Best tropical vacations: Explore Anguilla, Tulum, and Maui off the beaten path
Lavish vacations call for sand and sea, but there are plenty of ways to get off the typical track. | By Ashley M. Biggers | February 3, 2022 (Updated September 13, 2023)
Sometimes, the beach isn't enough. While you could escape to a hot tropical vacation spot like Anguilla, Tulum or Maui, you're not the kind of person who spends your entire trip basking on the beach or by the pool. If you're looking for a warm-weather getaway that includes exclusive and unforgettable experiences -- with a beach option -- there's much more to discover if you go off the beaten path. Get ready to make active memories when you:
Spice up your palate: Join a rum tasting in Anguilla
Count your lucky stars: Float in cenotes and read the night sky in Tulum, Mexico
Get in the flow: Feel the island energy with a sunrise ceremony in Maui
Rock your senses in Anguilla
“Eel” in Italian, Anguilla’s long, thin shape delivers 12 miles of sugary beaches — every inch daydream-worthy, even among its sister Caribbean islands. All 33 beaches are public, including those set in pristine Shoal Bay, and seven marine parks keep snorkelers and divers busy under the surface.
Above the water, lucky island residents and visitors pack their days with sailing regattas — boat racing is Anguilla’s national sport — sport fishing and every water sport imaginable. All these Caribbean activities are set to the island’s soundtrack: live reggae emanating from open-air cafes and beach shacks. Every restaurant menu is sea-to-fork, with many serving fresh conch fritters, fish stews and other catch-of-the-day dishes.
But the island’s greatest delicacy by far? It's rum. Savor each sip as Zemi Beach House, LXR Hotels & Resorts’ rummelier takes you on a regional tasting tour from Anguilla to neighboring Caribbean islands to Latin America, highlighting the spirit’s subtle breadth of flavors along the way.
The next day — you’ll probably want to sleep in after your tropical rum tasting — take in more cultural flavor at the resort’s spa, housed in a 300-year-old Thai house (you’ll also get to experience the island’s only hammam). Or ask your concierge to book a tour with the Anguilla National Trust. This non-profit’s customizable walking tours take you to hidden tidal pools, the ruins of centuries-old sugar plantations and mangrove forests across the island. Explore this deep into Anguilla, and it will feel like you have the island all to yourself.
Dive into Tulum
When the Mayans founded Tulum in the 13th century, they chose an envious spot in the heart of the Riviera Maya, right where the jungle meets the Caribbean Sea. Their now illustrious temples attract throngs of visitors to explore the well-preserved and extensive Tulum Archaeological Zone. For even more Mayan history, head further inland towards Chichén Itzá, which ranks among the Seven Wonders of the New World.
The surrounding verdant forest is home to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that translates to “Gate of Heaven.” Cenotes (limestone sinkholes with pools of water) dot the forest's dangle. Visit El Gran Cenote for a leisurely float, or dive beneath the cobalt-blue surface at Cenote Dos Ojos. Snorkeling and diving also await a stone’s throw offshore at the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere.
Stay at the newly opened Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo, and your personal concierge can arrange bespoke itineraries for you to any of the above attractions. They can also help you select from the resort’s menu of tailored cultural experiences, including guided meditation, drum circles and stargazing. When you need a rest day, the resort’s five sparkling pools and jungle-sanctuary spa will be quite the bookend to your adventure.
Capture the Mana in Maui
As far as tropical vacations and attractions go, Maui’s marquee attractions rarely disappoint. One of the most popular sunrises in the country happens at Haleakalā National Park, and the Road to Hana — which travels the coastline for 52 scenic miles (and 620 hairpin turns!) — is perhaps the Hawaiian islands’ best road trip. But to see a more authentic Maui, you’ve got to connect with the land.
Off Hana Highway, Hamoa Beach at Hāna Bay Beach Park is lauded as one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the Pacific, but the black sand at Waiʻānapanapa State Park and the rare red sand at Kaihalulu Beach are even more unforgettable. Wherever you go, practice mālama ʻāina, or “taking care of the land.”
Native Hawaiians are deeply connected to the land and ocean. Beyond doing your part to leave no trace, you can practice mālama by participating in authentic rituals that celebrate the island’s natural splendor. Join in on the E Ala E experience at Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, and you’ll partake in a traditional Hawaiian sunrise chant that releases stress and greets Mother Nature.
To keep the mana (“energy of the earth”) flowing, book a 2-mile guided hike from Grand Wailea to explore the private conservation lands of Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve. This landscape will help you understand why Maui is called the Valley Isle. Don’t forget to ask your personal concierge to book you a helicopter tour to see the striking vistas from the air — it’s the best way to see the island’s beauty while leaving it as pristine as you found it. Upon returning to the resort, slip into Grand Wailea’s new holistic-focused spa, Kilolani, for a relaxing treatment infused with Hawaiian concepts and intricate wellness practices.
Make your tropical travel memory
Walks on the beach, cool dips beneath the waves, lounging in the shade of a palm. Rum tastings, tours of private land preserves and drum circles. Trips to Anguilla, Tulum and Maui make the most memorable moments — if you get off the beaten path.
Ashley M. Biggers is an award-winning travel journalist who has contributed to many top publications.