Archive | Central America Family Travel Guides

Spend Christmas at the Beach

Spending Christmas on the Beach

Did you ever think maybe it’s time to forget the traditional white Christmas and spend the holidays somewhere warm and relaxing?  Although many beach destinations might also be a little chilly come late December, you can’t go wrong with Central America. While more northern climates are freezing their socks off, countries in this part of the world are enjoying blissful sunshine. Spending Christmas on the beach could be just what your wishlist is missing! So if you’re looking to get out of town this Christmas and make your way to the surf and sand, here are five great Central American destinations for a white hot Christmas.

1. Placencia, Belize

Sitting at the tip of a long sandy peninsula that juts out into the Caribbean Sea, Placencia is a small beach village that is home to just 500 people, but features some of southern Belize’s best bars and restaurants, as well as good accommodations. If you’re the type of person that is looking to simply kick-back, relax and enjoy the surf, sun, sand and maybe sip on a cocktail or two, then a trip to Placencia might be just the thing you need.

2. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The quaint town of San Juan del Sur, with its Victorian clapboard houses and vibrant local scene, makes for the perfect place to begin exploring the southern pacific beaches of Nicaragua. With some of the region’s most astounding beaches just a few minutes to the north and south, great local nightlife, bars, and restaurants, San Juan del Sur is the perfect spot to make your home base if you’re looking to explore multiple beaches and do a little touring.

3. Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Often ranked in the top beaches of Central America, Playa Tamarindo is not only a stunning beach in its own right, but it is also sandwiched between two beaches that are protected nesting sites for the giant leatherback turtle. The breeding period for these turtles is between October and March, so don’t be surprised if you see a few coming ashore to lay their eggs while you enjoy the surf and sand. Tamarindo is also home to great snorkeling, diving, fishing, and surfing.

4. Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

Tourism is relatively new to this area, so when you arrive in Barra de Santiago don’t be surprised if you’re treated more like a new friend than a tourist. This region might be best known for the Balsam Coast, which is an absolute paradise for surfers, but if you’re after some true isolation and relaxation, then Barra de Santiago is a must-see. Located in a national park threaded with mangroves and waterways that cover this large sandbar, the local eco-resort is made-up of thatched roof bungalows set amongst the palms and sand.

5. Bocas del Toro, Panama

This friendly and laid-back town is the perfect base for anyone looking to spend Christmas in Panama. The region is an absolute treasure trove of sandy islets and remote beaches, where you’ll find some of Central America’s best snorkeling sites. If you’re after a good mixture of exploration and relaxation, then the chilled-out atmosphere and diverse collection of islands and beaches here make Bocas del Toro a great spot for you.

Whatever your plans this Christmas, remember that just because you haven’t planned a getaway yet doesn’t mean you can’t plan some great last minute holidays.

Images by KTDrasky and Daquella manera used under Creative Commons License.

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best beaches in central america

5 Best Beaches in Central America that are Better (and cheaper!) than the Caribbean

The best beaches in Central America are closer than you think.

With summer travel plans firmly in place, this is the time of year I begin thinking about holiday travel. The week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously the most expensive and crowded week of the year in beach destinations around the world. Accommodations, flights and even activities all come with “festive season” price tags.

If you’re looking to get away over the holidays, check out some of these destinations in Central America where you can enjoy warm weather, clear Caribbean water, and time to relax with your family all at a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean island vacation. Plus, it’s becoming easier and cheaper than ever to book direct flights into hub cities like Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua, Nicaragua. (And make sure you avoid baggage fees by packing a good carry-on.)

Here are a few of the best beaches in Central America:

Bocas del Toro Panama

Thanks to its remote location, Bocas del Toro is still relatively undeveloped when compared to other areas in Central America. While it may be a little rough around the edges, this also means that travel to Bocas del Toro is still relatively inexpensive– making it easily one of the best beaches in Central America.

bocas del toro with kids

Here are a few great family-friendly hotels in Bocas del Toro. Prices at the Red Frog Lodge, for example, start at only $53 per person per night. So all you need is good beach towel.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua

Located about 70km offshore in the Caribbean waters of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands feature beautifully remote horseshoe bays. Here you’ll find a Creole population living in colorful wooden houses and a thriving lobster fishing industry.

best beaches in central america

You can find rooms on Little Corn island for a low as $20 per night or a casita at the Casa Iguana for only $75 per night.

For more on the Corn Islands, check our this comprehensive Little Corn Islands Travel Guide.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica 

Not too long ago, the only travelers to the sleepy seaside settlement of Puerto Viejo were avid surfers. While this is no longer the case, Puerto Viejo has retained it’s charm and laid-back attitude.

best beaches in central america

A string of Caribbean beaches, rainforest fruit farms and even a jaguar rescue center keep the entire family happy entertained during your stay.

At Pachamama, one of the jungle eco-lodges in Puerto Viejo, you can book a villa for a family of for less than $200 per night even in peak season.

Punta Gorda Belize

While Placencia and the Caribbean coast of Belize most certainly do get crowded, particularly doing holiday seasons, the unpretentious southern town of Punta Gorda remains blissfully low key year round.

Though it lacks the beaches of Placencia, there are plenty of docks from which to take a dip with your snorkel gear in the Gulf of Honduras’ blue waters. Becoming increasingly popular for expats looking to live internationally, PG also boasts a good variety of mid-priced guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs.

best beaches in central america

Head to the town center’s park on Wednesday, Saturday and, to a lesser extent, Monday and Friday to enjoy market mornings, when villagers from the mostly Maya settlements of southern Toledo come to town to buy, sell and barbecue around the central park. (You’ll want to bring a compact reusable bag to carry your goodies.)

Book a stay at the Belcampo Lodge, also a working farm with suites large enough for the entire family to spread out. Rates for the suites start at $380 per night.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlán is widely considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Aldous Huxley famously compared it to Italy’s Lake Como… “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, and explore beyond a traditional Caribbean experience, consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. It may be lesser known, but it’s still one of the best beaches in Central America!

best beaches in central america

Inspired by nature and created from volcanic stone, adobe and palm our spacious lakeside suites are individually appointed with comfortable hand hewn king beds, fine linens, intricate woven textiles and indigenous antiques, Laguna Lodge offers excellent value for money at $345 per night for a family of four (kids must be 13 or older).

What other amazing, and inexpensive, Central American beaches would you add to the list?

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Best Cheap Summer Family Vacations at the Beach

Ahhhh summer vacation.

To my family, this means lazy days on the water, relaxing and enjoying the company of family and friends. Pools, beaches and lakes all get the job done!

Summer is a great time to escape together as a family. And this year, there are plenty of amazing deals out there, making a fabulous and important family getaway more accessible than ever before.

After consulting my travel industry friends and scouring the web for the best deals, I’ve discovered some amazingly cheap options for summer beach vacations this year.

The good news is it’s not too late to plan and book your family’s summer getaway. If you’re looking to book a family beach vacation this summer, consider heading to the southern United States, or even Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, for the best off-peak season deals. Airline travel packages are also very inexpensive right now, and a good way to stretch your vacation dollar. Or stick close to home and explore regional lakes.

Do you represent a destination or hotel with a cheap summer vacation package that would appeal to families? I’d love to know about it!

Here are the 20 best cheap summer family vacations at the beach for 2015. 

St John, US Virgin Islands from $93 per night

Flying to the U.S. Virgin Islands is always a little pricey, but flights are at their cheapest during the summer months. Between May and December, Cinnamon Bay Campground on St. John is a screaming deal for families. Kids under 16 stay free with paying adults. Kids love this eco-resort camp with platform tents connected by a series of wooden walkways. The beach alone offers enough fun to keep the kids busy with swimming, sailing and snorkeling in the waters protected by the US Virgin Islands National Park.  Read more about camping on St John.

Camping on St John

Book it! Cinnamon Bay Campground is considered the best campground in the Virgin Islands, and perhaps in all of the Caribbean.

Key Largo, Florida from $169 per night

Consider booking a vacation rental in the Florida Keys. Key Largo, the first and northernmost of the Florida Keys, is only about a one-hour drive from the Miami airport but feels like a world away. All you’ll need here is a rental car and some sand toys for a relaxing, inexpensive family beach vacation this summer.

cheap family summer vacation

Book it! Book an ocean front condo at Home Away.

Or, consider Hawks Cay Resort, a family favorite located on Duck Key with beautiful rooms and family suites starting at $229 per night.

Placencia, Belize

With 22 acres of soft white sand, family-friendly accommodations, onsite water sports, four restaurants and more, Roberts Grove Beach Resort in Placencia, Belize, is a perfect family beach getaway. Kids love the three fresh water pools as well as the private beach, but don’t miss out on local tours of the Mayan Ruins and nearby towns and villages. Rooms have mini-fridges and plenty of room to spread out. Plus, kids 12 and under always stay free!

cheap summer family beach vacation

Book it! Get 1 night free for every 5 nights booked through November 30th.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from $204 per night (including flights!)

The Dominican Republic is an up-and-coming beach destination know for easy access and affordable prices year round. Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic. At the heart of the city is the Zona Colonial, where you’ll find one of the oldest churches, charming cobblestone streets and the oldest surviving European fortress among other New World firsts.

For many vacations, airfare is the largest expense. Consider booking a package through an airline, who often subsidize the price of the airfare in combination with ground services like hotels and tours.

Malecon-Santo-Domingo

Book it! The Be Live Experience Hamaca Beach offers excellent value for money. Superior rooms start at only $167 per night.

 

For an amazing deal, book a vacation through American Airlines vacations and stay at The Hilton Santo Domingo, a luxury hotel right in Santo Domingo with a pool on site. Beaches are about 30km away, and day excursions can be booked via the hotel’s concierge. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico from $133 per night (including flights!)

Americans don’t need a passport to escape to this tropical island that is a territory of the U.S. Thanks to the addition of new and increased services from airports around the U.S. in recent months, flights to Puerto Rico are now among the cheapest to the Caribbean. Expect to find deals on flights and hotels during the summer months, when the Spring Break crowds have left and the deep sea fisherman have not yet arrived.

cheap summer family beach vacation

Book it! Book flights and a stay at The Condado Plaza Hilton in San Juan (Condado), you’ll be close to Condado Beach and San Juan Cathedral. This 4-star resort is close to La Fortaleza , Palacio de Santa Catalina and Puerta de San Juan. 

Nicaragua from $147 per person per night 

Skip Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s more expensive neighbor, and instead spend a week or two exploring this up and coming destination.

Today, Nicaragua is safe, friendly and affordable. You’ll find access to high-quality health care with several highly specialized hospitals, especially in the greater Managua area, and self-driving in Nicaragua is easy. This is a destination best explored when you can take your time.

nicaragua pacific coast beach

Book it! I love the team at Vapues, an in-country Nicaraguan tour operator, for their great prices and fast, friendly correspondence. 

Also check out Luxury Link for hot deals on luxury hotels in Central America here!

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska from $145 per night

Nebraska’s largest reservoir at 35,700 acres, Lake McConaughy is a surprisingly large lake in the heartland of the United States. Camp right on the lake’s white sandy beaches, and rent a pontoon boat and spend a full day exploring the shores of this largely uninhabited area. Located 9 miles north of Ogallala, the lake offers excellent fishing, boating, and camping.
cheap summer family beach vacation

Book it! Book one of these fully-furnished cabins for a comfortable place to sleep for the whole family, including a full kitchen and an escape from the wind, which can be pretty intense here from time to time.  

Clear Lake, Iowa from $125 per night

Travel to Clear Lake, Iowa for a good, old-fashioned Midwestern lake experience. Rent a condo or cabin in Clear Lake and spend the days swimming and boating in the calm, clear waters.

cheap summer family beach vacation

Book it! Your best bet in Clear Lake is to book a vacation rental, like this one from VRBO.

Lake Tahoe, California from $108 per night

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, making it an ideal destination for a summertime beach vacation. With 72 miles of tranquil sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains and crystal-clear water, these beaches provide a breathtaking backdrop for beach lovers.

Enjoy the soft sandy beaches at Zephyr Cove or the beautiful backdrop of Emerald Bay. If you’re keen to get off the beaten path, check out one of the boat-only-access campgrounds offer a camping experience. Large outdoor pavilions with covered seating create the perfect venue for barbecues, corporate events, weddings and receptions.

cheap summer family beach vacations

Book it! Families love the Aston Lakeland Village Beach and Mountain Resort for their full schedule of kids programming and an on-site kids club.

Charleston, South Carolina from $99 per night

Wild Dunes is an island resort near Charleston, South Carolina. Relax with your family along the serene Isle of Palms, South Carolina beach or one of the resort’s pools. Choose from vacation homes and condo rentals with a variety of views and locations along the resort, the AAA Four Diamond Village at Wild Dunes guest suites or AAA Four Diamond Boardwalk Inn guestrooms both located in the heart of the resort  for your summer family beach vacation.

cheap summer family beach vacation

Book it! Select dates this summer are available for only $99 per night.

Riviera Maya, Mexico from $261 per adult per night

The area known as the Riviera Maya stretches along the Eastern coast of Mexico, starting in Cancun and extending South through Playa del Carmen almost all the way to Tulum. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is super easy to access, safe, and offers a wide range of accommodations, including plenty of comfortable vacation rentals perfect for families and multi-generational groups.

Paradisus Playa del Carmen

Book it! I loved the Paradisus Esmerelda for families. Kids love the on site cultural activities and unique classes ranging from tango lessons to sushi-making classes. This summer, kids stay free at this amazing all-inclusive resort. Consider booking one of the swim up rooms for the best experience!

San Diego, California from $112 per person per night (including flights!)

Consistent sunny weather and 70 miles of magnificent coastline are what draw active families to San Diego. Mission Beach, La Jolla and Coronado are all perfect places to spend a leisurely day with the family.

cheap summer family vacations

Book it! Expedia has excellent flight + hotel packages this summer. This package includes 7 nights at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort offers amenities for the whole family.

Ixtapa, Mexico from $119 per person per night

Ixtapa and the sister-city of Zihuatanejo both offer some of the best beaches on the Western Pacific coast of Mexico. Here you’ll find soft, golden sand and amazing sunsets. This health-concious region is also a great place to stay active by surfing, hiking or joining a fabulous yoga class on the beach.

cheap family beach vacation

Book it! If you’re looking for a larger resort with plenty of family-friendly amenities, The Club Med Ixtapa has continuously high marks among traveling families. 

Los Cabos, Mexico from $159 per night 

The Mexican beach towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, commonly referred to as one combined destination of Los Cabos, is a popular family destination. From getting up close and personal with wildlife, to pirate-themed boat rides, there is plenty for kids to do in Los Cabos.

yoga in los cabos mexico

Book it! Many hotels in this area have been closed since the hurricane in 2014 and are offering some amazing “re-opening” specials during the summer of 2015, like this package at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Resort.

Ocean City, Maryland

If miles of beach and a famous wooden boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants are calling, Ocean City is the spot for you and your family.  From fishing charters to kayaking to jet-skis, the options of this great destination seem endless.

Book it!  The Princess Royale offers direct access to Ocean City MD beachfront and has a 4 story indoor atrium. This hotel has been around for a long time and has 4 star+ ratings on TripAdvisor and Google.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Port St. Joe, Florida from $24 per night

A little-known beach on the Florida Panhandle with 10 miles of white sand and spectacular sunsets. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a fun, inexpensive beach getaway. If your family is into camping, this is an ideal spot to pitch a tent and enjoy an extremely cheap beach vacation this summer.

cheap family beach vacation

Book it! If you would prefer not to camp, the El Governor Motel, in the nearby town of Mexico Beach, is a 50-minute drive from St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. All 120 guest rooms include balconies and sweeping views of the Gulf; amenities include a beach-side pool and a tiki bar. The motel runs a campground directly across the street.

Oval Beach, Michigan from $120 per night for a cottage 

Surprisingly, the state of Michigan boasts some of the longest stretches of white sandy beach anywhere in America. The state’s Western shore bordering Lake Michigan is home to gems like Saugatuck Michigan’s Oval Beach.  Here you’ll find lovely sand dunes and beautiful sunsets that set the stage for a perfect family beach vacation.

cheap family beach vacation

Book it! The Beachway Resort is the closest hotel to Lake Michigan’s Oval Beach. Situated between downtown Saugatuck and Lake Michigan overlooking the Saugatuck Harbor, this family-friendly hotel is a great option.

Have you discovered a great summer family beach vacation deal? I’d love to know about it! Leave me a comment below. Happy travels!

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map of nicaragua

Nicaragua Family Travel Guide

While traveling through Central America with my family this summer, we’ll be checking out the beaches of Panama and swinging from ziplines in the jungles of Costa Rica.  When we head up to Nicaragua, we’ll be slowing down and learning about the country’s history and rich culture.

If you’re considering traveling to Nicaragua with your family, start here with my Nicaragua family travel guide.

map of nicaragua

Top Things to See and Do in Nicaragua

Starting at picturesque little San Juan del Sur and stretching north towards El Salvador, Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast offers plenty to do and see for the entire family. From lazy days on the beach to viewing unique jungle wildlife, the secret of Nicaragua is out. This is an awesome place to visit, especially for families.

San Juan del Sur is a small coastal town in Nicaragua that is a wonderful family vacation spot with tons of things to do with kids.

There is plenty to see and do in Granada Nicaragua for the whole family. This city is an ideal base for exploring the lake’s islets, hiking to a volcano and visiting nearby communities and markets. Here are my family’s top 6 things to do in Granada Nicaragua.

If you’re planning on visiting Ometepe Island Nicaragura with kids, there is plenty to do. Make it a day trip from Granada or spend a few days on the island for even more exploration. Here are the top three things you must do while visiting Ometepe Island Nicaragua with your kids.

Specifically in Nicaragua, we’re keen to explore the history and culture of Central America. But we want to be sure to keep the pacing and the activities on the journey kid-friendly and interesting to them. I’ve uncovered a few cultural and historical sites in Nicaragua that the kids will actually enjoy!

Where to Stay in Nicaragua

Ometepe Island is a must-visit if you’re traveling around Nicaragua. This volcanic island offers a ton to do with an authentic, laid-back atmosphere. Thanks to it’s remote location, the island only accessible by ferry boat, the island has retained it’s authenticity and rustic charm. But while there are plenty of hotel, only a few are really suitable for family travelers. Here are my picks for best hotels on Ometepe Island for families. 

Nicaragua Travel Tips

Nicaragua is set to become the next big thing. But of course with that comes change. So NOW is perhaps the perfect time to visit Nicaragua. As my family gears up for an epic adventure through Central America, I thought I’d share some of the research I’ve been doing with regards the best Nicaragua travel itinerary for families covering Granada, Ometepe Island and the Pacific Coast.

Want more? Check out my Costa Rica Family Travel guide here!

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costa rica family travel guide

Costa Rica Family Travel Guide

Blessed with amazing beaches, pristine wilderness, unique wildlife and a warm, friendly culture, Costa Rica has quickly become a leading family travel destination.

costa rica map

To help you plan your family’s next vacation, start here with my Costa Rica family travel guide.

Top Things to See and Do in Costa Rica

Thanks to a significant amount of thermal activity, Costa Rica is dotted with a large number of volcanoes and thermal hot springs. These hot springs, which come in every size, shape and temperature imaginable, are a fun way to experience another element of Costa Rica’s amazing natural beauty. But not all hot springs are made equal when it comes to visiting with children. Here are the best Costa Rica Hot Springs for families.

Manuel Antonio National Park is widely considered Costa Rica’s piece de resistance. One of the most bio-diverse parks on the planet, lush tropical forests, clear lagoons, mangrove forests and pristine white sandy beaches are all found within the boundaries of Manual Antonio. Here are four great things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.

In recent years, a number of world-class yoga studios have opened across Costa Rica. Across the country you’ll find that the yogic principles and lifestyle are simple to lear and ascribe to when surrounded by such calm and natural beauty. Here are 4 of the best spots to find your yoga in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Family Travel Tips

Planning a trip to Costa Rica that keeps everyone in the family happy can seem like a challenge. Here is a sample Costa Rica family itinerary that has something to offer the entire family, while balancing the must-see spots with more off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Nestled between the Pacific and the Caribbean, Costa Rica has literally hundreds of beaches. If your family loves a good beach as much as mine, be sure to check out these best beaches in Costa Rica. 

Where to Stay in Costa Rica

While in the Arenal/ La Fortuna area you can ogle a picture perfect volcano, spend the days exploring the jungle, wallowing in mud baths and rinsing off in the numerous hot springs in the region. More adventurous families can enjoy ATV tours, zip lines and river rafting here. There are a number of hotels at a range of price points in the area, but only a few are ideal for family travelers. Here are my picks for the best hotels in Arenal Costa Rica for families.

Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-see on any Costa Rica travel itinerary. Located on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, these tangled mangrove waterways and wild rivers found in the park are very easy to access. While there are a large number of hotels in the Manuel Antonio area, a few stand out as clear leaders when it comes to kid-friendly options. Here are the three best Manuel Antonio hotels for kids.

Want more? Consider traveling with the family to Mexico. Check out my Riviera Maya Family Travel Guide here.

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