Mexico & Central America
Although compact, Central America contains multitudes: coral reefs, ancient ruins, perfectly preserved colonial architecture, dense jungles and cloud forests, and some of the world’s most picturesque coastlines. And with these diverse settings, from Mexico to Panama, come diverse hotels—sprawling five-star resorts, deluxe tree houses, thatched-roof cottages, and private islands fit for royalty.
Weird & Wonderful
This eco-retreat in Tulum’s Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve offers barefoot luxury at its best. Azulik’s 48 thatched-roof villas are nestled in the jungle and provide everything necessary for guests to reconnect with nature. The hotel’s natural materials allow it to blend in with its surroundings and create a calm and spiritual vibe. Those wanting to step away from modern conveniences in lieu of rustic luxe will be in for a treat: candlelight instead of electricity, airy rooms that make air-conditioning redundant, mosaic bathtubs rather than showers, and a strict shoes-off policy. The hotel is adults-only and has a clothing optional attitude at the beach for guests wanting to leave their inhibitions behind. Three onsite restaurants, room service, a Maya spa, and complimentary yoga classes each morning complete the experience.
Rich & Famous
Cayo Espanto Private Island
Cayo Espanto, Belize
Just off the coast of Ambergris Caye in Belize, Cayo Espanto provides the ultimate luxury experience: a private-island getaway in the Caribbean. Set on a tiny island, the six seafront villas that make up the property provide a holiday experience tailored to each guest. Celebrities flock to its shores seeking privacy and anonymity, and perhaps also attracted by the private pools, dedicated personal butler for each villa, and $3,000 sheets. The food is also a highlight at the property, as are the panoramic ocean views. Activities include kayaking around the island and exploring the nearby barrier reef, but many guests choose to simply relax and soak in the memorable experience.
A restored 19th-century hacienda serves as the starting point of this luxe spa-retreat located 27 miles away from Merida, Yucatan’s colonial gem. Forty villas in impeccable modern minimalist design provide an interesting contrast to the antique tiles and crumbling arches of the original constructions–but it all fits together seamlessly. The spa is a definite highlight of the property, and it comes complete with traditional temazcal sweat lodges and an underground sinkhole locally-known as a cenote. Its three restaurants are overseen by famed chef Jorge Vallejo from Mexico City’s Quintonil restaurant, recently named one of the 50 best chefs in the world, and among the many characteristics setting this property apart is its large tequila collection comprising 5,000 vintage tequila bottles.
Coqui Coqui Coba
Coqui Coqui Coba is part of the Coqui Coqui Residences, a collection of intimate boutique hotels in the Yucatan Peninsula. The five-room property in Coba, one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites, offers incredible views to the Pyramid of Papolchac, nearby freshwater lagoon, and the surrounding jungle. The hotel blends in with its environment and pays homage to its Mayan heritage by serving Yucatan cuisine and offering treatments that use traditional Mayan techniques. The suites are located within two limestone towers that stand tall in the jungle and are decorated in 1920s explorer style: handmade Safari-inspired furniture, antique maps, anthropology books, and stone bathtubs. Guests can while away the time by jumping in the outdoor dipping pools, lounging on a hammock, or checking out the boutique and perfumery, which houses an exclusive collection of fragrances.
Finca Rosa Blanca
Santa Barbara, Costa Rica
It’s well-known that Costa Rica produces some of the best coffee in the world, so a hotel with a concept centering on coffee should come as no surprise in this Central American country. Finca Rosa Blanca, an eco-boutique hotel set in the highlands above the capital city, San Jose, is a coffee lover’s dream. There are guided walks through the coffee plantation and coffee tasting sessions on a daily basis, the spa offers full-body coffee scrubs, and the chef might serve coffee-rubbed chicken for dinner. The eclectic rooms and villas are filled with artwork, all have a terrace or balcony, and some have deep-soaking bathtubs decorated with colorful mosaics. Over 130 species of birds live in the vicinity, and excursions include going to nearby volcanoes and a cloud forest.
Tried & True
Four Seasons Punta Mita
Punta Mita, Mexico
Set on a white-sand beach within a gated community, Four Seasons Punta Mita is exclusive, luxurious, and down-to-earth all at once. With adults-only areas like the Tamai pool, a slow-flowing river geared more towards families, and an acclaimed golf course, this resort is a top choice for most types of travelers–except those on a budget. Its food options are plentiful, from fresh seafood tacos served by the beach to upscale contemporary Asian dishes at Aramara, its signature restaurant. When it comes to relaxation, the spa offers some of the best treatments you’ll ever find, like the Punta Mita Tequila Stone massage. Guests interested in cultural activities will be delighted to hear there is a Cultural Concierge on site who leads an interesting tequila blending experience and different workshops.
New & Noteworthy
Islas Secas, Panama
The nine private villas that comprise Islas Secas Reserve and Lodge are scattered across an archipelago in Panama’s Pacific coast, making it the first private archipelago hotel. The area is known for its marine biodiversity and besides developing a resort for well-to-do travelers, one of the intentions of the billionaire conservationist who bought the islands is to protect the marine ecosystem and support scientific research. Surrounded by lush vegetation, expansive decks and plunge pools abound, and each villa is impeccably designed and fitted with minimalist decor, with private dining areas and showers that partly open to the outdoors. Among the activities that guests can enjoy are fishing, diving, and whale-watching. Wellness treatments can be performed in the privacy of each villa, either indoors or outdoors surrounded by nature.
Santa Elena, Guatemala
Owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, La Lancha is decorated not only with Guatemalan handicrafts such as wooden masks and fabric wall hangings, but also with objects once belonging to film scenes. Set in a rainforest overlooking Lake Petén Itzá, and a mere 45-minute drive away from the Mayan ruins at Tikal, the 10 rooms that make up the property uphold an eco-philosophy by not having televisions or air conditioning. The hotel is family friendly, has a split-level pool, library, kayaks that can be used on the lake at no extra cost, and free Wi-Fi throughout. Guests fond of bird-watching would be wise to explore the surrounding rainforest as toucans and parakeets are in abundance. There are also jungle trails that can be explored on foot, mountain bike, or horseback.
The Lodge at Pico Bonito
La Ceiba, Honduras
Located near La Ceiba region on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the Lodge & Spa at Pico Bonito is a luxury eco-lodge that offers upscale comforts right in the middle of the rainforest. All 22 air-conditioned cabins are decorated in plantation style and each have their own porch and hammock. Guests don’t need to leave the property to get a glimpse of the area’s biodiversity, as there is a butterfly farm on site and plenty of wildlife around, making it a popular choice for those who enjoy bird-watching. There are walking trails starting from the hotel that lead to waterfalls and swimming holes with varying degrees of difficulty, so guests should ask staff before heading out to ensure they pick the right one for their activity level. There is a restaurant offering Honduran and international specialties, as well as a small boutique spa.
Cheap & Chic
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo
Suchitoto, El Salvador
Walking into Los Almendros de San Lorenzo in the quintessentially cute town of Suchitoto feels a bit like walking into your home away from home. The 200-year old building has been perfectly restored, bringing authentic colonial charm to this hotel. Rooms are decorated with antiques and situated around a stunning courtyard, complete with a pool and a few tables and chairs where you can relax with a drink in hand. Arrive at dusk to see the hotel at its best, with antique lamps bathing the yellow walls in a warm glow and the garden courtyard illuminated by twinkling fairy lights.