The Secrets of the Shoulder Season
|The price may go down in the summer, but the view underwater is just as rich (Corel)|
Central American countries are subject to heavier rains than some of the Caribbean islands, but once again, that doesn’t mean you’ll get pummeled. Plus this area tends to be cheaper than the heavier-traveled Caribbean islands even though you’ll still find all the beauty and opportunity for adventure. After all, places like Costa Rica, Belize, and Honduras share much of that Caribbean coastline.
The rainy season technically begins in May and lasts until October in Honduras, but it rains pretty much all year on the Caribbean coast, with the wettest months coming in September. Honduras is famous for its diving—both cheap and spectacular—so if you’re looking to stretch your dollar on dives, this is the place to go. The Bay Islands, like Roatan, have dive shops stacked chockablock with ridiculously good bargains—sometimes as low as $15 a dive including equipment. Hit places like the Barbareta Wall, three miles offshore from Roatan, where you’ll find an uninhabited, hilly island with coral gardens, a mile-long wall, and white-sand beaches. Another highlight: West End Wall. This dramatic precipice will give you vertigo as you float over it, ogling sponges and rays. Check out Roatan Online’s diving page (www.roatanonline.com/divers_page.htm) for links to dive operators and packages in Honduras.
If diving isn’t quite your thing, Honduras has plenty of rafting, such as on the Rio Cangrejal near La Ceiba (Jungle River Rafting: 504-440-1268; firstname.lastname@example.org). Who cares if it’s raining when you’re bouncing through Class IV rapids—you’ll be getting wet regardless. And as this is the most mountainous country in Central America, there are plenty of opportunities to go hiking as well, especially in Pico Bonito National Park.
Belize is perhaps more Caribbean than Central American as this tiny country lives for the water. The dry season officially ends in May, but July and August see considerably less rain than June and September. Go during the high season and you’ll pay out the wazoo for hotel rooms and activities. Go in the beloved shoulder season, though, and you can have the best of both worlds—good weather, better bargains. Start out on the Cayes, the outer islands, where the Belize Reef—the second largest in the world after the Great Barrier—is one-stop central for all your water-sport needs. Mayan ruins will give you your cultural fix while you’re waiting for your skin to dry. Then hop in a canoe and paddle the Macal, Mopan, and Belize rivers around San Ignacio, or go tubing (bring the beer!) for $25 through caves along the Rio Chiquibul (Casa Maya Ecolodge: www.awrem.com/casamaya; 877-833-0679). The largest protected area in Belize, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Sanctuary (www.ambergriscaye.com/pages/town/parkmountainpineridge.html), is a good spot to lace up the boots and go for a hike. Five Sister’s Lodge (www.fivesisterslodge.com), in the midst of the national reserve, offers doubles starting at $55 a night, and cabanas at $75 a night—$30 off the winter rates.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication