After (or during) a long winter, escaping to a tropical resort sounds just right. Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are some great vacation ideas for a week or two, or even for weekend getaways. But when we think of tropical vacations, we also have to include some more distant favorites, from Brazil to Vietnam, Costa Rica to Zanzibar. Our picks range from big and small to culturally alluring and value conscious.
Mexico – Small Beachfront Gem
Cancun and its miles of white sand and turquoise waters greet visitors traveling to the northwest gateway of the Caribbean Sea, coined the Mayan Riviera. 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, Belmond 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, 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 need. In the world of resorts, its personality and value is a breath of fresh air that leaves a big impression.
Mexico Vacation Checklist:
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 golf, beach or international escape, the Ilha de Comandatuba Resort has it all. 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 with some adventure travel in the mix.
Brazil Vacation Checklist:
Looking down on Rio, Brazil and Sugarloaf Mountain from Corcovado
Hawaii – Traditional Island Tranquil
“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 families and independents, who prefer more low-key, traditional Hawaiian vacations. The mostly one- and two-bedroom condos include full kitchens, daily maid service, free parking and complimentary Internet.
Hawaii Vacation Checklist:
If you prefer luxury and added amenities, we recommend the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai instead.
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, the imposing giant sets the stage for the highly romantic resort of Arenal Naraya, which envelops guests in tropical splendor. Ensconced in the rainforest, it’s a dream jungle hideaway.
Costa Rica Vacation Checklist:
Jungle meets the sand in Costa Rica
Dominican Republic – Colonial Caribbean Casa
Two hundred miles of white sand beaches lure travelers to 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. If you’re traveling to find a slice of the Old World and combine it with a beach respite, 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. Surprisingly friendly rates make this a true Caribbean discovery.
Dominican Republic Vacation Checklist:
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are popular for resort vacations, but we also explored further afield to discover exotic locales across the globe. Read our picks for vacation ideas that offer adventure travel of the more refined variety.
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. It only caters to one individual, couple or small group at a time, ensuring an authentic, one-of-a-kind island experience like no other. Whether traveling for an intimate dream wedding or honeymoon, a special anniversary or a unique 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. You get to decide timelines and the level of activity, privacy or interaction. The owners take care of the rest.
Fiji Vacation Checklist:
Resort villas on the water in Fiji
United Arab Emirates – Serene Desert Fantasy
In the wealthy UAE, fantastic hotels and resorts compete for most opulent in 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 vast Rub al Khali Desert, where the silence of towering dunes drowns out urban clamor. A cool towel, hibiscus beverage and dates greet your arrival at the mesmerizing oasis of Qasr Al Sarab. Frequented by the Emirates’ royal family, the splendid sandstone Arabic palace captures the essence of Middle East flavors and traditions of traveling dream lore. You’ll find fabulous architecture patterned with open-air walkways and courtyards infused with trickling fountains, narrow passageways, hanging gardens, royal art objects and mythical desert hospitality.
UAE Vacation Checklist:
Exploring the river in downtown Dubai
Zanzibar – African Island Hideaway
The island of Zanzibar welcomes weary travelers who seek R&R after safaris in the mainland’s fantastic parks and reserves. This rustic island outpost of exotic flair 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, this small boutique escape enchants with rounded, thatched-roof lodgings that look out to unbelievably turquoise seas, vivid white sands and jet-black night skies strewn with stars. Curved entryways, wooden accents and local art provide a traditional feel in this intimate setting.
Zanzibar Vacation Checklist:
Local hangout on the beach in Zanzibar
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, 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 traveling a bit away from the hurly-burly of the touristy city.
Fishing and tour boats in Vietnam
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 without cars. 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 a matter of choosing from the levels of luxury, types of activities and accessibility from the international airport by boat or seaplane. For a modern-day castaway experience, the all-inclusive Robinson Club Maldives makes a fabulous choice. A 50-minute seaplane journey from the airport, and an added 20-minute speedboat transfer means it’s far removed from civilization.
Why Robinson Club?
Resort in Maldives
Tropical Resort Travel Tips
Rest & relaxation come standard at resorts, but to get the most out of your vacations or weekend getaways—from travel wear to packing checklist—read our travel tips first to help with your vacation checklist.
What’s Included in an All-Inclusive Resort
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. Traveling to or from the resort is not included in cost, except perhaps from the airport. If any of the following are important, research in advance whether they are included, unlimited or extra:
Although resorts are pricier by nature given the amenities and activities included, there are still ways to land a deal, even for last-minute travel.
Tips for Finding Resort Deals:
The “Resort Fee”
As you research vacations, budget-minded travelers should be aware that a “resort fee” is often automatically tacked onto your bill as a mandatory charge (approx. $10-$40 U.S. + tax per day). It is now standard practice in Las Vegas and elsewhere as a way to lower room rates and get around incidental charges for amenities, which you may not necessarily use. Resort fees may include fitness center, recreation or business facilities, parking, shuttle service, bottled water, in-room Internet or wireless access.
Resort Fee Checklist to Consider When Booking:
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.
Resort Packing Checklist
Will I Need a Car?
Pending whether you plan to stay planted at your resort or if you like to get out and about and explore on your own for some adventure travel, you might need a rental car.
Car Rental Checklist:
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. Here are some things to keep in mind: