Build your Own Caribbean Honeymoon!
Replies: 5 - Last Post: Jul 22, 2013 6:07 PM Last Post By: verobelize
Jul 9, 2013 4:02 PM
Build your Own Caribbean Honeymoon!Hi All,
I am in need of some honeymoon advice from all you wonderful people. My Fiancee and I are getting married in Mexico April 2014. After our wedding, we have exactly 4 weeks to travel. Originally we were thinking of doing a diving trip to Indo for a second time, but we will have a bit less money and time and since we will be in Mexico figured we could stick around the area.
Budget: We will have about $10,000 USD total for 4 weeks travel which will not include flights into Mexico.
Our plan is to pick 3-4 destinations in Central America and the Caribbean. Our TOP priority is beautiful beaches. We also love colonial towns/cities, adventure (trekking, diving), and chill beach towns.
What city / town would be similar to Cartagena, Colombia or Cuzco Peru? We were thinking a week in Nicaragua based in Granada or San Juan Puerto Rico would give us opportunity for both culture, beautiful city, and adventure. Any other hidden gem colonial towns you would recommend? I.e. Copan in Honduras was a total surprise to us in how pretty it was.
Thoughts on Cuba?
Beaches: I figure for beaches we should focus in the Caribbean, and probably 2/3 of our trip will be spent there. We dont care about American Mall shopping... at all. We dont want mega resorts every where we turn. We dont need any golf courses. We want the ability to get some beach privacy, but also the ability to have some drinks on the beach when we desire. I.e. Gili Air did it right, whereas Gili Trawangan was just too much party.
Accommodations: We will want some higher end ~150-250/night SMALL boutique resorts or VRBO villas. other than that we can stay in nicer but more mid range boutiqe hostels or hotels.
Mexico: Im thinking we start the trip in Oaxaca for a few days for some food and culture. Any other ideas?
Adventure: Diving in Turks? Other than diving is Turks/Caicos worth it? Trekking in Yunque NP? Dominica?
Food: We are from San Francisco, we love food. Anywhere that just blows it away in your mind?
Basically, if you had 4 weeks in CA and the Caribbean with 10k for 2 people, what would you do with these criteria?
Thanks to you all so much!!
Jul 10, 2013 8:26 PM
1What city / town would be similar to Cartagena, Colombia or Cuzco Peru? We were thinking a week in Nicaragua based in Granada or San Juan Puerto Rico would give us opportunity for both culture, beautiful city, and adventure. Any other hidden gem colonial towns you would recommend? I.e. Copan in Honduras was a total surprise to us in how pretty it was. Definitely the best colonial towns in Central America (and the Caribbean) are Antigua, Guatemala and Grenada Nicaragua. I would rate them #1 and #2, respectively. Best colonial town in the Caribbean is Santo Domingo's old town and then I would rate Old San Juan PR as #2 (I have traveled to most parts of the Caribbean and C.A. except for Cuba so I can't opine regarding Cuba). From a culture standpoint, I think the Mayan ruins at Tikal, Guatemala are the premier archaeological/historical site in C.A. or the Caribbean (I would rate Tikal #1, Palenque #2 and Copan #3). For that matter, I would be put Tikal in my "all time top 10" travel experiences and that includes some mighty great contenders such as Machu Picchu, Petra, Angkor Wat, etc.
So, for part of your trip, I would suggest visiting Antigua and Tikal in Guatemala, then you could take a bus down to Leon, Nicaragua and visit, then go on to Granada and that part of Nicaragua. I think this section of your trip will be the historical/cultural/archaelogical highlight. You will also be able to see a lot more wildlife in this region, including howler monkeys, than you will anywhere in the Caribbean where you mainly get tropical birds and iguanas. There is also much better hiking here than in most parts of the Caribbean. I think this itinerary would satisfy all your criteria in a very manageable area and it would be easy to stay within your budget. You can get some very nice rooms in the $50 - $100 range and some real luxury at rates higher than that. One of my all time favorite, most romantic hotel selections anywhere is the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua. It is totally "honeymoon worthy".
Another great place and excellent value is Hotel Colonial in Granada. It is $85 for doubles and is the nicest place in town. Granada is also an excellent home base for doing lots of interesting day trips, so you could spend the better part of a relaxing week there easily.
BTW, if you want to get married and start in Mexico (not sure where you are starting from), but the Yucatan would be a good place to start. It has some great beaches and the areas around Tulum have good values, although you can find some good deals up and down the Maya Riviera coast as well. Merida is a great colonial city, as is Campeche on the western gulf coast of the Yucatan if you want to visit some really nice colonial places. And, if your up for some more Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal are very good and very easily visited.
Isla Holbox, an island off the northern coast of the Yucatan, is also a hidden gem. It's a very laid back and inexpensive place to chill out and if you are there in the summer, it is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks who feed off the abundant plankton in the water.
You used to be able to get some pretty inexpensive flights from Cancun to Flores, GUA (home base for visiting Tikal) and then you can take another short, inexpensive flight on to Guatemala City where you can catch a taxi or bus to nearby Antigua (or arrange transport through your Antigua hotel). Guatemala City and Leon/Managua/Granada are connected by bus, or you can fly to Managua.
This Mexico/Guatemala/Nicaragua trip could easily take your entire 4 weeks at a reasonable pace. You should be able to easily do it within your budget. If you want to do diving, Cozumel is one of the better, less expensive places in the Caribbean to dive and you could sidetrack there for several days of diving (there's a ferry from the mainland at Playa del Carmen over to the island of Cozumel). Add in Cozumel diving and this is definitely a great month long itinerary.
Now, some comments about the Caribbean islands. There are some great beaches on most of the islands in the Caribbean, although most won't be much (or any) better than what you'll be able to access on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan. Islands in the Caribbean that have some of the best beaches (and somewhat better beaches than the Yucatan) would include: Anguilla (my #1 choice); St. John, USVI; British Virgin Islands; St. Barths; Antigua; Provo, Turks & Caicos. The problem is that ALL of these places are substantially more expensive than the Yucatan, plus they can be somewhat expensive and time consuming to get to from where you will be. If you want to mainly focus on some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, I would suggest flying from your wedding destination in Mexico to either St. Thomas, and then connecting via ferry into St. John USVI and spending a couple of weeks in St. John and the British Virgin Islands (which connect to USVI via ferry). It is expensive though for food and you'll be hard pressed to find a "budget room" under about $125 - $150 a night. After a 1 - 2 weeks in the Virgin Islands, I'd then take a short flight to St. Maarten and catch a 20 minute ferry over to Anguilla and spend a week or so there. It is another expensive place and, again, you will be hard pressed to find even a very basic, budget room under $100. A great Anguillan "bargain" in the summer is the Anacaona Boutique Hotel which is "honeymoon worthy".
From Anguilla, you can return to St. Maarten and spend maybe a day or two visiting the islands (some nice beaches but crawling with cruise ship tourists), before flying home from St. Maarten. BTW, if you opt for this itinerary, also check flying into San Juan, PR then going on to St. Thomas, BVI (Tortola), or St. Maarten. That may be a cheaper option. BTW, BVI and St. John both have very good diving too.
Regarding Turks and Caicos ... Grace Bay on Provo is one of the better beaches in the Caribbean (maybe Top 10??) and it has very good diving, but the diving is really no better than Cozumel and isn't all that much better than the Virgin Islands. It is also very expensive for food and rooms and will probably be very expensive for you to fly to. I just don't think it is worth the cost/benefit given the other options I mentioned above.
Other comments: Oaxaca is very nice, but I think that Merida (in the Yucatan peninsula a few hours from Cancun) is an equally nice, interesting and culturally rich place. You could start in Merida and save yourself the transport time and cost of going from Oaxaca to the Yucatan. You can also get some direct flights from the US into Merida, or at least you used to be able to, so it is pretty easy to access (or it's easy to fly into Cancun, one of the cheaper places to fly to from the U.S. and rent a car and do the easy drive over to Merida).
Trekking in Yunque NP? Dominica? Yunque is ok but not nearly as good as the stuff you'll see elsewhere on the Guatemala/Nicaragua itinerary. Dominica is very good (more similar to the Central American rainforests), but it can be very time consuming and expensive to get there from the U.S., much less Mexico. It also doesn't have ANY good beaches but it does have perhaps the best diving in all of the Caribbean. If you decide to go there, Ft YounG Hotel is an excellent, good value "honeymoon worthy" place to stay. Just be sure to get your fill of good beaches elsewhere :)
Of course, there are an endless combination of great itineraries you could take for 4 weeks in this part of the world, but the two options I mentioned above are pretty manageable while still giving you a lot of diversity. You will get a whole lot more for your money though if you stick to the Mexico/Guatemala/Nicaragua itinerary I suggested.
Jul 13, 2013 9:54 AM
2Mgtraveler that was the most comprehensive response I have ever gotten, thank you so much.
A couple followup notes and questions:
Guatamala would be my top choice as well... but my Fiancee was in Guatamala and the Tulum area 8 years ago or so before we met, and we want to do something new to both of us. We will get there when we have kids in a few years. So that being said, Nicaragua seemed to be the best choice in the area.
Based upon your comment on Dominica having the best diving in the Caribbean (we have been to Indo, Roatan, Phillipines to dive, so we are dive snobby =) the island is even more appealing to me. Add in the newly opened Waitukubuli Trail, that we would could a 4 or 5 day hike, and Im totally sold. I know it doesnt have "great beaches" but it will still have a place to relax after diving and trekking wont it?
Right now strongly attracted to Dominica. Would you pair dominica with Anguilla? Why is Anguilla your top choice?
If we were going to focus on the Caribbean, would USVI/BVI, Anguilla, Dominica be a rounded out trip, and work logistically? I was also attracted to St Lucia for beaches and its food scene. Thoughts on St Lucia?
If we focused more on CA, does Merida have the same food culture as Oaxaca? I was thinking Oaxaca just for a few days to get my foodie fix in a cute town before moving on. We live in San Francisco, so Mexico is easy to get back to.
Finally, where is a place in the area where in late April, into mid may we would be able to reliably swim with whale sharks?
THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR HELP!!!
Jul 14, 2013 10:01 PM
3Here are some thoughts based on your questions, etc.
If you aren't going to Guatemala, then I'd probably just go ahead and pass on Nicaragua and focus on the Caribbean. Otherwise, you're going to spend a big part of your budget and a significant amount of time just trying to "connect the dots" flying between the places you mentioned (do some route & price searches on www.kayak.com for your options). If you want to stay focused on C.A., I actually think that Panama is the overall single best destination just because it has so much to offer in such a relatively small area (great wildlife, rainforests, indigineous tribes, Panama Canal, Panama City sights, etc.), plus it is a major air hub. You could do a Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama trip and connect them together via bus or fly directly between the capital cities.Isla de Coiba off the Pacific Coast of Panama is also supposed to have some fantastic diving (lots of pelagics, etc.), although I have not personally dived there.
If you want to focus on the Caribbean and have a strong desire to go to Dominica and are also interested in seeing some of the best beaches in the Caribbean at Anguilla and BVI, the following would be a great itinerary, as it gives you some of the Caribbean's best places while maximizing the use of reasonably priced ferries for island hopping (unfortunately, not an option throughout much of the Caribbean).
You could start by flying to St. Maarten (SXM, is one of the larger air hubs in the Caribbean) then ferrying to Anguilla for several days of enjoying the best beaches in the Caribbean. Ferry back to St. Maarten, then take a short, direct flight to Tortola, BVI (airport: EIS; no ferry between St Maarten and BVI). Spend some time on Tortola and do day trips to other BVI islands (all connected by short ferry rides) such as Jost Van Dyke and Peter Island. Either do a day trip or stay a few days on Virgin Gorda, home to our favorite beach in the world "The Baths". Guavaberry Spring Bay cottages
is the only lodging within walking distance of the Baths and is also one of the best values on Virgin Gorda, so if you want to stay on VG, I'd recommend staying there (note:I believe they have a 3 day minimum stay requirement).
From Tortola, you can also take a ferry to the US Virgin Islands. St. John is one of the best destinations in the Caribbean (and is a 30 minute ferry ride from BVI) and is worth staying for a few days but, at a minimum, I'd at least do a day trip there from BVI. You can also proceed on to St. Thomas, USVI via ferry, though it isn't one of my favorite places (both St. Thomas and St. Martin are huge cruise ship ports which is a big reason that I'm not a fan of either one).
Returning back to Tortola, you can fly direct from EIS to Dominica (airport code: DOM) on BVI Airways or you can go on LIAT with connections.
Dominica is one of the best, if not the best, places in the Caribbean to hike. The other contender for "best hiking" would be neighboring Guadeloupe. As I mentioned, the diving is also some of the best in the Caribbean. I have dived all over the Caribbean, as well as the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef and Fiji. The Caribbean doesn't have as many different types of fish and coral as you'll see in southern Asia, but it is still very, very good and Dominica is world class. Dominica, as you probably know, is a steep volcanic island and the steep topography extends below the waterline, which makes for some excellent wall diving right offshore. Since Dominica gets much less tourist traffic than many other places in the Caribbean, the reef is in excellent shape as it doesn't suffer from overuse. I have dived Roatan and I think Dominica offers much better diving.
Dominica is also connected to Guadeloupe (to the north) and Martinique and St. Lucia to the south via ferry. All of these islands are worth visiting but a day trip isn't practical to any of them, so if you go you'll need at least 3 or 4 days each to make the journey worthwhile. They all have some great hiking too, particularly the excellent trails (200 miles worth!) in Parc Nacional de Guadeloupe. They all also have some good diving and beaches too. The only thing I really have to say negative about them is that Fort de France on Martinique is very unlovable and has some of the worst traffic in all of the Caribbean. Martinique does have some other worthwhile sights though, particularly St. Pierre, the "Pompeii of the Caribbean".
OK, that should give you a lot to think about. A couple more random thoughts:
1) regarding whale sharks in April, that is early for Isla Holbox so I'm not sure what your odds would be that time of year. Between about June and August, it's almost guaranteed ... in fact, during June - early September the operators will give you another trip for free until you spot them (see this link ). Holbox and the Bay Islands of Honduras are the only places I'm aware of in the Caribbean where whale sharks are regularly sited.
2) I wouldn't be so committed to Oaxaca. It's ok, but Merida and Campeche in the Yucatan are every bit as good and Cancun will probably be a cheaper and easier place to fly in and out of (and Merida would probably be comparably priced) and there are a lot more interesting sights in the area if you want to linger awhile. If you decide to go to Oaxaca (or even Campeche or Merida), you could also consider doing a side trip (would need to fly to Villahermosa) to visit Palenque, which also has some excellent nearby sights such as Misol Ha waterfall, Agua Azul (awesome terraced waterfalls cascading down a mountain, and the Mayan ruins of Bonampak & Yaxchilán.
3) I'm not a foodie, so I can't really opine on where you can get the best dishes, etc. I was blessed with an unsophisticated palate, which does have its advantages (give me a pizza and I'm happy :).
Jul 17, 2013 10:28 PM
4MGtraveler, another huge thanks. Unfortunately, My girlfriends Guatamala travels included the Mexican Yucatan, so that will have to wait as well, but she didnt make it to Merida. I think what we might do is fly from PV to Merida for like 2 days, then fly from there to St Marten as you suggest. From there we will do Dominica, and probably US/BVI, and either Anguilla or St Lucia.
I really appreciate the help, you have been invaluable =)
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