Get Lost: Mexico and Central America

Score a great deal on a tropical vacation.

Isolate in Panama
Private islands are neither affordable nor easy to come by. An exception to this rule: Isla Boca Brava, an eight-square-mile spit of land off Panama's Pacific coast. Situated on the boundary of the lush, tropical Golfo de Chiriqui National Marine Park, the secluded island is home to the new, solar-powered Cala Mia eco-resort (doubles from $220; boutiquehotelcalamia.com). Once you arrive (via puddle-jumper flight from Panama City and a boat ride from the town of David), base yourself in one of 11 oceanfront bungalows. Next up: days spent snorkeling and kayaking the surrounding coastline (think endless sand, clear water, and abundant reef fish). Or take a dive-boat-supported scuba trip to the submerged mountains of Los Ladrones, where humpback whales and manta rays roam. At day's end, try the organic cheese, which is made using ingredients from the resort's own farm.

Get Lost: Surf Oaxaca

Villas Carrizalillo
(Courtesy of Villas Carrizalillo)

Cougar Camp

After crashing and burning its way through the reality-TV world, "cougar" mania has caught on in the travel industry. December 4–7, Singles Travel Company leads what it calls "the world's first International Cougar Cruise," hosting about 200 younger men and older women on a jaunt from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico (from $160; singlestravelcompany.com). The ship is 855 feet long, so the walks of shame will be good exercise.

Though it's no longer a secret, Puerto Escondido, located on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, still delivers exactly what you need on a Mexican vacation: relaxation and solitude. (Even now, there's only one daily flight from Mexico City.) Escondido is best known among surfers for Mexpipe, a bone-crushing break on Playa Zicatela, right off the central area. For mortals, there's the bodysurfing-friendly Playa Principal, to the north, plus no end of lagoons for swimming and snorkeling. When I was here last fall, locals directed me to their favorite hideout, Playa Carrizalillo, a palm-fringed beach that's great for swimming and mellow longboarding (board rentals, $3.50 per hour; lessons, $20 for two hours; both available at the beach—ask for Ramón). Stay at Villas Carrizalillo (doubles from $150; villascarrizalillo.com), situated on the cliffs above.

Get Lost: Bird-Dog Costa Rica

Great Green Macaw

Great Green Macaw

Little-known fact about Costa Rica: The country—known for being, in essence, one big West Virginia–size eco-resort—experi­ences one of the highest deforestation rates in Central America, thanks to cattle ranching and logging. To promote conservation through tourism, the Rainforest Biodiversity Group recently opened Central America's first birdwatching route here. Modeled on similar trails in the United States, the Costa Rican Bird Route comprises 5,000 acres on 13 remote sites with 520 avian species. Order a map and a field guide ($13; costaricanbirdroute.com) and, once you land at the San José airport, rent a four-wheel-drive (about $50 a day) and hit the rainforest for a week of day hikes. Start in the Tirimbina Rainforest Center (about 1.5 hours northeast of San José) and make for the northernmost part of the trail, near Boca San Carlos, home to the endangered great green macaw. Your launchpad: the Maquenque Eco-Lodge (doubles, $105; maquenqueecolodge.com), next to the newly created wildlife refuge of the same name.

Get Lost: Surf El Salvador

La Libertad, El Salvador
Waves at El Salvador's La Libertad (Courtesy of Alvaro Calero)

Surfers have a knack for scoping out adventure hot spots, and El Salvador is a great place to look: Along the La Libertad coast, just 35 minutes from the capital, San Salvador, small lodges are popping up to cater to the international wave seekers flocking here. Another plus: Surfer chic means surfer cheap. Overlooking two of the region's best breaks—El Sunzal and La Bocana—is Tekuani Kal, a six-room, Nahua-influenced guesthouse with thatch-roofed patios (doubles from $84; tekuanikal.com). The villages along the coast still have a rustic feel—I visited last year and was blown away by the friendly mingling of local and global surfers—but it won't be long before fancier places move in. For now, it pays to get insider intel. Call on San Salvador–based Cadejo Adventures, which rents boards and offers guided day trips for beginners and experts alike (from $85 per person; cadejoadventures.com). When you've had your fill of surfing, consider the singular experience of scuba-diving inside a dormant volcanic crater at Lake Ilopango, exploring caves and vertical rock walls that drop 600 feet ($90).

Get Lost: Catch a Buzz in Nicaragua

Finca Esperanza Verde ecolodge
Finca Esperanza Verde ecolodge (Courtesy of Finca Esperanza Verde)

Travel agents like to paint Nicaragua as the next Costa Rica, a volcano-studded landscape full of cloudforests and glassy lakes. Sadly, word has gotten out, and Vegas-size developments are coming to the country's Pacific coast. But inland, you can still find untrammeled adventure. And damn good coffee. Make a pilgrimage to Finca Esperanza Verde, an eco-lodge and organic coffee farm close to Matagalpa, the country's café-cultivating center (two-night package, $186; fincaesperanzaverde.org). The finca's owners pioneered responsible coffee production and the use of solar power in the region. Hike the Purple Trail, which takes you to the highest point of the 265-acre farm, a 4,000-foot vista overlooking the Dariense mountain range. Afterwards, cool off on the Blue Trail, a circular route that leads through sloth-filled jungle to a swimming hole at the base of a waterfall. It's a little cold, but you can always warm up with some organic shade-grown in the lodge.

Get Lost: Paddle Belize

Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize
Moonrise at Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize (Photo by Andrea Boys/Island Expeditions)

Yes, it's easy to get around English-speaking, dollar-accepting Belize. But the good stuff can be harder to find than you think, and sometimes it pays to turn to the experts. Take Island Expeditions' new Maya Reef Explorer trip, which brings you to the rich, remote Glover's Reef Marine Reserve, a World Heritage site 70 miles southeast of the capital, Belize City. From a safari-style base camp, guests sea-kayak the 82-square-mile lagoon in the company of a marine biologist and local guides, hopping from reef to reef (there are more than 700) and poking around sea fans and elkhorn coral in the shallows. After a few days of scoring stellar underwater views, it's off to the Maya ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha, where you'll play Hiram Bingham in the ancient cities before crashing at an eco-lodge near the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (five-day trip, $1,199; islandexpeditions.com).

Get Lost: Honduras

Honduras
Honduran coast

Following the military coup in Honduras this past summer, the hyper-wary U.S. State Department did what you might expect: It issued a travel alert for the country. Adventure-travel outfitters also did the expected: They kept on leading trips, despite late-summer riots in the capital, Tegucigalpa. In 2010, Mountain Travel Sobek will run its regular multisport itinerary to Pico Bonito National Park (seven days, $2,995 per person; mtsobek.com). Meanwhile, GAP Adventures is continuing its trips to the Maya ruins at Copán (three days, $659 per person; gapadventures.com). "Our itineraries don't visit Teguc, and the unrest has nothing to do with tourists," says Sobek trip leader Mark Willuhn.

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