Vacation in Central America

You seek the sun and sand, sure, and perhaps amazing dive sites. Central America has all of that, in abundance — and also intriguing cultures worth exploring. Choose your destination and you may be privy to native dances and Maya ruins in addition to tempting scenery and activities.

Belize
Set against the stunning backdrop of tropical Southern Belize, the residential and resort community of Sanctuary Belize is truly a nature-lover's paradise. This 14,000-acre master-planned gated community has something for everyone, with home choices ranging from Polynesian-styled bungalows nestled in a Belizean jungle to charming villas resting at the edge of the savanna to stunning "bamboo homes" with views over the crystalblue Caribbean Sea. However, what truly makes Sanctuary Belize such an incredibly unique opportunity is that all of the 1- to 10-acre home sites are situated within the 4,000 acres of land planned for development, while the remaining 10,000 acres encompass a private wildlife reserve that will remain protected in perpetuity for the homeowners' enjoyment and privacy. The wildlife reserve mirrors the Belizean government's position to protect and maintain over 40 percent of the country in natural preserves.

While Sanctuary Belize purposely blends into its environment in eco-sensitive ways, luxury is as much a part of the dream as the natural beauty. This incredible project will feature the world's only eco-experience hotel; it will have “campuses” located within the five distinct and diverse ecosystems found within the confines of Sanctuary Belize. It will offer a 200-slip full-service marina, a yacht club, a marina village, an equestrian center, and a private beach and beach club.

The development also boasts a private, 5-acre caye (island) ringed by a beautiful coral reef, just 20 short minutes into the Caribbean by boat from the marina. Owners can spend the day swimming, fishing or relaxing at the Caye Club and can even choose to spend the night in one of the Tahitian-style bungalows for a true ”private island experience.”

In an effort to attract foreign capital, the Belizean government has developed some extremely attractive benefits for nonnative investors. With low tax rates and minimal paperwork, investing in or moving to Belize is incredibly simple. Since Sanctuary Belize owns the entire 14,000 acres of land completely debt-free, the development team is able to back up the ease of investment with neverbefore- seen financing options including 0 percent interest or no money down programs. Better yet, the prices are attractive for buyers at all budget levels, with prices ranging from $99,000 to $1 million.

Once you own a piece of this paradise, what can you expect? Hikes along canopied rainforest to dazzling waterfalls. Scenic sails by sea, lake and lagoon. Horseback rides along the river. Diving or snorkeling in the pristine waters of the Belize Barrier Reef, rich with colorful fish and corals. Charming retail areas featuring hand-crafted goods and locally produced organic foods, fruits and vegetables. Restaurants with fine food prepared by respected chefs. Friendly bars where you can unwind to a Caribbean breeze and meet your neighbors. Sun-worshiping on a private 5-acre caye. Indulgent services in the PuraMaya Spa. Fishing with fellow aficionados. And a bounty of beautifully warm, sunny days.

The development of this unique community is well underway, with multiple homes already complete. Since the grand opening of the marina is scheduled for late 2011, the absolute best time to purchase is right now, while prices are still low. Live there year-round or visit for vacation — it is your private Sanctuary to enjoy however you please.

800-715-2272, sanctuarybelize.com

Some resorts are referred to as hideaways themselves to pampering guests of the 12 thatch-roof cabanas, each a rustic-looking airconditioned hideaway filled with contemporary amenities — plus the tempting hammock on every veranda.

With its mix of luxury and nature, St. George's Caye is an ideal destination for active vacations. When you do a "valet" dive, for example, the staff will prepare and clean your equipment for you; your only responsibility will be enjoying the Belize Barrier Reef. You can spend the day fishing — the excursions will be customized to your liking — or opt for indulgent treatments in the full-service spa. Go for a Swedish, deep tissue or hot stone massage, or opt for an exotic Bomba Mud scrub. You can make new friends at the laid-back dining room and lounge, and enjoy water sports at your whim.

The St. George’s team anticipates your needs from the moment you arrive. A representative will greet you at the airport and transport you by speedboat the 7 miles to St. George’s Caye. You’ll be shown to your freestanding cabana, where coffee, tea and freshly squeezed fruit juices will be brought to your veranda every morning. During the day, you’re welcome to a full breakfast, lunch and a three-course dinner, which changes nightly. You might feast on Caribbean lobster plucked from the sea, fish Veracruz-style with a savory sauce or a Belizean beach barbecue. Save room for the housemade desserts.

Spend your days lounging on the sand or in a hammock, diving, snorkeling, cave tubing, zip lining or exploring Maya ruins. Nonmotorized water sports such as kayaking and windsurfing are included. The staff will plan any adventure you request.

800-813-8498, gooddiving.com

HONDURAS
**Nestled on 120 tropical acres, the eco-friendly resort of **Palmetto Bay Plantation
is designed to give both couples and families the perfect place to reconnect. While the Roatán resort's stunning beaches and lush foliage lend themselves to romance and relaxation, its ultra-clear waters are legendary for diving and snorkeling and beckon exploration. The world's second-largest barrier reef is just a few minutes away, and the on-premises dive shop is renowned for its "boutique service," focusing on the individual dive needs of each guest.

Palmetto Bay Plantation’s accommodations are ideal for family getaways. The Balinese-style villas offer both privacy and easy access to the beach. Beautifully designed with local hardwoods and screened louvered-wall ventilation, the villas offer separate bedrooms, a full kitchen, a spacious living room, and a wraparound deck generously sized for family gatherings.

As welcoming as the resort itself are Palmetto Bay’s employees, most of whom are native islanders eager to share a smile and a taste of their culture. You’ll enjoy their friendly service at the inviting open-air restaurant, where fresh seafood is served daily and a full menu is guaranteed to please any palate. A weekly Honduran buffet with live music and folk dancing by members of the native Garifuna community on Saturday nights provides authentic tastes of island life.

The swimming pool and hot tub overlooking the sparkling bay make for refreshing aquatic alternatives. When you’re ready to get active, the resort will be happy to arrange the activities of your choice, including diving, fishing, sailing, kayaking, seaplane and canopy tours, dolphin encounters and more. And when you’re done, you’ll always find a free hammock to lay back in and contemplate your adventures.

Meld the intrigue of Honduras with the comforts of home at the Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort. Located on Roatán's famous West Bay Beach, the Mayan Princess features luxury ocean-view and poolside condominiums that include a private patio, kitchen, living room, dining room and bedrooms — but chances are you will have little desire to spend time inside.

Relax by the resort’s signature Mayan Pool with waterfalls and surrounding tropical gardens or pamper yourself at Kukut Spa. Experience worldclass snorkeling from shore or scuba dive in the Roatán Marine Reserve with Mayan Divers, the onsite PADI 5-Star Dive Center. Nearby, you can poke around the shops of West End Village, tour a nature park or ride a zip line over the jungle canopy.

Weddings here are inherently romantic. Say “I Do” with soft white sand between your toes while the sun sparkles on turquoise waters.

786-299-5929, mayanprincess.com

For a more secluded Roatán vacation, opt for the Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort. A stylish boutique property on the island's lush and remote northeast coast, Turquoise Bay is an absolute gem. Its accommodations are hillside bungalows set among palm trees with Caribbean décor and ocean views from a private balcony. Lounge on the private beach, kayak around mangrove islands, swim in the pool or choose from a selection of cultural or adventure tours.

S cuba dive on the world’s second-largest barrier reef with Subway Watersports, the onsite PADI 5-Star National Geographic Dive Center. The resort’s location offers divers a unique opportunity to explore uncrowded, pristine dive sites that have the most varied topography on the island. Friendly local staff take pride in making guests feel at home. Ask about all-inclusive packages.

Enchanted by Central America? It’s natural.