From Beach-Bumming to Pondering Penguins: Latin America’s best islands

Latin America’s islands offer a high variety of fun, from penguin-packed islands in Patagonia to Colombia’s beach-bum haven San Andres, which actually sits closer to Nicaragua. Or there’s the famous Galapagos, home to some of the most incredible wildlife on Earth. Inspired to hit Latin America as soon as possible? Check out our tours here.

Credits: flickr.com

Isla Magdalena, Chile
Roughly 120,000 Magellanic penguins reside on Isla Magdalena, also known as Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos. They waddle their way around, playing in the water, charming visitors every second as they belt out their unique sounds and strut across windswept beaches to rugged tundras. Located around two and a half hours northeast of Punta Arenas and accessible by boat, it’s an easy day trip and once there, a well-marked trail guides you path of the penguin colonies.

Credits: Bjørn Christian Tørrisse

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
This archipelago of 21 islands off the northeastern coast of Brazil is known for its unspoiled beaches, abundant wildlife and natural beauty. It’s both a UNESCO site and a fiercely-protected maritime national park — only 460 tourists are allowed to visit at one time. Diving and snorkeling is a favorite activity, with colorful fish, dolphins, turtles, sponges and corals dominating its secluded bays, and back on land, the rocky terrain offers a number of excellent hikes and walks.

Credits: Diego Delso

Islas Uros, Peru
Located in Lake Titicaca, a large body of water bordering Peru and Bolivia, the Uros Islands artificial, floating reed islands and home to the Uros tribe. The tribe originally created this floating lifestyle centuries ago in order to protect themselves from the Incas. The islands are created from the totora reeds, a type of cattail native to the lake, and feel spongy when you walk on them. The dense roots support the top layer, which rots over time and is regularly replaced by stacking more reeds on the top layer. The simple, picturesque houses are also constructed from the same reeds and visits often include a demonstration of how the tribes work with the reeds or a homestay with a local family.

Credits: wikipedia

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Straddling the Pacific coast, the Galapagos Islands are one of the top destinations in the world to see wildlife in its natural habitat, such as giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and red marine iguanas. These are the islands where Charles Darwin was inspired to create his famous theory of evolution. There are a variety of ways to visit the islands: you can cruise around and stop at several islands or base yourself on one island and take boats to see the specific sites. The island also offers superb kayaking, snorkeling and diving activities.

Credits: wikipedia

Ambergis Caye, Belize
At 25 miles (40 km) long and 4.5 miles (7 km) wide at its widest point, Ambergris is the queen of the cayes, or islands, off the coast of Belize. The delicate Northern Barrier Reef is only a extremely close to the coastline, which makes dive sites extremely accessible—travel time by boat from the shore to top dive spots often only requires 10-15 minutes. In addition to excellent diving, there’s snorkeling, fishing and windsurfing, as well as just bobbing in the sea or embracing the beauty of doing nothing in a hammock.

Credits: Alessandro Caproni

Chiloé, Chile
This archipelago of several islands is a mere 20-minute boat ride away from the mainland, yet feels far removed from the rest of the country. Bright, multicolored houses on stilts dominate the towns and villages while jagged coastlines and lush, emerald forests sprawl across its largely-rural landscape. Culturally, Chiloé is dominated by mythical legends, superstitions and witchcraft, a result of indigenous folklore and Roman catholic beliefs brought here by 16th-century Spanish Conquistadores.

Credits: Mario Carvajal

San Andres, Colombia
Located closer to Jamaica and Nicaragua than to Colombia (it’s 470 miles/750 km from the Colombian mainland, but only 31 miles /50 km from Nicaragua), San Andrés is Colombia’s favorite weekend escape to kick back with a cocktail while lounging in the sun, shopping tax-free, partying, diving and snorkeling. But if you venture a bit off the beaten path, this sea-horse shaped Island offers countless deserted beaches. Due to various settlers, colonizers and location, the island has its own geography, history, culture and language, so expect to hear a mix of English, Spanish and Creole.

Credits: flickr.com

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Yes, it’s touristy and boasts a large amount of all-inclusive resorts and hopping nightclubs, but this island located only 8 miles (13 km) from Cancun also offers one of the finest beaches around: Playa Norte is a superb spot to people-watch, hit up a beach bar and dig your toes in the powder sand for a full day of chilled bliss. Beyond the beach, the coral reef filled waters are extremely clear and offer excellent and easily-accessible diving and snorkeling activities. And once you’ve tanned yourself happy, head to the island’s southernmost point, Ponta Sur. The scenic spot on the rocky tip features a pretty lighthouse, a few remains of an ancient Mayan site and a sculpture garden.

Credits: flickr.com

 

 

Caroline Sieg

Caroline Sieg is a half-Swiss, half-American writer, editor and content marketer focusing on travel, food, art, design & the outdoors. She's traveled throughout Latin America, is addicted to empanadas and tacos, and loves outdoor adventure, from trekking in Patagonia to zip lining in Costa Rica.

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