What’s New: Hassel Island is the nearly uninhabited outpost in the middle of St. Thomas Harbor and is now incorporated into the Virgin Islands National Park. Rangers serve as guardians for a signal tower, garrison house, old WWII navy barracks and the Creque Marine Railway, the oldest and longest running marine railway in the Western Hemisphere. Explore Hassel’s maritime history with Virgin Islands Ecotours (www.viecotours.com; 877-845-2925), which offers three-hour kayak tours for $99.
Tried and True: Bellavista Bed and Breakfast (www.bellavista-bnb.com; 888-333-3063) is an immaculate four-room boutique inn with an attentive proprietor who eagerly shares tips on the best of the island. With its beautiful harbor panorama, the pool deck is a fine hangout at dawn and dusk — guests are invited to BYOB. Doubles from $175 including hot breakfast.
Logistics: Public transportation is slender, so maximize your sightseeing by renting a car for at least part of your stay. You won’t need a passport to visit St. Thomas, but leave a little room in your suitcase: The USVI duty-free limit is $1,200 (there’s no sales tax); you’ll find particularly good buys on jewelry.
An easy day trip from Cancún, this paradisiacal fortress could be the backdrop for a quiet, slightly off-the-grid vacation. Located about 70 miles south of Cancún’s airport, Tulum is the only Maya city built right on the sea, a rocky ruin that promises to be ground zero for taking in end-of-the-world calamities predicted by the Maya for this December. Dozens of small hotels straddle the superb beach to the south, and while prices have headed north the last few years — right along with Tulum’s trendy factor — there are plenty of bargains to be found, especially for those who don’t demand air conditioning, phones and TVs (a flashlight is handy at night when most of the generators get shut off).
What’s New: The nonprofit, locally owned Community Tours Sian Ka’an (www.siankaantours.org; 011-52-984-871-2202) guides visitors through the 1.6-million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site flush with jungles, mangrove lagoons and unexcavated ruins. A new tour explores the craft of chewing gum, a natural treat first introduced by the Maya.
Tried and True: On a broad, palm-covered property fronting the beach, Amansala Resort (www.amansalaresort.com) offers bohemian chic, yoga retreats and a Bikini Boot Camp, a program designed to fine-tune mind, body and spirit. Doubles from $120.
Logistics: Tulum is 80 miles south of the Cancun airport, but transfers are easy. Buses depart from the airport every couple hours and take about two hours; the ride is $2 ( www.ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp). Or hop in a colectivo — shared van — and make the trip in 90 minutes for about $70 roundtrip (www.bestday.com; www.olympus-tours.com). Once in Tulum, Iguana Bike Shop rents beach cruisers, mountain bikes and tandem models (www.iguanabike.com).
San Diego-based freelance writer-photographer David Swanson wrote the “Affordable Caribbean” column for Caribbean Travel & Life magazine for 15 years.