Where can I find the perfect mix of luxe relaxation and adventure?

I'm planning a trip for my husband's 40th birthday this fall, and I'm trying to find the place with the perfect mix of beach relaxation and adventure. You know, kayaking, hiking, sailing, snorkelling, and windsurfing to go with a super nice room, superb food, and a spa treatment or two. What are your suggestions? –Jill North Attleboro, MA

Greg Melville

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Jill, your husband sounds like a very lucky man. I can only hope that my wife reads your question and learns from your example. (To make sure that she does, I’m printing it out right now and placing it on her pillow.) First off, don’t even think of going to one of those sprawling mega-destination resorts with the spiffy, carefully focus-grouped brand names. They’re about as refined as “Bring Your Woman, Get a Jell-O Shot Night” at the bowling alley, and as culturally diverse as a McDonald’s menu. No, for this special, romantic occasion, opt for a cozy boutique resort where the staff, all the way down to the guy who puts the umbrellas in your froofy drinks, makes a point of knowing your name, and you—and the handful of others staying there—genuinely have the run of the place. In particular, these three not-too-far-away destinations:

Turtle Inn,
One of two properties owned by Francis Ford Coppola (yes, that Francis Ford Coppola) in Belize, the 25-room Turtle Inn is considered the country’s premier resort. Its smattering of thatch-roofed cottages, decorated with handmade Balinese furniture, rest on the tip of a quiet peninsula jutting into the Caribbean and protected by one of the world’s largest barrier reefs. You’ve got snorkeling and diving outside your door in water teeming with colorful marine life, not to mention deep-sea fishing, boat trips up the rainforest-fringed and aptly-named Monkey River, and hikes through a sprawling jaguar preserve. On-property there are two restaurants, two pools, and a spa that specializes in Thai massage (starts at $350 per night).

Arenas del Mar,
Costa Rica
If your idea of an eco-lodge involves sleeping in tents and taking night trips to the outhouse, then you’ve never seen Arenas del Mar. Concealed within its own 125-acre beachside jungle preserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, it takes the concept of sustainability to luxurious new heights. It boasts two swimming pools that use a chemical-free cleaning system, hot water provided from solar panels, roof tiles on the buildings made from old plastic bags, a hydroponic garden that supplies produce to the two gourmet restaurants, and recycling bins just about everywhere, including in the spa and all of its 42 rooms. The resort is so enmeshed with the surrounding wildlife that monkeys have been known to raid the mini-bars (starts at $280 per night).

There’s probably no other beachside resort in the world where you can book a room for less than $100 a night, and find yourself next door to a Hollywood celebrity or mega-famous rock star. Jake’s is true Jamaica—laid back, friendly, informal, inexpensive, and spiced up by a killer reggae soundtrack in the background. Its 29 rooms are spread among a collection of thatch-roofed buildings across five palm-shaded acres on the island’s quiet central-southern shore. You can laze by the mosaic-tiled pool, on the beach, or overlooking the sea during an outdoor spa treatment. Or you can fish, hike to nearby waterfalls, or go for a bike ride into the nearby village of Treasure Beach (starts at $95 per night).