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As I've said before, summer is a good time to head south to Central America and the Caribbean. The weather is virtually the same year-round, but rates are slashed, and you can have the beaches and facilities to yourself--a plus if you're a couple, a recipe for disaster if you're alone.

A recent reader's choice poll conducted by Caribbean Travel & Life magazine gives top-place honors as "best all-around destination" to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica and Mexico. Honors for the "best undiscovered destination" went to the Turks and Caicos, Belize and Anguilla.

Which islands have the friendliest people? Winners were Jamaica, Aruba and Mexico. The "best local cuisine" prize went to Jamaica, Aruba and St. Martin. For best international cuisine, the award went to St. Martin, Jamaica and Aruba.

If you're into shopping, best bets were Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas, USVI), Philipsburg (St. Maarten) and Nassau (Bahamas).

I'm not sure I agree with all this. Inland Mexico can be scorching hot in summer; you may want to stay within a frisbee throw of the coast. It's true--the Turks & Caicos are the hot new place to go--on their way to becoming a major mass market destination. Do yourself a favor and go now, before they become too mass market.

Belize has an amazing diving scene and great jungles with serious wild life, I'd try to combine both experiences in one trip; it's not hard to arrange, if you don't mind flying in small planes.

Anguilla is flat and arid as the American Southwest; Come here for the posh resorts and uncrowded beaches. St. Maarten is only a short ferry trip away, so you can shop and gamble to your heart's delight and then come back to your quiet island retreat.

As for Jamaica, I strongly recommend a guide like the just-released Frommer's Jamaica to steer your way through a maze of resorts and resort areas--each has its own character, its own advantages and disadvantages. The people are friendly, yes, but the hawkers on the beach can be a terrible nuisance.

Aruba offers a dry Southwest landscape, too, but it's outside the hurricane belt, which means it gets virtually no rain year-round. The hotels rise up side by side along one of the most gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean--not everyone's cup of rum, but everything is very accessible and familiar, and you can get here nonstop from the States, a real plus if you want to leave home in the morning and offer your oiled body to the sun by mid-afternoon.

St. Martin of course is the French side of an island that includes the Dutch St. Maarten. Visitors can take advantage of both cultures, both cuisines.

It's a mistake to think that all islands are the same. Each has its own character, it's own charm. Spend some time asking around and doing your homework, so you find the island that's right for you. A good place to start is our popular Message Boards, where you can read others' opinions and do research to your heart's content, and, best of all, it's free.