Budget Travel

The best islands in Central America really are a taste of tropical paradise

You need to pity historic seafarers – with so many paradise islands to select from in Guatemala, it has to happen to be a regular challenge deciding where you can weigh anchor. Stunning specks of green jungle and blond sand dot the coastline of the isthmus, various different in one another, and some quite unusual.

To set the scene, one island – a lot more than 300 miles off the coast of Panama and nicaragua , – has been said to possess inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. And real-life pirates once menaced this stretch of ocean, establishing secret bases on islands such as Roatan 0ff the coast of Honduras.

Many of the best-known isles are strung out across the Caribbean Coast, but there are also islands from the Pacific Coast, and more dotted around Central America's volcanic lakes. Some are comprised of limestone and sand, while some were thrown up by volcanoes or spawned by coral reefs, and all sorts of provide a uniquely Central American taste from the tropics.

Regardless of which island you select, pack your sunscreen and a feeling of adventure. Here's our pick of the greatest islands in Central America.

Bocas del Toro, Panama, is the best tropical getaway

Best for a Caribbean vibe

When people envision a dream Caribbean getaway, clear turquoise waters, swaying palms and brightly colored weatherboard houses are almost obligatory, and you'll find all this and more at Bocas del Toro. This lively archipelago from the northwestern shore of Panama consists of a sprinkling of sun-sizzled islands, with different vibes and offerings, together with countless tiny uninhabited islets.

You can display up by plane from Panama City or David, by ferry boat from Almirante, or from Puerto Viejo and Cahuita in Panama and nicaragua ,. Most visitors stay on Isla Colón, the most popular and populated island, but you may also park on quieter, forested Isla Carenero or Isla Bastimentos – the biggest and many chilled out of the islands.

Short trips by water taxi connect these along with other main islands, and popular ways to pass time include boat trips to identify dolphins and mangrove birdlife, inland hikes, surfing, coastal kayaking and snorkeling, and around cacao farms, plus lots of lazing around the sand.

For island life with increased action, head to Ambergris Caye, Belize

Best for reefs and nightlife

A sizable crowd of North American escapees have setup base in the seaside condos on pretty Ambergris Caye, the biggest island around the Caribbean coast of Belize. Who are able to blame them? From beaches and diving on the largest barrier reef in the Americas to buzzing nightlife, Ambergris Caye has everything.

For starters, you have the sugar-sand beaches and mangrove-lined lagoons, and you can include glitzy resorts and also the lively downtown hub of San Pedro, frequented by convivial locals and sun-dazed tourists zipping around in golf carts. It's the perfect mix for travelers who choose a little bit of comfort and action with their island paradise.

And Ambergris offers seemingly infinite opportunities for recreation – beachside water sports, waterslides and ziplines, secret beaches, not to mention, spectacular diving and snorkeling around the barrier reef system offshore. Spend a day here and you'll quickly understand why this really is Belize's top tourist draw. Dealing with Ambergris is easy by boat from Belize City, Corozal or Chetumal in Mexico, or by plane from airstrips throughout Belize, but leaving can feel more difficult!

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua, is ripe for adventure

Best for adventure activities

Formed by two conjoined volcanoes rising from the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the area of Ometepe is Central America's premier stop for backpackers seeking outdoor adventure. Thrill-seekers arrive by ferry from the port capital of scotland- St Jorge and dive straight in, renting scooters, riding horses to jungle waterfalls, kayaking on the Istián River or summiting the 1394m (4573ft) Maderas Volcano.

For less intrepid travelers, there's great swimming on the beaches close to the Ecological Reserve Charco Verde – a pretty lagoon sold rather short by its prosaic name which means 'green puddle.' Finding petroglyphs is another rewarding activity; nearly 1700 carvings adorn rocks across the island. We recommend taking a tour of Finca Magdalena, a large organic coffee farm that also doubles as a hostel and restaurant.

Honduras' blissful Bay Islands are an underwater playground

Best for cheap diving

Formed by an underwater mountain range, these long, narrow wisps of land off the northern coast of Honduras offer some of Central America's best underwater adventures. The largest and best-known island, Roatán, was once a notorious pirate hangout, but these days it caters to more mid-range travelers, drawn here by chic resorts and paradisiacal white sand beaches. Neighboring Guanaja is mostly visited by divers on all-inclusive packages.

To the west, tiny Utila may be the budget option, with abundant cheap accommodation, an enjoyable traveler scene, and some of the very most affordable scuba certification courses in the world (with open-water certification going for around US$285). Additional draws include year-round whale shark sightings and backpacker parties that roam round the island's bars.

Fast ferries run to the hawaiian islands from La Ceiba on the mainland, however, many visitors choose to fly, with direct shuttle flights to Roatán in the US in addition to from La Ceiba and other cities in Honduras.

Archipiélago de San Blas, Panama is totally off-grid

Best for escaping the world

An adventurous stopover for those traveling between Panama and Colombia, the Archipiélago de San Blas – or Guna Yala, as locals call it – is a 365-island stunner self-governed by the Guna community, the very first indigenous group in Latin America to secure political autonomy. There's been almost no development here save for palm-thatched villages and livestock enclosures, and the tourist experience is delightfully rustic. There are no resorts, just camping grounds and caba~nas (beach huts), and no access to the internet, which is precisely the point.

Most travelers arrive on sailboats in the mainland port of Gardi (Cartí) and relax beside pristine, powdery beaches. Days are spent frolicking within the crystal-clear surf or gliding over coral reefs with masks pointed down in the undersea ecosystem. A stay here's additionally a opportunity to immerse yourself in Guna culture, that is famed over the region for its traditional dancing and artful crafts.

The tiny islands of Las Isletas, Nicaragua, are ideal for day-trippers

Best for freshwater island-hopping

About 20,000 years ago, Nicaragua's Mombacho Volcano violently erupted, launching enormous boulders into nearby Lake Nicaragua. With time, these became Las Isletas – a lot more than 300 tiny islands supporting abundant vegetation and thriving birdlife, found only a short hop from Nicaragua's former colonial capital, Granada.

You can remain over on some islands, but day-trippers can cruise round the islets inside a panga boat or paddle around by kayak and spy around the opulent vacation homes near disney of a number of Nicaragua's most prosperous families. Most of the islands are just large enough for any single home, restaurant or resort, but one island boasts an 18th-century Spanish fortress. To have an utterly tranquil escape, hunker down at the Jicaro Island Lodge for several days.

Caye Caulker, Belize may be the epitome of relaxation

Best for backpacker beach fun

If Ambergris Caye is Belize's hyperactive and attention-grabbing diva, Caye Caulker is its chilled-out, devil-may-care younger sibling. This slender island is searched for by international backpackers and footloose families who like to invest their holidays using hammocks beside white powder beaches, and sipping fruity rum-based drinks at beachside reggae bars.

For people who simply must go exploring, you will find bikes and golf carts for rental and also the impossibly turquoise sea beckons on every side, with great snorkeling and kayaking and chances to identify manatees in mangrove lagoons. Visitors arrive by ferry boat or plane either from Belize City or from Ambergris Caye.

Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Best for any low-key island escape

Off someplace sunny and warm coast of Nicaragua, these far-flung islands are blissfully without large-scale development. Instead, you'll find stilted-mounted, multi-colored caba~nas, toothsome seafood and idyllic, unspoiled beaches. Lobster catching and tourism would be the principal industries, and popular island pursuits include using hammocks strung between palms and snorkeling in the bathtub warm sea.

The two Corn Islands – Great Corn and Little Corn – really are a half-hour boat ride apart and therefore are accessed via plane or ferry from Bluefields, or flights from Managua. Tourists tend to prefer Little Corn as it is the greater charming of the two, with better snorkeling and diving along with a bigger choice of restaurants.

Easy going Flores, Guatemala, may be the gateway to Mayan wonders

Best for Mayan history

In southeast Guatemala's Lake Petén Itzá, backed by vast swaths of rainforest and accessed with a narrow causeway, Flores is first of all basics for exploring Tikal, the most impressive ruined Mayan city throughout Guatemala. But it is a lot more than that.

Cobblestone streets, romantic plazas and restaurants and guesthouses with elegant roof terraces define this easygoing town, and it even features its own set of modest Mayan ruins lining the lakeshore. Flores is another perfect launching point for lake swimming or boating, along with a place to take lovely sunset strolls along unsubmerged parts of the promenade that rings the island.

Isla del Coco, Panama and nicaragua , is full of tall tales and incredible wildlife

Best for finding the actual Treasure Island

About 300 miles southwest of mainland Panama and nicaragua ,, Parque Nacional Isla del Coco is a far-flung national park and UNESCO World Heritage site with a rich seafaring history. This remote island was reputedly the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and off its shores, hammerhead sharks gather through the hundreds as their meal source is constantly replenished by cold, nutrient-rich waters colliding with a submerged mountain range.

Whale sharks and humpbacks often show up for the party, just like divers on liveaboard trips from Puntarenas on the Costa Rican mainland – which are the best way to achieve this somewhat inaccessible idyll. Since the island may be the only supply of freshwater for countless miles, it became an essential refuge for whalers and raiding pirates within the 17th century. Treasure is supposedly hidden within the island's yawning caves, though numerous expeditions have to date didn't unearth anything of significance.

You may also like