Why in 2012: Belize tends to be overshadowed by its neighbors: Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, which in 2010 saw twice the visitor arrivals that Belize did. Yet this English-speaking nation has plenty to recommend it, including a bounty of exotic birds, stunning Mayan ruins, and the world's second-largest barrier reef. On top of all that, Belize is also one of the region's biggest bargains. In 2011, the dollar appreciated 1.3 percent against the native currency; as of September, the exchange rate was nearly two to one. The savings should last until December 2012, which marks the end of the 5,126-year era of the Maya calendar and the culmination of a year's worth of festivals and sporting events—and a likely spike in hotel prices and crowds.
Best Time to Visit: High season is dry season in Belize, roughly February to April. (While the country is hot and humid year-round, northern areas stay much drier than their southern counterparts.) Arrive in late May to find the sweet spot for beach-ready weather, early-shoulder-season discounts, and thinning crowds.
Where to Stay: Avoid San Pedro, where hotel prices are up 6 percent from 2010, and head south to the less-touristy Placencia Peninsula, where crystal-clear lagoons and 16 miles of sandy beaches coexist with the world's first-ever jaguar preserve. The seaside Maya Beach Hotel is owned by an expat couple (she's American, he's Australian) who set up guests with fishing trips, scuba dives, cave tours, and massages. mayabeachhotel.com, from $89.
Price Check: In May, direct flights from Miami start at $444 (American); from Houston, $745 (Continental). For cheaper fares, grab a seat on a one-stop flight; from Los Angeles, fares begin at $523 (Continental). Fox News