Beach Hot Spots
It’s a common theme in mountain towns everywhere—the late-fall blues. Any trace of that beautiful Indian summer heat wave in late September is long gone. When the tacky dirt, golden aspens, and crystal-clear blue sky of early October have all faded away, and when there is just enough snow on the ground to close down the singletrack, but not enough to ski on, this situation might send lesser souls running for the couch to try their hands at being a potato for a bit. You might, for half a second, consider turning on the tube to binge-watch the machinations of Frank and Claire Underwood, but not mountain town devotees. We need adventure. If we can’t do it on our own trails, and if we’re growing just a little impatient for ski season, then it’s time to hit the road, or hop a jet, to warmer climes. It’s time to point it to a place with a great surf break. Here’s our BigLife hit list for fall’s hot spots.
Saying it’s easy to get to Panama is an understatement. The Panama City airport is the busiest in Central America with direct flights from almost anywhere (Tupelo, honey?). Take a few days to explore this international crossroads famous for its historic Old Town and pumping nightlife scene that doesn’t stop when the sun rises. Then head further afield. There are two main options. The first is to rent a car and cruise up the Pacific Coast. Head for the Azuera Peninsula and Playa Venao, a great wide-open beach with some great waves, a cool eco-lodge perched in the jungle just above the beach, and a few restaurants right on the sand. Another great option is to jump on a quick flight to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side where white sand beaches, over-water bungalows, phenomenal snorkeling, powerful waves, and an Afro-Caribbean vibe all await your arrival. All of Panama uses the U.S. dollar and prices are generally cheap due to little or no taxes.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Panama City: Almost every major hotel chain has a property in Panama City so it’s a great place to use those points you’ve been hording. If you’re looking for a bit more local flavor try the Coral Suites or one of the numerous B&Bs in the city. Wherever you stay, be sure to take a wander around Casco Viejo to check out the 17th century cathedrals, local art galleries, and lively bar scene.
Playa Venao: The best place to stay in Playa Venao is Eco Venao (ecovenao.com), a gorgeous eco-lodge surrounded by a jungle full of monkeys, birds, and a whole host of other wildlife. Secluded with a fun communal vibe and a shared kitchen area, it’s just steps from the beach and is a great place to meet other travelers. An early morning surf followed by yoga in the raised platform studio before a breakfast of fresh fruit is the best way to start any day.
Bocas del Toro: Since Bocas is made up of a few different islands, each with its own character and feel, where you go really depends on what you’re looking for. Our favorite is Red Frog Bungalows (redfrogbungalows.com) on the island of Bastimentos, which is located on Red Frog Beach, one of the best beaches in Bocas. Transport between the islands is easy, affordable, and frequent so it doesn’t matter where you decide to stay, you can explore them all. A snorkel trip to Starfish Island should be at the top of your to-do list.
If you’re up for it, head south from Panama City to the port town of Portobello and look for a boat that’s headed to Cartagena, Colombia, via the remote San Blas Islands. It’s an incredible three- to four-day sail and a popular enough route that it’s pretty easy to find a boat and captain headed that way as long as you don’t have too strict of a schedule, or a schedule at all.
An old ski-town late-fall escape standby (for good reason), Baja is a great balance of easy access and out-of-the-way feel. Easy to get to whether you’re driving down or jumping on a flight, Cabo San Lucas offers a respectable variety of places to go and things to do. Lonely dirt roads lead to superb surf breaks and tiny fishing villages. The fishing and sea kayaking on the Sea of Cortez is world-class and the East Cape is a favorite haunt for surfers and fishermen (and women) looking for the best of both worlds. Spend a few days in one of Cabo’s luxury resorts and make sure to go check out Todos Santos, a great authentic Mexican town and artist community with cobblestone streets, delicious restaurants, fun waves nearby, and a few cool live music venues.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Todos Santos: The Todos Santos Inn (todossantosinn.com) is the only historic hacienda hotel in town and definitely one of the best. Built by a sugar baron in the 1870s, it’s close to town and walking distance from all the shops, galleries, and restaurants as well as a beautiful beach. A small but nice pool, spacious rooms, and La Copa Bar and Lounge make it a hub of activity and the in-house restaurant La Copa Cocina is one of the best in town.
East Cape: One of the best ways to experience life on the East Cape is by renting a house. Lots of services offer this and the houses range from cozy bungalows to full-on haciendas and mansions. It’s a fairly large area, starting around San Jose del Cabo and going up towards the town of Barrilles, so do some research, figure out where you want to be, and chances are you’ll be able to find a great place for a reasonable price. VRBO is a good option for this.
Cabo: If you’re going to Cabo, you need to do it right. Book your stay at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Resort and Spa (pueblobonitopacifica.com). A little outside of downtown and the mayhem, Pueblo Bonito’s 5-star resort has it all. Seriously. Located on a secluded beach, it’s adults-only so leave the kids at home (sign us up). A full-service spa, five different restaurants, an incredible golf course, and in true Cabo fashion it’s all-inclusive, so kick up your feet, enjoy your cocktail, and revel in the fact that life is big.
After exploring the Baja Peninsula, put your rig on the overnight ferry in La Paz and wake up in Mazatlan. From there either continue surfing your way down the coast or head up to Copper Canyon—a don’t-miss landmark comparable to the Grand Canyon in depth and beauty but without the crowds and rules.
Bermuda in the late fall is magical. The busy summer tourist season is long gone and the ever-present threat of hurricanes dissipates rapidly. The pink sand beaches are still there though (and you can see more of them because the crowds are gone), so too are the incredible sailing conditions, the great diving, and friendly locals. The golfing on Bermuda is also second-to-none and the gentle breezes, sunny skies, and delicious restaurants make Bermuda an exceedingly comfortable and accessible paradise with direct flights from every major East Coast city. Explore the historic gardens and quaint lanes of Hamilton, stand-up paddleboard around St. George’s to check out the ancient forts and battlements built by the British in the 17th century. Drink a signature rum swizzle cocktail, and watch Team Oracle train to defend last year’s victory in the America’s Cup. The multiple islands that make up Bermuda are connected by roads and ferries, so getting around is easy. Many local taxi drivers also serve as guides or you can rent scooters to explore on your own. Just remember that they drive on the left and be careful—tourists wrecking their scooters and hurting themselves is extremely common.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Southampton: Located on the scenic south coast and close to some of the best beaches and golf courses in Bermuda, the striking pink pastel Fairmont Southampton (fairmont.com/southampton-bermuda) has a private beach, an award-winning par-3 golf course on the property, and the best breakfast buffet on the island. With water on both sides the Fairmont is a great base for water activities of all kinds and the spacious guestrooms with ocean-view balconies are the perfect place to drink a Gosling’s Rum Dark ‘n Stormy.
St. George’s: The oldest town in Bermuda, its 17th century alleyways and cobblestone streets give the place a unique feel. It’s also the adventure hub of Bermuda. Across the bay from prestigious Tuckers Bay and the cool ruins of Castle Island, there are a couple of great options. Our advice is to contact the guys at Just Add Water (justaddwaterbda.com), let them know you’re headed that way, and let them take care of the rest. From water activities like jet ski tours, surfing, SUP, and sailing to land-based adventures like mountain biking, they do it all and will make sure you experience the best of Bermuda. Don’t forget to get a fish sandwich at Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy, purveyors of the biggest, baddest, and, hands-down, best fish sandwich we’ve ever eaten.
Elbow Beach: If privacy, luxury, and bespoke elegance are what you’re after, look no further than Elbow Beach (elbowbeachbermuda.com). A boutique hotel located on perhaps the best beach in Bermuda with beautifully appointed cottage-style rooms, a full-service spa, private beach access, and just a few minutes from the bustling streets of Hamilton, Elbow Beach is the type of place that gives Bermuda the reputation as an exclusive hideaway.
If you have the time, roam around the numerous harbors throughout Bermuda and look to join a crew sailing south to the Caribbean. A major stopping point for any trans-Atlantic voyage, Bermuda is a sailing hotspot with boats of all shapes and sizes coming and going on a daily basis. Bring your boat shoes.
This Caribbean gem feels far away but is surprisingly easy to get to. An island of stark contrasts, from the white sand beaches, championship golf courses, and luxury villas of Sandy Lane to the rundown rum shacks, Rastafarian vibe, sharp reefs, and good waves of the eastern shoreline near Bathsheba, Barbados is a one-stop-shop for Caribbean good timing. Home of Mt. Gay Rum, Barbados offers visitors access to a tour of their distillery—a great place to start any Barbadian vacation. Once you get acclimated to the rum culture, you’ll be ready for an evening or two hopping around the upscale restaurants and clubs on Baxter’s Road in Bridgetown. Sandy Lane is an experience in itself, where the snorkeling in the crystal-clear calm water just steps from the beach is breathtaking and every villa includes a full-service house staff. The more wild and raw eastern shore of the island is our favorite. Go surfing at Soup Bowl, one of Kelly Slater’s favorite waves, and let life slow down as the friendly locals share their local lore with you at the many rum shacks that dot the countryside. Hey, you know what they say, “When in Rome…” Just don’t operate any heavy machinery after you enjoy the local’s welcome.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Bridgetown: The Island Inn Hotel (islandinnbarbados.com) is an apartment-style compound located within the historic Garrison district and less than a mile from the heart of downtown Bridgetown. A city of roughly 110,000, Bridgetown is a bustling and vibrant city with plenty of history, shopping, dining, and drinking to keep you busy. It’s also a great place to set up a deep sea fishing trip or a sunset sail.
Sandy Lane: If powdery white sand beaches, calm, clear turquoise water, unbridled luxury, and first-class service is what a Caribbean escape means to you, then Sandy Lane is the quintessential experience. Immaculately landscaped, poshly private, and breathtakingly beautiful, this place will make you realize why so many of the world’s wealthiest choose to call Sandy Lane home. One of the best ways to spend a day at Sandy Lane is an early morning swim and snorkel, breakfast on the beach served by waiters in white tuxedo tails, followed by a round of golf.
Bathsheba/East Coast: Exposed to the open ocean, Barbados’ East Coast is decidedly more wild and raw than the west side. The best place to stay on the east coast, without question, is the Sea-U Guest House. It is surrounded by lush gardens with colorful
hammocks strung up between palm trees, gorgeous panoramic views, and resident wildlife like green monkeys, as well as a large assortment of tropical birds. Sea-U is a great launching pad for your Barbados adventures. Famous for its good waves, empty beaches, limestone cliffs, and tidal pools, Bathsheba keeps nature front-of-mind. Catch a wave while watching the sunrise in the morning before the wind comes up, read a book in a hammock while listening to the birds after lunch, walk along the rugged shoreline and empty beaches while sipping a rum cocktail, then fall asleep and do it all over again tomorrow.
Barbados is the farthest eastern island in the Caribbean archipelago and a straight shot to the Cape Verde Islands and West Africa. Look for a flight or hop on a boat to make the crossing. You can also find your way to nearby Venezuela if you’re crafty enough. For a slightly less ambitious adventure, think about cycling around the island.