Similarly varied, hotel options include the middle-of-outback diver's resort Habitat Curaçao, close by offshore reefs teeming with seahorses and moray eels. The Dutch royal family books annually at the elegant Avila Beach Hotel. And the island's newest star, Hotel Kura Hulanda, stakes eight square colonial blocks with hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, and a museum in a collection of artfully renovated 18th-century buildings - explorer-ready indeed.

DETAILS: Curaçao Tourist Board, (800) 328-7222, www. Habitat Dive Resort Curaçao, from $145, (800) 327-6709, Avila Beach Hotel, from $180, (800) 747-8162, Hotel Kura Hulanda, from $189, (800) 225-6800,


Lovers of densely rainforested Dominica like to say it's the only island Columbus would recognize if he saw it again today. Situated south of Antigua and Guadaloupe, the island has two cruise ship docks, but it lacks major hotel chains and sweeping beaches. So if you've come to plunk your chaise in the shallows and let the surf lap you lazy, move on. Dominica is more for the outward bound.

Some 365 rivers flow from a central spine of rugged volcanic mountains peaking at 4,747 feet along the 29-mile island. Among wonders, waterfalls run hot and cold, lakes boil, endangered parrots thrive, and underwater visibility stretches 100 feet. Though traded between British and French colonists, the island topographically resisted widespread cultivation, remaining unspoiled. No wonder the last band of native Carib Indians calls Dominica home.

To experience both coast and highlands, base yourself in the capital of Roseau at the 53-room Fort Young Hotel, built amid British military ruins. Nearer nature, bunk at Papillote Wilderness Retreat, nested upland in lush gardens secreting mineral pools.