manuel antonio park from above

Yes, Manuel Antonio National Park is a slice of paradise. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Extend Your Summer Weekends on a Caribbean or Mexican Getaway

Whether it’s a picnic for two on a secluded beach, spotting wildlife in a national park, sailing to offshore isles or staying in a cloud forest, summer weekends across the Caribbean offer endless options to chase cool breezes and explore the outdoors. The good news? The summertime feels continue well after the season officially comes to a close.

From Puerto Vallarta and Costa Rica to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba, here are a handful of ways to wind down, explore and recharge away from crowds.

Pro tip: Always check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your getaway.


natural rock arch in aruba
Aruba is so much more than beaches. (Photo: Getty Images)

A dreamy weekend in Aruba kicks off with a hike into Arikok National Park. More than 7,900 acres of wide-open spaces translates into endless hikes stretching from the island’s center to its western coast. Trek the park’s trails or head out on a guided ATV tour with views of rugged cliffs, cacti and rocky paths that lead you toward secluded bays and caves.

Continue your island exploits with a coastal drive toward Aruba’s northeastern shoreline where you’ll find more breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and Bushiribana Gold Ruins. Walk around the abandoned stone building and enjoy the scenery and breeze.

From there, hike along the cliffside and look out for a tall wooden ladder protruding from a rock: A swim in a natural pool awaits; wear your water shoes and hike down the steps that lead into a cave surrounded by turquoise waters. There are additional secluded coves, or bocas, along this coastline, as well as bodyboarding beaches — Andicuri Beach and Blackstone Beach — making for an active weekend of itinerary-free exploration.

Puerto Vallarta

the dock at yelapa mexico
Escape the crowds on a trip to Yelapa. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kick off your weekend in the heart of Puerto Vallarta with a walk along the Malecon. Make a stop at Plaza de Armas public square and visit the town’s iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

From there, walk toward the sail-shaped Los Muertos Pier, where you can take a water taxi south to Yelapa, a scenic beach town ideal for lazy days by the sea. Adventure seekers should trek into Yelapa’s lush interior by following the trail from the main beach heading inland; follow the signs along the way.

After an easy hour and a half hike into nature — plus crossing a couple of streams on foot — you’ll reach a waterfall with a wide and shallow pool for a cool swim. Few tourists venture here.

For a low-key day, make your way to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, a 64-acre oasis of coastal wilderness just 15 miles from town (bring your bathing suit!). Upon arrival, place a lunch order at the on-site restaurant before hitting the nature preserve’s trails.

The leisurely walk through the gardens takes you alongside agave, orchid and cactus collections, as well as a variety of hummingbird species. After working up a sweat on your stroll, cool off with a swim in the Horcones River’s freshwater pools, which border the property.

As you exit the gardens, grab your preordered Mexican fare and enjoy it back in your hotel room, preferably on an oceanfront balcony.

Costa Rica

man on horse on beach
Take a dip at Manuel Antonio National Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

Leave early for a 2.5-hour drive from San Jose toward Costa Rica’s western coastline until you reach Manuel Antonio Beach. This secluded cove is part of Manuel Antonio National Park. Spend the day relaxing on the spacious white sands or swimming, surfing or hiking the grounds to spot wildlife, including raccoons and monkeys.

For a lesser-known escape into nature, drive a little less than two hours south from San Jose into the cloud forest and farming community of San Gerardo de Dota. Its valleys and waterways are ideal for river fishing, hiking and birding in Los Quetzales National Park or for meditating in a surround of oak trees and fresh air away from the city. Pack your meals and drinks, and don’t forget your camera.

St. Thomas

take the ferry in St. Thomas
Riding the ferry in St. Thomas. (Photo: Getty Images)

Charter a boat from Secret Harbour or hop on a half-day snorkeling trip to Christmas Cove, a protected bay on Great St. James Island offering some of the best snorkeling spots in the area. Located off the eastern coast of St. Thomas and accessible only by boat, Christmas Cove’s turquoise waters remain abundant with sea turtles and reef fish; you might also spot dolphins.

Back in St. Thomas, pick up an island lunch — seafood, stewed chicken and rice, or salad, among other options — at locally owned Gladys’ Cafe in downtown Charlotte Amalie (closed on Sundays). Take home one of Gladys’ hot sauces and coconut rum cake.

From St. Thomas, hop on a ferry to Water Island where you can sign up for an open-air cooking class with 4 Elements Culinary & Wellness Center. Afterward, drive south to Honeymoon Beach — not to be confused with the one in St. John — where you can rent chairs, umbrellas and snorkel gear and enjoy a quiet corner of the sands. Check ahead for the latest Water Island Ferry schedules and requirements.

St. John

sugar plantation st johns
Be sure to visit the ruins of the sugar plantation. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start your day in Cruz Bay at North Shore Deli to pick up sandwiches (for later) and fresh mango smoothies (for brekkie). Continue with a drive along North Shore Road leading you directly into the Virgin Islands National Park, which covers two-thirds of the island and offers forests, beaches and history.

Make a stop on the park’s northern edge at the 18th-century ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, including the enslaved laborers’ village. Walk through the area to learn about the colonial history of St. John; there is signage outside each of the buildings. Reflect over panoramic sea views toward the neighboring British Virgin Islands.

Head back west from the ruins to the adjacent Francis Bay Beach for the remainder of the day. After you park, a short trail will lead you to this lesser-known beach, which is partly shaded with trees. Locals, but few visitors make it here, and there’s ample space to spread out on this wide, white sand beach. Enjoy your packed lunch, nap and snorkel in the calm bay to spot turtles and rays.