7 Surprising Items That Set Off Airport Security

By Gary McKechnie
November 24, 2010
Nick Veasy/Getty Images
Did you know that something as simple as a headband can trigger airport alarms? Here are seven ways you may unknowingly set off security measures—and what to do about it.

Ever wonder why the TSA singled you out to rifle through your bag? Or what exactly made the metal detector beep? By now, we all know to ditch our liquids before reaching security. But did you know that something as harmless as a headband can prompt a time-consuming cross-examination?

On an average day, transportation security officers scan more than 2 million travelers—and all of their luggage—and that number will only continue to increase. We spoke to TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches for the lowdown on seven items that can put officers on alert in spite of the fact that, for the most part, they're perfectly acceptable for air travel.


Why they catch attention: Nothing escapes the metal-detecting prowess of airport security systems—not even something as miniscule as a foil wrapper. Many manufacturers of chewing gum, candy, and cigarettes have caught on and made the transition from metallic wrap to paper, but the hold-outs can put a kink in your smooth passage through airport checkpoints. What to do: Empty your pockets of any and all offending foil before passing through a metal detector.


Why they catch attention: Even though headbands (like bulky clothing and hats) are not prohibited, sporting them may lead to additional screening. The reason is simple: Metal constitutes the frame of many headbands and, consequently, triggers the detector. What to do: Avoid being pulled aside by sending your hair accessory through security ahead of you on the X-ray belt.


Why they catch attention: The TSA is naturally more focused on detecting potential explosives than in analyzing the contents of your personal minibar, but when it comes to liquors, the rules are based on size and packaging: Respectively, alcohol must be less than 3.4 ounces, bottled in original container, and contained in a one-quart sized, zip-top bag. What to do: As long as you follow the 3-1-1 requirements for liquids, you should be ok.


Why they catch attention: Don't expect to get onto a plane with a snow globe. Believe it or not, the liquid contents of most crystal balls surpass the 3.4-ounce limit and, consequently, aren't allowed in carry-ons. In fact, back in October an abandoned package containing a snow globe appeared so suspicious that it caused the evacuation of Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. What to do: There's no way around it—snow globes need to be checked.


Why they catch attention: As an aerosol product, some inhalers are a cause for concern because at first glance they may seem to violate the "3-1-1" rule for liquids, gels, and aerosols (limit of 3.4 ounces, packed in one quart-size, see-through, zip-top bag). Of course, given that these objects are a medical must for some travelers, they are exempt from restriction. What to do: To avoid unwanted questioning, Gaches advises travelers to inform officers in advance if they're carrying an inhaler. It helps speed things up if your medications are properly labeled.


Why they catch attention: The TSA swears this shouldn't be an issue, but we've heard plenty of tales from women (and at least one cross-dresser) who insist that the metal in an underwire bra has triggered a secondary "wanding" after passing through the metal detector. In some cases, a rogue underwire has even led to a closer inspection by a female agent in a private room. What to do: The answer, then, may be to pack the metallic lingerie in your checked bags and sport a more comfortable model while in flight.


Why they catch attention: Everything on earth can be categorized as a liquid, gas, or solid—except maybe lava and peanut butter. It's doubtful you'll be packing lava in your purse, but what about peanut butter? It's certainly not a liquid—you could hold it upside down for a decade and it would never drop. But anything that can "conform to the shape of its container," such as cold cream, toothpaste, or, yes, peanut butter, can upset the swift flow of the security line. What to do: Plan ahead and pack "conformable" liquids in the bags you'll be checking. Peanut butter sandwiches, on the other hand, are perfectly fine.

Unsure about an item that's not on our list? Check out the TSA's online "Can I Bring?" application to see what is (and is not) acceptable.


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Travel by Smartphone: Mumbai, India

Pink paint coated my forehead. Drums assaulted my ears. A mob of dancing teenagers had swept me off my feet, literally, and I was crowd-surfing above a parade, which extended for at least a mile into the torrid Mumbai night. It was mid-September, and India was nearing the height of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day-long party that combines the holiness of Christmas, the pyrotechnics of the Fourth of July, and the girls-and-guys-gone-wild abandon of spring break. But, just like Jell-O shots, a little bit of the elephant-headed-god festival goes a long way, and as sweaty arms dropped me clumsily to the ground, I began searching for an escape. Easier said than done: I didn't even know where I was. Instead of asking a fellow reveler, I pulled out my iPhone and opened an app called AROUNDME. Following a red dot on a Google map, I weaved my way out of the crowd, strolled down a few side streets, and ended up at Swati Snacks just in time to order a nine-item platter of western India's local Gujarati food. Travel is not only about embracing the unknown but also about taming it, and the smartphone has emerged as the globe-trotter's most powerful weapon. The number of travel-related apps has exploded from dozens three years ago to thousands today, putting the powers of a personal concierge, a supercomputer, and a network of local friends in the palm of anyone's hand. Apps allow you to make bargain-price bookings and check restaurant reviews on the fly. They speak in foreign tongues and guide you to worthy sites. Want to find a toilet, snap a panoramic picture, verify a taxi fare, or interpret an unfamiliar hand gesture? There are apps for all of that. In the days before smartphones, however, there were equally amazing inventions to aid travelers. They were called guidebooks, and they got the job done. Are apps really ready to run them out of business? I decided to put that question to the test in the most challenging travel environment possible: Mumbai. A megalopolis of 14 million people crowding a skinny peninsula in the Arabian Sea, the city is like Manhattan but with beaches, colonial British monuments, thousands of restaurants, art galleries, and bars, and the occasional monkey. If I could get by traveling here with apps alone, I could do it anywhere. My adventure began in a Starbucks back home where the Wi-Fi was speedy and Norah Jones trickled from the speakers like a morphine drip. I used Travelocity's app to search for tickets from San Francisco, and the first fares I found were shockers that topped $1,500. Cheaper options popped up when I switched to another airfare finder, Wanderlust, run by onetravel.com, but the KAYAK app snared the best one of all: a base price of $941 on Cathay Pacific, $1,275 total with taxes. That was still about $1,265 more than I'd ever dropped in a Starbucks, but I'd scored a decent deal to the other side of the world with scarcely more effort than it took to buy a song on iTunes. Over the next few weeks, I raided the Apple iTunes App Store for dozens of travel tools, vetting them by star rating, number of downloads (the truest measure of success), simplicity of the user interface, and (of course) cost—although many of the best ones were free. At the airport, I tried out the first batch: GATEGURU to find an Italian restaurant, the Firewood Café, in my terminal; FLIGHT UPDATE to get table-side gate and plane information so I didn't have to abandon my pasta to check the monitors; and HOTELS.COM to book an $89 room at the Hotel Airport International, including breakfast and a shuttle, for my 3 a.m. arrival in Mumbai. Two flights, several hours of hotel sleep, and one hectic taxi ride later, I arrived, armed only with a half-filled carry-on and my app-packed phone. Mumbai introduces itself with a shout, not a whisper. At the Gateway of India, a magisterial archway at the edge of the Arabian Sea, women swirled about in lime-green, hot-pink, and electric-yellow saris. Islamic men walked by in white dishdashas, with women trailing them in head-to-toe black abayas. Vendors tried to sell me melting ice cream, faded maps, and balloons the size of portly 10-year-olds. It was day one of my grand app experiment, and before I knew what was happening, a pretty young woman convinced me to buy her food. It wasn't until later that I learned—thanks to the slickly designed CURCON currency-converter app—I'd dropped $30 on a tiny bag of rice. The Gateway of India is about as emblematic of Mumbai as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris, so I took an iPhone photo and opened SNAPSHOT POSTCARD. Selecting the image I'd just taken, I entered an address and a short message, and the company handled the rest, printing out and mailing a custom postcard to my wife (it arrived in four days). Across from the Gateway, I spotted an elegant building with white gabled windows, red, onion-bulb towers, and a cupola-topped dome: the Taj Mahal Palace. Inside, mandarin oil perfumed the lobby. The women behind the reception counter wore turquoise saris flecked with gold. How much does a single room cost in one of Mumbai's nicest, most historic hotels? The answer was 21,500 rupees—$477, per CurCon. Ouch. Not quite ready to give up, I pulled up hotels.com, which offered a room at this same Taj, with a full Gateway and ocean view, for only $218—still a splurge, but now within reason. I tapped on the screen to secure the booking and then returned to the reception counter to claim it. A night of the Taj's velvet embrace vanquished my jet lag, and by the next morning I was ready to begin exploring Mumbai in earnest. I figured I'd start with the beaten path of justifiably renowned tourist sites and then try to discover places where locals go to eat, relax, and hang out. Major guidebook publishers like Frommer's and Lonely Planet have released dozens of country- and city-specific apps but they haven't gotten to Mumbai yet, so I set out with the HearPlanet audio guide running. Before leaving the States, I had figured out how to unlock my phone so I could swap in a local SIM card and use location-aware apps like HearPlanet without huge data charges. (Beware: This may affect your warranty.) But what the company bills as "like having a professional tour guide always by your side" was more like "a robot that can read Wikipedia entries." Instead, I switched to the CITY WALKS Mumbai Map and Walking Tours and chose a tour that included the Big Ben–like Rajabai Tower, the palatial Prince of Wales Museum, the lawn-fronted Bombay High Court, and the sprawling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station. City Walks had less information than HearPlanet and no read-aloud function, but it provided the basics and directions from site to site, and it showed my up-to-the-minute position on a map. Brandishing a glossy iPhone in a developing nation makes you look like a wealthy rube. On the plus side, it's a real conversation starter. Among the curious who approached me were a coin collector, a Jennifer Lopez–obsessed playboy from the United Arab Emirates, and a young man in the hot-pepper aisle of Chor Bazaar, a.k.a. Thieves' Market. He pointed at the phone and rubbed his thumb and fingers together. Using FREE TRANSLATOR, I typed, "In India, it costs 23,000 rupees," and the app told him that aloud in Hindi. His jaw just about hit the peppers. On another day, following a suggestion from an open-source electronic guidebook company called FIDESREEF, I took the hourlong boat ride across Mumbai Harbour to Elephanta Island, where caves shelter giant, 7th-century rock sculptures dedicated to Shiva. Winding between carved pillars, I managed to befriend some local women. It was raining as we left the cave, so I pulled up a drawing of an umbrella in an illustrated translator called ICOON, and one of the women shared hers with me. These were all nice perks, but they hadn't yet convinced me that guidebook apps were ready to put the paper ones out of business. The what-to-do suggestions were helpful, but the information was clearly pulled from free Internet sources. And it was often scanty. In the FidesReef app, the only entertainment listed for South Mumbai was a $300-an-hour yacht tour. That said, travel apps do give travelers clear advantages over their un-networked predecessors. One is that smartphones know exactly where you are. AroundMe guided me from my deluxe room at the Chateau Windsor Hotel—a $90-a-night deal I'd scored using hotels.com—to the nearest ATM, and then to Mocha Coffees and Conversations, which was buzzing with young people watching a championship cricket match. Smartphones also know when it is, namely right now. Mumbai has a thriving art scene, and one morning I checked my two city-life apps, MUMBAIKAR and MUMBAI BOSS, and discovered a pair of photography exhibitions opening that day. Pictures of the 2010 Zoroastrian Bodybuilding Championship sounded intriguing, but I opted to go to the National Centre for the Performing Arts for "Portrait of Mystic," which featured glowing imagery of a Sufi devotee whirling in the grip of religious ecstasy. The most powerful aspect of smartphone travel, though, is that you can easily connect to a network of savvy locals while on the go. Before I arrived in Mumbai, the number of people I knew there was...zero. But within days I had joined 10 FACEBOOK groups, including Secret Mumbai, Mumbai Parties, and the Foreign Correspondents' Club. I was also following a dozen in-the-know TWITTER users: people like photographer Nitesh Nitesh and popular singer Sona Mohapatra. I also trolled food and nightlife blogs and e-mailed their authors. That led to in-person socializing, starting with Tim Judge at Harbour Bar, who fixed me one of his signature martinis mixed with masala-spiced vermouth. I subsequently feasted on couscous, pomegranate, and mint with filmmaker and foodie Gaurav Jain at Indigo Delicatessen, in the restaurant- and bar-packed Colaba neighborhood. Before leaving the U.S., I had asked a friend who grew up in Mumbai to post a message about my trip on Facebook. That led to nearly a dozen friend requests from people in her native city, a few of whom took it as their mission to give insider's advice. Ashish Jagtiani, for instance, wrote: "Janata Bar is a cheap dive but quite famous locally...just heard of a place called Hangla's that serves Bengali food and has a couple of locations, including one that opened in Colaba this week." All told, I was getting a dozen or more ideas for outings every day. Even if I could follow up on only a fraction of them, the social-network-enabled stream of info flooding my iPhone helped me put my finger on the city's pulse. Photo clinic here. Karaoke night there. Festivals everywhere. I knew what was up. To plan my final day, I scrolled through tweets and reviewed suggestions from my new friends. Then I hopped in a cab and used the METRODOWN app, which translates Mumbai's baffling zoned taxi-fare system into real-life rupees, to make sure I'd been charged the right amount. ("It is exact!" the driver gasped when I showed him the screen.) The first destination was Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, where much of Mumbai's laundry is washed outdoors. Ducking through lines of drying shirts, I marveled at hundreds of tubs where men stood shin-deep in soapy water, shaking and stomping clothes clean. That afternoon, I went to Kamala Nehru Park. (Hanging Gardens, across the street, is a tourist staple, but my Mumbai friends had told me that Kamala was better.) Under a purpling sky, Mumbai was coming alive. Headlights twinkled along the oceanfront arc of Marine Drive, nicknamed the Queen's Necklace, and hundreds of couples and families strolled along the seaside promenade. Directly below the overlook, hundreds of celebrants of Ganesh Chaturthi filled Chowpatty Beach. From Nitesh on Twitter, as well as from my Facebook friend Arjun Mukerjee, I had heard good things about a world-music club called the Blue Frog; that night, it was featuring Rajasthani music and dancing. The place looked swanky when I showed up, with a large stage and pod-like white booths, but it was only 8:30, so the club was dead. To kill time until the show, I left to have a look around. But the traffic, crowds, and frenzy of the Ganesh festival were so heightened that I never made it back. Things happened. I was sweaty and dancing and had no idea where I was. But none of that mattered. With the flick of a finger, I could be anywhere I wanted. THE APPS AROUNDME This geo-aware app lists key services (coffee, food, gas, etc.) closest to your current location, no matter where. free KAYAK The app arm of the popular OTA, Kayak finds cheap flights, rooms, and trips with the flick of a finger. free GATE GURU With maps of 86 U.S. airports, this app will help you find a gate, grab a bite, or shop in most terminals. free FLIGHT UPDATE Track flights in real time; find baggage carousels; plan alternate routes on the fly—this app does it all. $5 HOTELS.COM With 80,000-plus member hotels, the app features discount room rates, user reviews, and ratings. free CURCON Of all the currency-converter apps out there, this one has the slickest, easiest-to-use interface. $1 SNAPSHOT POSTCARD Convert any iPhone image into a postcard. Select it, type a message, and send. free CITY WALKS One of dozens of options from City Walks, Mumbai Map and Walking Tours plots detailed GPS-assisted trips. $5 FREE TRANSLATOR Loaded with 35 languages, this app not only translates your phrase, it says it out loud. free FIDESREEF An open-source guidebook maker, FidesReef has hundreds of app guides, including one for Mumbai. $1 ICOON With 500 handy illustrations, this translation app lets you get your point across without speaking a word. $1 MUMBAIKAR Think of it as Mumbai mapped—restaurants, shops, and more are plotted relative to your location. free MUMBAI BOSS This supercharged Mumbai city-life app is a constantly updated source of food, culture, and events news. free FACEBOOK Does it really need an introduction? All the social-networking perks, now in mobile form. free TWITTER Sign up for the right feeds and you'll have a bunch of in-the-know locals by your side at every turn. free METERDOWN Convert Mumbai's confusing zoned taxi-fare system into real-life rupees, no haggling required. free FIND IT LODGING Hotel Airport International Nehru Rd., Ville Parle East, 011-91/22-2628-2222, hotelairportinternational.com, doubles from $90 Chateau Windsor Hotel 86 Veer Nariman Rd., 011-91/22-6622-4455, chateauwindsor.com, doubles from $100 FOOD Swati Snacks 248 Karai Estate, Tardeo Rd., 011-91/22-6580-8406, nine-item sampler platter $6 Indigo Delicatessen 5 Ground Fl., Pheroze Building, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharishi Marg, Apollo Bunder, 011-91/22-6655-1010, indigodeli.com, about $25 for two ACTIVITIES Gateway of India Apollo Bunder, across from the Taj Mahal Palace, free Chor Bazaar Mutton St., Mandvi, open Saturday–Thursday, free Elephanta Island Round-trip ferry tickets ($5) are sold in stalls by the Gateway of India. Boats leave about every half hour 9 a.m.–2 p.m., admission $6 National Centre for the Performing Arts Southern tip of Marine Dr., 011-91/22-6622-3737, ncpamumbai.com, free admission to the Piramal Art Gallery Kamala Nehru Park Atop Malabar Hill, across from Hanging Gardens, open until sunset, free NIGHTLIFE Harbour Bar The Taj Mahal Palace, 011-91/22-6665-3366 ext. 3275, tajhotels.com, martini from $12 Blue Frog D/2 Mathuradas Mills Compound, NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, bluefrog.co.in, cover from $3

20 Best-Kept Secrets of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Of the nearly 5 million tourists who pass through Puerto Rico's capital each year, only a fraction actually stray from the beaten path that connects the cruise-ship port with the city's swanky casinos and resorts. They have no idea what they're missing. A low-key waterfront B&B High-rise hotels far outnumber San Juan's small, family-run options—which might be what inspired the name of the Numero Uno Guest House, a 15-room inn in Ocean Park, five miles east of Old San Juan. The decor plays up the coastal location, with rattan furniture and unparalleled Atlantic views; and at the on-site 50-seat restaurant, Pamela's, creative seafood dishes like scallops in grapefruit-and-pink-peppercorn salsa are delivered to tables planted right on the beach. Calle Santa Ana 1, numero1guesthouse.com, rooms from $99, entrées from $25. An iconic bank's secret stash The 11-story art deco Banco Popular skyscraper has been a popular landmark in Old San Juan for 70 years, but few visitors know of the museum on its 3rd floor. The Sala de Exhibiciones Rafael Carrión Pacheco showcases island-centric exhibits, such as an exploration of area coffee plantations and a 38-foot scalemodel of the old city. Calle Tetuán 206, 787/722-7389, Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., free. Umbrella drinks have some stiff competition Move over, piña colada. These days, the top cocktail in town is the chichaíto (cheeh-chah-ee-toh), a traditional after-dinner concoction embraced by a new generation of bar-goers. At the Carnival-mask shop turned bar Los 3 Cuernos on Old San Juan's Plaza de Colón, the rum-and-anise mixture is spiked with fruit juices and served by the shot, by the half-pint, or paired with a six-pack of local Medalla beer. Calle San Francisco 403, shot $1. A picturesque resting place San Juan's most exclusive stretch of coastline isn't part of some fancy resort—it's the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis, a nearly 200-year-old burial ground tucked between the ruins of the El Morro fortress and the Atlantic Ocean. A peach-colored chapel stands among hundreds of elaborate tombs, which inter prominent islanders such as singer Gilberto Monroig and actor (and uncle of George Clooney) José Ferrer. Calle Norzagaray, 787/723-3852, Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–noon. The coffee of kings Talk about a pick-me-up with a pedigree. Puerto Rican coffee was the favorite of 18th-century European courts, and even as modern brew trends come and go, the island's beans still rank near the top of connoisseurs' lists. Locals order it either black (expreso), with a touch of hot milk (cortadito), or mixed with plenty of steamed milk (con leche). One of the city's best coffee spots is Caficultura, a former Old San Juan residence decorated with chandeliers, marble-topped tables, and heavy wooden doors propped open for easy people-watching on the Plaza de Colón. Calle San Francisco 401, 787/723-7731, coffee from $2.50. Spanglish was invented here A singsong, rapid-fire cadence and a tendency to blend English with Spanish set the Puerto Rican tongue apart. Even first-timers may recognize some words: The structure that houses the bank? It's a bildin (bil-deen), and probably not where you'd goof around, or gufear (goo-feh-ar). The best seats in baseball While Hall of Famers no longer polish their off-season skills in Puerto Rico's Winter League, there's still plenty to draw folks to Estadio Hiram Bithorn, where the Senadores de San Juan (San Juan Senators) play from October to January: namely, cheap tickets, spirited fans, and stadium fare that includes plantain chips and tropical drinks. FDR Blvd. and Rte. 18, ticketpop.com, tickets from $2.50. Where the jukebox still reigns Closet-size Café Celeste is often overshadowed by the famous Nuyorican Café across the street, but the scene inside this Old San Juan hole-in-the-wall is no less worthy. Along with a handful of other timeworn joints, it makes up "the jukebox walk," a circuit of laid-back bars where the vellonera—a jukebox filled with salsa and mambo, from Tito Puente to Bobby Valentín—is the draw, and festive crowds of singing patrons are known to spill outside onto the cobblestones. Callejón de la Capilla 197, cocktails from $2.50. Flavored ice, incognito Sampling San Juan's most underground dessert feels like stepping into a spy movie: Visitors enter an unmarked apartment building, call to the proprietor through an iron gate in the lobby, and within minutes, Eddie shows up to tout the day's flavors—say, pineapple and tamarind. When he returns with the limber, a flavored-ice treat that's the love child of shaved ice and sorbet, it's delivered in a plastic Dixie cup, straight from the freezer—the same way it has been for 40 years. Caleta de las Monjas 9, limber 75¢. A bygone vacation village The Condado district, four miles east of Old San Juan, is now synonymous with condo towers and trendy shops, but it began as a sleepy, turn-of-the-century beach community where the city's wealthiest families kept grand, Spanish-style second homes. A few of the historic buildings remain, to new purpose: One houses El Canario Inn (Avenida Ashford 1317, canariohotels.com/inn.htm, doubles from $90), and another is the restaurant Ajili Mojili, where travelers can taste traditional Puerto Rican dishes in an old-fashioned setting (Avenida Ashford 1006, 787/725-9195, entrées from $16). A high-flying show On weekends, while sightseers throng El Morro, the 16th-century citadel at the northwest tip of Old San Juan, residents take to the lawn in front of the fort to unfurl an impressive array of kites. The real spectacle is on Sundays, when families come from inland to launch their elaborate fliers, made from old fabrics and papier-mâché. El Morro, nps.gov/saju. The island's not-so-secret sauce Just as every Southern barbecue joint has its signature slather, every street-food stall worth its salt in Puerto Rico has its pique, a fiery homemade condiment with a vinegar-and-red-pepper base. You'll find it, often in repurposed rum bottles, on snack counters island-wide. An all-day arts crawl for $1.50 Thanks to the new Tren Urbano rail system, anyone can embark on a DIY citywide arts tour. From the Sagrado Corazón terminus in Condado, it's one stop to an independent-film screening at the Popular Center's Fine Arts Café cinema (Torre Norte, 787/765-2339, tickets $9.50); five more stops to the Sala Teatro Beckett in Río Piedras, where plays and concerts are staged (Avenida Ponce de León 1008, 2nd Fl., salateatrobeckett-paca.blogspot.com); and then a short walk to the gallery and music venue Río Cantina Urbana (Avenida Ponce de León 1016, 787/282-6262). The cantina's pink-and-blue muraled façade fits right in with the area's graffiti-tagged cafés and old-school holdouts like Heladería Los Chinitos, an ice cream shop that's been going strong since 1964 (Avenida Ponce de León 1061, 787/765-3395). The next big thing in bags... It's easy to spot trend-savvy Puerto Ricans: They're often carrying Concalma totes, launched by designer and San Juan resident Matilsha Marxuach. The colorful, sturdy satchels, which come in stripes and floral patterns, are made by the women's collaborative Cooperativa Industrial Creación de La Montaña. Calle San Francisco 207, concalmalinea.com, totes from $25. ...And a great place to fill them Attention, foodies: There's a worthy new reason to visit El Museo de San Juan, one of the Caribbean's top art museums. Every Saturday, vendors set up in the courtyard for the Mercado Agrícola Natural del Viejo San Juan, the old city's first organic farmers market. Shoppers can load up on tropical produce, local artisanal cheeses, and prepared foods like empanadas stuffed with hearts of palm. Calle Norzagaray 150, mercadoagricolanatural.com, Sat. 8 a.m.–1 p.m. A chic hotel with a dreamy view It's ironic that one of the best hotels in San Juan is actually Moroccan-themed: At 2-year-old Hotel Casablanca in Old San Juan, mosaic tiling and colored lanterns ornament the lavish lobby, and the 35 guest rooms have hand-loomed tapestries and carved-wood furniture. Look out from the rooftop terrace, however—over rows of pastel storefronts and the baroque cathedral in the distance—and you'll see an unambiguously Spanish-colonial scene. Calle Fortaleza 316, hotelcasablancapr.com, rooms from $95. The city's easiest day trip A 20-minute drive east of Old San Juan lies Piñones, the best little getaway you've never heard of. There's a palm-lined boardwalk that links several sandy beaches, a handful of tidal pools where beachgoers can sit on flat rocks near the breaking waves, and a slew of huts selling pinchos (skewers of grilled meat and fish). The area is best explored on a bike: You can rent tandems and beach cruisers by the hour at the COPI building near the Boca de Cangrejos bridge. copipr.com, bike rentals $5 per hour. A market that gets new life after dark During the day, Plaza del Mercado in Santurce, about half a mile south of Condado, brims with plantains, avocados, mangoes, and folks cooling off with coco frío (coconut water). But after 6 p.m., when the market shuts down, the bars that line the plaza throw open their metal grates to a young, dressed-up crowd that turns the square into an informal block party, liveliest on Thursdays and Fridays. Calles Dos Hermanos and Capitol, 787/723-8022. San Juan's design hero Ask residents if they have a favorite homegrown designer; they'll likely answer, "Nono." By that they mean, "Yes." They're talking about Nono Maldonado, the Condado-based former Esquire magazine fashion editor whose pale-hued line defines island chic: linen resort wear and couture, with lofty prices to match. Avenida Ashford 1112, 787/721-0456, blouses from $150. A slamming native dance Salsa fans, meet your next obsession: bomba, created at the end of the 18th century by West African slaves on Puerto Rico's sugar plantations. In DanzActiva's Saturday classes, aspiring dancers can attempt to master the demanding steps, a kind of rhythmic call-and-response with a live band. Calles Norzagaray and Morovis, danzactiva.com, dance lesson $15.

The Best New Caribbean Deals for 2011!

ANGUILLA Anacaona Boutique Hotel Effortlessly casual rooms within reach Anguilla is best known for jet-setters and exclusive resorts—and that's what makes the new Anacaona Boutique Hotel such a pleasant surprise. Created by Robin and Sue Ricketts (the pros behind the development of luxe properties like the $400-plus-a-night Cap Juluca), the Mediterranean-style resort is Anguilla as you want it: chic but attainable. The 27 rooms all come with balconies, the poolside restaurant specializes in traditional Anguillan food (large portions of grilled fish and goat), and the white sand of Meads Bay is only a four-minute walk north—before setting off, be sure to borrow some free snorkel gear at the front desk. 877/647-4736, anacaonahotel.com, from $150. ANTIGUA Siboney Beach Club Five-star service right on the beach This 108-square-mile island claims more than 300 beaches, and you can bet that Siboney Beach Club owner Tony Johnson knows just about all of them. Johnson arrived on Antigua more than 50 years ago and managed the construction of a handful of hotels before starting his own, a 13-room inn with an immaculately tended garden on Dickenson Bay. The design of the rooms is fairly basic, but Johnson's attention to detail will knock your socks off. He looks after guests like a doting uncle, often greeting visitors at check-in, sharing his favorite sights, and acting as de facto concierge, trip planner, and local guide all at once. 800/533-0234, siboneybeachclub.com, from $150. ARUBA Wreck of the Antilla A marine-life megaplex In 1940, the captain of the German freighter Antilla, a supply craft for Nazi U-boats, scuttled his ship off the coast of Aruba rather than surrender it to Dutch soldiers. Seventy years later, the wreck has evolved into a marine-life megaplex. Silversides, angelfish, and groupers swarm the steel carcass, its walls adorned with brain coral, tube sponges, and fan worms. Because the Antilla lounges in just 60 feet of water, portions of the vessel rise to within kissing distance of the surface. Red Sail Sports, the biggest outfit around, operates snorkel and dive trips by catamaran daily, except Sundays. 305/454-2538, redsailaruba.com, half-day trips from $45. GET THERE FAST Port Antonio, Jamaica Because no one should spend a vacation messing with connections. Over the past two years, Jamaica has seen a furious building spree, adding some 3,000 rooms to the island's inventory. In response, airlines are catching up; seven new direct flights were added this year, connecting Jamaica to more U.S. cities (16) than any other Caribbean island. Carriers have even made concessions for Western states: A new US Airways route from Phoenix means you can depart in the morning and be on the beach by sunset. While 76 percent of Jamaica's flights descend into the tourist hub of Montego Bay, nothing says you have to stay there. The northern coast is scattered with other resort areas, from Negril's mom-and-pop inns and colossal all-inclusives to the cruise port of Ocho Rios, best known for the postcard-perfect Dunn's River Falls. But for a real adventure, visitors should consider heading east to Port Antonio. The laid-back colonial-era town—sandwiched between quiet beaches like Winifred and Long Bay—recalls Jamaica before the tourist boom. There are plenty of places to stay, but Goblin Hill is a standout. The collection of one- and two-bedroom villas overlooks the gin-clear water of San San Bay, and each one comes with a personal gal Friday, who handles both the housekeeping and food shopping. Down the road in Boston Bay, you'll find the island's best jerk cooking—chicken, ribs, and fish bathed in fiery, Scotch-bonnet-pepper marinade and slow-grilled over pimento wood—doled out from makeshift huts. Finally, if you need a break from the coast, it's worth taking the one-hour drive to Moore Town in the Blue Mountains. The settlement is home to the Windward Maroons, a semiautonomous community founded by escaped slaves that offers a unique window into Jamaica's past. Goblin Hill, 800/472-1148, goblinhillvillas.com, from $135. BARBADOS Sea-U Guest House Crash pad for Caribbean surfers The rugged, wave-tossed Atlantic Coast of Barbados has spawned one of the coolest little surf scenes in all the Caribbean. And the Sea-U Guest House, in the village of Bathsheba, steps away from the water, sits right at its heart. The nine-room traditional Bajan inn, with a peaked roof, louvered windows, and a broad veranda, is as laid-back as its surroundings: Hammocks are strung up across the property, and sweet small touches like an honor bar out back preserve the vibe. German expat owner Uschi Wetzels serves a complimentary full breakfast of eggs, bacon, and freshly made banana and coconut breads each morning, and she's more than happy to connect guests with local surf instructors such as homegrown legend Melanie Pitcher. 246/433-9450, seaubarbados.com, from $119 including breakfast. BEQUIA Sugarapple Inn The splashiest $80 rooms around You could be forgiven for never having heard of Bequia (beck-way), a seven-square-mile outpost in the Grenadines, but spend a few days here and you'll never forget it. With sailboats bobbing in Port Elizabeth's pint-size harbor and pocket beaches in seemingly every cove, the island is all charm, and few hotels reflect that more than the Sugarapple Inn. Set on a hillside overlooking Friendship Bay, the inn has eight rooms splashed in bright colors like mango, lime, and papaya. Each unit has an open-air kitchen and sitting area, and guests have access to a pool, sundeck, and free local cell phone. One tip: All rooms are priced the same, but the ones on the upper level have higher ceilings and better views of the water below. 784/457-3148, sugarappleinn.com, from $80. DOMINICA Waitukubuli National Trail A walk on the Caribbean's wild side From its black-sand beaches to its boiling lake and 10 active volcanoes, Dominica (dom-in-eek-a) is a one-of-a-kind island—and there's no better way to get a taste for what makes it so special than by hiking the new Waitukubuli National Trail. In August, the first two segments of the 115-mile trans-island trail were completed. Running through World Heritage–listed rain forest, the two legs span seven and eight miles, respectively, from Wotton Waven to Pont Casse and on to Castle Bruce, and pass mountain villages, jungle-covered peaks, and two different waterfalls, Middleham Falls and Emerald Pool, along the way. Additional sections are slated to open throughout the year. 767/448-2045, download a free map and brochure at BudgetTravel.com/dominicapdf. JAMAICA Montego Bay Gondolas go tropical In 1950, Errol Flynn, the famed swashbuckler of the silver screen, relocated from Hollywood to Jamaica and started a tourism phenomenon: bamboo raft tours. For years, the simple crafts had been used to haul produce from the mountains to the coast, but it was Flynn who convinced boatmen to guide visitors instead. Today, the sturdy, 30-foot-long vessels have become the Jamaican equivalent of the Venetian gondola, complete with two-person love seats and photo ops galore. The Martha Brae River trips, lasting 90 minutes to three hours, start at put-ins just outside Montego Bay, wind past green mountains and traditional villages, and take in everything from vendors on the banks hawking snacks to kids performing somersaults into the water. 876/952-0889, visitjamaica.com, from $60. GET THERE FIRST Eleuthera, Bahamas Because here you can escape everything (except the long arm of the law). It's telling that Eleuthera's biggest news in years came from the capture of a man trying to fall off the map. Following the arrest of the Barefoot Bandit in July, the little-known Bahamian island anchored the 24-hour news cycle for about two days; then—as it always does—it slipped blessedly back off the radar. Unlike Nassau or Paradise Island, Eleuthera sees hundreds, not thousands, of visitors at a time, and they're spread across miles of pristine beaches and bays. The reasons for its isolation are complex—a series of boom and bust real-estate deals since the '50s, a few devastating storms—but the seclusion might not last much longer. New developments loom, and Florida's proximity (a mere 300 miles away) is a draw that travelers are likely to pick up on soon. Because the island is 112 miles long and incredibly thin—it claims to have the narrowest strip of permanent land on the planet—your best bet is to fly into Governor's Harbour, in Eleuthera's center, and fan out from there. Just south of the airport, the 4-year-old Pineapple Fields is an ideal base camp. The 32 one- and two-bedroom units are scattered among bougainvillea, avocado, and star-fruit trees. Two-mile French Leave Beach, one of the prettiest on the island, is just a half mile north, and on-site Tippy's Restaurant & Bar serves island favorites like conch fritters and lobster pizza. From the hotel, you can book half-day snorkeling trips–the dives at Current Cut will have you bobbing by gentle nurse sharks and spotted eagle rays—or world-class bonefishing excursions; local guide and fly-casting master Gersham Pinder will share his wealth of knowledge on the island's natural history, bush culture, and, of course, fishing spots. Pineapple Fields, 877/677-9539, pineapplefields.com, from $160; Gersham Pinder 242/464-0754, full-day bonefishing trips from $200. MARTINIQUE Le Domaine St. Aubin Sleeps sanctioned by Sarkozy You wouldn't expect a hotel that's hosted a head of state (Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007) to fall into the affordable category, but Le Domaine St. Aubin is that rare exception. Located amid the sugarcane fields and mango trees that overlook Martinique's less developed northeastern coast, Le Domaine is a passion project for Laurent and Joëlle Rosemain, who spearheaded a top-down renovation of the historic French-colonial plantation house. All 30 rooms are richly decorated with mahogany furniture, and common areas are accented with heirlooms from Laurent's family, whose island lineage dates to 1715. At the restaurant, however, the food takes center stage: The menu is filled with French Caribbean creations like lamb curry, fresh seafood, and chocolate soufflé with lime and rum. 011-596/596-69-34-77, ledomainesaintaubin.com, from $136. GET THERE CHEAP Playa del Carmen, Mexico Because there are still places where the dollar goes far. Plenty of Caribbean destinations are accessible via cheap flights—Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic—but when it comes to the Riviera Maya, low airfare is only the beginning of your savings. Count an approximate 20 percent drop in the peso since 2008 as reason No. 1 why your dollar will go further here than it will in any other Caribbean spot. Once you land, all trips begin in Cancún, but from there the options are wide open, from the glitzy high-rises of Cancún's Hotel Zone to the thatched palapas of Tulum, one hour south. For convenience, however, Playa del Carmen, about 30 minutes south of the airport, can't be topped. Set smack in the middle of the 81-mile-long Riviera, Playa is just steps from the beach, a short ferry ride to the legendary dive sites of Cozumel, and a two-hour drive to the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. In town, Mamita's Beach Club has white daybeds along the sand and a DJ spinning low-key dance music; just to the north, visitors can spend hours scanning for white scallop shells on Maroma Beach, arguably the area's most beautiful. Most hotels in Playa are set back from the beach—case in point, La Tortuga Hotel and Spa. Run by two Italian brothers, the 51-room inn tempts swimmers with a mazelike pool that looks as if it fell out of an M.C. Escher painting. The hotel is only a block from 5th Avenue, a hotbed of bars, restaurants, and clubs, and five blocks from La Tarraya, the oldest restaurant in Playa and a standout spot for fish tacos, ceviche, and ice-cold cerveza. If you'd rather stay on the sand, the thatch-roofed cabanas of Mahékal Beach Resort, complete with wooden decks and hammocks, will have you feeling like Robinson Crusoe in no time. Mamita's Beach Club, mamitasbeachclub.com, chair rentals $7 for the afternoon; La Tortuga Hotel and Spa. 866/550-6818, hotellatortuga.com, from $114; La Tarraya, 984/873-2040, tacos from $3; Mahékal Beach Resort, 877/235-4452, mahekalplaya.com, cabanas from $171 including breakfast and dinner. ST. LUCIA Bay Gardens Beach Resort Small-inn feel, big-resort perks In general, travelers to the Caribbean have two clear-cut options when booking hotels: smaller, intimate inns or larger resorts with serious services. St. Lucia's Bay Gardens Beach Resort bridges the gap. The 72-room hotel, on two-mile Reduit Beach immediately west of Rodney Bay, occupies a series of three-story houses that wrap around a doughnut-shaped pool and a beachfront restaurant. Visitors can choose between rooms or full suites (with kitchens), and from enough activities to fill two vacations: There's a dive shop, water-sports center, spa, yoga studio, deli, two restaurants, four separate bars, nightly concerts, and even perfor-mances by fire-eating dancers. If it starts to feel like a circus, the almost entirely St. Lucian staff balances the experience with deep local knowledge you won't find elsewhere. 877/620-3200, baygardensbeachresort.com, from $155. Anse la Raye Town-wide fish fry Each Friday, shortly before sunset, the St. Lucian hamlet of Anse La Raye plays host to one of the Caribbean's most distinctive food events: the fish fry. Within the two dozen or so food stalls on Front Street—right along the beach—you'll find everything from grilled dorado and red snapper to octopus, shrimp, conch, and even lobster, depending on the day's catch. After rounding out the mix with staples like fresh bakes (fry bread), accras (salt-cod fritters), and plantains, diners can head down to the beach to claim a picnic table in the sand. The bill? About $10. Off Mole St., stlucia.org. BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS Guavaberry Spring Bay Vacation Homes Covetable private cottages There are few spots more scenic than the Baths on Virgin Gorda—the idyllic, boulder-flanked grottoes are a staple of postcards and posters. And therein lies the challenge. How do you see them without the crowds? The answer comes in the form of the Guavaberry Spring Bay Vacation Homes, a collection of stilted, stand-alone one-, two-, or three-bedroom cottages with full kitchens, just a 10-minute walk from the Baths. The plan: Spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach at Spring Bay, a few minutes north of Guavaberry; then, as the sun starts to sink, walk south to the Baths. You should arrive just in time for sunset—exactly when all the day-trippers from neighboring Tortola are packing up. 284/495-5227, guavaberryspringbay.com, from $150. BEST BARGAIN ALL-INCLUSIVES (UNDER $200!) Since the first Club Med opened in Mallorca 60 years ago, all-inclusive resorts have spread to every corner of the globe, many of them in the Caribbean. They all claim to offer good value, but some can cost upwards of $700 a night. We scoured the field for four where you can find a room (and drinks and activities—and everything else) for less than $200. RIU HOTELS & RESORTS One of the largest chains in the Caribbean, Riu has 23 hotels in Cancún and the Riviera Maya, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Aruba. Most resorts are high-rises that flank sprawling, free-form swimming pools, the Riu signature. Best value: Doubles typically start around $200 a night, but rates at ClubHotel Riu Bachata in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, are only $98 and up. riu.com. BARCELÓ HOTELS & RESORTS Perhaps owing to the predominantly European clientele, Barceló's 14 Caribbean hotels—five on the Riviera Maya and seven in the Dominican Republic—come off like Mediterranean transplants, with antipasto set out for lunch and loungers on the beachfront. Best value: Doubles start at $152 in the Barceló Bávaro Palace in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. barcelo.com. BREEZES RESORTS & SPAS With four resorts in Jamaica, one in the Bahamas, and one in Curaçao, Breezes tailors each property to its customers, from the family focus of Trelawny to the couples-centric vibe of the Breezes Bahamas. Best value: Off-season specials at the Breezes Runaway Bay Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica can go for as low as $175 a night. breezes.com. GRAND PINEAPPLE BEACH RESORTS Barely 2 years old, the Grand Pineapple Beach properties are the more moderately priced face of the successful Sandals luxury chain. With one resort in Negril and one in Antigua, the resorts are both family-friendly (tours are available to water parks and zip lines) and ideal for basic beach lovers. Best value: Doubles in low-rise cottages at the Negril outpost start at $176. grandpineapple.com.