For most visitors, Belize has traditionally meant a trip to one of the country's small cayes. Ambergris Caye remains at the head of this list. Heralded as the site of the infamous Temptation Island reality show, the island is, in reality, one of those luxurious daiquiris-in-the-hammock places you go to forget about things like bad TV. Though short on the wide beaches of more traditional tropical destinations, Ambergris Caye nonetheless has all the laid-back atmosphere, buzzing beach bars, and sunny skies of any place in the Caribbean.

Lately, though, new resorts along Belize's lesser-known southern coast have been getting rave reviews from both first-time and veteran travelers. Kevin Hiestand hooked up his snorkel charter through the simple but elegant Nautical Inn adventure resort just north of the beach town of Placencia. Even before discovering Laughing Bird Caye, he'd begun planning a return trip to Placencia, with another stop at the splashy new luxury ecoresort Kanantik, located on the coast between Placencia and Dangriga. At the 300-acre, full-service Kanantik, $300 a day buys everything from diving trips to lobster feasts to excursions to Cockscomb Basin, the world's first jaguar sanctuary (for details on the places mentioned in this story, see "How to Get to the Other Side" on page 32). The only thing keeping visitors like Hiestand from spending their entire vacation at places like Kanantik is the appeal of the rest of the Central American coast.

Tikal, Guatemala
Just as islands such as San Juan and Tobago have their inland adventures, so does the Caribbean's continental coast. Though Guatemala isn't re-nowned for its beaches, getting as close as Belize and not considering a side trip to the national treasure of Tikal would be like getting to Rapid City and not going to Mt. Rushmore.