vacation, all i ever wanted
December 13, 2016 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I live in DC. Where in Central/South America should I go alone for 10 days in mid-January for vacation?

Relevant details! I want to go somewhere warm, preferably with a beach but also with lots of active activities that I can do (I like hiking, boating, biking, walking, etc). If I can see a bioluminescent beach/lagoon/etc -- or something else really really cool -- that is a major plus. However, live fish kind of freak me out so anything related to scuba diving or snorkeling is out unless it is a fish-free zone.

I will be traveling alone and do not speak Spanish. I have never been to South America, I've only been to Mexico once as a kid. Also, if it matters, I am a 30-year-old woman.

My ideal would be somewhere relatively easy to get to from DC -- money isn't a huge issue, but I prefer to spend it on activities rather than planes/hotels. I just really have no idea what my realistic solo travel options are here, because I've previously only traveled around the U.S. and Europe.
posted by aaanastasia to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Costa Rica, probably.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2016

Are you looking for something on the resort end of things or something on the backpacking-adventure end of things?
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2016

Response by poster: nebulawindphone -- I think maybe something in between? I'm not really interested in wandering around with a backpack and sleeping in the woods OR in sitting on a beach while people hand me Mai Tais. Usually when I travel I stay at an Airbnb and stay out all day doing things, and then go home to sleep.
posted by aaanastasia at 11:07 AM on December 13, 2016

They speak English in Belize. There are beaches on the cayes, there are mayan ruins in the interior (and it's not impossible to get to Tikal in Guatemala from San Ignacio), there are jungles and rivers and caves.
The currency is pinned to the dollar, so it's stable, but i do believe Belize is one of the more spendy CA nations for tourists.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about Belize? There is a barrier reef, bioluminescence tours, lots of hiking/biking/beaching, rainforest adventures...all sorts of things!
posted by jenny76 at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

We just did an excursion on a cruise to Mayan ruins in Belize. (Our first, and probably last, cruise because we are evidently not cruise people.) The day in Belize was the highlight of our trip and I highly recommend it. Belize has manatees, howler monkeys, and panthers. (We didn't see any panthers!) I would go back for vacation in a heartbeat.
posted by raisingsand at 11:50 AM on December 13, 2016

I can totally recommend Puerto Rico - you can hike in a rain forest, chill on the beach, and kayak through a bio-luminescence bay, all in the same day! And you don't need to speak Spanish anyplace along the coasts where the tourists are. If you go into the interior of the country it'll help. There are three blog posts about my week in Puerto last year on my blog (Dec 2015), if you are interested.
posted by COD at 11:51 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Belize - I frequently recommend this eco-resort on Glover's Reef: Slickrock Adventures. The resort is on Glover's Reef Atoll, waaaay out on the edge of the reef - lots of beautiful blue water, quiet, natural setting. They offer all sorts of all active water sports, at beginner level on up, like kayak surfing (easy and fun, it turns out), wind surfing, kite surfing, kayaking (both sit-on-top and touring kayaks), fishing, etc.

You can do trips that combine some time on the island with some time doing land adventures in mainland Belize that they arrange and guide - rafting down jungle rivers, visiting Mayan ruins, etc.

The owners/managers are American, so the standards for service are kept very high.
I don't work there, I just wish I did!
posted by bluesky78987 at 1:24 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tulum would be perfect for this - you can rent a bike and visit cenotes, take bus or boat tours to Sian Ka'an, Akumal (turtles!) and/or Chichen Itza. The beaches are pristine and if you go to one behind a restaurant (it's all public beach access, even if it looks private), you can get a mai-tai and go drink it on the sand.

You'll also be a short bus ride from Xcalak, which is 20 mi north of Belizeand has a lot of the same stuff except it's cheaper -- manatees, bioluminescence, giant coral, etc. You can book a boat tour through XTC Dive Shop, they're very nice.
posted by ananci at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

1000x Belize, but stay south. Hopkins is safe and cordial and close to Bocawina Falls, which has all of the adventuring you describe. Rent a motorcycle for best results (this makes getting around solo inexpensive - and fun!). Coconut Row is alarmingly inexpensive for how lovely it is, though the hostel in town (Funky Dodo) is even more so and perfectly safe/comfy.

Also, I'd advise working through the fish aversion - South Belize has the most beautifully preserved reefs I've ever seen. If you just can't, still take a boat ride out to the mangroves and let your local boatman pluck a conch from the sea and make you ceviche on one of the tiny islands.

Not sure about DC but Southwest has been running great flights into Belize City where I'm from. Have fun!
posted by le_salvo at 6:54 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Costa Rica.
posted by Toddles at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2016

Best answer: I'm in a very similar position - 28, female, traveling alone in mid-January - except I live in Chicago. I decided to go to Mexico via Cancun, mainly because I found a flight for dirt cheap. I am staying in a resort on the beach (only because I got a really good deal there too) and splurging on guided tours. I could probably get everywhere I wanted to go independently, but this way someone will drive me around and I can just relax.

I'll be visiting the ruins at Tulum, swimming with sea turtles at Akumal, visiting a cave, and exploring several cenotes via rappelling, zip-lining, kayaking, snorkeling and good ol' fashioned swimming. I'm also planning to just spend a day on the beach at Isla Mujeres - 20 min ferry ride from Cancun. They also have a turtle sanctuary, some ruins, a lighthouse, and other fun stuff.

I also wanted to hit Chichen Itza and Sian Ka'an, but with only 4 days I just don't have enough time. With ten days you could do everything and it would be wonderful!

Also, it's about 3.5 hours away from Cancun, but Merida has always seemed really beautiful to me, and there are some amazing looking hotels there that are very inexpensive. You could maybe tack on a few days there on one end of your trip.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 10:52 AM on December 14, 2016

Response by poster: Enough people (both here and irl) told me to head toward Tulum/area so I'm doing it!

ohsnapdragon -- where did you find a deal on beach resorts? I literally don't know where to look for things other than airbnb and
posted by aaanastasia at 11:57 AM on December 14, 2016

I found mine on Groupon! I was also looking at Priceline and realized that in some cases, the hotels were less on their actual websites than on Priceline. So if anywhere jumps out to you, it would be worth double checking on their site before you book through Priceline/Expedia/Orbitz/whatever.

I've also used HostelWorld in the past, though I wanted to go more comfy/private this time around.

Apple Vacations and Cheap Caribbean have a bunch of cheap all-inclusive packages including airfare, BUT they really penalize you for traveling alone and I'd rather eat delicious food on my own than rely on the resort's stuff.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 12:53 PM on December 14, 2016

Oh, one more thing - I really like Fodor's guides, and wanted to stay at the hotels they recommended but they were already booked for my dates. (Or too expensive.) So that might help you find a place too. Lonely Planet is also helpful/interesting if you haven't already checked it out.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2016

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