$230 • Ambergris Caye, Belize
Laid-back Ambergris Caye is just a 20-minute flight from gritty Belize City, but a world apart. The beaches are powdery white, shopping barefoot is encouraged, and the pace is languorous, thanks to the island’s sandy, car-free roads (locals get around by golf cart, fat-tired bicycle, or a leisurely saunter). The newly renovated Mata Chica Beach Resort (011-501/220-5010; www.matachica.com), on the private northern side of the island, makes an ideal base: it’s sufficiently off the beaten track to feel secluded, though only a short water-taxi ride from the lively restaurants and shops of downtown San Pedro. Not that you’ll feel compelled to leave the resort, which offers stellar seafood dishes at its restaurant Mambo, film screenings in the new martini lounge, and banana-and-brown sugar facials at the spa. The 14 bungalows are painted in bright, Gauguin hues such as mango and watermelon pink. All have sea views, air-conditioning, thatched roofs, vibrant murals by Lionel Dumas, and glass-walled showers surrounded by bamboo and Mexican tiles. The best deals are the four Sea Breeze bungalows—they’re a 30-second walk from the water’s edge, but $120 less than the beachfront casitas.
While There To spot a kaleidoscope of sea life, head to Hol Chan Marine Reserve (www.holchanbelize.org). Experienced divers shouldn’t miss a day trip to the famous Blue Hole, a midnight-blue sinkhole in the midst of the turquoise sea. At night, head to the neighboring Rojo Lounge (011-501/226-4012; www.azulbelize.com), known for its conch pizzas, frozen margaritas, and sleek beachfront style. —Jaime Gross
$225 • WestPunt, Curaçao
The Dutch sound of Curaçao’s native tongue, Papiamentu, and the colorful candy box-like 18th-century buildings that line the harbor of the principal city, Willemstad, hark back to three centuries of Dutch rule (1634 to 1954). Devotees return for the island’s surprising number of faultlessly preserved historic sites and peaceful, cactus-scattered terrain, but until recently, Curaçao held few compelling hotel options. The year-old Lodge Kura Hulanda & Beach Club (877/264-3106; www.kurahulanda.com), in the small village of Westpunt, is a notable exception (along with also affordable sister property Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino in Willemstad). The lodge’s 75 villas, suites, and guest rooms stand on a cliff, surrounded by 350 acres of carefully tended gardens filled with flowering shrubs and tamarind and breadfruit trees. Descend the stone steps to the white coral-sand beach, and you’ll find a pristine snorkeling and scuba diving area. The rooms, with their big patios, soft white linens, and rattan furnishings, are soothing but also high-tech, with flat-screen TV’s, DVD players, and free high-speed Internet.
While There Sample local fare at one of the oldest plantation houses on the island, the nearby Landhuis Daniel (59-99/864-8400; www.landhuisdaniel.com; dinner for two $56). Transformed into a restaurant and guesthouse 10 years ago, it now serves Dutch and Creole food made with herbs and vegetables plucked from the hotel’s own organic garden. —Andrea Bennett