The tropics are often our dream vacations for a reason. With stunningly clear water, bright warm weather, tasty margaritas and endless fun, what’s not to like?
Well, the only problem is that other people have the same idea!
Depending on where you go you might find your relaxing oceanside getaway is full of stumbling college students. Or, your totally sick spring break party scene might be full of sunburnt old people! That’s why we’re here to help you figure out the best spot to run off to for some fun in the sun!
Because there are so many incredible tropical destinations around the world you need to narrow it down.
Let’s assume you live in North America and you want glorious beaches, good weather, safety, tasty food and fun outdoorsy stuff.
You also want an easy trip that’s not too expensive, far away or hard to get to.
This definition of an “easy trip” will exclude amazing options like the Seychelles, Philippines, Thailand and more… but it is often a good idea to stay local. You don’t have unlimited vacation time. The less time and money you spend in airports, the better.
Keeping that in mind here are some great options, in no particular order. Cater it to where you’re coming from: the west coast of Mexico is easier to get to from the west coast of the U.S. or Canada. For most of these places, the ideal time to visit is spring. This is after the busy, expensive winter season but before the heat and rain of summer. That said, we’ll try to exclude the most prohibitively expensive places if you do flock out this winter.
Before we jump in, we want to remind you to try to shop local and support small island businesses over big chains. They need it, all the more after COVID. Also, if you’re getting into the ocean, wear mineral-based sunscreen. This will help protect vulnerable reefs and ocean life, not to mention your skin. Combine that with our Willy California Rash Guard and Board Shorts and you’ll be beach-ready.
As it goes for traveling these days, keep an eye on local COVID protocols. Some places require a vaccine passport and negative test for entry. Others allow you to pre-test, saving time and energy best spent relaxing. Do your research!
Puerto Rico has recovered heroically from the devastating Hurricane Maria of 2017 and they will be grateful for your tourism. You are sure to get good deals, too. PR is quite inexpensive and because it’s a U.S. territory it’s easy for Americans to get to. San Juan airport is a big hub with many inexpensive flights.
Staying in San Juan is a good option for a lively scene but you’ll want to head to the coasts at some point.
Rincon on the west coast is a surfer’s paradise with multiple restaurants founded by retired surfers. Terrific beaches and fun bars are everywhere.
On the east coast, consider the town of Culebra. It’s a little quieter and more relaxing. Better yet, do both! You can drive from one town to the other in four or five hours. No matter where you are in PR, there’s going to be amazing natural sights, like El Yunque National Forest or La Parguera bioluminescent bay.
The Hawaiian Islands are a popular destination for Westerners for obvious reasons. They speak English, it’s in the U.S. and it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s also the most expensive and developed option on this list. That said, with the island’s wonderful natural beauty and variety – from rain forests to coral reefs to active volcanoes – it’s worth it.
As for the islands, Kauai is best for hikers and Oahu has the biggest party scene, but our favorite is Maui. This little island, named after the great trickster hero in Polynesian mythology, has something for everyone. There are ritzy resorts towards the south with hippie-dippie Paia and wild windsurfing along the north.
There is incredible snorkeling just off the coast, gorgeous beaches, a 10,000 foot volcano, insane golfing and the famous Road to Hana to explore.
Just beware of shore breaks, respect the culture and remember to do everything with Aloha.
If you are ok with going somewhere it may be harder to communicate in English, you will have an amazing time in Mexico.
The Baja Peninsula on the west coast of Mexico, has incredible natural beauty. Stark desert landscapes are a sharp contrast to a crystal-clear ocean that’s full of life.
This is where Jacques Cousteau created a lot of his films and it’s clear why. You can snorkel with sea lions, deep-sea fish or just lounge on the beach and devour ceviche.
While many tourists head to Cabo, we find it to be way too much of a party scene. Huge skyscraper-sized cruise ships disgorge armies of tourists that descend upon night clubs, chain restaurants and bars. The majority of local livelihoods depend on them, so it’s hard to have a real experience that isn’t catered or completely transactional.
La Paz, on the other hand, is a college town and feels much more like a real little city. It is a trendy, smart, health-conscious city full of runners, cyclists and watersports aficionados. Boat rides and quick drives can take you to remote beaches and bays but there’s also fun nightlife and fantastic seafood when you want it. It’s the perfect blend between having the infrastructure for tourist fun without being overrun. Plus, your dollar will go a long way.
On the east coast of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounding islands are wildly popular for good reason. The water is warm and the jungles are beautiful. Cancun is a major tourist hub and therefore best avoided in favor of places like Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen. Make sure you check out Merida for its colonial architecture and proximity to the ruins of Chichen Itza: a spellbinding Mayan pyramid complex. We also like Tulum for its ruins and mellow vibe.
That all said, the island of Cozumel is our choice. It’s safe, absolutely gorgeous and fun to explore.
There are ecotourism theme parks, zip-lining and world-class, cheap SCUBA diving. There’s excellent cuisine from all around the world and you can always hop over to Playa del Carmen via ferry if you need more nightlife.
Whatever you’re picturing when you think of “ideal Caribbean Vacation,” St. John is probably it. St. John is amazing because it’s quite undeveloped. The majority of this little island is a protected national park. You can wander safely in any direction, see amazing sites and meet cool locals whose lives you’ll be deeply envious of. Because it’s laid-back and not very built up, you don’t have to worry about the cruise ship mobs or the industry of monetizing them.
There’s just one downside: food is expensive since you’re paying for it to be transported to this little island. But because airfare is relatively cheap, all that money can go to ceviche and margs, where it belongs.
Of course, some people will disagree with our list, and they’ll be right! There are scores of places that are equally magical. Costa Rica is perfect for naturalists and beach-lovers. Aruba is easy to get to and gorgeous. Then there’s Honduras, Belize, Puerto Vallerta and many more. There are far too many wonderful tropical places to visit, so we’d have to recommend you just try to see them all. Safe travels!