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Mexico & Central America

Yes, good exchange rates. But also spewing volcanoes, ultralight air tours, and languid afternoons, just you and your hammock.


A mosaic-covered suite in the Maruba ResortJungle Spa in northern Belize.  


MEXICO
Easy to get to and consistently cheap—so long as you avoid the big resort towns. Plus the peso’s a pleasant eleven to the dollar.

INDULGENCE INDEX
Bottle of Monte Alban Mezcal: $25
Day of deep-sea fishing: $90
Handmade hammock: $10


Colima
One glimpse of the twin snow-capped volcanoes—one dormant, one active—of Parque Nacional Volcán Nevado de Colima and you’ll know why Mexican tourists prefer this tiny western state to the gringo-littered beaches of neighboring Jalisco. Make your base the Hacienda de San Antonio, 25 minutes outside Colima City (866-516-2611 or haciendadesanantonio.com). After May 31, the 5,000-acre coffee plantation drops its suites to $400 (normally $700). Drive fourteen miles north to explore Comala, known for its hand-carved furniture and relaxed cafés. Or hire a trail guide at the Hacienda ($50 per person) to trek two hours up the 13,000-foot Volcán de Fuego’s 30-degree slopes.

Oaxaca
Two years after teacher protests turned into street riots, Oaxaca has returned to its peaceful, mole-sauce-loving ways. Book a room at the flower-filled Casa Oaxaca, whose restaurant (located two blocks away) stuffs its chiles rellenos with seviche (from $140; 52-951-514-4173 or casaoaxaca.com). Elsewhere in this food-mad city, the chic Los Danzantes (52-951-501-1184) warms tortillas in banana leaves before folding them into duck tacos, and the Benito Juárez Market pairs chapulines, freshly fried grasshoppers, with Oaxacan hot chocolate.

San José Iturbide
Ignore that there are no consent forms to sign, and ascend an ultralight above this tiny city an hour’s drive from San Miguel de Allende. Pilot Juan, a former military man and daredevil with the aptly named Aeroextremo ($56; aeroextremo.com.mx), provides a heavy coat—it’s cold up there—and headset so that you can direct the intensity of the 15- to 20-minute flight over nopal cactus fields, religious processionals, and a sea of adobe rooftops. Come down from your high at Hotel Los Arcos (from $52; 52-419-198-0371), and grab a pew inside the parish next door to thank God you’re still alive.




GUATEMALA
The quetzal isn’t the weakest currency out there. But prices are still so low, you’d never notice.

INDULGENCE INDEX
Guided volcano hike: $7
One-hour massage: $25
Handwoven Mayan blanket $45



Caolima's Hacienda de San Antonio.  

Lake Atitlán
Practice your cannonball from the sunbathing terraces at La Casa del Mundo, and drip-dry overlooking Central America’s most spectacular landscape (from $31; lacasadelmundo.com). Rent kayaks ($6 an hour), and go cove-hopping. Or strike out for Santiago Atitlán, 50 minutes away by lancha (the local water taxi; $8), and ask a villager to take you to the shrine of Maximón (25 cents to enter). The cigar-smoking Mayan deity answers prayers for a $1 bottle of Quetzalteca aguardiente.

Antigua
If this candy-colored colonial town feels like heaven, then Volcán de Pacaya seems a close approximation of hell. Both have their merits. Book a half-day hike through Gran Jaguar Tours ($7; granjaguartours.com) to the volcano’s charred, scorching-hot lip. Or stay significantly cooler in the fountain-strewn gardens of Quinta de las Flores (from $75; 502-7832-3721 or quintadelasflores.com). Complement your relaxation with some education: A week of one-on-one Spanish classes averages just $5 an hour ($130 for 25 hours; ixchelschool.com).




BELIZE
A better value than most Caribbean nations, and the currency is pegged directly to the U.S. dollar.

INDULGENCE INDEX
Shrimp kebabs on the beach: $2.50
Nighttime reef dive: $50
CD of Garifuna tunes: $5

Bottom-dollar Destination .......


Caye Caulker
Embrace the slow life on this isle a 45-minute water-taxi ride ($7.50) off Belize’s north coast, where a traffic jam means a trio of iguanas lumbering across an intersection. Become one with your hammock at De Real Macaw ($50; 501-226-0459 or derealmacaw.biz), which fronts the longest barrier reef in the Americas. Rent snorkel gear ($2.50) from the EZ Boy shop on Front Street. Come sunset, munch on shrimp kebabs ($2.50) from a makeshift beach grill run by a bearded guy named Jack.

Maruba
There’s something especially decadent about getting a foot rub in the jungle. At the Maruba Jungle Spa Resort (from $200; 501-225-5555 or maruba-spa.com), rubdowns ($100) take place under dewy fronds with the squawk of toucans mixing with piped-in drumbeats. The resort, done up in no-holds-barred tribal chic, proffers petal-strewn feather beds, a wooden penis as a toilet- paper holder, and, for breakfast, a complimentary glass of hand-squeezed papaya juice served in a lopped-off coconut.


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