Let us help you decide where to spend your warm-weather getaway by showcasing and comparing 10 of our absolute favorite places in the world.
Your Vitamin D–deprived skin says it all – you need to escape the cold and book a tropical vacation. But with so many great places, how do you decide?
We’re here to help! We’ve compared 10 of our favorites – Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Florida, LA & Southern California, Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand – so you can easily choose your perfect spot in the sun.
Beach bums, you’re in luck – all the places on our list have lovely coasts. But for mythic beauty upon which to lay your towel, Hawaii, Thailand, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Jamaica are the spots to choose.
If you want to dive into pop culture, go to Southern California or Florida. For cultural riches, get thee to Thailand or Mexico.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, choose Hawaii, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Divers should explore the reefs in Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
We know that sun and sand are just the beginning. Keep reading for more on what makes each of these tropical paradises special.
Jamaica packs in the extremes. Flat beaches and green mountains; relaxed resorts and ghettos; sweet reggae and slack dancehall. It’s a complicated national soundtrack that’s impossible not to dance to.
Diving & Snorkeling
Major dive centers concentrate near resort areas on the northwest coast; snorkeling opportunities can be found anywhere on the coast. Whether you dive or snorkel, you’ll soon discover a plethora of vibrant small fish and good visibility.
Per capita Jamaica is one of the most musically influential nations in the world. From the sound-system parties of Kingston to festivals that showcase both international talent and local skills, beats are the backdrop to any holiday here.
Waterfalls & Rivers
Freshwater rivers and waterfalls provide water for drinking and fish for eating – but they’re also a stunning playground for locals and tourists.
Relaxing at Resorts
Some of the most enjoyable experiences in Jamaica involve lazing around and getting spoiled. This is, after all, the home of all-inclusive resorts. If that doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of independent hotels where you can be pampered.
Food & Drink
Jamaican cuisine can be as fiery as jerk rub, as comfortably bland as steamed bananas, as heavy as dumplings and as light as fresh seafood. But everything goes down well with Red Stripe.
Jamaica’s beach experiences are as varied as the island’s topography. Tiny Lime Cay, only reachable by boat from Port Royal, is perfect for snorkeling and picnics. Hellshire Beach heaves with Kingstonians and reverberates with loud music, its wooden shacks doing a roaring trade in fried fish. The north coast’s Winnifred Beach draws the locals with its azure waters and weekend parties, while Negril’s white-sand Seven Mile Beach is criss-crossed by jet-ski riders and lined with sun worshippers.
Diving Montego Bay
You might find the resorts of Montego Bay to be crowded, but wait till you dive in the surrounding waters. They’re crowded, yes, but not with human beings – just multicolored fish and swaying sponges. The best sea walls are to be found at the Point, while more advanced divers should explore the ominous (and gorgeous) Widowmakers Cave.
Whether you’re attending a nightclub or a street dance, expect a sweaty, lively, noholds-barred event, with some of the most explicit dancing you’ll ever see. Dress up to the nines and follow the locals’ lead. They’ll want to see how well you can dance, so expect to be pulled into the melee – then bump and grind the best you can.
So you’ve walked on the snowy sands of Negril’s Long Beach, seen the sun sink behind the cliffs, plunged into the ocean and fended off all the hustlers. How about topping off all of these experiences by donning some scuba gear, getting PADI-certified and watching sea turtles swim in the cerulean waters of Jamaica’s westernmost resort? If a full aqualung isn’t your thing, just get your snorkel on amid the darting rainbow-colored fish.
The best experiences in Jamaica are sensory affairs, but Boston Bay may be the only one that is defined by smell and taste rather than sight or sound. Boston Bay is the supposed birthplace of jerk, the spice rub that is Jamaica’s most famous contribution to the culinary arts, and the turnoff to the beach is lined with jerk stalls producing smoked meats that redefine what heat and sweet can do as complementary gastronomic qualities. In plain English: it tastes freaking amazing.
02. Puerto Rico
Welcome to Puerto Rico. With its endless sand, swashbuckling history lessons and wildly diverse tropical terrain, this sun-washed backyard of the USA is fittingly called the ‘Island of Enchantment.’
Puerto Rico boasts some of the world’s best beaches, so if you’ve come to laze in the sun and do a whole lot of nothing, there’s only one decision to make: where to spread your towel. Generally, the beaches of the north and east are best for swimming.
Pirates & History
Puerto Rico’s strategic importance in the Atlantic channel made it a destination of choice for the peg-leg and plundering set, and the grand edifices of Puerto Rico’s past still sing the hymns of bygone colonial dignity.
Puerto Rico’s coral reefs host a riot of tropical fish, its limestone caves in the misty central mountains resound with the chirp of coquí frogs, and its unique collection of forests – some of the wettest and driest in the Caribbean – harbor some of the rarest birds in the world.
Sorry, you’ll have to put the healthy eating on hold – Puerto Rico’s best dishes are meaty as hell and decadently delicious.
Relaxing at a Resort
From the plush and showy to the remote and cozy, Puerto Rico’s spread of resorts is perfect for anyone who wants to be pampered.
Old San Juan
Even those limited to a quick visit find it easy to fall under the beguiling spell of Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets, pastel-painted colonial buildings and grand fortresses. By day, lose yourself in historical stories of blood and bombast; by night float along in crowds of giggling tourists and rowdy locals.
The rub of sand between your toes, the brilliant sparkle of turquoise water and the rhythmic shush of cresting waves – Puerto Rico’s beaches have the qualities of a daydream. Take your pick from the golden, crescent-shaped heaven of Playa Flamenco, the coconut oil–scented crowds of Playa Isla Verde, the secluded, mangrove-shad- hideaways in the south or the roaring surf of the west.
Rum Cocktails at Sunset
If there’s an elixir to help those sunsets imprint on your memory forever, it likely comes in a tall, cold glass. From the piña coladas with toy umbrellas to the Cuba libre (rum and Coke with a wedge of lime), you’d be remiss to leave without savoring a rum cocktail during a spectacular sunset. Find a comfortable perch in the west – such as Rincón’s ultrachill surfer hangout, Tamboo Tavern, or breezy, upscale Eclipse – and take a taste of paradise.
El Yunque Tropical Rain Forest
Lush forests, verdant hills and crashing waterfalls attract visitors to El Yunque, the only true rain forest in the US. You will get wet, so take a raincoat, but make sure you bring binoculars, too – 26 of the species here are found nowhere else in the world. Keep a sharp eye out for the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the 10 most endangered birds on earth.
Swimming or kayaking into Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays by night and seeing the jewelled flicker of water drip from your hands or illuminate a paddle stroke is an experience of profound wonder. The bays of Vieques reveal the phenomenon at its most fantastic.
03. Dominican Republic
Much more than just beach resorts, the Dominican Republic is home to a diverse range of landscapes, from stunning mountain scenery to desert scrublands, plus evocative colonial architecture and warm, welcoming people.
With breathtaking beaches ranging from calm oases to party central, the country’s coastline can satisfy every taste. It’s blessed with year-round warm temperatures, so bring a boatload of sunscreen.
In addition to their enduring economic and social legacies, the Spanish colonizers left a physical legacy in their early 16th-century churches and buildings.
Nightlife & Dancing
Things get jumping when the sun goes down. Whether it’s an impromptu neighborhood block party around the local corner store or a swanky hotel nightclub, Dominicans love to drink, socialize and get down.
Diving & Snorkeling
With the DR hosting hundreds of miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that subaquatic adventures are a priority for many visitors. Warm waters and consistently good year-round conditions mean every region has something to offer.
Blessed with a varied geography, the DR is an extreme-sport mecca. Ditch the car and try white-water rafting, kitesurfing, hiking or mountain biking.
Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial
Take a walk through history in the oldest city in the New World. With its cobblestone streets and beautifully restored mansions, it’s easy to imagine how Santo Domingo’s landmark quarter might have looked during Spain’s rule. But the past and present coexist rather gracefully here: follow in the footsteps of pirates and conquistadors, then pop into a shop selling CDs from the latest Dominican merengue star.
Consistently rated one of the top beaches in the Caribbean by those in the know, Rincón is large enough for every day-tripper to claim their own piece of real estate. A thick palm forest provides the backdrop, and fresh seafood can be served upon request.
The sleepy fishing village at the far eastern end of the Península de Samaná is an escape from your escape. Swaying palm trees back beaches ready-made for a movie set, and waves crash over hard-to-get-to cliffs. Venture out to Restaurant El Cabito, where you might glimpse migrating whales and a dolphin or two, for at least one sunset.
Bahía de las Águilas
Remoteness adds spice to Bahía de Las Águilas, a stunning stretch of yellow sand. The fact you have to take a boat to get there – and that there won’t be any tourists except for yourself – transforms it into one of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
Santo Domingo Nightlife
Get dressed to the nines, do some stretching and get your dance moves on. Nightclubs in the seaside resort hotels host some of the best merengue and salsa bands this side of Havana, and even the Zona Colonial is a chockablock with bars, from trendy hangouts to loud and sweaty corner stores.
04. The Bahamas
Scattered like a handful of pirate’s gold across 100,000 sq miles of turquoise ocean, the islands of the Bahamas could practically patent the word ‘paradise.’
Diving & Snorkeling
With its glittering aquamarine ocean, the Bahamas is a world-class snorkeling and diving destination. Divers explore psychedelic reefs, stalactite-filled blue holes and eerie wrecks, while snorkelers can visit hidden coves and fish-filled reefs.
It’s hard to go wrong here. The more-crowded beaches of Nassau and Grand Bahama are great if you’re looking for a margarita or a banana-boat ride. On the Out Islands, it’s likely to be just you, the sand and a few curious sea birds.
With nearly 700 islands and cays, the Bahamas has plenty of seclusion to go around – it sometimes seems like there are more beaches than people. Bring a picnic, a bottle of water and a good book, and live out your shipwreck fantasies.
Pink-sand beaches. Secluded coves. Coral-colored sunsets. Opulent colonial-era hotels. Hushed spas. If you can’t get that lovin’ feeling here, you might want to consider whether you’re actually a robot.
C’mon, you can sleep when you’re dead! Nassau is the place for nightclubs, while nightlife on the Out Islands might mean rum, a guitar and a crowd of locals.
Exploring the Andros Reef
Just off the east coast of Andros lies the world’s third-largest barrier reef, a 140mile stretch of otherworldly coral forest, psychedelic sponge grottoes and eerie hidden caverns. The reef teems with sea life – schools of parrot fish, spotted moray eels, giant eagle rays, even the odd sea turtle or shark. On the far side of the reef, the bottom drops dizzyingly into a 6000ft abyss known as the Tongue of the Ocean.
Strolling Pink Sands Beach
Celebs such as Mick Jagger, Elle Macpherson and Harrison Ford have all been snapped frolicking on the rosy shores of Harbour Island’s Pink Sands Beach. Why not join them? Harbour Islanders treat A-listers and mere commoners with the same laid-back friendliness, which is part of what makes it such an appealing getaway.
With nearly 100,000 sq miles of ocean, the Bahamas has more to see underwater than above. Snorkelers will thrill to the gin-clear waters of the Exumas, the strange underwater ‘road’ of the Biminis, the bottomless blue holes of Andros, and the secluded cays of the Southern Bahamas. Look out for lantern-jawed groupers the size of VW Beetles, marching columns of spiny Caribbean lobsters, color-changing octopuses and the occasional curious dolphin.
Staking Out a Secluded Cay
With more uninhabited cays than inhabited ones, it’s easy to find your own secluded stretch of sand in the Bahamas. To get off the beaten path, try the Berry Islands (30 islands, 800 people), the 365 sun-spangled Exuma Cays, or the little-visited islands of the Southern Bahamas. Find an empty cove, drop anchor, and ahhhhh… It’s a cliché, but ask yourself anyway: does life get any better than this?
Drinking, Dancing & Partying
Booze- and beats-fueled hedonism is always on offer in the Bahamas, whether that means cracking open an icy cold Kalik beer at a laid-back beach bar or shaking your booty at a throbbing nightclub. Nassau’s Paradise Island is the country’s party capital, though the beach bars of Grand Bahama and the cocktail lounges of Eleuthera’s Harbour Island give it a run for its money. Don’t leave without trying a Goombay Smash or dancing till dawn to soca music.
Ever since Ponce de León, Florida has cast a sensual spell over travelers, and its surreal landscape, heavenly beaches and prehistoric beasts still quicken the pulse and inflame the imagination.
The Florida peninsula is ringed with barrier islands and mangrove-fringed keys. Many are accessible by causeways and bridges, but to really leave the crowds behind you gotta go by boat. That’s the only way to get to beauties such as Cayo Costa Island, Caladesi Island, St Vincent Island and Dry Tortugas.
Florida is strange enough without embellishment. Yet it boasts mermaids, Hogwarts, Haitian botanicas (shops that deal in herbs and charms) and at least three alleged fountains of youth, making it something like a roadside-attraction hall of fame.
With loud fist-pumping rock, gator-swamp rockabilly and sweaty blues, Florida’s northern cities flex their Southern roots. The state has a rich, diverse musical heritage and lots of great venues.
With some of the best-organized gay communities and wildest parties in the country, Florida is a top destination for gay travelers.
Skrrriiiitch! What was that sound? Just another ocean-going vessel striking reef and going down off Florida’s coast. A few are even shallow enough for snorkelers.
Miami bubbles with a swank mayhem of Latin-world expectations. In cigar-filled dance halls, Havana expats dance to salsa and bolero music, while in exclusive nightclubs Brazilian models shake to Latin hip-hop. Improve your love life in a Haitian botanica, watch old men clack dominoes in the park, and then let the flavors of the Caribbean, Cuba, Argentina, Spain and more send your palate into ecstasy.
If local boy Tom Petty and transplant Bo Diddley are the patron saints of Gainesville’s rock-music scene, the University of Florida is the engine that keeps it going strong. Bands span about every iteration of rock, from Florida’s own gatorswamp rockabilly to postpunk industrial, but blues, bluegrass, reggae and hip-hop get their due on any given night. Lots of Florida cities get loud, but Gainesville has the state’s hungriest, most vibrant music scene.
Kayaking the Everglades
The Everglades are unnerving. They ooze, flat and watery, a river of grass mottled by hammocks, cypress domes and mangroves. You can’t hike them, not really; instead, to properly explore the Everglades – and meet its prehistoric residents up close – you must leave the safety of land. You must push a canoe or kayak off a muddy bank, tamp down your fear and explore the shallow waterways on the Everglades’ own terms.
The Conch Republic
The self-proclaimed Conch Republic of Key West is an individual island, untethered from the nation, the state and even the rest of the island chain except by a flimsy bridge. Mallory Sq and Duval St are animated nightly by a crazy party that’s part drunken cabal and part authentic tolerance for the self-expression of every impolite impulse known to humanity.
Canaveral National Seashore
If you’ve been to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, you know it’s one crowded stretch of sand. That’s partly why the 24 miles of Canaveral National Seashore’s unspoiled barrier island are so special. Here the dunes, lagoons and white-sand beaches look much as they did when the Spaniards landed. Kayak among the mangroves with dolphins and manatees, observe sea turtles, swim on pristine beaches and camp in solitude.
06. LA & Southern California
Palm trees, golden sands and Pacific sunsets beckon in all your California daydreams, right? The good news: SoCal is where those cinematic fantasies really can come true.
SoCal’s theme parks are the best, hands down. Visit Disney’s ‘happiest place on earth,’ get a thrill from Hollywood’s movie magic or ride a rad roller coaster.
Think SoCal, and you’re already dreaming about white-sand beaches, bronzed bods and palm trees. With over 250 miles of coastline, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Drop the convertible top, cue up the music and step on it. You’ll find surreally beautiful ocean vistas, plus inland detours for adventure-seeking road trippers.
This is the spot to step out in style at ultrachic nightclubs. Oh, you’re not a fan of velvet ropes? No problem. You’ll find casual watering holes all over SoCal.
While we can’t guarantee you’ll run into Halle Berry walking around wearing big ol’ dark sunglasses, it’s more likely to happen here than anywhere else.
Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown LA is one place you won’t want to miss. From architect Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Ave’s ‘Cultural Corridor’ to the ethnic flavors of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Little Tokyo and Chinatown, Downtown encapsulates everything LA has to offer: cutting-edge creative arts, a melting pot of world cultures, and civic spaces to rival New York or Chicago.
Walt Disney built his dream where orange groves once grew, throwing open the doors of his Magic Kingdom in 1955. Today Disneyland is SoCal’s most visited tourist attraction, where beloved cartoon characters waltz down Main Street USA and fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty’s castle on summer nights. If you’re a kid, or just hopelessly young at heart, Disneyland may well be ‘the happiest place on earth.’
Pacific Coast Highway
The legendary highway snakes past dizzying sea cliffs and dozens of beach towns, each with its own idiosyncratic personality. Make your escape from tangled, traffic-jammed freeways and cruise in the slow lane. You’ll uncover hidden beaches and locals’ fave surf breaks, rustic seafood shacks dishing up the day’s freshest catch, and old-fashioned piers where you can catch the sun setting over boundless Pacific horizons.
With more than 250 miles of Pacific coastline, SoCal has an overwhelming number of beaches to choose from. If you only have time for one, Santa Monica can grant instant happiness. Learn to surf, ride a solar-powered Ferris wheel, dance under the stars on an old-fashioned pier, pump iron at Muscle Beach, or just dip your toes in the water. Did we mention jaw-dropping sunsets?
San Diego Zoo & Balboa Park
An enormous urban green space – an increasingly rare sight in SoCal – Balboa Park is where San Diegans come to play (when they’re not at the beach). Take the family and spend the day immersed in more than a dozen art, cultural and science museums, or just marvel at the Spanish Revival architecture. Meet the local wildlife at the world-famous zoo or see a show at the Old Globe theater, a faithful reconstruction of the Shakespearean original.
It’s easy to see why Hawaii has become synonymous with paradise. Just look around at the sugary beaches, Technicolor coral reefs and volcanoes ready for adventure.
The quintessential island lifestyle is all about the beach. With six main islands and hundreds of miles of coastline, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Hawaii, whether you want to surf, go whale watching or just lie around on the sand.
Waterfalls & Swimming Holes
Ready to wade through the mud, step over slippery tree roots and tread trails paved with roly-poly kukui nuts, all to swim in a crystal-clear pool of water under a rainforest cascade? We thought so.
Hiking & Backpacking
Hawaii’s islands have as many adventures to offer landlubbers as water babies. Hikers and backpackers can choose among scores of trails, ranging from easy waterfall and botanical-garden strolls to multiday volcano treks.
Are you ready to roll? Hawaii possesses a surprising number of scenic drives: up volcano summits, into rain forests and through paniolo (cowboy) country.
Food & Drink
There are so many ‘ono grinds (good eats) dished up around the islands that you might find yourself eating more than three times a day – and that’s before pau hana (happy hour) rolls around!
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Pack the boots, friends – you’ll want them to explore the miles of trails running through this national park. Crossing lava flows while steam vents huff and native honeycreepers sing in rain-forested oases, it’s obvious why the Big Island is a world-class hiking destination. Day hikes, lava-tube adventures and backcountry treks are hallmarks here.
Kaua‘i’s Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coast, which can be experienced by land, sea or air, should head everone’s Kaua‘i to-do list. Make a gentle oceanic journey by boat or, for true sea adventure, pit your kayak against the elements. For hikers, the rugged 11-mile-long Kalalau Trail will transport you to verdant cliffs and a sloping valley abundant with fruit trees.
Waikiki’s Beaches & Nightlife
Waikiki is back, baby! Hawaii’s most famous beach resort may still be a haven for tacky plastic lei, coconut-shell bikini tops and motorized hip-shaking hula dolls, but real aloha has returned to this prototypical paradise. By day beachboys surf the legendary waves. At sunset tiki torches are lit and the conch shell blown at Kuhio Beach Park, where hula dancers sway and famous island musicians strum slack-key guitars and ukuleles.
Road to Hana
Ready for adventure? Of all the jaw-droppingly dramatic drives in Hawaii, this is the big kahuna. A roller coaster of a ride, the Hana Hwy winds down into jungly valleys and back up towering cliffs, curling around 600 twists and turns along the way. Fifty-four one-lane bridges cross nearly as many waterfalls – some eye-popping torrents, others so gentle they beg a dip. But the ride’s only half the thrill. Get out and swim in a Zen-like pool, hike a ginger-scented trail and explore the wonders along the way.
Haleakalā’s Moonscape Trails
You might think you’re walking on the moon as you wind down into the belly of Haleakalā. The first thing you notice is how eerily quiet everything is; the only sound is the crunching of loose volcanic cinders beneath your feet. The path descends gently into an unearthly world, a landscape of stark lava and ever-changing clouds. Looking back toward the summit, eyes focused on the steep crater walls, it’s impossible not to be awed by the raw beauty.
Jungles, deserts; teeming cities, one-street villages; fiesta fireworks, Frida’s angst: Mexico conjures up so many contradictory images. One thing’s for sure no preconceptions will ever live up to the reality.
Pyramids & Temples
The cities and sacred precincts of Mexico’s ancient civilizations awe and intrigue with their majesty and mystery.
Historic Colonial Towns
Most of what’s beautiful in urban Mexico is the result of 300 years of Spanish rule, when towns were laid out with elegant shady plazas, and gorgeous stone palaces and churches.
With 6000 miles of coast, Mexico has hundreds of beaches where you don’t need to do anything except enjoy the sea, sun and seafood.
Mexico’s star buys are wonderful, colorful handicrafts – textiles, ceramics, masks, woodwork, metalwork, leatherwork, jewellery – predominantly made by indigenous people.
Mexican food has as many variations as there are Mexican cooks. Any good eatery’s offerings depend on what fresh ingredients are in season.
The Riviera Maya
Stretching from the jet-setting, spring-breaking funfest of Cancún to the backwaters of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the Riviera gets a bad rap for overdevelopment, mostly thanks to Cancún. Elsewhere, however, there are multiple opportunities to kick back without getting trampled, from little beachside fishing villages to cosmopolitan hot spots. And with water this blue, sand this white and jungle this lush, it’s easy to overlook the excesses and let yourself be seduced by the dreamy tropical surrounds.
Take a world-famous Maya ruin, plonk it down beside the achingly white sands and turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean, and you’ve got Tulum. There are accommodations here for all budgets, plus some fantastic restaurants and so many attractions in the surrounding area that it’s no wonder many people come for a few days and find themselves still here months later.
The cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, this large-but-manageable city has a beautifully maintained colonial heart, a wealth of museums and galleries, and some of the best food in the region. Just out of town are wildlife reserves, graceful estates and jungle-shrouded cenotes to swim in. Further afield, the little-visited Maya sites along the Ruta Puuc allow you to step back in time without being jostled by tour groups.
Mexico’s most appealing Pacific resort combines a dazzling setting with a funloving atmosphere that welcomes everyone from foodies and shopping devotees to outdoors enthusiasts. Travel an hour out of town and you can be basking on a secluded beach, horseback riding in the Sierra Madre, whale watching, diving or reeling in a giant fish.
After a few days on this 370-mile sequence of sandy Pacific beaches, you’ll be so relaxed you may not be able to leave. Head for the surf mecca of Puerto Escondido, the low-key resort of Bahías de Huatulco, or the ultra-laid-back hangouts of Zipolite, San Agustinillo or Mazunte. Soak up the sun, eat good food, imbibe in beach bars and, when the mood takes you, have a surf, go snorkeling or board a boat for wildlife watching.
09. Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, trails lead to rushing waterfalls, mist-covered volcanoes and deserted beaches. Regardless of which you choose, this tropical playground is a feast for the senses.
White-Water Rafting & Kayaking
With its ample waterways and excellent operators, Costa Rica’s opportunities for rushing down frothing white-water rapids and coasting through mangrove channels will satisfy even the greatest thirst for adventure.
Costa Rica’s perfect waves, surf culture and endless blue skies make it a worldclass destination, whether you’re wobbling to your feet on a longboard or shredding monster swells.
Even for those who don’t know their snow-bellied emerald from their grey-breasted wood wren, Costa Rica’s birds are a thrill. Nearly 900 bird species fill Costa Rica’s skies – more than in the entire United States and Canada combined.
Rain-forest trails and endless strolls down the beach, high-altitude mountains and cloud forest: the only way to see it all is to don some boots and hit the trail.
Although a venture into the open sea can be a pricey proposition, Costa Rica’s sportfishing is the stuff of legend.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
A pristine expanse of virginal forest, Monteverde Cloud Forest owes much of its impressive natural beauty to Quaker expats who left the US in the 1950s to protest the Korean War and helped foster conservationist principles with Ticos of the region. But as fascinating as the history is, the real draw of Monteverde is nature itself: a mysterious land dripping with mist, dangling with mossy vines, sprouting with ferns and bromeliads, and gushing with creeks.
While the molten night views are gone, this mighty, perfectly conical giant is still worthy of a pilgrimage. There are several beautiful trails to explore, especially the magnificent climb to Cerro Chato. And although Volcán Arenal is considered by scientists to be active, you’d never know it from the serene, mist-covered vistas.
So many rivers, so little time. But the dedicated adrenaline junkie could easily cover some heart-pounding river miles in the span of a few days in this compact little country. For those without the drive to do them all, pick a river, any river, from Pacuare, Reventazón, Sarapiquí. Any of the three are fun runs (though we’re partial to the Pacuare), and all have stretches of smooth water that allow rafters to take in the surrounding jungle scenery.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Although droves of visitors pack Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, it remains an absolute gem. Capuchin monkeys scurry across its idyllic beaches, brown pelicans dive-bomb its clear waters and sloths watch over its accessible trails. It’s a perfect place to introduce youngsters to the wonders of the rain forest. There’s not much by way of privacy, but it’s so lovely that you won’t mind sharing.
Mal País & Playa Santa Teresa
Think tasty waves, creative kitchens, and babes in board shorts and bikinis. It’s no wonder that this rugged corner of the Peninsula de Nicoya has become one of Costa Rica’s most life-affirming destinations. Here the sea – perfect in color and temperature – is alive with wildlife. The hills are lush and dotted with stylish boutique sleeps, and the rutted road to Mal ends in an authentic Tico fishing hamlet where you can score a dinner worthy of kings.
Friendly and fun-loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic, Thailand casts a lustrous hue from its gaudy temples, golden beaches and the ever-comforting Thai smile.
Thailand’s beaches are beauty queens and draw a steady crowd of international sunseekers. The days of having paradise to yourself are long gone, but the scenery is still supreme.
Diving & Snorkeling
The warm clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea harbor underwater landscapes and marine species that rank Thailand among the world’s top diving destinations.
Thai food is fabulously flavored, remarkably convenient and ridiculously cheap. Street stalls spring up wherever there are appetites, night markets serve everyone dinner, and family restaurants deliver colorful plates of traditional recipes.
Culture: Temples & Ruins
The Thai landscape is filled with monuments to the gods, be they glittering Buddhist temples or ancient Khmer sanctuaries. Many of the country’s most famous temples are de facto museums, sheltering history and religious art.
From the mountains in the north to the rain forests of the south, visitors can trek, paddle and be carried by elephants through tropical landscapes.
Be prepared to adjust your itinerary if you’ve only given Bangkok a day or two. The Bangkok of today is tidier and easier to navigate than ever before, and will pull you in with one of the world’s biggest markets, fun bars, sublime eats and endless opportunities for urban exploration. Supplement your fun with more scholarly pursuits such as a cooking or Thai massage course, and we’re certain you’ll see Bangkok as much more than just a transit point.
Ko Tao is the cheapest and easiest spot around to learn how to strap on a tank and dive into the deep. The water is warm and gentle, and the underwater spectacles – including coral reefs frequented by all sorts of fish – are not to be missed. Even if you’re a nondiver, Ko Tao is a beautiful island; its small size means you can explore all of its jungle nooks and crannies, looking for a sandy niche to call your own.
An international-level beach resort, Phuket is an easy destination for all ages. You can fly in from Bangkok, then retreat into a five-star resort or arty boutique hotel for a trouble-free tropical vacation. There are slinky stretches of sand, hedonistic party pits and all the mod cons needed for 21st-century rest and recreation, plus mangrove forests, monkey-rescue centers and a ton of water sports.
Famous for its sloppy full-moon parties, Ko Pha-Ngan has graduated from a sleepy bohemian island to a full-on destination for party people. The beach shanties have been transformed into boutiques, meaning comfort seekers have an alternative to Ko Samui, while ascetic hammock hangers can still feel like a (well-fed) modern castaway on the northern and eastern coasts. Just offshore is Sail Rock, one of the gulf’s best dive sites.
Surin & Similan Islands Marine National Parks
The marine parks’ world-renowned dive sites, home to manta rays and whale sharks, have anchored Thailand’s reputation as a global diving destination. The islands are also attractions in their own right, with jungle-filled interiors and smooth white beaches surrounded by coral reefs.