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I need a help with a vaca destination in Caribbean or Central America
January 22, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I am planning a vacation and tortured by all the choices. I'm thinking of the Caribbean or Central America (but open to just about anyplace). I need help narrowing it down. The trip is for my husband, my 5 year old son and me. We'd be flying from Boston and going for a week. So much more inside...

1. Planning for winter 2014 and thinking of a beach vacation.
2. Not a huge pain to get to (I don't want plane ride, then 4 hour ferry, then 2 hour bus ride, etc).
3. Airfare cheaper the better - I was hoping no more that 700 bucks a person.
4. Safe (I don't care about petty crime but don't want it to be a place that tourist crime is remotely common)
5. Friendly locals are a bonus (only been a couple places that that is been a problem)
6. Casual feeling is nice.
7. Not a heavy traffic area. ( My dream place would be in walking distance to a few restaurants and or shops but the area doesn't feel "busy" with lots of cars whizzing by.)
8. Something to do near by. It would be nice to get to go on some nature tour or something like that.
9. Not too "touristy". I know I have Playa del Carmen and Negril there, but I just don't want a place that has a Chili's and feels like the place is crawling with cruise ship day trippers.

A few places I love are Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Negril.
2 places I hate? Cancun and Puerto Adventuras.

I'm open to a specific hotel or just a town or region.
posted by beccaj to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
A couple places I have looked at a tiny bit were Dominica and Caye Caulker.
posted by beccaj at 1:26 PM on January 22, 2013


Harbour Island, Bahamas ticks many of your boxes. It's gorgous, quiet, easy to walk (only 3 miles by half a mile!), very friendly and very safe. The beaches and snorkling are amazing, but you might be stuck for lots of "activities," but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by goggie at 1:33 PM on January 22, 2013


Costa Rica, outside of San Jose. Fly in via Miami, take a private car/cab or an intra-country flight to your hotel. If this were me, I'd land at SJO and fly down to Puerto Jiminez, and stay at one of the nice lodges there.
posted by ellF at 1:34 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really like Puerto Rico. It's still in the US, but it has a foreign feel.

Neat forts, beautiful beaches, yummy food and no passport necessary.

Lots of resorts as well as beautiful nature tours. The culture is child friendly, so your little one should have a great time.

There are some all-inclusive places (if you're into that, it's less of an adventure when you're with your kids.)

Here's a short bit of detail.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:39 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I stayed on Caye Caulker a couple of years ago and loved it! It's about an hour ferry ride from Belmopan, into which I presume you'd be flying. There are snorkel and dive shops based on the island, and there's plenty of places to eat and stay. No cars are allowed, either - the only motorized vehicles are golf carts.

The other big one is Ambergris Caye, but IIRC that's where cruise ships call and it's a little more touristy and built-up.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2013


We went to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca which is on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast and it was pretty great. It generally fits all your criteria, but you will have to get on a bus or something after you get off the plane, but this is true for most central american destinations, as the capitals (where the airports are) aren't all along the coasts, and the beaches are.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:41 PM on January 22, 2013


Puerto Rico is awesome. And JetBlue regularly runs tickets at $400 (or sometimes less) round trip from Boston.
posted by barnone at 1:41 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I adore Isla Mujeres, which is just off of Cancun but on another planet, vibe-wise. It's very chill and walkable, and an easy ferry ride from Cancun.
posted by COBRA! at 1:43 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just got back from Turks and Caicos a few days ago - specifically, Providenciales. Beautiful island, nice people, low crime, not overly touristy or crowded. On the very expensive side though - flights are not bad, but accommodations and food are very, very pricey. You might be able to save if you don't stay on Grace Bay (main, long stretch of gorgeous white sand beach and turquoise water), or rent someone's condo instead of staying at a hotel.

When I looked into Turks & Caicos a couple years ago while in Boston, Jetblue had seasonal direct flights - might be worth researching.

Snorkeling is very popular on Providenciales if you're into that, though I was pretty content just laying on the beach and staring out at the water :-)
posted by raztaj at 1:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oooohh. I am getting excited. I love these answers so far! Keep 'em coming, please.
posted by beccaj at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2013


I have to vote for somewhere in the Abaco (note:I may be biased as a person who's family has been there since the 70s). But take a look at least. There are some really cool islands in Northen Bahamas that tend to get ignored because they are not touristy and don't have huge resorts. But!, they are not remote jungles with nothing to do but machete your way through brush.

My personal recommendation is always going to be to Green Trurtle Cay, where there are a ton of rentals and a couple of hotels where you can eat, play on the beach, fish and snorkel, and especially find a guide to take you, (or if you are sea-navigation inclined, guide you) to nearby islands that have a lot of cool things to see and walks to take.

If you are interested in the Abaco, google these things to get a better idea: Treasure Cay (main airport), Marsh Harbor (secondary Airport), Great Guana, Hope Town/Elbow Cay, and Man-o-war Cay.

If you would like a great place for a fun and (not at all dangerous) adventure for the kids, with nice locals and almost no opportunities for buying expensive souvenirs, I swear you should look into the Abacos.
posted by boobjob at 4:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Antigua, Guatemala could work. So could Utila, one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. So could Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Utila would be the closest thing to Negril.
posted by thecolor12 at 4:32 PM on January 22, 2013


I wouldn't recommend Puerto Viejo for a 5 year old unless you stay outside the town itself. It can be a little bit rowdy, since it's kind of a party town. I wouldn't recommend Antigua either for a 5 year old, since there isn't much to do for a kid, that I remember, and Guatemala is not a country that feels safe at all. It's amazing, but I wouldn't recommend it if you aren't looking for excitement and adventure and willing to rough it somewhat.

If you're going to go to Costa Rica, I'd recommend Arenal. There is a hot springs there you can take the kid to, and it's a big volcano and there is all kinds of nature to see. There were a lot of families there and it felt safe to me. Manuel Antonio is another option and is also gorgeous, and the beach there is just stunning. It's quite a long (but scenic!) bus ride from San Jose for either place, though. San Jose also has the gold museum which is probably worth a trip to before heading out.

An 'off the beaten path' recommendation -- Granada in Nicaragua. There's a road there that the locals called Gringo street which has a bunch of nicer hotels and restaurants that you can stay at and feel comfortable -- no chain restaurants, but there are quite a few americans and a lot of people that speak english -- once you get off that street, though, it's an authentic colonial town and not particularly touristy at all, though it has it's share of museums. It's close to Laguna De Apoyo which is gorgeous, as well as Ometepe and Masaya and even San Juan Del Sur is just a few hours away. A week isn't really enough time to exhaust all the things to do in that part of Nicaragua, and you would definitely not get bored. It's also very cheap compared to Costa Rica.

Feel free to memail me if you have any questions about Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama, I spent a few months traveling through all of them on the cheap last year.
posted by empath at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


My go-to destination in Costa Rica has been, for the past 8 years or so, Costa Rica's Ylang-ylang resort in Montezuma, on the Nicoya Peninsula, which is hot, hot, hot in Febrary.

It's not cheap. In Feb 2012 I averaged $400 per day over six days, which included multiple massages and beacoup liquor, which is extra, so you could do it cheaper.

You can rely on the website for accurate descriptions of accomodations and cost. I prefer their 2-person beachfront cabanas, but with a kid you'll need something a little bigger. Ask them what would be best for you. They know their resort and never steer you to something more than you need.

Here's how it stacks up against your criteria:

1. Planning for winter 2014 and thinking of a beach vacation. Good, because you won't get in unless well in advance.

2. Not a huge pain to get to (I don't want plane ride, then 4 hour ferry, then 2 hour bus ride, etc). I fly into San Jose, then transfer to a local airline for the 30 minute flight to Tambor, then pick up a taxi for the 30 minute ride to Montezuma.

3. Airfare cheaper the better - I was hoping no more that 700 bucks a person. Should be no problem. I fly from Chicago to Charlotte, then down to SJO. Two hours to Charlotte, then an onernight in case of bad weather, then five hours to SJO. (Same time zone as Chicago; no jet lag!) I forget the cost, but it was way less than $700.

4. Safe (I don't care about petty crime but don't want it to be a place that tourist crime is remotely common) Perfectly safe, no matter the hour, such as walking to the pool for a before-bed swim. They have mostly invisible security personnel.

5. Friendly locals are a bonus (only been a couple places that that is been a problem) Check.

6. Casual feeling is nice. Check.

7. Not a heavy traffic area. The resort is about a 15 minute walk along the beach from town, though on arrival and departure you get a courtesy ride in their Land Rover each way.

8. Something to do near by. It would be nice to get to go on some nature tour or something like that. Tons of stuff to do, whether half-day or full-day trips. The resort staff are helpful in this regard, make all the arrangements for you, and add it to your bill. No cash required unless you want to tip a driver/guide.

9. Not too "touristy". I know I have Playa del Carmen and Negril there, but I just don't want a place that has a Chili's and feels like the place is crawling with cruise ship day trippers. You'll meet ordinary people at the resort, which is generally full during the high season, but apart from those tourists, you definitely won't find a Chili's within a couple of hundred miles. I used to dine out at some of the local establishments, but the resort's restaurant serves better food, so I don't do that anymore.

Other pros:
- The restaurant is mostly vegetarian, but the food is really good, with seafood and chicken options, and the wine list is decent.
- Their wifi works no matter where in the vicinity you are
- If you want to explore the local environs on foot, they are more than happy to pack a lunch for you
- The resort is on the edge of the jungle. About 4-5pm the wildlife to be seen rivals their national parks (except no sloths).

Cons:
- They charge an arm and a leg for equipment rentals (e.g. boogie boards)
- In the many times I've been there, I haven't seen many kids.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:40 PM on January 22, 2013


Oh, and, more generally, check out Lonely Planet's Thorntree Forums. Great info there, especially for budget travelers.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:47 PM on January 22, 2013


If you go to Costa Rica, I strongly recommend (despite the lovely sounding vacation Short Attention offers) not staying at a resort. It's a beautiful, brilliant, safe country -- see it, experience it firsthand. Stop at a soda, order casadas, see the Osa Peninsula or the rainforest. Don't just look at a pool and a curated set of experiences!

Ahem. :)
posted by ellF at 6:51 PM on January 22, 2013


Yes to all that, ellF, it's just that I'm an old man and like my conveniences while roughing it. Well, and I explored in the early years. Now I hark to what works best for me :-)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:54 PM on January 22, 2013


No offense intended! Pura vida!
posted by ellF at 7:29 PM on January 22, 2013


Yep seconding avoiding all inclusives, especially in costa rica -- they're kind of a waste of money, especially if wanting to see local culture is a big deal for you. A few miles up the road from Puerto Viejo there are some hotels for less than $50/night that are literally right in the jungle (and not that far from the beach). You'll see sloths and monkeys right outside your room.
posted by empath at 9:02 PM on January 22, 2013


Check out https://www.airbnb.com/ for accommodations there are some great deals on some pretty nice places.

I was going to suggest Tulum as that is where I think i'm going to take my next vacation, but it looks like you have already thought of it.
posted by Mesach at 7:02 AM on January 24, 2013


So thanks everybody for the great ideas. I now have something to distract me for the next month while I try to ignore Feb weather. Planning trips are as fun as being on them. Thanks!
posted by beccaj at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2013


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