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It’s awfully hard—though not impossible—to find a long network of decently paved roads in most island and tropical countries. Your mountain biking options are somewhat better: mostly uncrowded trails through scenery that will make all of your gearhead friends at home jealous. Here are my on- and off-pavement recommendations. I’m sticking to the Caribbean and Central America because they’re the most accessible. If you're going solo, bring your bike or make sure to figure out where you'll rent one beforehand—most outfitters in these parts only rent rigs to people taking one of their guided tours.
Turrialba, Costa Rica
The tiny town of Turrialba, about an hour east of San Jose in the Central Valley, is the inland adventure capital of Costa Rica. Though most people think of it as a whitewater rafting hub for the roiling Pacuare and Reventazon rivers, it’s also mountain biking central. Serendipity Adventures custom-plans mountain biking trips for all levels, on everything from dirt plantation roads to snaking singletrack on the flanks of the rumbling, and still very much active, 5,400-foot Arenal Volcano. Their nine-day mountain-to-Caribbean tour starts at $3,000 per person. Banana Adventure Tours operates a five-day all-inclusive biking, hiking, and rafting tour through the area starting at $1,000 per person.
Blue Mountains, Jamaica
If you stand on the highest point of the 7,400-foot Blue Mountains on a clear day, you can see almost the entire length of Jamaica. Considering that its tallest ridges lie barely more than 10 miles from the coastline, you get an idea of how precipitous its jungle-laden slopes are. Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours leads three-hour downhill rides that switchback on pavement from top to bottom. The ride isn't challenging, but the scenery as you descend through alpine jungle zones makes the trip completely worthwhile. Bonus: you get to end the day with a waterfall swim. Tours start at $98.
The most vibrant cycling community in the Caribbean is on the 40-mile-long by 9-mile-wide, moustache-shaped island of Curacao. Its paved roads are home to the annual 45-mile Amstel Curacao Race, which attracts some of the world’s top cyclists. It's also home to several different mountain bike networks that vary in difficulty from family-friendly to highly technical. Viprides rents bikes for $20 a day, and can give you advice on where to go. Wannabike operates mountain bike tours starting at $40 for a half day.
Between the nearby 12,000-foot volcanoes and its proximity to the Pacific coast, the 500-year-old Spanish settlement of Antigua, Guatemala, is an ideal base camp for adventure. It’s also the mountain biking capital of Central America, home to hundreds of miles of singletrack and old jeep roads in the surrounding highlands. Old Town Outfitters leads everything from half-day to multi-day rides.