Winter mixed group tropical getaway spots
August 25, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

My family and I are trying to pick a spot for a vacation together this winter, and we could use some help finding a spot that will work well for everyone. Desires described below:

Strongly desired:

- reasonable flight time and cost from both coasts of US and also some flyover states (so, e.g., Thailand is out)
- some good snorkeling
- good surfing for relatively beginner surfers
- not super touristy (e.g., no well-known resort destinations)
- some amenities like a market and small local restaurants and shops
- not crazy expensive or luxury focused

Would be nice:

- Spanish speaking
- good scuba diving
- lovely beaches
- rainforest with nice hiking

We're assuming Central America will be our spot, but where? Obviously, surfing and snorkeling are kind of in conflict, but I'm hoping there are some spots that have a protected cove that has good snorkeling near a beach with fun surfing. Neither needs to be world class; just basically solid for a bunch of people who are good at making the best of it as long as it's not lousy.
posted by spindrifter to Travel & Transportation around Central, SC (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Check out St. John, USVI!
posted by Bohemian Sailor at 3:57 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bocas Del Toro, Panama. You can stay in town, or there are resorts like Red Frog with nice beaches, jungle ziplines, etc -- you can pay a fairly reasonable fee to visit the resort for a day, even if you aren't staying there. The town can be a bit of a party town, but it's not like Playa del Carmen or anything, just a lot of small bars. You can also take a shuttle to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica that just takes about half a day for the trip up there. Puerto Viejo is also a bit of a party town, but if you stay on the road a mile or so south, it's a lot quieter -- there are a bunch of like 'eco-lodges' where you stay in the jungle with sloths and monkeys and they'll rent you an ATV to take the 5 minute drive to the beach.

If you're feeling adventurous, there's El Salvador for surfing, but the security situation is kinda iffy there and the beaches are pretty rough and tumble.

Belize has a lot of what you're looking for. Caye Caulker has no beaches, but it's fairly cheap and the snorkeling is amazing. I haven't been to Caye Ambergris, but I've heard it's more built up, and the beaches are a lot nicer. There are also jungle trips you can take there, but you have to take a boat inland.

I think probably my top recommendation would be Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. I'd say it's fairly 'touristy', but it has the most drop-dead gorgeous beaches I've ever seen, and an ecological preserve where you can see sloths and monkeys. I don't think the surfing is that great there, but man is the view unreal. There are everything from cheap budget hostels to 5 star resorts there, and even the hostels are fairly decent.
posted by empath at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

We went to Vieques PR last year, and it was so wonderful - gorgeous quiet beaches, cute towns (we stayed in Isabel II, which was less touristy than Esperanza, but still had grocery stores, equipment rental etc.), relatively easy to get to (Southwest flies there!) We also spent some time on the mainland and went to the rainforest. Accommodations were really reasonable and if you want to rent a house, you can definitely do that (we stayed above someone's garage basically).

The only thing i don't know about is surfing, and google is inconclusive, but it's certainly something you can do in other parts of PR, or on Culebra.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:15 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have to say, it's Puerto Rico. Bonus, no passport necessary!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2014

Rincon, Puerto Rico has all you need. The surfing is fabulous, so good they have a great international competition in February. We learned to surf from the folks who had the surfing dog.

There's also fabulous food, sweet people, and only two hours from San
Juan. Honestly, I'm thinking about booking a trip down there again soon. It's one of my favorite places in the world.
posted by teleri025 at 6:40 PM on August 25, 2014

That ks to metafilter I went to Puerto Rico early this year and its amazing. Would highly recommend for most of the reasons you list.
posted by Carillon at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2014

Came in to say Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, so I will second it.
posted by trip and a half at 9:30 PM on August 25, 2014

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