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With everything from lush cloud forests to clear, azure seas, wildlife-filled jungles and Mayan ruins, a trip to Central America can be just as laid back or just as adventurous as you’d like it to be. These resorts in Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala are some of the most ideal from which to take it all in.
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Mukul is one of the most exclusive hideaways in all of Nicaragua. In fact, its name, Mukul, is Mayan for “secret,” with guests assured a high level of privacy. The resort is part of a 1,670-acre beach community and includes luxurious Villas and Bohios along the Emerald Coast. All are equipped with locally handcrafted furniture, have wooden decks with spectacular views of the Pacific and plunge pools. The grounds, which are not open to the public, include a magnificent white sand beach, an 18-hole golf course and one of the most beautiful spas on earth. Gourmet dining is onsite, while guests can also choose from a long list of fun activities like ash boarding which involves riding a board down the slope of an active volcano.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo is just about as good as it gets, as it’s one of the best beach resorts in Costa Rica. It’s extremely secluded, set on a narrow isthmus, providing ocean views from just about anywhere on the property, including each one of the lavish rooms, decorated with stone, wood, and bamboo, boasting king-size beds, marble baths and screened-in living room terraces. Service is top-notch too, while the 18-hole Arnold Palmer signature golf course offers even more breathtaking ocean views. When hunger strikes, the on-site Anejo restaurant offers ocean views and Latin and world influenced cuisines. In the evenings, it boasts DJ spinning and creative aperitifs. Spend your day volcano hiking, kayaking, surfing or stand-up paddleboarding and then indulge in a Swedish massage at the spa.
Chaa Creek offers the chance to totally immerse yourself in the Belizean rainforest experience while taking time out to enjoy the luxuries of professional spa treatments in one of the most spectacular, relaxing settings imaginable. This premiere luxury retreat includes rustic-luxe, thatched-roof cottages with modern amenities, including an infinity pool with jungle views, all in a riverside setting on a private rainforest reserve. The property also features an incredible array of tours and outdoor activities right onsite, including horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing and bird watching. You can explore Maya temple sites and take a guided tour of the Butterfly Farm, Rainforest Medicine Trail and Natural History Center too. The Chaa Creek Restaurant combines old-fashioned and modern cooking techniques using all sorts of fresh, local produce, creating delicious and original meals.
Blancaneaux Lodge, owned by Francis Ford Coppola, is a rainforest lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve on a hillside overlooking Privassion Creek. It offers spa services in a creek-side area, while the honeymoon cabana features a private deck overlooking a waterfall. If you feel like splurging, the luxury cabana includes a private plunge pool. Explore the jungle on horseback, visit ancient Mayan ruins, or just hop into a hammock and watch the hummingbirds buzz around the colorful flora. You can also enjoy dining at two outstanding restaurants, the tree-house-like Montagna Ristorante, serving Italian fare, and the poolside Guatemaltecqua where you can savor authentic Mayan dishes.
The bumpy, two-and-a-hour drive from Liberia Airport to get to the remote Hotel Punta Islita is well worth it for the reward of its lush location with unparalleled ocean views. The property spills down a jungle-covered hillside toward Islita Beach, set across 300 acres offering a wide array of activities right onsite, including horseback rides on the beach, zip-lining, surfing lessons and howler monkey tours. Rooms boast terraces with mountain or ocean views and a comfy hammock. Guests will also enjoy the best ocean view dining in the region at the stylish Pacifico Restaurant featuring local and regional ingredients, including exotic tropical fruits.
Another Francis Ford Coppola retreat, the Turtle Inn is tucked between the jungle and the beach, with a Bali meets Caribbean look, including Balinese doorways, private gardens with outdoor showers and Japanese baths. Enjoy sumptuous spa treatments for two at the Sunset Spa after diving with stingrays or snorkeling with whale sharks near the world’s second-largest coral reef. Other options include a canoe trip or four-wheel drive excursion to a cave, paddle boarding, zip-lining and visits to an organic farm. Fresh seafood and traditional Italian fare blend together at the Mare Restaurant, an open-air eatery along the ocean shore where local fish is brought in daily from the fertile reefs just offshore and fresh vegetables are delivered from the property’s organic garden.
Each of the villas at Nayara Springs come with a private plunge pool that draws from the mineral-rich springs waters of the adjacent Arenal Volcano. They also boast cozy features with a laid-back vibe, like hammocks, hand-loomed rugs, Venetian mirrors and indoor/outdoor showers. AmorLoco Restaurant offers avant-garde dishes, from stuffed zucchini blossoms and local hearts of palm salad to the red snapper and beef tenderloin. Take a tour with one of the local guides to meet your howler monkey neighbors then book a massage at the open-air spa. Alternatively, you can admire views of the Arenal Volcano from Mis Amores restaurant.
Arenas del Mar, a beachfront and rainforest resort, is located within walking distance of Manuel Antonio National Park. Proof that a stay at an eco-resort doesn’t mean roughing it, the property’s contemporary rooms are among the nicest in the region, decorated with beautiful natural fabrics and flamboyant local art as well as boasting huge private terraces. Some rooms include a mosaic-tiled hot tub on the terrace. Hillsides slope down to two pristine, nearly-deserted beaches, while amenities include a spa, two pools and a surrounding forest filled with wildlife, birds and butterflies – in fact, you might be visited by a monkey while enjoying your breakfast.
One of Central America’s most famous resorts, the original and best-known in the Arenal Volcano area, features 18 natural hot springs that are located at its spa property just up the street, easily accessible by walking or taking the complimentary shuttle. A perfect combination of volume, temperature and low mineral content, the hot springs are channeled into the pools where visitors can gaze at the stunning Arenal Volcano. The resort also offers some of the country’s finest lodgings, with rooms that are spacious, modern and sophisticated, featuring beautiful rainforest or volcano views. All rooms include a terrace or patio.
Lapa Rios is tucked within the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, hosting eco-friendly thatched-roof bungalows that are free from the buzz of a telephone, the intrusion of the Internet or TV. Instead, guests enjoy the peaceful sounds of crickets, kinkajous and cicadas along with amazing ocean views and a huge private deck. Beach access is a 10-minute walk away, and you can also lounge alongside the outdoor pool with more breathtaking ocean views. After a day of play, including the option to take surfing lessons, kayak, a horseback ride on the beach, or a trek through the forest to spot three-toed sloths and monkeys, you can indulge in a massage followed by dinner at the restaurant serving local fare with jungle views.
Nestled between the turquoise waters of the Caribbean and the lush Maya Mountains, Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort is a secluded, intimate resort. It is located on the beach south of Hopkins, surrounded by tropical flora, including black orchids. Tree house accommodations are equipped with skylights for stargazing as well as featuring a freshwater pool, complimentary kayaks and bikes. Explore the nearby caves, waterfalls, Mayan pyramids and the only jaguar preserve in the world. The resort also has its own PADI dive facility, and divers have access to a spectacular underwater world home to whale sharks, eagle rays and manatees. Dining, indoors or on the veranda overlooking the sea, includes a menu rich in fresh seafood and international cuisine with a Caribbean twist.
Built into the hills of Guatemala’s picturesque Santa Catarina Palopo village, Casa Palopo overlooks Lake Atitlan, a magnificent, mystical body of water in the highlands known as the “Land of Eternal Spring,” and three 10,000-foot-high volcanic peaks. Tranquil and intimate, the resort offers a small collection of rooms, each decorated to reflect the country’s unique Mayan heritage, as well as fine dining at 6.8 Palopo. If you’re looking to splurge, book the two-bedroom Villa Palopo, located 150 steps above the resort. It includes a private butler, infinity-edge pool, Jacuzzi and dining room. A number of professionally-guided and self-guided tours are available on and surrounding the lake, including relaxing strolls along the water, a hike to a volcano, kayaking, zip-lining and horseback riding.
Cayo Espanto, a tiny four-acre island surrounded by diamond-clear Caribbean waters, is just a short boat ride from Ambergris Cay. Offering an idyllic escape to unwind and the ultimate in pampering, you’ll be greeted at the dock by the entire staff, including your own personal divemaster and butler. Paddle the waters in a kayak, do some bonefishing, and, if you stay in the overnight villa, you can stay at the edge of cerulean waters and enjoy a private infinity plunge pool.