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Winter Break

Quinta Maconda guest house, in Antigua, Guatemala.  

Tepoztlán, Mexico
Hike up to heaven.

Hours From New York: 8.5
TYPE OF VACATION: Family Friendly
Wealthy Mexico City weekenders flock to Tepoztlán (elev. 6,000 feet) for the fresh air, mountain views, and spa treatments based on pre-Columbian rituals, so travel on weekdays to avoid heavy traffic. Book a car from the airport for the two-hour drive, and check in to the Posada del Tepozteco (from $180; 52-739-395-0010 or, where the rooms have stellar views of the mountains and the pre-Aztec pyramid perched 1,200 feet high up; you’ll be scaling it tomorrow. Start early, to beat the heat: Pack water, a snack, 35 pesos each for the entrance fee (and a little extra for souvenirs). Head out on Avenida del Tepozteco, which leads into a steep path, then to a steeper stone staircase, and finally a ladder up a cliff (there are no official guides, but plenty of local families do the hike regularly). In-shape walkers with appropriate footwear can do the climb in an hour or two, but allow four hours for resting and photo moments. From the top, you’ll get a view that stretches to the edge of the horizon and takes in the splendidly varied topography of central Mexico’s great plateau, from the plains to the steep mountains and sloping volcanoes. Recover over a huge plate of mole at Axitla (52-739-395-0519), a restaurant at the foot of the climb, in a sprawling tropical garden.

Antigua, Guatemala
Unwind with a hand- rolled Cuban.

Hours From New York: 6

With cruise ships docking in Belize and major hotel chains popping up all over Costa Rica, Central America seems less exotic than it did a decade ago. But a tiny four-room hotel in a house dating back to the 1550s in the historic center of Antigua, Guatemala, has managed to perpetuate a sense of the mystic ancient-Mayan culture. Laced with the refined taste of the Spanish Colonial explorers who settled the area in the sixteenth century, Quinta Maconda is tastefully decorated with hand-woven textiles, tribal masks and paintings, and pagan shrines from Central America and Southeast Asia. Chill out with a Zacapa rum and play backgammon or gin rummy while the staff practices old-school Guatemalan traditions such as burning incense, lighting votives along walkways, and wetting the stone courtyard each afternoon to cool the house. You can also shop for exotic-wood furniture and hand-rolled cigars in the artisan storefronts lining the cobblestoned streets of Antigua, or let the hotel’s well-connected owners arrange private excursions like helicopter safaris to explore volcanoes and four-by-four road trips to nineteenth-century coffee farms. Book the master bedroom if it’s available; it’s located atop a spiral staircase, and the private terrace has amazing views of the hotel’s tropical garden as well as the tile rooftops of Antigua. Breakfast is served in the garden, and lunch and dinner in the dining room, where a converted antique Guatemalan door serves as a tabletop ($675 per night for a two-bedroom; $1,100 to rent the entire house, including breakfast and laundry; 866-621-4032 or


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