New cruisers might argue that the entire Western Caribbean feels exotic -- and longtime travelers might suggest that no cruise port in such a touristed area of the world could possibly be dubbed mysterious or intriguing. Regardless of where you stand on that debate, the truth is when the cruise industry talks about the exotic part of the Western Caribbean, it means the eastern coast of Central American countries Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica -- set in contrast to the standard Western Caribbean destinations of Jamaica, Grand Cayman and eastern Mexico.
Though the countries of Central America share many attributes, there are differences, and those differences can be handy to know when it comes to planning your cruise. For snorkelers, Belize tops the list; divers will also want to include port calls there, but Roatan and the other Bay Islands of Honduras are world-class dive sites as well. Belize, Honduras and Guatemala are ground zero for the ruins of Classic Mayan civilization, most notably Guatemala's Tikal and Honduras's Copan, though Tikal is also offered by some ships as a shore excursion from Belize City. Farther south, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are meccas for ecotourists seeking close encounters with rainforests, volcanoes, white water rivers and wildlife (monkeys and parrots and crocodiles -- oh my!)
Read on to find out when to book a cruise to the ports of the Exotic Western, which lines you can take to get there, and where to go and what to know when you dock.