The Best Small & Moderately Priced Hotels
- San Pedro Holiday Hotel (Ambergris Caye, Belize; tel. 501/226-2014; www.sanpedroholiday.com): This brilliantly white three-building complex with painted purple and pink trim sits in the center of San Pedro town. This was the first hotel on Ambergris Caye when Celi McCorkle opened it over 40 years ago, and it's still one of the best. Grab a room with an oceanview balcony and you'll be in tropical vacation heaven.
- Tree Tops Guest House (Caye Caulker, Belize; tel. 501/226-0240; www.treetopsbelize.com): While the best rooms here actually fall into the moderately priced category (and are some of the best rooms on Caye Caulker), the whole place offers such good value for your money that it's getting a listing here.
- La Casa del Mundo (Jaibalito, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala; tel. 502/5218-5332; www.lacasadelmundo.com): Set atop an isolated rocky outcropping jutting into Lake Atitlán, this hotel offers a few rooms with shared bathrooms that are a real steal (even the ones with private bathrooms are a bargain), with stupendous views of the lake. A lakeside fire-heated Jacuzzi and several open-air terraces make this place really special.
- Casa Mañen (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala; tel. 502/7765-0786; www.comeseeit.com): This is my favorite hotel in Quetzaltenango. The rooms are all decorated with a range of local arts and craft works, the service is excellent, and the owners are very knowledgeable about the various local tour options. The large rooftop terrace offers wonderful panoramic views of the city.
- Los Almendros de San Lorenzo (Suchitoto, El Salvador; tel. 503/2335-1200; www.hotelsalvador.com): This six-room Suchitoto hotel is a rare taste of luxury in a rural mountain village. It's owned by former Paris fashion convention organizer Pascal Lebailly, who spent 17 months with 30 workers transforming a 200-year-old house into an oasis of style. He applied his eye for fashion to create an interior-design that's magazine-ready, with a gorgeously lit stone pool, glass-enclosed French restaurant, and walls filled with some of El Salvador's best art. You won't find a more romantic or casually elegant hotel in the country.
- The Lodge at Pico Bonito (La Ceiba, Honduras; tel. 888/428-0221; www.picobonito.com): While you can tour the wonderful Parque Nacional Pico Bonito near La Ceiba in a number of ways, few would argue that one of the best is by staying at luxurious Pico Bonito Lodge. This property has its own set of trails, a butterfly farm, a resort-style pool, spa facilities, and a gourmet restaurant, in addition to great rooms. Guided hikes bring you through former cacao fields, across several levels of tropical forest, and to swimming holes and waterfalls that are ideal for taking soaks in.
- La Posada Azul (San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua; tel. 505/568-2524; www.laposadaazul.com): This delightful boutique hotel will make you feel like you've stepped into a García Márquez novel -- it's old-school charm is that authentic. High ceilings grace neat wooden interiors and an old-world living room, and a veranda runs the length of the house to a lovely flower garden with a fountain and small pool.
- Hotel Grano de Oro (San José, Costa Rica; tel. 2255-3322; www.hotelgranodeoro.com): San José boasts dozens of old homes that have been converted into hotels, but few offer the plush accommodations or professional service found at the Grano de Oro. All the guest rooms have attractive hardwood furniture, including old-fashioned wardrobes in some rooms. When it's time to relax, you can soak in a hot tub or have a drink in the rooftop lounge while taking in San José's commanding view.
- Amor de Mar (Montezuma, Costa Rica; tel./fax 2642-0262; www.amordemar.com): Clean, spacious, and comfortable rooms set on a sloping lawn that leads down to a rocky coastline, with a natural pool carved into the rocks, all add up to my idea of a tropical paradise. What's more: you get this all at a great price.
- Arco Iris Lodge (Monteverde, Costa Rica; tel. 2645-5067; www.arcoirislodge.com): This small lodge is right in Santa Elena, and it's by far the best deal in the Monteverde area. The rooms are cozy and immaculate, and the owners are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
- The Coffee Estate Inn (Boquete, Panama; tel. 720-2211; www.coffeeestateinn.com): Gorgeous views of Volcán Barú, cozy bungalows with full kitchens, and owner-managed, friendly service tailored to your needs are the hallmarks of the Coffee Estate Inn. The bungalows are enveloped in native forest, fruit trees, and flowers that attract myriad birds. The romantic ambience is ideal for honeymooners.
The Best Luxury Hotels & Ecolodges
- Turtle Inn (Placencia, Belize; tel. 800/746-3743 in the U.S., or 501/824-4912; www.turtleinn.com): Building on the experience gained from his Blancaneaux Lodge, and constructing upon the ruins of a hotel destroyed by Hurricane Iris, director Francis Ford Coppola has upped the ante on high-end beach hotels in Belize. The individual villas here are perhaps the most beautiful and luxurious in Belize. The hotel is set right on an excellent stretch of beach, and the service and dining are top-notch.
- Chaa Creek (Cayo District, Belize; tel. 501/824-2037; www.chaacreek.com): A pioneer nature lodge in Belize, this collection of individual and duplex cottages was also an innovator in the whole concept of rustic luxury. Cool terra-cotta tile floors, varnished wood, thatched roofs, and beautiful Guatemalan textiles and handicrafts are elegantly yet simply combined. The property is set on a steep hillside over the lovely Macal River. Service is very friendly and personable, and the lodge provides easy access to a wealth of natural adventures and ancient Maya wonders.
- Mesón Panza Verde (Antigua, Guatemala; tel. 502/7832-1745; www.panzaverde.com): This elegant and artistic Antigua hotel offers large suites and superb service, and one of the best restaurants in the country. The old building is loaded with artwork and interesting architectural details, and there's a wonderful, mazelike rooftop terrace with panoramic views.
- Palacio de Doña Leonor (Antigua, Guatemala; tel. 502/7832-2281; www.palaciodeleonor.com): Although it's located in an old colonial mansion -- just off Antigua's main plaza -- that once belonged to Pedro de Alvarado's daughter, this hotel also offers up all the modern conveniences you could ask for. The suites have massive flatscreen televisions and Jacuzzis. Yet, the decor and ambience is decidedly colonial and decadent.
- Hotel Atitlán (Panajachel, Guatemala; tel. 502/7762-1441; www.hotelatitlan.com): This fabulous hotel is set on the shores of Lake Atitlán, with a stunning view of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes. Beautiful rooms, lush gardens, ample amenities, impeccable service, and a great restaurant make this a complete package.
- Las Olas Beach House (Balsamo Coast, El Salvador; tel. 503/2411-7553): If you like the ocean and adventure, Los Olas Beach House along El Salvador's gorgeous Balsamo Coast is for you. This upscale adventure resort is perched atop a rocky cliff rising from the Pacific with unrivaled ocean views, a cliff-side infinity pool, and an excellent restaurant. But what really makes this place special are the English-peaking owners and managers who live the life they sell. They will take you surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and off-road motorcycling, as well as on more sedate hiking and horseback riding tours. These guys really know what they are doing and enjoy touring El Salvador as much as you will.
- Hotel Telamar (Tela, Honduras; tel. 504/269-4414; www.hoteltelamar.com): This neighborhood of pastel-colored stilted villas formerly owned by Tela Railroad Company executives is situated on Tela's best beach. They recently added a few posh buildings with hotel-style rooms, a few restaurants, and a 90m-long (300-ft.) pool, transforming it into Tela's first resort. Even the old villas have been remodeled and are being rented out.
- Hotel Plaza Colon (Granada, Nicaragua; tel. 505/552-8489; www.hotelplazacolon.com): The Plaza Colon hits just the right balance between exuding colonial authenticity and matching the modern traveler's expectations. A wide, polished balcony overlooks the boisterous plaza, and exquisite tiled floors lead to a majestic inner balcony that runs around a glorious courtyard and blue mosaic pool. Everything is luxurious and elegant, and the service is prompt and reliable.
- La Perla (León, Nicaragua; tel. 505/311-3125; www.laperlaleon.com): La Perla sets a new standard for accommodations in Nicaragua, with impeccable rooms and a palatial interior boasting high ceilings, a spectacular central courtyard, and contemporary Nicaraguan art.
- Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica (Papagayo Peninsula, Costa Rica; tel. 800/819-5053 or 2696-0000; www.fourseasons.com/costarica): This was the first major resort to really address the high-end luxury market in Costa Rica. Within its first month of operation, Michael Jordan and Madonna were notable guests. A beautiful setting, wonderful installations, a world-class golf course, and stellar service continue to make this the current king of the hill in the upscale market.
- Flor Blanca Resort (Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica; tel. 2640-0232; www.florblanca.com): The individual villas at this intimate resort are some of the largest and most luxurious in the country. The service and food are outstanding, and the location is breathtaking, spread over a lushly planted hillside steps away from Playa Santa Teresa.
- Arenas del Mar (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica; tel./fax 2777-2777; www.arenasdelmar.com): With large and ample rooms, excellent service and amenities, a beautiful little spa, and arguably the best beach access and location in Manuel Antonio, this hotel has a lot to offer.
- The Bristol Panama (Panama City, Panama; tel. 265-7844): This hotel exudes buttoned-up luxury with its conservative decor, but the ambience at the Bristol somehow manages to feel cozy rather than stuffy. The Bristol is particularly known for its bend-over-backwards service and fine dining at Las Barandas Restaurant.
- Canopy Tower (Soberanía National Park, Panama; tel. 264-5720): Birders flock to this ecolodge for its focus on bird-watching and its location in a habitat that's friendly to a wide range of species. The Canopy Tower, a remodeled military radar station in thick jungle, is a cross between a stylish B&B and a scientific research center. It's just 25 minutes from Panama City but feels worlds away, and the 360-degree observation deck here provides stunning views and a platform with scopes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.