Central American Islands: 11 Amazing Escapes

Giant tube sponge and a diver in the waters of Roatan, Honduras. Frommers.com Community
Central America packs more beauty and ecological diversity into its borders than some continents have in their entire landmass. Whatever charms it can't fit on the mainland it's scattered on islands off its Caribbean and Pacific shores. We take you to islands in Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama that deliver sparsely populated beaches, one-of-a-kind reefs, and secluded sights perfect for adventuresome visitors and low-impact leisure travelers alike.

Photo Caption: Giant tube sponge and a diver in the waters of Roatan, Honduras. Photo by MantaVision/Frommers.com Community.
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A woman rides her bike along the beach of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye Neil Beer
Nestled in the crook of the arm of Central America is one of the world's most stunning examples of a living, breathing, thriving coral reef -- an exquisitely fine-tuned ecosystem that experts say is under threat from rampant development and the destruction of critical mangrove habitat.


Photo Caption: A woman rides her bike along the beach of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
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Scuba diving at the Turneffe Atoll, Belize Frommers.com Community
From the shallows to the deep, the marine ecosystem in Belize is so vibrant that the waters pulse with life everywhere you look. For fishermen chasing hard-fighting bonefish in sparkling saltwater flats and divers exploring tropical coral gardens, the Turneffe Atoll is one of the most vital places in the world.


Photo Caption: Scuba diving at the Turneffe Atoll, Belize. Photo by Ryan Kenner/Frommers.com Community.
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Caye Caulker in Belize, is known as the Go Slow island Victoria Reay
For anyone who's ever had the urge to flee the rat race and parachute onto a tropical island with velvety air and a breezy, barefoot lifestyle, Caye Caulker would likely fit the bill.

Photo Caption: Caye Caulker in Belize, is known as the Go Slow island where the vegetation is lush and tropical, houses are wooden clapboard, the streets are soft sand, and shoes are optional. Photo by Victoria Reay/Flickr.com
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West Bay Beach in Roatan, Honduras. Frommers.com Community
You know a destination has "arrived" in savvy travel circles when people refer to it only by its first name. "We're heading to Roatán," someone confides, and everyone nods knowingly. That would be Roátan, Honduras, and if you haven't heard of it yet, you soon will.

Photo Caption: West Bay Beach in Roatan, Honduras. Photo by stella 781/Frommers.com Community.
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Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. Frommers.com Community
Rising from the "sweet waters" of Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe is the largest freshwater-lake island in the world. Essentially two volcanic islands connected by a slender sinew of land, the 276km (171-mile) Ometepe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

Photo Caption: Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. Photo by /Frommers.com Community.
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The beach side of Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. Frommers.com Community
Imagine a lush and lovely tropical island (or two) with unspoiled beaches and vibrant coral reefs, a friendly, low-key paradise that's largely undiscovered by the globe-trotting hordes. A dreamy little place where there are no cruise ships, no malls, no celebs fleeing the paparazzi. For anyone who has a yen to live the laid-back caribeña lifestyle, this may be the spot for you.

Photo Caption: The beach side of Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. Photo by snydez00/Frommers.com Community.
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One of the many islands in the San Blas region, Panama. Frommers.com Community
Imagine this: The San Blas Islands were once simply a place you passed through on the way to the Panama Canal. Boy, have times changed: The sleepy little San Blas Islands are still sleepy -- that's their charm -- but these idyllic, sun-dappled tropical isles off the northeast coast of Panama are now a big lure for nature lovers and beach bums.

Photo Caption: One of the many islands in the San Blas region, Panama. Photo by ashleyc/Frommers.com Community.
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Red Frog Beach in Isla Bastimentos, Panama. Tiago Carneiro Machado
If you're looking for an unspoiled tropical paradise, packed with rainforest jungles, palm-shaded, sugary-sand beaches, sparkling turquoise seas, and nature at its ripest, head here. Panama is the Costa Rica of 30 years ago -- which is to say that its extraordinary natural treasures remain relatively undiscovered.

Photo Caption: Red Frog Beach in Isla Bastimentos, Panama. Photo by Tiago Carneiro Machado/Flickr.com.
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On the flight to Isla Contadora, in the Pearl Islands, Tristram Biggs
For some U.S. audiences, the name "Pearl Islands" conjures one image: that of CBS reality show Survivor, which was shot here in 2003. Although development is still minimal in this archipelago sprinkled throughout the gulf of Panama, it's also a place where comfortable hotels and tourist services have grown up amid the jungle vines, and where you can have a slightly less tribal experience than what the contestants of Season 7 had to deal with.

Photo Caption: On the flight to Isla Contadora, in the Pearl Islands, try for a window seat to view the Panama Canal below. Photo by Tristram Biggs/Flickr.com.
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Taboga Island, Panama. Michael Nyika
Visitors to bustling Panama City have long drifted over to fragrant Isla Taboga, which is just a 19km (12-mile) ferry ride from the city. Known as the "Island of Flowers," for its abundance of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and jasmine, it's a great place to unwind and spend a day on the beach.

Photo Caption: Taboga Island, Panama. Photo by Michael Nyika/Flickr.com.
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Isla Coiba, Panama. Laszlo Ilyes
You're walking through an uninhabited tropical island. Overhead a flock of scarlet macaws takes flight, their distinctive squawks and screams filling the air. But don't spend too much time taking in the spectacle -- you might miss the howler monkeys on the tree next to you.

Photo Caption: Isla Coiba, Panama. Photo by Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr.com.
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