Even more alluring than the deserted islands and swaying palms are the people. By the mid-1800s, the men of the islands' Kuna Indian overlords had adopted Western dress, but the females' traditional costume has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Exotic facial markings and bright skirts, scarves, and beaded arm and leg bands complete one of the most unique looks on the planet.

While San Blas' 50,000 or so Kuna have opened their arms to tourism, most local activity still revolves around the traditional fish and coconut trades. If you know how to handle the transaction, coco-nuts can be used as currency in Kuna commerce, with an approximate value of 10 U.S. cents each. A can of Coke reportedly goes for four coconuts.

Thanks to strict Kuna management, thatch huts, not high-rise hotels, dominate the tiny islands. The prevailing ethic is trade winds, not air conditioning. Catching your own dinner from a canoe, not making reservations on the Web. Remote? Yes. But if you've been craving a complete change of pace and the spice of adventure, then among the San Blas, you just may find your temptation island.

how to get to the other side
belize
where to stay:
kanantik resort
, 18 miles south of dangriga; (800) 965-9689; www.kanantik.com. all-inclusive ecoresort with everything from horseback riding to lobster feasts. $300.

nautical inn, placencia; (800) 688-0377; www.naut
icalinnbelize.com. great seaside pool and friendly staff. $80-$140.
ramon's village resort, ambergris caye; (800) 624-4215; www.ramons.com. the best on belize's most well-known island. $150-$350.
victoria house, ambergris caye; (800) 247-5159; www.victoria-house.com. intimate, relaxing getaway with 30 rooms. from $155.