Ranguana Lodge, Placencia
Price: Cabins, $80–$88
The sleepy Creole fishing village of Placencia, on the southern tip of the eponymous barrier peninsula, has escaped the development boom to the north, allowing it to legitimately maintain its claim to having Belize's best beaches. The slice of silken sand at Ranguana Lodge is the perfect place to let your stress melt away into the surf. Three stilted beachfront cabanas are simply furnished and air-conditioned, while the two other units are larger, set back from the beach, and come with hardwood floors, kitchenettes, and a bit more charm — but no AC. All have decks complete with hammocks perfect for napping. For fun, stroll along the "main road," a three-foot-wide sidewalk that runs through the heart of the colorful town, or head out with a local sportfishing guide for kingfish, tuna, barracuda, and snook, which the locals have lived on for centuries.
Book: The seaside cabana, where you can leave the AC off for breeze-cooled bliss (501-523-3112; ranguanabelize.com).
Best for: Stressed-out execs who need to get off the grid or spend some quality time with the family.
Rental car: Required only if you want to stray from town.
Victoria House, Ambergris Caye
Price: Doubles, $180–$310
In the bustling beach town of Ambergris Caye, the 42-room Victoria House balances gracious hospitality and a casual Caribbean vibe. The grounds are picture-perfect, with lush lawns fronting a fine golden beach. Guests can choose between plantation buildings with wraparound porches or thatched-roof casitas with mahogany beds. Snorkelers will find that the barrier reef fringing Ambergris Caye's windward shore teems with colorful fish, lacy corals, and giant sponges that look like pottery left behind by Poseidon. Scuba, fishing, birding, and cave tubing excursions are all arranged by the hotel.
Book: A stand-alone casita for maximum luxury and privacy (501-226-2067; victoria-house.com).
Best for: A low-key tropical vacation combining relaxation and adventure.
Rental car: Not required. Ambergris Caye is a 70-minute water taxi ride from Belize City, and golf carts or bicycles are the standard mode of transportation on the island.
Aguas Claras, Playa Chiquita
Price: Cottages, $70–$220
Set amid hibiscus bushes and palm trees, Aguas Claras is a relaxing retreat three miles south of Costa Rica's lively surfing capital, Puerto Viejo. The inn's five brightly colored stilted chalets are a short walk from the gorgeous (and surfable) Playa Chiquita and have ceiling fans, screened kitchenettes and sitting areas. Breakfast at the on-site Miss Holly's Kitchen includes a fresh fruit salad, omelets and baked goods.
Book: The chalets are equally appealing; the only difference is the number of bedrooms (506-2750-0131; aguasclaras-cr.com).
Best for: Kelly Slater wannabes who need a little R and R.
Rental car: Reserve a four-by-four to explore the many breaks along the coast.
Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo
Price: Doubles, $70–$139
Tucked just inside the jungle abutting a striking black sand beach, Hotel Banana Azul offers simple accommodations a mile north of hippie-chic Puerto Viejo. Each of the 12 guest rooms has a sea view, a queen bed, and hardwood floors and walls. Nearby Cahuita National Park is great for snorkeling, while surfers head south for some of the best breaks on the coast.
Book: The spacious Howler Suite — with its wraparound deck and bathtub built for two — overlooks a tropical garden and the beach (506-2750-2035; bananaazul.com).
Best for: Indecisive types who can't choose between a beach vacation and a jungle holiday.
Rental car: Required.
Barefoot Cay, Roatán
Price: Bungalows, $225
Barefoot Cay is perfect for a lazy beach escape, but be sure to go snorkeling or diving so you don't miss the vivid display of reef life just off this private cay. Two beachfront luxury one-bedroom bungalows have full kitchens, bathrooms, open-air showers and wicker furniture. The spacious two-bedroom villas offer more privacy and a large covered deck overlooking the Caribbean. Staff are attentive, and meals are served in the resort's dining room or your bungalow.
Book: The villa farthest from the pool (504-455-6235; barefootcay.com).
Best for: Romantics with an adventurous streak.
Rental car: Not required.
Half Moon, Montego Bay
This Caribbean classic on a perfect crescent west of Montego Bay retains the elegance of another era. While its expanse of palm-edged white sand is the main attraction, other enticements include lit tennis courts, two pools, a golf course and stables. Half Moon is also among the best values in Jamaica, especially from mid-April through mid-December, when rates for double rooms drop to $250. Until then, guests who stay four nights or more get $200 taken off their final bill.
Book: A deluxe room with a private garden; some have ocean views (888-830-5974; halfmoon.com).
Best for: Families looking for a warm-weather vacation that offers something for everyone.
Rental car: Not required.
Lazy Parrot, Rincón
Price: Doubles, $99-$165
There's nothing fancy about this quaint inn and restaurant in the hills of Rincón, near Puerto Rico's west coast. Although 10 new Superior rooms have flat-screen TVs and other upgrades, the Lazy Parrot is known for simple accommodations — and as the perfect base for surfing off the town's northern beaches.
Book: A third-floor room at the back of the hotel — to avoid the noise of revelers at the bar and to take in the ocean views while being serenaded by lorikeets and lovebirds (787-823-5654; lazyparrot.com).
Best for: Outdoor adventurers who want easy access to surfing, scuba and snorkeling.
Rental car: Required.
Tres Sirenas Inn, Rincón
Price: Doubles, $175
Facing a placid swimming beach, this elegant B&B has only four units — two rooms, a studio and an apartment. All of them are spotless and tastefully appointed with plush white upholstery and terra-cotta tiles, and each room has lots of big windows to frame an ocean view. Gourmet breakfasts are served on a waterfront terrace, and kayaks, snorkeling gear and surfboards are available for use on the beach. Rooms are outfitted with TVs, ceiling fans and air-conditioning.
Book: The airy and spacious Sea View Apartment, for $270 (787-823-0558; tressirenas.com).
Best for: Beach bums who require creature comforts.
Rental car: Not required — you can take a bus here from San Juan, and the beachfront has lots of dining and nightlife options.
Bravo Beach Hotel, Vieques Island
Price: Doubles, $210–$295
At this chic and cheerful updated version of a seaside motel, each of the nine rooms features fine linens, modern furnishings, and amenities that include iPod docking stations and yoga mats. Numbers 3 through 9, as well as the adjacent two-bedroom villa, overlook the sea, but the prime swimming spots are a 10- to 15-minute drive away. Too lazy to make the trip? Content yourself with a dip in one of the two small swimming pools, and then chill out on the shady patio with a grilled pizza and a bottle of pinot grigio from the hotel's fine restaurant.
Book: Any oceanfront room (787-741-1128; bravobeachhotel.com).
Best for: Urban hipsters who crave good wine with their sea views.
Rental car: Required for accessing the best beaches; a handful of good restaurants are within walking distance.
Price: Doubles, $175–$225
A collection of thatched huts and stone villas near the "it" town of Tulum, Amansala is boho-chic at its finest. Rooms come with plush beds draped in gauze, but it's the weeklong bikini boot camps filled with hikes, bike rides, massages, tasty low-cal fare, and classes in everything from belly-dancing to creative writing that Amansala is famous for. Not up for training? Laze on the white sand beach, take a dip in the sea, or explore nearby ruins.
Book: Room 11 is big and beachfront with a private terrace (amansala.com).
Best for: An active adventuress looking for total detox.
Rental car: Not required. Tulum is two hours south of Cancún; opt for an airport shuttle instead of the Amansala van, which charges up to $130 per person.
Ti Kaye Village Resort, Anse Cochon
Price: Doubles, $280–$355
Ti Kaye Village, on St. Lucia's west coast, is arrayed on a jungly hillside that tumbles into the Caribbean. All 33 gingerbread cottages have ocean views, four-poster beds, patios, hammocks built for two, and outdoor showers. Past the pool, at the bottom of a 166-step staircase, is a narrow wedge of sugary sand —the perfect launch site for snorkeling and diving in the adjacent bay.
Book: One of the higher rooms, to be near the restaurant (758-456-8101; tikayevillage.com).
Best for: Athletic couples.
Rental car: Not required, but the island is worth exploring, and rentals are cheaper than taxis.
The Hummingbird, Soufrière
Transformed from a colonial mansion into a nine-room, one-cottage retreat, The Hummingbird is perched on a hillside on the edge of town, just steps from a lovely beach frequented by locals. Accommodations are comfortable, with stunning sea and mountain views; seven have private baths. The resort's open-air restaurant is famous all over the island for its French Creole cuisine and views of the Pitons.
Book: The Superior Piton View room, which overlooks the sea and mountains (758-459-7232; nvo.com/pitonresort).
Best for: Those who want a relaxing beach getaway in the heart of a charming Caribbean town.
Rental car: Not required, but recommended for exploring the rest of the island.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Maho Bay Camps, St. John
Price: Cabins, $135
There's no hot water, and the showers and bathrooms are in communal buildings, but the serenity and sea views at Maho Bay make up for the lack of creature comforts. The roomy platform tents are scattered on a lush hillside and have fans, camp stoves and welcoming beds; meals in the restaurant are hearty and healthy, and the quiet beaches and calm Caribbean surf are perfect for lazing, swimming and snorkeling. Ranger-led hikes are offered in the surrounding national park, and at night, a chorus of forest creatures lulls you to sleep.
Book: A tent near the water and away from the parking area (340-715-0501; maho.org).
Best for: Anyone who places value, peace and beauty above luxury.
Rental car: Not required. A shuttle service provides island tours and transfers to town.
Virgin Islands Campground, St. Thomas
Price: Cabins, $120–$160
A trip to the Caribbean doesn't get any more bare-bones than a stay in the wood-and-canvas tent cabins at the Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island, just off St. Thomas. The white sand beach is ideal for sunning and snorkeling, and the hot tub is a stargazer's delight. The beach bar serves beer and cocktails, but you'll have to cook your own meals (utensils, a grill, and a stove are provided). Those looking for a little nightlife can clean up in the communal showers before heading for the ferry to St. Thomas.
Book: The Suite, a clapboard cottage with a king-size bed that is the campground's version of luxury (340-776-5488; virginislandscampground.com).
Best for: Budget-conscious beachcombers who don't mind washing the dishes and making their own beds.
Rental car: Not required.