BLAZING TRAIL: En route to Nicaragua's Volcan Maderas

Central Heating

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Panama Whitewater

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Nicaragua BLAZING TRAIL: En route to Nicaragua's Volcan Maderas

Local guides have named some of the rapids—like “the Mexican” and “the Brazilian”—on Panama’s classic Class IV Chiriquí Viejo day trip after clients who received a particularly artful thrashing when they went overboard. Less intimidating but more adventurous is the two-day Changuinola River, which begins in the Bocas del Toro highlands and empties into the Caribbean. The 20-mile stretch of Class III whitewater winds through La Amistad International Park and, after last year’s first descent by guides from Chiriquí River Rafting, will see its first commercial expedition this winter. Guests will swap the maiden voyagers’ 12-hour bushwhack to the put-in for a 20-minute helicopter shuttle, but that doesn’t mean they can let their guard down: There are still plenty of rapids waiting to be dubbed “the American.” Base yourself at Los Establos (doubles from $130;, near Boquete. Chiriquí Viejo day trip, $105; Changuinola overnighter, $500;

Costa Rica Submarine

A two-day sail off the Pacific coast, Cocos Island is Costa Rica’s answer to the Galápagos, a remote haven that gives visitors a taste of unaltered nature. But there’s a chance at deeper understanding—1,500 feet below the surface. Last March, Undersea Hunter began offering submarine exploration to complement its seven-day diving excursions, which are best known for encountering schools of hammerhead sharks as well as manta rays and whale sharks. Since then, the submarine crew has explored huge swaths of a quarter-mile-deep vertical wall a mile offshore, plus they’ve added to Cocos’s list of known species the prickly shark and the sand tiger shark. Ten-day scuba trip aboard the Sea Hunter, $3,945; two-to-four-and-a-half-hour submarine trips, $595–$2,495 per person;

Guatemala Fat Tire

The chill air of Guatemala’s 8,000-plus-foot Alaska region holds some of Central America’s best and freshest singletrack. Local outfitter Viaventure guides mountain-biking clients in the Sierra Paraxquim, where a two-hour car ride from Lake Atitlán to the slopes of 11,621-foot Pico Zunil buys 30 miles of downhill, with views of ten extinct volcanoes, on trails originally cut by the Quiché Maya. Though it may be cool near the top, the trail quickly drops through three climate zones—from pine forest to cloudforest to coastal lowlands—on the 9,000-foot descent. Villas at Casa Palopó (, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, come with private jetted tubs and a personal chef. Weeklong custom trips from $2,295, including lodging at Casa Palopó and mountain-bike rental;

Nicaragua Multisport

The number of visitors to Nicaragua has risen 700 percent over the past six years, but that doesn’t mean travelers can’t still experience the “perishable thrill of being first,” says Michael Kaye, owner of Nicaragua Expeditions. Kaye, who launched Costa Rica Expeditions 28 years ago, will introduce an eight-day Nicaragua tour this month. Beginning with 20 miles of mountain biking, guests will make their way to the former Spanish capital, Leon Viejo, for a tour of the abandoned city’s ruins. Then it’s on to the ceramists’ enclave of San Juan de Oriente and, finally, up the dormant 4,573-foot Maderas volcano for a glimpse of the cinder cone on Concepción. $1,989;

Belize Basking

Azul Resort, one of the country’s most tranquil and exclusive refuges, owes its birth to punk rock. In 2003, after four years managing San Francisco indie label Fat Wreck Chords, Jeff Spiegel found that the best cure for his ringing ears was the powder-fine sand and turquoise waters of Belize’s Ambergris Caye. He and co-owner Vivian Yu have since constructed a pair of 3,000-square-foot, two-bedroom villas, along 400 feet of private beach, with rooftop hot tubs and private chef service—and a vibe that’s more Bunny Wailer than Johnny Rotten. From $1,575 per night;