$145 • Veracruz
As coastal Mexico slowly gives way to a glut of high-rises and libidinous throngs of tourists, a few tucked-away treasures hold tight to their cultural roots, not to mention a high standard of innovative indigenous design. The solo project of Carlos Couturier (one of the hoteliers behind Mexico City’s Habita Hotel and Deseo in Playa del Carmen), Azúcar (Monte Gordo; 52-232/321-0678; www.hotelazucar.com) is set between a pristine beach, citrus groves, and sugarcane fields in the eastern state of Veracruz. The resort manages to defy tradition while embracing it: spare meditative surroundings, early morning yoga, and an Asian-inspired spa lend the property an Eastern air; vivid pink accents, Mexican votives, and dishes such as the fragrant house special, acamayitas (freshwater prawns), infuse it with a distinctly Latin flavor. The 20 luminescent white bungalows have sculptural walls, pearl-hued cement floors, and private terraces with hammocks.
Related: 27 Affordable Beach Resorts
While There Ten minutes away, the town of San Rafael simmers with a potent mix of Afro-Caribbean and French influences, remnants of the area’s sugar-industry heyday. Within its tiny confines, you can find handmade cheeses, bakeries specializing in both baguettes and pan de agua, and sublime lechero coffee: try Mr. Lambert’s Traditional Cheese and Cream (39 Avda. 16 de Septiembre N.; 52-232/325-0373) and the Maasberg family bakery (3 Calle Encinas; 52-232/325-0423). —Jessica Hundley
South & Central America
$170 • Buchupureo, Chile
Chile’s rugged south-central coast, a few hilly turns west of the famous wine-producing valleys of Region VII and five hours south of Santiago, has long sat quietly, frequented primarily by wandering surfers and oxen-driving farmers. Now, as if to remind people that Brazil isn’t the only South American country with stunning stretches of sand, a young American couple has opened La Joya del Mar (56-42/197-1733; www.lajoyadelmar.com), a three-villa property that’s an oasis of simple luxury. Embracing a modern and organic aesthetic, the hotel’s open, airy villas are decorated with clean-lined furnishings custom-crafted from oak harvested in the nearby province of Cordillera. The on-site restaurant is charmingly bicultural, serving local dishes such as barbecued fish, shellfish empanadas, and fresh ceviche alongside pizzas and pastas from the kitchen of owner (and surfer) Dayna Del Duca, who inherited the recipes from her Sicilian father—all complemented by an excellent collection of 80-plus Chilean wines. It doesn’t take a surfer to appreciate the Pacific backdrop: a black-sand beach rimmed by lavender, oak, and banana-tree-covered hillsides.
While There The lovely Itata Valley, just an hour’s drive east of La Joya, is home to a handful of small vineyards—the best being Casas de Giner (56-42/351-025; www.casasdeginer.cl). For more tasting options, head to the historic Maule Valley (56-71/246-460; www.valledelmaule.cl)—a two-hour road trip from La Joya—which has a wine-making tradition that dates to colonial times. —David Hanson
$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
$230 • North Sulawesi, Indonesia
It may lack the well-developed, sybaritic appeal of Bali to the southwest, but Indonesia’s North Sulawesi has charms all its own. The lush province, set along the volcanic Pacific Ring of Fire, teems with biodiversity—from forested nature preserves to the world-class Bunaken marine reserve, home to more than 2,500 varieties of fish. Though the island has maintained a low profile, it’s definitely on the rise, thanks to direct flights from Singapore to its capital, Manado, and a wealth of sustainable ecotourism projects in the works (including a recent, successful campaign to prevent a gold mine from dumping its harmful tailings into the sea). The pick of the province’s resorts is the year-old Kima Bajo Resort & Spa (62-43/186-0999; www.kimabajo.com) set on remote Wori Bay. Here, a collection of 32 elegant suites and freestanding thatched-roof villas—some with outdoor rain showers and bathtubs—and a serene spa cascade down a hill to a volcanic-sand beach. Guests spend their days cruising Bunaken and the surrounding islands, dining on superb Indonesian fare, and taking in the breathtaking sunsets over Manado Tua, a dormant volcano rising from the sea.
While There Organize a hike with Tangkoko Ecotourism Guides Club (62-43/187-1845; www.neba.nl) through the densely forested 21,745-acre Tangkoko-Batu Angus Dua Saudara National Park to spot the fabulously eccentric spectral tarsier—a tiny nocturnal primate with enormous eyes that can swivel its head 180 degrees and jump 10 times its body length. Try finding that on Bali.—Leisa Tyler
Security Note Although North Sulawesi has not had security issues in the past, the U.S. State Department has an ongoing travel advisory for Indonesia, which includes the province. For more information, check the department’s Web site at www.travel.state.gov.
$243 • Phuket, Thailand
Just over two years after the Asian tsunami wreaked havoc on Phuket’s coastline, the resort island is back and better than ever. A string of hotels have opened in the past year, the best of which is Indigo Pearl (66-76/327-006; www.indigo-pearl.com), a 277-room property on secluded Nai Yang Beach that is just putting its finishing touches. Designed by Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley, Indigo Pearl recalls the site’s former life as a tin mine with sleek, industrial-style interiors: polished-concrete floors, steel beams, exposed ceilings, and machinery-inspired sculptures. The austere effect is offset by yards of Thai silk on pillows and chairs, plush beds, and oversize bathtubs. The sprawling property has three swimming pools (don’t miss the "snakeskin pool," tiled with glass beads), a yoga-focused spa, tennis courts, a breezy tapas bar, and five other on-site restaurants. Along the beach, a string of cheap and cheerful bars keep a lively beat throughout the day and night.
While There For a dose of culture, venture into the narrow streets of Phuket Town, where 19th-century Sino-Portuguese shop-houses dating from Old Phuket’s prosperous tin-mining days are being transformed into chic restaurants and bars. Stop off at the atmospheric China Inn Café (20 Thalang Rd.; 66-76/356-239, dinner for two $30) to shop for antiques and graze on Chinese-inspired local dishes, including goon jian (prawns in tamarind sauce). —L.T.
$106 • Madeira, Portugal
Not so long ago, the name Madeira was associated almost exclusively with the preferred tipple of dainty English matrons. The namesake Portuguese island, some 372 miles off the Atlantic coast of Morocco, however, draws a much younger and more adventurous crowd. They come for the subtropical isle’s bonanza of water-and-wind sports—Madeira is known as the "Hawaii of Europe"—as well as a rum-fueled party scene with nary a bottle of the traditional sweet wine in sight. The Hotel Estalagem da Ponta do Sol (35-129/197-0200; www.pontadosol.com) embodies the new attitude. This grand former farmhouse has been dramatically expanded with a deftly minimalist touch (smooth black slate floors, crisply geometric whitewashed walls, gauzy fabrics, and Modernist furniture) that’s in harmony with the hotel’s backdrop: an endless expanse of azure water and sky stretching to the horizon. The vertiginous cliffside perch over the village of Ponta do Sol (roughly, "Sunset Point") ensures that every inch of the property, from the infinity pool to the restaurant to the 54 guest rooms, has stunning vistas.
While There With an area of just 286 square miles, Madeira is easy to cover by car, which will let you sample the island’s varied delights, from the manicured gardens and urbane nightlife of Funchal, the capital, to the wild shore-breaks at surfers’ paradise Jardim do Mar, in the southwest. Don’t miss the 1,000-foot descent in a glass elevator to the secluded sand-and-pebble beach at Fajã dos Padres, in Quinta Grande. —Andrew Ferren
$177 • San Sebastián, Spain
Though a resort town for over a century—Spanish Queen María Cristina adopted it for her summer holidays in the 1890’s—San Sebastián is more often linked with haute gastronomy than with the picturesque and sparkling white beaches that are her birthright. That classic seaside charm is best experienced from the Hotel Niza (56 Calle Zubieta; 34-943/426-663; www.hotelniza.com), a 1911 Victorian-style hotel in the center of a broad boardwalk in the heart of La Concha Beach. Niza’s 40 rooms, reached by an appealingly démodé elevator, are all designed in clean (if a tad utilitarian) Provençal blues and yellows. At night, locals slip down to the hotel’s restaurants—the Italian La Pasta Gansa and Café Biarritz, a tapas (or pintxos, in Euskera) bar—for their excellent, inexpensive dishes, then head for the bars lining Calle Reyes Católicos. By day, they hit La Concha, surf at Zurriola, or simply loll the way María Cristina once did: on the lawns of her lovely Palacio Miramar above the sea, now open to picnickers.
While There San Sebastián’s restaurants are famed for their pintxos. In the heart of the Old Town—a warren of crooked streets—the bar Gandarias (23 Calle 31 de Agosto; 34/943-426-362; dinner for two $65) displays pintxos like jewels on counters. For simple presentations of fish, head to Aita Mari (21-23 Calle Puerto; 34/943-431-359; dinner for two $78), set at the edge of the old port. —Sarah Wildman
$230 • Sea Ranch, California
Founded in 1964 and hailed as one of the first eco-sensitive resort communities in the United States, the utopian hideaway of Sea Ranch occupies 10 miles of rugged Pacific coastline about two hours north of San Francisco, in an area locally known as Mendonoma, at the border of Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Set near a redwood forest, the Sea Ranch Lodge (800/732-7262; www.searanchlodge.com) is a magnificent example of mid-60’s rustic-modern design. Nearly all of the 20 cedar-paneled rooms have leather armchairs and spectacular ocean views, but hedonists should opt for Nos. 19 or 20, which include fireplaces and spa tubs. Full breakfast at the lodge restaurant is a feast of local organic fruit, freshly baked biscuits, and omelettes—fuel for foraging stones and driftwood on the bluffs and on nearby Black Point Beach. The real show starts at sunset: Take in the majestic view from Adirondack chairs on the lawn or with a glass of one of 115 local wines.
While There Don’t miss a scenic road trip to Gualala, a tiny town eight miles away with a big reputation for its burgeoning arts scene. Visit the Alinder Gallery (39150 S. Hwy. 1; 707/884-4884), which specializes in Ansel Adams photography, and Placewares + Lyndon Design (39114 Ocean Dr.; 707/884-1184), a handsomely designed store selling local art and contemporary European home furnishings. —David Keeps
$146 • Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
Where’s the perfect perch for explorers of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, a dramatic hundred-mile stretch of shoreline that has everything from sandy beaches to tranquil lagoons to high, craggy peaks?In the trees, of course. Rockwater Secret Cove Resort (5356 Ole’s Cove Rd.; 877/296-4593; www.rockwatersecretcoveresort.com), accessible via a short ferry or floatplane ride from Vancouver, has recently opened a 1,500-foot-long treetop walk among the property’s tall stands of arbutus trees. The walk connects a new series of luxury tent-house suites, all with heated slate floors, shoji screens, hydrotherapy tubs, and private verandas overlooking the Malaspina Strait. Soak up the sea air during an alfresco massage at the tented spa in the cove, or launch a kayak or scuba-diving trip right from the resort’s black-sand beach. And it’s only 15 minutes by water shuttle across the strait to the tiny Thormanby Islands and their glistening alabaster beaches. Time your arrival for low tide, when you can wade through tidal pools filled with starfish, sea urchins, and Dungeness crabs.
While There A short drive away lies Desolation Sound, one of the crown jewels of B.C.’s marine parks, with warm waters, cataract falls, and sheltered coves that make it a kayaker’s playground. Halfmoon Sea Kayaks (5644 Cowrie St., Sechelt; 604/885-2948; www.halfmoonseakayaks.com) leads tours through the park’s rocky points and narrow channels. —Bonnie Tsui
$168 • Zanzibar, Tanzania
Africa’s Spice Island has lured travelers to its shores since the days of the earliest traders. Glorious white beaches and dazzling water (in a shade reminiscent of a Dynasty Green 1965 Mustang) have made Zanzibar a favorite among the backpacker set, but a recent infusion of stylish hotels signals the island’s coming of age. One notable newcomer is Fumba Beach Lodge (255-777/860-504; www.fumbabeachlodge.com), a castaway-style property of 26 breezy rooms (all with private terraces) spread over 40 beachfront acres. Divers take note: the on-site PADI-licensed dive center guarantees easy access to the nearby coral reef. In the evening, guests congregate, sundowners in hand, under a sprawling baobab tree overlooking the sea at the lodge’s Dhow Fum Bar.
While There For a day on the water, try island-hopping in the Menai Bay Conservation Area. Safari Blue (255-777/423-162; www.safariblue.net) leads daily dhow expeditions from Fumba, stopping along the way for snorkeling in the reef and a dip in a natural lagoon surrounded by mangroves. —Jennifer V. Cole
Standard Miami Andre Balazs’s mod Scandinavian-style property on Belle Isle. 305/673-1717; www.standardhotel.com; doubles from $225.
Playa del Carmen
Hotel Básico Sleek design outpost in Quintana Roo. 52-984/879-4448; www.hotelbasico.com; doubles from $168.
Inn at Robert’s Grove Freshly renovated family favorite. 800/565-9757; www.robertsgrove.com; doubles from $215.
Gunacaste, Costa Rica
Hotel Punta Islita Pacific Coast eco-resort. 011-506/231-6122; www.hotelpuntaislita.com; doubles from $218.
9 Beaches Overwater villas on 18 beachfront acres. 441/239-2999; www.9beaches.com; doubles from $185.
Rendezvous Bay Spotless rooms with a funky B&B vibe. 800/274-4893; www.rendezvousbay.com; doubles from $140.
Rockhouse Hotel Rooms, studios, and villas clustered around cliffs and grottoes. 876/957-4373; www.rockhousehotel.com; doubles from $125.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Inn on the Blue Horizon Plantation-style inn on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean. 787/741-3318; www.innonthebluehorizon.com; doubles from $160.
Ti Kaye Village Resort Cliffside hotel on the secluded west coast. 758/456-8101; www.tikaye.com; doubles from $200.
Hotel Kastil The Dalmatian Coast’s most stylish property. 385-21/635-995; www.kastil.hr; doubles from $182.
Hotel Dos Mares Moorish-style beachfront bungalows. 34-956/684-035; www.dosmareshotel.com; doubles from $172.
Nusa Dua, Indonesia
Grand Hyatt Bali Amenities-filled, 40-acre resort. 62-361/771-234; bali.grand.hyatt.com; doubles from $220.
Hua Hin, Thailand
Aleenta Pretty, Thai-style retreat. 66-2/508-5333; www.aleenta.com; doubles from $227.