Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fantasizing off the beaten path

When it comes to Caribbean vacations, places like St. Thomas, Jamaica and the Bahamas have little appeal for me (even though my last visit to the region was to Grand Bahama). I prefer to venture off the beaten path, away from the glitz and homogeneity of tourist areas, to get a more genuine feel for a place and its people.

That part of me that sometimes thinks about ditching the rat race and moving to the Caribbean (some days pure fantasy, other days not) also thinks about places not already overrun and well-known to guidebooks. A place that's not yet "discovered" offers more opportunity in terms of low real estate prices and little competition for starting a business (such as a B&B, a dive shop, a bar/restaurant, a tour operation, and so on).

Roatan, an island off the north coast of Honduras, would be paradise for Cassie and me, but it has moved far beyond the "discovery" phase. It's well known to scuba divers and cruise ships, and real estate prices have already shot up in the five years since my first visit.

Two places that have been on the list for consideration (or, mostly, for fantasizing) are Bocas del Toro in Panama, and Nicaragua's Corn Islands. Cassie became acquainted with the former by way of a friend, whose mother lives there. I learned about the latter through a friend who always takes vacations to places I've never heard of. Both locations seem ideal: gorgeous settings lying underneath the radar, yet poised for discovery.

Alas, we may already be too late. My most recent issue of Sport Diver magazine profiled Bocas in depth, and the New York Times just published an online photo gallery of the Corn Islands. The current state of the economy may slow the discovery of these places by the tourist masses, but I fear the secret is already out. Maybe it's time for my fantasizing to venture even further off the beaten path....

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