Where to travel in Central America between Christmas and New Years?
October 19, 2011 6:05 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I want to get away during the week between Christmas and New Years. We are looking at places in Central/South America and the Carribean. Where should we go?

Because both my husband and I work full time and he is also a part time university student, we were not able to take a summer vacation this year. Since we both have the week between Christmas and New Years off, we'd like to take this time to have a bit of "summer" in the winter.

We have already done Mexico together and spent some time in Costa Rica last year. We LOVED Costa Rica--we spent a week at Playa de Flamingo on the beach and then a week further inland near Arenal Volcano. When we did Mexico, we went to Cabo and although it was nice, it was very sterile resort feeling, as if we were cut off from all the culture around us. We love to experience culture--local restaurants, bars, people, food, anything.

Ideally, we are hoping more than anything for something RELAXING.

Things we are looking for:
-Some place warm, with close access to the beach (for at least part of the time we are there--ideally, I'd be happiest spending a few days near a beach and a few days in a cool city or busier area)
-Some place that doesn't take forever to fly to (hence why we are leaning more towards Central America/Caribbean than South America). We are in Raleigh, NC so we'll be leaving from there...although for better flight deals we are not opposed to driving to Charlotte to fly from that airport.
-Some place that doesn't require lots of time in a cab/van/tour bus to go from the airport to where we will stay (more than a couple hours is too long).
-Some place with a minimal amount of (tourist) children running around
-Some place fun! Something with cool locals, fun night life, cool adventures--all of that would be great.

We are NOT looking for:
-Anything super Christmas-y. Although local festivals and celebrations are great, we aren't trying to re-do an American Christmas in another country...in fact, we're trying to skip it.
-Super impersonal big chain resorts.
-Not interested in scuba diving (recommended in other threads) but we're up for other adventure type things--seeing ruins, volcanos, zip lining, tubing, etc.

So, with all this said, any recommendations for places to go, where to stay, what to do, and what to see?

If we travel during the week between Christmas and New Years, will everything be closed? We are hoping to still be able to do and see things during this time.

So far we have looked mostly at: Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, St. Maartin's and Aruba. Everything looks so great, I was hoping the hive mind could sway me with some convincing stories of how much they loved a certain place.

Any general travel tips or advice are always appreciated too!

Thanks in advance :)
posted by ejazen to Travel & Transportation around Cleveland, OH (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Hey, not sure why it says "around Cleveland, OH" next to the bottom of my question--sorry about that. We are actually in Raleigh, NC and will be leaving from this area when we take our trip.
posted by ejazen at 6:11 AM on October 19, 2011

Belize can be a lot of fun and, because everyone speaks English and they use the American dollar, is a pretty easy trip.

When my wife and I went there, we spent half our trip out on Ambergris Caye and half up in the San Ignacio-area of the Cayo District for a nice mix of things to do. Out on Ambergris, we snorkeled, swam with sharks and sea turtles, laid around soaking up the sun and went out partying in San Pedro in the evenings. Up in Cayo, we went canoe-spelunking and mountain biking and even did a two day side trip over to Tikal in Guatemala. I should mention, however, that Belize is a lot more expensive than many of the other Central American countries.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:01 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The south and west coasts of Puerto Rico were always very good to me! Reasonably priced and clean lodging, great bodysurfing, great food, friendly people, and you can easily get a place at a hotel on or near the beach.

You will avoid most American tourist traffic by staying away from San Juan. My Spanish is rudimentary at best and I did fine by myself or with others.

I believe there is an airport in Ponce (south coast) that you can fly into from San Juan. Nothing is more than a few hours' drive from San Juan, though.

Not a lot of nightlife as I recall, but there is plenty to do during the day if you like the outdoors.

Caveats: I used to go in March and once went in November - that's as close to Christmas as I came. And I haven't been there for 11 years. The world and economy being what they are, I would check out some travel forums, not just for PR but for anywhere, to see what people say in terms of safety.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:18 AM on October 19, 2011

Oaxaca City is a really nice place to spend a week in. It is away from the coast, but (from what I hear) it is still relatively safe, and there are several sites with spectacular and important ruins. Very un-Cabo, with villages spread around the valley.

You can catch a first class bus over to Puerto Angel, a little fishing town on a nice bay, and there are several nice beaches around there.

If you want to know more, memail me.
posted by Danf at 7:56 AM on October 19, 2011

Argentina is great. I've been there between Christmas and New Year's and the weather is just great. We stayed in buenos aires for a few days touring and then took a bus to Mar del Plata (beach town) for a few days as well. Good times all around, and definitely doesn't break the bank.
posted by jourman2 at 8:53 AM on October 19, 2011

Best answer: I spent a few months traveling around Central America at the same time of year a few years ago. My advice is somewhat out of date, so you'll want to check it against more current info, but:

I think you guys might really enjoy Nicaragua if you're into a bit of a rough-but-very-interesting travel experience. Granada is a beautiful old colonial town just about an hour from Managua with lots to see and some really neat day trips. It's about as touristy as Nicaragua gets, which is not very. Fun nightlife for sure - good mix of locals and backpacker types from around the world.

I didn't go to the ocean beach in Nicaragua - I heard mixed things about it. However, I LOVED Isla Ometepe, which is a cool island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicragua. Very rustic and very beautiful, with small beaches and lots of hikes, waterfalls, etc.

I would not recommend the Bay Islands of Honduras. I spent Christmas on Roatan one year - not only did it rain the whole time, but the tourist/resort areas were totally devoid of and kept separate from all local culture.

Guatamala is another option. Lago Atitlan is the most beautiful, peaceful place I've ever been, and I'd go back in a heartbeat (I think it was a couple of hours from Guatemala City). I didn't go to the beaches there, so I can't comment on those, but I loved everywhere I did go in Guatemala, and found it very easy to get around for such a rural nation. There's also the colonial town Antigua, which is fairly touristy but very beautiful.
posted by lunasol at 2:45 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome! I have to say, I think Nicaragua it is! Thanks for all of the answers--hopefully I'll get to experience all of these places someday :)
posted by ejazen at 11:32 AM on October 20, 2011

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