After a long winter, escaping to a tropical resort sounds just right. Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are popular, but we also explored further afield to discover exotic locales from Brazil to Zanzibar. Here are our picks – from Brazil to Vietnam, Costa Rica to Zanzibar – that offer the getaway of a lifetime.
United Arab Emirates – Serene Desert Fantasy
A stay in the wealthy United Arab Emirates can be pricey. Here, fantastic hotels and resorts compete for most opulent with service and luxury fit for sultans and sheiks. To experience a world of surreal splendor, make tracks beyond Abu Dhabi into the western gateway of the Rub al Khali Desert, where the silence of the dunes drowns out urban clamor. A cool towel, hibiscus beverage and dates greet your arrival into the mesmerizing oasis of Qasr Al Sarab. Owned and frequented by the Emirates’ royal family, the splendid sandstone Arabic palace captures the essence of Middle East flavors and traditions in fabulous architecture, open-air walkways and courtyards infused with trickling fountains, hanging gardens, art objects from the royal family and mythical desert hospitality.
Unwind by the palm-fringed pool where water and smoothies appear on the hour, or recline on your outdoor terrace to soak in the views and atmosphere. If you need activity, arise with the sun for a desert stroll on the dunes; try a turn at sunrise dune bashing; sign up for a camel trek; or attempt the ancient sport of archery. Tennis courts and pools offer more traditional resort activities while the spa offers healing Hammams (traditional baths) and therapists. In the evening, climb a dune to watch the spectacular desert sunset before dining in one of the resort’s superb restaurants. Then, prepare for pure evening enchantment as the atmosphere transforms to jeweled splendor and the magic of Arabia becomes illuminated.
Brazil – A Resort for all Interests
The massive coastline of Brazil sports some of the best beaches in the world and plenty of room for activity and repose. If you’re having trouble deciding between a vacation of golf, beaches or international escape, the Ilha de Comandatuba Resort has it all in one. Situated on an island fronting the Atlantic between Rio and the more northerly business hub of Recife, an endless stretch of white sand, palm-fringed beach awaits with everything imaginable to keep sun, sport and leisure enthusiasts happy. Golfers can swing away on the Dan Blankenship-designed 18-hole Comandatuba Ocean Course that seamlessly assimilates with native landscape. Coconut trees, sand dunes, ocean vistas and vegetation housing monkeys, foxes and exotic birds create exotic flair. Kids can frolic in the water complex, while the ocean beckons sailors, fishermen, boaters, water-skiiers and windsurfers. Kayaks, banana boats, soccer, basketball, pool aerobics, dancing and beach volleyball provide activity on every level, while the isolated beach and spa help leisure lovers relax. Tours venture further afield to visit nearby cities, cocoa farms and an Atlantic forest reserve; if that sounds too pedantic, try quadricycling, bird watching, horse riding or crab catching. Sailing through mangrove channels to try the region’s famous medicinal black mud makes for a uniquely Brazilian adventure. Five restaurants and seven bars should seal the deal for those seeking dining options.
Hawaii – Plantation on the Garden Island
Most of the big-name resorts occupy beachfront property in Hawaii with plenty of big-activity options to go along; but “resort-style condos” are the best way to hang loose and bypass exorbitant resort rates in the 50th state. Drive through the tree tunnel on Kauai’s road to Poipu, and you’ll soon come upon the Kiahuna Plantation Resort. Gracefully capturing the feel of old Hawaii, it inhabits 35 acres of sweeping lawns and gardens filled with palms, orchids and fragrant plumeria. It also boasts a superb location near Poipu Beach, often cited as the island’s best. The individually owned, low-rise resort condos are a popular option for repeat visitors, families and independents, who prefer a more low-key, traditional Hawaiian feel. The mostly one- and two-bedroom condos are individually appointed, but include full kitchens, daily maid service, free parking and complimentary Internet. Ceiling fans and louvered doors and windows allow the natural trade wind breezes to circulate and cool. A pool and tennis club, along with barbeque and picnic areas and an activities’ desk provide plenty of recreation options. Direct access to the beach with complimentary towels and chairs is what we love. Walk across the street for shopping or supplies, and, if you don’t feel like cooking, frequent the resort’s lovely open-air Plantation Gardens. The atmospheric restaurant is surrounded by orchids and tiki torches and features superb island fare. What more do you need in paradise? If it’s luxury and added amenities, we recommend the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai instead.
The following sites book different units within the Kiahuna Plantation:
Kiahuna Beachside (only beachside units)
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Finding Intimacy on the Mayan Riviera
Cancun and its miles of white sand and turquoise waters greet visitors to the northwest gateway of the Caribbean Sea. Popular for spring breakers, families and honeymooners, Cancun pulses with hotels and resorts that dangle all manner of alluring packages. Further south, stately luxury resorts with esteemed names like Rosewood, Orient Express and Banyan Tree make their mark in the soft sands of Playa del Carmen. Standing quietly between these notorious glitterati, a diminutive oceanfront resort named Petit Lafitte glimmers like an undiscovered jewel. Small and intimate rather than grand or posh, it shines in its personal feel and exemplary service. The staff knows each guest by name and you’ll find them attentive to your every wish and need. Bungalow and room rates include authentic local breakfasts and delicious dinners, allowing guests to plan their day accordingly. Lounge on the beach under iconic palapas, indulge in a beach massage, plunge into the pool, wander in the animal refuge center or head into town for shopping and lunch via a walk on the beach or by cab. Then return to your vacation home and marvel at the personality and value of this beachfront getaway while sipping a refreshing Paloma without ridiculous price tags attached. In the world of resorts, it’s a small breath of fresh air that leaves a big impression.
Zanzibar – African Hideaway
The island of Zanzibar welcomes weary safari travelers who seek rest and relaxation after safaris on the mainland’s fantastic parks and reserves. Small and lovely resorts lie tucked away in this rustic island outpost of exotic flair, which hearkens back to a sleepy, old-world Africa. Although you can live like a sultan in the higher-priced opulence of the Baraza Resort & Spa, or check into a more typical all-inclusive resort at the Dongwe Club, you’ll have a more local and personal experience at Next Paradise Boutique Resort—for a tenth of the price. Located on the eastern side of the island along with the others, this small boutique escape enchants with rounded, thatched-roof lodgings that encircle a pool and look out to unbelievably turquoise seas, vivid white sands and jet-black skies strewn with stars by night. Curved entryways, wooden accents and local art provide a traditional feel and an intimate setting. Taste the fresh daily catch and delicious exotic fare infused with island spices in the resort’s restaurant; take an excursion to a spice farm or the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park to see the spiky haired red colobus monkeys; try a stint of kite surfing; or simply lie on a hammock and find new meaning to the famous Swahili phrase Hakuna matada (there are no worries).
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Costa Rica – Romancing the Volcano
The lush scenery of Costa Rica beckons adventure seekers and naturalists who revel in its natural bounty, which has prompted plenty of visitors to settle here and leave their frazzled lives behind. Dense rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, exotic wildlife, rich tropical flora and friendly people populate this wondrous country that lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Of the more than 200 volcanic formations, five are classified as active—the most frequent rumbler is Mt. Arenal. Standing in a national park bearing its name, the imposing giant sets the stage for the highly romantic Arenal Naraya resort, which envelops guests in tropical splendor. Ensconced in the rainforest, exquisite individual casitas and suites feature verdant gardens, outdoor showers and terraces with private Jacuzzis looking into the jungle and onto the volcano. Hike over hanging bridges, ride horses to the waterfalls, tour the volcano, take a wildlife refuge tour or raft the Sarapiqui River before returning to your perch in paradise. The lovely open-air rainforest spa with its splendid teak accents nourishes visitors with natural healing tranquility, while lyrical birds, flowing water and forest breezes add to the soothing treatments. In such a mesmerizing location, the thought of joining the many expats and relocating to Costa Rica won’t sound far-fetched at all.
Vietnam – Resort Gems at all Price Points
Only a one-hour flight north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Nha Trang beckons vacationers with mild temperatures, a 12-mile stretch of clean sands and clear seas, and a French colonial influence that includes a seaside promenade. Superb seafood, renowned barbeque pork rolls and a noted Bird’s Nest soup make it a further hit with the locals. Although plenty of accommodation options are strewn along the beach, we recommend getting away from the hurly-burly of the touristy city. At the top of the heap is the surreal Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Hewn into rocks and hillside in the quiet bay, this enchanting resort rests on the tip of the opposite peninsula and weaves its magic on pathways that lead to eco-friendly villas that come with outdoor showers, private pools and plenty of privacy. But a private beach, serene service, speedboat shuttle, butler service and all the best of Vietnamese luxury do come at a price. If it seems a bit over-the-top, try the newly opened An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas instead. Sharing the same management company, it provides wonderful personalized service, discreet rock and lagoon villas, 5-star outings and unique touches at newly minted rates that may not last long for such a top-notch boutique resort. But no shame comes with booking a room at the lovely and more moderately priced Mia Resort south of Nha Trang. Besides its beachfront location and pristine views, it certainly won’t disappoint in its preparation and presentation of local cuisine, spa pampering, accommodation or service—all signature Asian specialties.
Dominican Republic – Colonial Caribbean Casa
Two hundred miles of white sand beaches lure travelers to rest their weary souls on this beautiful island of sunny Caribbean climes. As the landing place of Christopher Columbus, the capital of Santo Domingo comes with plenty of colonial charm. Travelers who seek to capture a slice of the Old World and combine it with a beach respite should head to the Amber Coast on the north side of the island. Among the beautiful beaches of Puerto Plata and within the gated area of the large all-inclusive resorts of Playa Dorado, the smaller and distinct Casa Colonial Beach & Spa Resort stands out with a masterful blend of serene old-world grace and chic, contemporary flair. Renowned Dominican designer and architect Sarah Garcia, who also happens to be the owner’s daughter, faced no small feat in making her mark in “a country of men,” as she refers to her native land. Airy fabrics, unique art pieces and eclectic furnishings tastefully provide plenty of upscale, modern ambiance, while lush grounds and classic architecture lend peaceful restfulness. The acclaimed Lucia restaurant with its vast wine cellar is one of many other bonuses that include private beach, rooftop infinity pool, massage cabanas on the beach, the luxe and soothing Bagua Spa and access to the adjacent golf course. Surprisingly friendly rates for such elegant surroundings make this a true Caribbean discovery.
Fiji – Private Panoramic Retreat
If you’ve ever dreamed of a South Pacific getaway, Emaho Sekawa will fulfill your every wish and then some. Its magnificent hillside perch on Vanua Levu—Fiji’s second largest island—features stunning panoramic views over coral-filled seas and vast acres of rainforest jungle, setting this unique luxury resort apart. The fact that it only caters to one individual, couple, or small group at a time ensures an authentic, one-of-a-kind island experience like no other. Whether for an intimate dream wedding or honeymoon, a special anniversary or simply a special vacation, the world as you know it ends when you step onto the tarmac of the island’s tiny airport to the effusive welcome of your hosts waiting to whisk you to a paradise retreat.
A luxury villa four years in the making awaits, scented and adorned with fresh island flowers. Delicious organic meals are sourced from the gardens or local environs and embody the essence of tropical gastronomic delights, gushing with local flavor. Sit on the incredible villa deck and take in stunning views while contemplating your day—either lounging by the infinity pool with a fresh tropical beverage, exploring the secrets of the island or partaking in a private kava ceremony with villagers. Your perfectly unobtrusive hosts let you decide timelines and the level of activity, privacy or interaction you’d like. Whether it’s clambering rainforest waterfalls, a beachside picnic or being left alone to recline with the sunset—it’s all up to you. The owners take care of the rest. It’s a personalized Fijian experience you won’t forget.
Maldives – Paradise Found
Of the 1,190 coral islands in the Indian Ocean that make up the Maldives, 200 are inhabited and 80 have resorts—each on its own small island, often with no cars necessary. Since all islands come with the same inherent beauty of powder white sands, lush greenery, vast baby-blue skies and translucent turquoise waters, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s a matter of choosing from the levels of luxury, types of activities on offer and accessibility from the international airport by boat or seaplane. For a modern-day and rather more pleasant and upscale castaway experience, the all-inclusive Robinson Club Maldives in the Gaafu-Alifu Atoll makes a fabulous choice. A pristine coral reef in a crystal-clear lagoon defines this little piece of paradise, providing one of the finest snorkeling and diving spots in the region. A 50-minute seaplane journey from the international airport, and an added 20-minute speedboat transfer means it’s far removed from civilization. However, busybodies needn’t worry—plenty of waterborne activities, an open-air recreation area, pool, gym, spa, art studio and live evening music provide plenty to do, while those seeking R&R can hit the beach. Choose from elegantly appointed beach bungalows and villas that look out over sand and sea, or book an over-water villa with a glass-bottom floor. Opened in December 2010, this all-inclusive resort in the “moderate” price range is well worth exploring. With new facilities, it boasts excellent value in services, cuisine and accommodation, which are on par with far pricier 5-star resorts in this heavenly enclave.
Travel Tips: Tropical Resorts
Rest & relaxation come standard at all-inclusive resorts but to get the most out of your vacation, read our travel tips first.
What’s Included in an All-Inclusive
The traditional all-inclusive concept includes: resort accommodations (with taxes), three daily meals, drinks (alcohol included), tips, daily activities and evening entertainment. Be on the lookout for specifics and restrictions since resorts vary from limited all-inclusive to comprehensive. If any of the following are important, research in advance whether they are included, unlimited or extra:
- Airport transfers
- Area shuttle service or transportation
- Children’s activities
- Entertainment, live music and themed events
- Excursions & off-property tours
- Land activities (ping pong, gym, beach games, tennis, riding, golf, game center, bikes, equipment, instruction, etc.)
- Water activities (non-motorized boats, scuba, snorkeling, surfing, equipment, instruction)
- Premium/top-shelf liquor, wine brands, canned/bottled drinks
- Snacks, food beyond the three daily meals, types of meals (buffet, a la carte or both); number or type of restaurants
- 24-hour room service
Although resorts are pricier by nature given the amenities and activities included, there are still ways to land a deal.
- Look for newly opened resorts that offer promotional rates to attract clientele. A soon-to-open resort may also have a little-promoted “soft opening” or “soft launch” meant to work out the kinks prior to a grand opening.
- Off-season rates can be significantly lower and may even come with extras to lure customers during the hotter, cooler or rainier seasons.
- Look for special promotions following natural disasters, catastrophic events or influenza scares when the travel and tourism industry seeks opportunities to bring travelers back and restore confidence.
- Check websites like www.smallresortspromotions.com and www.saveonresorts.com for daily deals and packages. With the latter you may have to sit through a timeshare sales pitch on location, but it may be worth the savings and deals offered.
Expect Cultural Differences
A resort in one country does not necessarily equal a resort in another. Cultural norms vary when it comes to standards and pace of life. Often referred to as “island time” or “rubber time,” the flexible outlook on time in tropical locales is part and parcel of a more laid-back approach to life. Schedules may run late, service might be slower and requests could fall through the cracks as locals place a different level of importance on matters. A lower standard of living in some countries may also preface a local’s outlook of what’s normal or critical and lend to a sunnier disposition when things don’t operate perfectly. “It’s all good,” “No worries” and “Relax, Mon” are good phrases to adopt as you settle into your tropical resort.
Hawaiian shirts and leis no longer define resort wear. Although attire may be more casual at a family resort, business casual with a fun and flirty twist is appropriate at most resorts, particularly in the evenings. Vibrant colors, floral print skirts and bolder accessories go with the nature of the tropics and make it fun. Ladies might think of white linen pants and a blouse with accessories, or a classy black dress with heels and bigger jewelry for evening wear. Men can don navy pants or khakis with a dress shirt for an evening outing. Ties and jackets are usually overly formal, except for special occasions or a resort calls for it (e.g., a particular restaurant). Pack appropriate shoes and attire for water or land activities and any potential outings and adventures.
Ready to Go?
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