Sun Done Differently

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From Costa Rica to Cuba, Belize and beyond. There’s no better time to reconsider the typical sun vacation, and explore the myriad ways to experience many great sun destinations differently this winter.

If you don’t live on Miami Beach, it’s nice to get away from winter for a while. Even if you’re a big skier, a stint down south is a welcome change. There are a million options for beach vacations, and 99% of them involve a hotel, a stretch of sand along the ocean, and not much else. If you want to add a little zip to your sun-and-surf vacation, join the growing wave of people who like to do sun differently.

Two slices of beach, jungle in the middle
One way that our travellers enjoy trips to the sun is like so: Beach -> Jungle -> Beach. Bookend your inland discovery trip with tropical beach relaxation. A perfect model of this kind of trip is our eight-day Land of Belize, with plenty of wildlife and Mayan cultural exploration mixed in with beach time.

Spend your first day exploring seaside Belize City. Walk colonial avenues, stop into a restaurant for a Creole treat or get out to the Belizean Beach on the south side of the peninsula. For the next couple of days it’s off to San Ignacio, known for street stall barbeque delights. It’s also near to the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech, which you’ll visit, and there are optional day trips to the Mayan ceremonial centre of Xunantunich and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to visit waterfalls, warm swimming holes and a huge system of caves.

Moving on to Tikal, Guatemala, visit some of the most magnificent ruins of the Maya. The ancient city of Tikal once numbered 3,000 structures covering 16 square kilometres, with a population that may have reached 120,000 people. Sometime between 400 and 900 A.D. Tikal reached its peak of power, dominating the Maya region, which extended all the way into what is now southern Mexico.

There are wildlife opportunities throughout the jungle portion of this adventure, including bands of howler monkeys and multi-coloured toucans and macaws. Go a little further into the bush and you might find a Resplendent Quetzal or even glimpse the elusive jaguar.

Once you’ve ‘earned’ your beach stint in the humid jungle, it’s time to hit one of the most heavenly slice of beach imaginable: Caye Caulker. We arrive at this heavenly island by boat — boat building is still an important local industry. Other money-earning pastimes here include lobster fishing, coconut harvesting, and small scale tourism. Businesses, restaurants and hotels are owned and run by locals, making for a congenial, easy-going atmosphere.

The snorkelling and diving near Caye Caulker is fantastic. A short distance away is the Great Blue Hole, a giant limestone sinkhole that’s perfectly round, almost three football fields across and 120 metres deep. It’s been a fascination to divers ever since Jacques Cousteau mapped its contours in 1971.

A Thai treat
Another great bet for ‘beach breaks plus’ a little further afield is Thailand. The beach in question on our aptly named Jungles and Beaches adventure is Koh Samui, one of the most beautiful areas on the Andaman Sea coast. On this adventure as well, the beach is the prize at the end. Notice a pattern here?

To ‘earn’ this beach retreat — complete with massive limestone cliffs bookending blinding white beaches — absolutely spectacular scenery — you must first get to know Bangkok on foot by Skytrain, canal boat, ferry and bus. Then you’ll have to explore the Bridge over the River Kwai near Kanchanaburi and endure a rice barge tour (complete with lunch) around Ayuthya, the ancient capital of Siam. In its prime, Ayuthya was one of the largest and most glamorous cities in the world as well as the capital of the huge Siamese empire that included parts of Laos, Cambodia and Burma.

After that there’s more trial and tribulation, including exploring Thailand’s first capital, the Sukhothai ruins, by bicycle and riding elephants in the Chiang Mai area. When you finally make it to Koh Samui (from Bangkok by plane), you will have time to relax in really quite luxurious surroundings. A word of advice: give yourself an extra day or two on the beach at the end of your tour — we can arrange that at time of booking. If you should happen to get bored on the beach, may we suggest that you explore the hundreds of nearby islands. Hire a long-tail boat for the day, pack a picnic and off you go.

Adventure, adventure, beach.
All around the world, adventures are ending on beaches. It’s a great way to cap off a week or more of exploration. Many of our Tanzanian tours end on the spice island of Zanzibar, and for those that don’t you can book an extension. Mexican adventures are much the same, often ending in Playa del Carmen.

So next time you yearn for the sun, think about how much time you actually want to spend lazing on a beach… or if you’d rather use the beach as the prize at the end of an in-depth cultural exploration or a day of activity.

If we’ve got you thinking about the sun differently, may we also suggest a couple more interesting options: Cycling Cuba, where casual cycling meets vibrant culture and idyllic beaches offer post-ride relaxation, or Rainforest Adventure, a wilderness experience in Costa Rica combining beaches, jungles, volcanoes and wildlife.

Contact Information
Natural wonders, historic sites, beaches and jungles, food and drink — you can truly experience different cultures — from Belize and beyond! The world’s best travel experiences are all here. We have over 4000 small group trips or our experienced adventure travel specialists can build one just for you. This is all we’ve done since 1972. Adventure Center. We’re here to get you there.

Our adventure travel specialists in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton would love to help you; call us toll-free 866.338.8735 or find us at for more information.