12 Ideas for Your Big Reunion in Central America
Central America boasts all sorts of fun, perfect-occasion trips for celebratory holidays with friends, family, or your significant other. What follows is a round-up of inspiring vacation ideas for Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize that will ensure you have a rollicking good time.
1. Discover Yoga in the Wild
What better way to regroup, rebalance, and refresh than to grab your closest friends and set out on a yoga retreat—one based in a beautiful setting? Located just outside the famed Copán Maya ruins of Honduras, Hacienda San Lucas is a century-old family-run retreat that caters to groups seeking a bit of spirituality. There’s a yoga and meditation pavilion, instructors to help you explore the similarities between yoga and Maya cosmology, and the sacred grounds of Copán itself, where you can meditate and practice yoga, too. At the beachfront Ak’bol Yoga Retreat & Eco-Resort on Belize’s Ambergris Caye, two yoga studios—one surrounded by palms and agave, another perched at the end of a long pier—offer guided meditation and daily yoga classes for all levels. Villa Sumaya, on the banks of Guatemala’s famed Lake Atitlán, offers a variety of yoga retreats throughout the year—plus separate yoga and other body movement classes—in two studios equipped with props, a sauna, a hot tub, and a watsu pool. An on-premise spa offers everything from massage to ionic foot baths to nutritional counseling. (Please note: For the best rates, Ak’bol and Villa Sumaya require groups of 10 or more.)
2. Party in Antigua
While not a “party town” per se, Guatemala’s charming city of Antigua is an ideal spot for girly getaways. It boasts delightful cobblestone streets lined with postcard-perfect colonial architecture, boutique hotels like D’Leyenda and Casa Encantada where rooms are charming but not budget-breaking, and dozens of restaurants and bars that serve all manners of creative food and libations. Set out during the day for a chocolate-making workshop (the Maya loved the sweet stuff, too) or on a shopping trip with local textile expert, Olga Reiche, who will teach you how Guatemala’s beautiful scarves, tablecloths, and traditional clothes are made and show you where to score the best deals, too. When you’re ready to relax, visit one of the many area spas, like Ceiba, where body scrubs use local, natural ingredients and a variety of treatments are tied to traditional Maya beliefs.
3. Enjoy Belize’s Reef & Rainforest
Sister properties Gaïa Riverlodge and Matachica Resort & Spa know how to show guests a good time. The former is located in the wilds of western Belize; the latter is based on the white-sand beaches of Ambergris Caye. Together, they’re the perfect pairing. Gaïa boasts luxury thatched-roof bungalows, bird’s-eye views of the surrounding forests, and plenty of easy adventure. Explore the Caracol Maya archaeological site (Belize’s largest), visit local caves, or a take a dip in the nearby natural pools. When you’re ready for sun and sand, set out for the palm-lined Caribbean waters of Matachica. Here, you can sunbathe, snorkel and scuba dive (the world’s second-largest barrier reef is just off-shore), and decompress at Jade Spa with rejuvenating massages and treatments featuring natural ingredients from the Belizean jungle and sea.
4. Fish the “Sailfish Capital of the World”
It’s called the “sailfish capital of the world” for good reason. A breeding ground for Pacific sailfish, Guatemala boasts one of the highest concentrations of the fish on earth, plus a healthy supply of marlin, dorado, tuna, grouper, and other species, too. Anglers set out on half-day and day-long trips and are rarely disappointed with their catch. Local boat crews are friendly, professional, and patient, and anglers on board often release a collective 30 sailfish per day during peak season (October to June). Accommodations on Guatemala’s Pacific coast are generally basic, but there are some standouts. Stay at a spot like Sailfish Oasis Lodge for its well-presented, air-conditioned thatched-roof bungalows, pool, and open-air bar and restaurant.
5. Surf the Waves of Guatemala
A great option for groups, Paredon Surf House’s long stretch of black-sand, never-crowded beach picks up just about every Pacific swell that rolls in toward Guatemala. There’s rarely a day without something to surf. Typical waves are chest- to head-high from November to April and head-high or taller from May to October. Opened in 2010, the breezy, tastefully outfitted surf camp boasts a group loft with eight beds, four elevated beachfront bungalows, and two sea-view suites, plus a freshwater pool and a central open bar and kitchen where dinner’s often the catch of the day. Surf boards (long and short) and boogie boards are available for rent and an on-premise surf school caters to beginners and those looking for a refresher. Apart from catching waves, guests can also bird watch in local mangroves, deep sea fish, or hang out in perfectly-placed hammocks, cold drinks in hand.
6. Trek to El Mirador Archaeology Site
Hidden by thick jungle, El Mirador archaeological site is located in the remotest reaches of northern Guatemala. Far more expansive than its more famous neighbor, Tikal, it features the largest-known ruins of the ancient Maya world—indeed its El Tigre pyramid is more than 18 stories high. There are no roads to get to El Mirador, so access is an adventure a la Indiana Jones. Intrepid travelers reach the site via a five-day, round-trip jungle trek with hiking and camping along the way (mules or horses carry some equipment and help get you through muddy spots). A tour of the archaeological site explores its elaborate history. (Travelers can also take a private helicopter to/from the site or hike in and fly out; additional days may be added to visit other area ruins.)
7. Charter Your Own Catamaran
There are few better ways to experience Belize’s long stretch of stunning Caribbean coast than by boat. Chartering a private catamaran for two allows you to set the course and decide which palm-dotted, white-sand beach or remote island to explore with your loved one. It affords plenty of ease, too. Fish, snorkel, and swim right off the boat or simply enjoy the panoramic deck views. An on-board crew will make arrangements for special excursions, like scuba diving trips, and also serve up delicious menus—expect warm croissants at breakfast and hearty seafood lunches. Couples love the sense of freedom (and totally pampered experience) that a private catamaran offers.
8. Relax in a Remote Jungle Lodge
Located in western Belize, in an area of thick rainforests, lazy rivers, ancient Maya sites, and vast cave systems, Ka’ana Boutique Resort is a top spot for couples seeking a mix of luxury comfort and adventure. A handful of beautifully outfitted villas and suites (some with private plunge pools, all with air-conditioning, iPod docks, and flat-screen TVs) are linked by stone walkways and surrounded by pristine jungle landscaping. Guests unwind at the resort’s two-tiered, mosaic-tiled pool, spa (try a mud, coffee, or chocolate wrap), and restaurant, which serves a variety of Belizean fare. Expect wines from South America, Europe and California, plus innovative cocktails, too. For thrills, couples can cave tube, visit ancient ruins, horseback ride, learn about local ceramic-making, tag along on a jaguar-tracking expedition, and more.
9. Experience Colonial Romance
With its dramatic volcano backdrop, cobblestone streets, and picturesque, pastel-colored colonial homes, Antigua, Guatemala is one of Central America’s most stunning city spots. Adding to its allure are beautiful-but-crumbling ancient Spanish convents, churches, and monasteries, many bursting with bougainvillea. Myriad boutique hotels, like El Convento, are designed with romance in mind and boast rooms with private hot tubs and gardens, rooftop terraces, and indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Explore Antigua’s long history on a private walking tour or discover Guatemalan coffee culture (the country produces some of the world’s best beans) alongside local farmers. For a sweet treat, take a chocolate-making workshop or get the adrenaline pumping on a nearby volcano hike. At the end of the day, enjoy private, romantic dinners at top restaurants like Panza Verde and Welten. As icing on the cake, tack on an overnight visit to Lake Atitlán, one of Guatemala’s signature and most beautiful sights.
10. Set Out on a Horseback Riding Adventure
Located in the rural reaches of western Guatemala, in a mountainous area of juniper trees, cacti, high-altitude plateaus, and traditional adobe homes, Unicornio Azul is a cozy, family-style ranch that offers guided horseback excursions through the rugged Guatemalan countryside. Built from traditional materials like brick, stone, wood, and clay, it comprises five simply appointed rooms outfitted with traditional textiles and artisanal furniture; beds are piled high with Guatemalan-made wool blankets to keep the night’s chill at bay. Book the ranch in its entirety, and you’ll have a common room perfect for fireside board games, an outdoor patio with beautiful views, and 14 horses at your disposal. Rides set out for mountain streams, cloud forests, hidden plateaus, and wild, rocky summits and can last from one hour to nine days. Both beginning and more advanced riders are welcome. Other area activities include hiking, biking, and bird watching.
11. Rent a Tropical Island
Imagine a family get-together where you relax on a private island while someone else handles all the details. At Cayo Espanto, located approximately 15 minutes by boat from Belize’s famed Ambergris Caye, you can have just that. This small isle offers seven luxuriously outfitted one- and two-bedroom villas, each with its own splash pool and butler service. The villas are completely private (meaning you have somewhere to escape from the in-laws), but a common area at the center of the island brings everyone together for meals, cocktails, and games. Cayo Espanto is near some of Belize’s top attractions, including the world’s second-largest barrier reef, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley, Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker. From snorkeling to fishing to lounging on the beach, guests at Cayo Espanto—young and old—are easily entertained.
12. Spread Out in a Spanish Colonial Mansion
When it comes to entertaining families, Guatemala’s city of Antigua knows just how to please. It offers volcano hikes, exciting bike rides, chocolate-making classes, coffee tours, and plenty of places to shop. Its rich colonial past keeps history buffs happy, and its colorful markets fascinate everyone from eight to 80. For where to stay, the former Spanish colonial mansion Posada del Angel—located just a few blocks from the city’s main square—offers an intimate space with seven suites outfitted with lovely textiles, antique furnishings, and wood-burning fireplaces. (Fun fact: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton stayed in the Rose Suite in 1999.) Book the entire B&B for your clan, and you’ll have plenty of space to spread out. Enjoy the outdoor living room, cozy library, or small garden courtyards and salons. There’s a lap pool for swimming, a terrace with a view of Agua volcano, and a breakfast lounge where filling refried beans, homemade corn tortillas, and other local eats will fuel you for adventurous days of exploring. The posada doesn’t have TVs, but WiFi keeps you connected.