Travel time: Flights to Belize City are quicker than you realize from huge hubs like DFW, Atlanta, and Miami (three hours each) or Houston (two and a half hours). Tickets from those cities can get down under $300.
Why you’ll love it: Lush tropical rainforest, check. Ancient Mayan ruins, not bad. Those cayes, though. This little Central American country has more than 200 small islands that roll out some of the clearest turquoise waters and blindingly white sand you’ll ever see. For roughly the cost of your flight you can Airbnb an entire island for the weekend.
If you’d rather mingle with locals, and maybe drink your weight in daiquiris, the most popular choices are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. From there you can take a short boat ride out to the world’s second-largest barrier reef to snorkel with a mind-boggling variety of stingrays, sharks, and fish. The Great Barrier Reef is bigger, but I can tell you from experience, Belize is better. Close the day with Caribbean vibes, jerk chicken, coconut rice grilled on the beach, and ask yourself how you’ve lived this close to paradise without ever finding time to visit before. — Katie Lockhart