. The resort’s dining room creates gourmet meals that are prepared on site by local chefs using fresh, organic and locally sourced produce wherever possible. The menu blends Costa Rican and European influences, combining local recipes with a Mediterranean style. From the lodge, it is a five-minute walk to Playa Chiquita, which is one of the area’s lesser known and less visited beaches. This relatively small stretch of sand includes tide pools and coral reefs, making it ideal for snorkeling, walking or a quiet nap away from the crowds.

La Kukula Main House Costa Rica

Like all buildings at the La Kukula Lodge, the main house is designed to have minimal impact on the natural surroundings. Toucans and sloths are often seen in the area. Photo: La Kukula

Tree House Lodge, Punta Uva

Moving south from Puerto Viejo, a single narrow road winds through the jungle towards the coastal outpost of Punta Uva, where a pair of gold sand beaches flank a green promontory. Branching off along the way is an even less obvious track that leads into a 10-acre oceanfront property nestled on the edge of the Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge. This is the site of one of the most eclectic and intriguing lodges in Central America. The property has impeccable ecological credentials; many structures were created from fallen trees or sustainable bamboo, with roofs made from recycled materials. Features such as solar water heating, natural paints and wastewater reclamation programs have earned the lodge the highest possible 5 LEAVES certification from Certification for Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica. In addition to a strong commitment to ecological responsibility, the lodge focuses on wellness, with daily yoga classes and a fitness center that offers daily fitness, Pilates, and Taebo classes.

Tree House Lodge Costa Rica

Near the Tree House Lodge, the coastline of Punta Uva includes a number of small beaches separated by points of land, with coral reefs rising close to the surface just yards from shore. Photo: Tree House Lodge

The Tree House Lodge is made up of five unique homes that combine open-air living and modern luxuries with whimsical designs. The two-level beach house is constructed entirely from a single fallen loquat tree. The Beach Suite’s futuristic profile wraps around a spacious bathing room set within a dome embedded with colored glass ports. The Crystal House has a massive sangrillo tree grown through its center, a miniature golf course running through the interior, and a wood-fired hot tub. The Garden House is built almost entirely from bamboo, and the Tree House is raised on stilts, and reached by a suspension bridge. Though rustic and unusual in appearance, the homes of the Tree House Lodge include modern comforts such as air conditioning, full kitchens and Wi-Fi service. Various layouts include one or two bedrooms and lofts, and can accommodate up to six people.

Crystal House Tree House Lodge Costa Rica

The Crystal House at the Tree House Lodge blends indoor and outdoor living spaces that are decorated with recycled art, and feature handmade furniture and open-air kitchens. Photo: Tree House Lodge