Gems Uncovered

Lesser-known hot spots for lovers

Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, Isla Colón, Panama

No roads lead to this discreet retreat, tucked away in Panama's famously pristine Bocas del Toro archipelago. Honeymooners must first fly into the town of Bocas on Isla Colón, then travel to the overwater lodge via a 15-minute motorboat ride. But the difficulty of getting there is balanced by the ease of life in your private two-story cabin, one of six solar-powered beauties that sit on stilts above a mile-long stretch of exquisite coral reef. Each thatched-roof cabana has its own snorkeling equipment, sunbathing terrace, and swimming platform—but no TVs or newspapers, leaving the two of you free to focus on the delicious rhythms of ocean-top life. The Caribbean's warm, inviting waters beckon daily. Go for a scuba excursion or a boat trip to Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, a protected reserve teeming with crab, grouper, snapper, moray eels, and butterfly fish. Back at the resort, traditional wooden canoes are ready upon request, so you can paddle along the surrounding coastline and explore the island's tangle of mangrove forests, exotically populated by howler monkeys, tropical birds, and sloths. The experience will be almost as spectacular as your nightly trip to the overwater restaurant, where you'll dine on lobster caught that morning and sip cocktails under a canopy of stars. (Doubles from $325, including breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner, December through May and July through August; 07-612-1088, puntacaracol.com.pa)

The Palms Cliff House Inn, Big Island, Hawaii

Pity the poor honeymooners who come all the way to Hawaii's Big Island, only to miss out on its lush, undiscovered eastern coast. Our favorite windward hideout? The Palms Cliff House Inn, a Victorian-style manse that stands 100 feet above Pohakumanu Bay, 13 miles north of Hilo. The inn was restored by John and Michele Gamble, who relocated here from Colorado to chase their dream of opening a B & B. And what a dream it turned out to be—emerald grass, manicured gardens, gurgling fountains, and views of breeching whales during winter. The Gambles' gleaming kitchen looks like foodie-mag fodder, and guests who sign up for cooking classes with local chefs can savor the spoils during a private dinner on the ocean-view lanai. Of course, culinary erudiction may not sound quite as appealing once you've seen your sprawling suite, loaded with satellite TV, a DVD collection, and a mountain of embroidered Italian linens gracing a hand-carved four-poster bed. The nearest beach may be a 15-minute drive away, but at prices like these—room rates are a third of similarly styled digs by the sea—what's a few minutes behind the wheel? (Doubles from $175, including breakfast, year-round; 808-963-6076, palmscliffhouse.com)

Habitation Chabert, Dominca

Its Caribbean coastline is ringed with black-sand beaches, yet the island of Dominica is more celebrated for its skyscraper-high waterfalls, multitude of rivers, and mystery-shrouded lakes. (One is allegedly inhabited by a mermaid; another used to boil with volcanic gusto.) When Spanish settlers first arrived, they found the velvety green mountains, unpredictable terrain, and endless variety of blooms and birds so bewildering, they never worked up the will to tame the place; it remains home to one of the few remaining Carib Indian settlements in the West Indies. But now that a divine inn has made its debut on the northeast coast, Dominica's deepest secrets are about to be spilled. Occupying a 17th-century stone mansion on an old sugarcane plantation, Habitation Chabert lays claim to sprawling grounds, with inviting nooks and hiding places perfect for furtive nuzzling. The five rooms—be sure to request the two-story tower—are a colonial fantasy filtered through a Ralph Lauren sensibility, complete with wooden louvered doors and windows, Georgian-style furniture, sleeping alcoves swagged in netting, and a bounty of thick embroidered towels in fancifully tiled baths. But instead of the standard botanical prints, you'll find the sculptures and watercolors of French artist Josie Thoreau, whose work is scattered throughout the property. You're never far from nature wherever you wander, from the main sitting room, open to the breezes below a peaked, gingerbread-trimmed roof, to the pool, shaded by towering traveler's palms at the edge of the Pagua River. Stroll the beach, tour the cascades, or scout for spouts in one of the prime whale-watching regions in the world. At night, dine by candlelight on inventive French-Creole dishes like tuna tartare with green-banana salad and sweet-potato fries, then drift off to the sounds of the murmuring river. Doubles from $175, including breakfast, year-round; 767-445-7218, habitationchabert.com.

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