That slice of paradise is still attainable. Here, three under-the-radar gems where you can score a room at the 11th hour.
If You Like The Riviera Maya, Mexico
Try: Costalegre, Mexico
Why Go: Long overshadowed by the likes of Cancún and Cabo, this pristine, 150-mile stretch of Pacific coastline—a two-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta—is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets.
Where to Stay: Secluded oceanfront hotels include Las Alamandas and Hotelito Desconocido. Or rent a villa through Journey Mexico, which has 20 listings in the area, most of which are on the beach.
If You Like Costa Rica
Why Go: This beach- and rain-forest-filled destination is in the middle of a construction boom, with close to 5,000 hotel rooms in the pipeline.
Where to Stay: Pair a beach stay at Playa Bonita Resort & Spa or Westin Playa Bonita with a couple of days in one of Panama City’s chic hotels, such as Las Clementinas or Casa del Horno.
If You Like St. Martin
Why Go: Travelers are rediscovering this quiet island, which is flourishing again following a 2004 hurricane that battered its fertile volcanic interior and sugar-sand shore.
Where to Stay: Look for available rooms at the charming retreats of Laluna, Spice Island Beach Resort and Maca Bana. Villa rentals are also plentiful: Homeaway has more than 60 properties on the island.
Useful Booking Tools
Kayak: Not sure where you want to go, or deciding between destinations? A handy global map feature lets you pinpoint where you can travel and for how much. Also consider subscribing to fare alerts and daily or weekly deal e-mails.
AirBnB: The Match tool lets travelers on a deadline search multiple apartment, house, and villa listings in 192 countries and sends your request to the properties you deem a good fit. If your trip is within five days, you’re automatically routed to Match.
Lastminute.com: The Hotel Deals feature allows you to search for and book rooms within a three-day window.
Expedia.com: This site’s Last-Minute Deals section uses your starting location to produce a list of the best deals found by other travelers on airfare, hotels, car rentals, and packages.
Texas-based HomeAway lists 30 properties along the coconut grove–lined coast, and its "rent with confidence" guarantee refunds unsatisfied guests up to $5,000 per booking.
Spice Island Beach Resort
You'll sip your cocktail with a clear conscience, knowing that the property's water is solar-heated, the bulbs are energy-saving compact fluorescents, and the pool is treated with salt instead of chlorine. Another point in the eco column: recycling is de rigueur, with food scraps composted and guest soaps ground for use as laundry detergent for hotel uniforms.
Maca Bana Villas
Set on a verdant bluff above Grenada’s talcum-soft Aquarium Beach on the island’s south shore, this tiny hotel delivers a true sense of place. Exotic smells waft up from the hotel’s renowned restaurant, where nutmeg and ginger play a starring role in the cuisine, a nod to the island’s history as the Caribbean’s “spice island.” The seven villas (or “banas”) are individually crafted with local stone, wood, and bamboo, and are painted in vibrant hues that reflect their food-centric names: Avocado is painted a soft green, Mango is a tangy yellow, Coconut is a cool, creamy white. Each bana is furnished with a working kitchen that allows guests to dapple in tropical cuisine—cooking demonstrations are available, and in-room meals can be cooked by one of Maca Bana’s resident chefs. But the coup de grâce is outside: a wooden deck with views across the bay to St George’s (Grenada’s quaint British colonial–style capital), a private Jacuzzi (easily big enough for two), and plenty of space for an in-room massage and other spa treatments. Down on the beach, the property’s Aquarium restaurant is clearly one of the island’s best. It’s the place to order fresh-from-the-Caribbean seafood as well as callaloo cannelloni and ginger pumpkin soup.
Located at Grenada’s remote Quarantine Point, Laluna, a 16-villa Caribbean hideaway within 60 steps of the sea, has both a well-regarded design pedigree (with a mix of Italian and Asian accents) and a wellness focus. The owner, former Prada consultant Bernardo Bertucci, worked with renowned Italian architect Gabriella Giuntoli to create the interiors: rooms feature four-poster Balinese beds and open-air bamboo bathrooms with Caribbean Sea views, plus Italian linens and bath products. The 10 secluded acres are dotted with private plunge pools, and during the day, guests meander between the open-air yoga pavilion, an Asian-inspired spa that offers Balinese Head Massages, and the Italian restaurant for Prosciutto di Parma or Parmiggiano Reggiano. Come afternoon, daybeds shaded by elephant-grass thatched roofs are perfect spots to enjoy a book from the library and a daiquiri with freshly picked limes.
This collection of more than 700 Spanish-colonial mansions, traditional haciendas, and modern beachfront retreats is spread across Mexico, with the most offerings in the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos.
Standout Set within Tulum’s lush Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the light-filled Casa Nalum is within swimming distance of a pretty barrier reef (three bedrooms; $22,848 a week).