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Ambergris Caye hovers in a vacation sweet spot: just enough amenities to make it exciting, but not so overdeveloped that you’re tripping over flip-flopped tourists. A mangrove swamp is the eye of this white beach island, the largest in Belize, and golf carts are the main form of transportation along the sandy roads. Reef divers drool over the Belize Barrier Reef and the Blue Hole, a 400-feet deep circle of limestone that teems with angelfish, elkhorn coral, cleaner shrimp and stalactites.
The best way to cap off a day of pristine Roatán reef diving and heart-pumping adventure is to sip a sunset cocktail by the beach. From zip-lining to deep-sea fishing to exploring the military-protected archipelago of Cayos Cochinos, the Honduran island is a playground for lovers of water sports and ecotourism. Landlubbers will adore the Carambola botanical gardens, touring the Stone Castle Cameo Factory, or exploring the beaches on horseback.
La Fortuna de San Carlos is at the center of an array of geological wonders. The nearby Arenal is Costa Rica's most active volcano, routinely bursting with lava and ash, and the Catarata de La Fortuna is a waterfall pouring from a seventy-meter cliff. The Tabacon Hot Springs are a relaxing intermission in the midst of the various spectacles, and the Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat is a blissful end to any day's excursion.
Tamarindo is a prime spot for surfing and sportfishing, diving and sunning. Nesting leatherback turtles do their thing along the beaches from October to May and, for some nesting of your own, gorgeous beach houses, B&Bs and luxury hotels line the sunny sands. Shopping and dining options are superb and plentiful, perfect for sampling the true flavors of Costa Rica.
A diverse multicultural city of almost 1.3 million, Panama City offers a lot more than an up-close view of the Canal. Shantytowns slink up alongside shiny high-rise condos. The Old City is an atmospheric labyrinth of churches, plazas and palaces. Fifteen miles from downtown Panama City, Soberania National Park is an excellent destination for hiking and birding. For a fascinating look at the canal, take a taxi or local bus to Miraflores Locks Visitor Center and look down on the traffic below.
The tree-lined beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park seem ripped from an adventure movie, providing a breathtaking color mash-up of lush greens and brilliant white. The eco-diverse forest is rife with scampering wildlife. Hire a boat for a guided tour of a mangrove swamp, sink into pampering at a full-service spa or nibble tasty cuisine at one of many incredible local restaurants.
Drawn by year-round warm weather, colonial-era architecture and the freshwater Lake Nicaragua, travelers from around the world are flocking to Granada. Eco-tourists will love visiting the dormant Mombacho volcano, sailing on the lake and ziplining through the trees. Fans of spa treatments and shopping will find plenty to do, too.
It’s true: parts of Belize are getting touristy. But San Ignacio remains rustic, making it a great base for budget-friendly tropical adventure travel. Canoe on the Macal River, or walk to Mayan ruins at Cahal Pec (just be warned: it's uphill).
Antigua Guatamala is known as the best-preserved Spanish colonial city in Central America. Stroll the cobblestone streets, lounge with the locals in Central Park on sunny afternoons or hike up one of the volcanoes overlooking the city for amazing views.
This beautiful fishing village is a Nicaraguan gem, a magnet for surfers and sunbathers. At night, the beach still pulses with activity, thanks to a few popular beachfront bars and nightclubs. Surf clubs abound—catch a wave with an expert instructor if you’re a hang-ten rookie, trying to hang with the surfer big boys.