You could spend all your time on Caye Caulker chatting with locals in bars or swimming from one of the island's many docks, but with some 400 species of tropical fish and 70 species of hard corals living offshore in the Belize Barrier Reef, it's well worth it to go on a snorkeling tour or go diving. The locally owned Hicaco Tours runs full-day trips ($45 per person) that include visits to the Hol Chan Marine Park, Shark Ray Alley, and Coral Gardens, plus snorkel gear. If you're dive-certified or want to learn, you can experience some of the world's most famous dive sites, such as the Blue Hole, from Caye Caulker. One of the island's most well-regarded dive companies, Frenchie's Diving offers four-day open water certification courses for $250. For experienced divers, day trips to the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef cost $135 per person.
Where to stay:
The Auxillou Beach Suites has one-bedroom suites right on the beach from $79 per night. Owner Wendy Auxillou can also set up very affordable packages that include activities and transportation to the island. For example, one three-night deal includes accommodations, snorkel and sailing tours, a massage, and round-trip air transfers from Belize City for $449 per person. Maxhapan Cabañas offers lower prices (from $60 per night) for guesthouse accommodations just off the beach.
April flights to Belize City International Airport from Miami start at $561 round-trip, including taxes and fees, on American. From Belize City it's a 45-minute water taxi ride to Caye Caulker ($15 round-trip).
Most visitors to Curacao—the "C" of the so-called ABC islands along with Aruba and Bonaire—stay in or near the capital of Willemstad. Although the town has pretty colonial architecture and interesting museums, it's quite developed and busy. For Caribbean travelers sick of chain resorts, casinos, cruise ships, and crowds, Westpunt, on the western tip of island, is the perfect antidote.
"The beaches are uncrowded, it's easier to eat on the cheap, and accommodations are less expensive—plus, I think it's the prettiest part of the island," says San Francisco Chronicle travel columnist Charyn Pfeuffer, whose favorite Caribbean island is Curacao. "Imagine cove after cove of clean sandy beaches and the most translucent pale blue water you will ever see."
What to do and where to stay:
One of the main reasons to come to Westpunt is to stay at the Lodge Kura Hulanda & Beach Club, a recently christened member of The Leading Hotels of the World, where luxury comes at a good price. "The Lodge Kura Hulanda sits on a cliff above a crescent-shaped beach—walk down a short staircase and you're on one of the island's most secluded stretches of sand," says Pfeuffer, who stayed there last April. "If you want to hole up and get away from it all, I can't imagine a better place. It's intimate and exclusive, without being overly expensive." Discount rates start as low as $155 per night for garden-view rooms and $235 for oceanfront studios.
On the lodge property, you can venture into a seaside cavern adorned with prehistoric rock art created by the island's original inhabitants, the Arawak-Taino Indians. There's a dive shop on-site, too. Snorkel tours start at $25 per person and one-tank boat dives start at $46 per person. Kayaks can also be rented for $10 per hour.