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It’s only the beginning of winter in Canada and I’m already dreaming of escaping all the tropical island paradises I could escape. I know, I’m a bad Canadian. I just don’t like the cold, I’d rather be on the beach! To help cope with winter, I always go on at least one trip somewhere warm.
If you live somewhere that gets hit hard by winter such as Canada does, it can really affect you. Even a week away somewhere tropical can help with seasonal affective disorder and overall mental health. The government of Canada actually recommends it!
This post will go over 10 amazing tropical island paradises I’ve discovered in my travels the last few years. Read on for some inspiration to find your next vacation! Because who doesn’t love being in Paradise?
Island Paradises in Central America
Cozumel is a small island on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, just an hour away from Playa Del Carmen and two hours from Cancun. The island is much more laid back then Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, so it’s a great place to go if you need a break from that party scene.
Cozumel is one of the best places to go diving in the western hemisphere. The ocean surrounding it is part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world and the water is crystal clear. At the time of visiting I wasn’t certified to dive but still had a great experience snorkeling through the colorful reefs right off the beach. If you want to become certified to dive, Cozumel has a ton of dive shops that can teach you. If you’re a diver, Cozumel should definitely be on your Mexico bucket list!
Even if you just don’t want to get in the water, there are miles of white sand to relax on and soak up the sun. Cozumel (or Mexico in general) is a great tropical island paradise for North Americas to visit as it’s close by and very cheap to fly too.
For those that live near Toronto, I just discovered that Swoop Airlines sells tickets from Hamilton (just an hour drive from Toronto) to Cancun for as low as $99 one-way. I might have to head back to Mexico this winter at those prices!
Caye Caulker, Belize
The motto of Caye Caulker is ‘go slow’ and the locals actually enforce it. I was rushing down the main street in Caye Caulker and got stopped not once, but twice, by locals telling me to slow down. If you are looking for an island paradise to slow down, Caye Caulker is it.
The water surrounding Caye Caulker is part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world so the snorkeling and diving here are world-class. I wasn’t certified to dive when I first visited Caye Caulker, but I did get a chance to snorkel with nurse sharks and stingrays which is one of my favorite underwater experiences to date. Last spring, I went back to visit Caye Caulker and finally got to dive in the blue hole.
After a day of fun in the sun, head over to the Lazy Lizard bar and restaurant where you can drink and be in the ocean at the same time. The dream, right? Although small, this island can turn into a bumping party at night.
Travel tip: If flights to Belize are expensive, consider flying to Mexico instead. I did this in 2015 because the difference in price was hundreds of dollars. Belize is next to Mexico, and I was able to get an overnight bus directly from Cancun to Belize City. From the port, in Belize city, regular boats run to Caye Caulker and San Pedro (another beautiful island near Caye Caulker).
Ometepe was my favorite place in Nicaragua. A small island off the east coast with two (dormant) volcanoes. This place is lush with life. As a nature lover, exploring Ometepe was nothing short of a dream. Kayak through lake Nicaragua, hike to towering waterfalls, lookout for colorful birds, or take a dip in a natural spring pool. This tiny island packs a powerful punch of natural goodness.
San Blas Islands, Panama
You know those cartoons that show a completely secluded island with just a few palm trees? That’s actually what the San Blas islands are like. Visiting the San Blas Islands is not only a great way to travel between Panama and Colombia but an incredible adventure through some of the most remote and beautiful islands on the planet.
The archipelago has approximately 365 islands and cays, most of which are uninhabited. When you arrive on the islands it will only be your crew from the ship and the supplies brought. With no cell phone reception or wifi, spend your days relaxing on the beautiful beaches, drinking fresh coconuts, or snorkeling in the nearby water where you can find colorful coral reefs, tropical fish and manta rays.
If you need a complete escape from reality the San Blas Islands are the best island paradises to go.
Island Paradises to visit in South America
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
If you want a unique tropical island to visit this winter, look no further then the Galapagos Islands. Located 600 miles off the coast of mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos are home to the most unique wildlife I’ve ever encountered.
Blue-footed boobies, 200-year-old tortoises bigger than you, and sea lions begging you to play with them. This is just an average day in the Galapagos.
On top of all the wildlife, the Galapagos is full of stunning white sand beaches to relax on. Of course, you will have to find space among the resident sea lions, but they usually share.
If you love diving this is the place to be. The Galapagos is home to some of the best dive sites in the world, including the chance to see the famous hammerhead sharks. Just snorkeling here you can swim with giant sea turtles, reef sharks, sea horses, and playful sea lions. It’s hands down the best snorkeling I’ve done anywhere in the world.
Tropical Island Paradises to visit in The Caribbean
The Caribbean is full of beautiful islands to visit but few have that perfect combination of ingredients to make an amazing trip like Negril. Situated on the western tip of Jamaica, Negril is famous for its amazing nightly sunsets. Where the beaches end they give way to towering, rocky cliffs that overlook stunning turquoise waters.
Head to the west end of town to cliff jump into the warm Caribbean waters, and share a red stripe with friendly locals afterward. When visiting Negril you aren’t tucked away in a resort without any culture; you’re right in the middle of it.
If you just want a cheap and easy escape out of winter Varadero is a great place to go. Cuba is one of the cheapest places to visit in the Caribbean from Canada. I stayed at a 5-star all-inclusive resort WITH flights for less than $800.
I’m not a huge fan of resorts, but the beaches in Varadero were gorgeous. I’d love to go back and backpack Cuba, as I’ve heard great reviews from other backpackers. Whether you want to drink on the beach for a week or go on adventures, Cuba offers it all for an affordable price.
Tropical Island Paradises to visit in South Asia
Sri Lanka is a small island below India that is full of amazing beaches. One of my favorites is Weligama, on the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Weligama is the perfect place to go if you want to learn or brush up on your surf skills. The waves in Weligama bay are perfect for beginners, but if you paddle further out there are some bigger waves for the more advanced surfers.
Weligama is in a great location, in the middle of many of the main attractions of Sri Lanka. Popular Mirissa and Galle are only a half-hour drive away, and Udawalawe National Park can be done as a day tour.
Weligama has a number of accommodation options ranging from $7 guesthouses to luxury villas. Wherever you stay, the sunsets in Weligama never fail to disappoint, and there are a number of secluded beaches to enjoy it from in Weligama.
If you want to learn to surf and enjoy the beauty of Sri Lanka, Weligama is the perfect tropical island paradises to visit this winter.
Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand
Ko is the Thai word for an island and the Southern part of the country is plentiful in them.
Ko Pha-Ngan is famous for its monthly full moon parties, which admittedly, are pretty fun. Leading up to the full moon party, the island had several smaller-scale parties including a jungle experience party, located in a beautiful lush garden-clearing deep in the midst of the jungle.
Despite its reputation, Ko Pha-Ngan has more to offer than just parties. Rent a motorbike and explore the more secluded beaches of the East Coast, the national parks, and all the gorgeous waterfalls. Almost 90% of Ko Pha-Ngan is an unspoiled tropical paradise. Ko Pha-Ngan also offers diving, more low-key then nearby Ko Tao, but there’s no shortage of professional, well-priced dive operations.
Ko Pha-Ngan is home to my favorite accommodation that I stayed at in Thailand, a treehouse right on the beach! Check out Goodtime Hostel if you need somewhere to stay in Ko Pha-Ngan.
There are over 8000 different islands in the Philippines and although I haven’t been to ALL of them, I think it’s safe to say they are all perfect. One of the best island hopping tours you can do is TAO experience Palawan, which runs boat tours through the remote islands of Northern Palawan.
In December 2018, I completed the 5-day boat tour between El Nido and Coron, which was the highlight of my time in the Philippines. There is no itinerary, plan, or set destinations for the tour. We spent our days swimming in turquoise waters, snorkeling through colorful coral reefs, chilling on secluded beaches, and fishing off the back of the boat.
TAO has 13 base camps throughout Palawan and each day the team decides where to sleep that night. Accommodations are in gorgeous bamboo huts overlooking the ocean. What I love about TAO is that they are more than just a regular tour company, it’s a social enterprise. They use tourism as a tool to build resilient communities throughout Palawan.
The cost of the tour is $545 USD but well worth every penny. TAO is one of the more unique tours I’ve done and a great example of responsible tourism. If you need accommodation in El Nido, check out Outpost Beach Hostel. It’s a party hostel, but it’s right on the beach and they run great island hopping day tours.
Whether you need to get off the grid, party for a week, or just relax by the beach, these tropical island paradises will solve your winter blues.
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