While there’s something to be said for the blissful toes-in-the-sand type of beach trip, not all summer vacations call for lounge chairs and coconut cocktails. Sometimes you’re looking for something a little more exciting than working on your tan. Luckily, there are plenty of tropical islands where you can experience lightning-fast tours through rainforest canopies, snorkeling expeditions through coral reefs, and vibrant villages where street art celebrates native culture. For those who like their warm-weather travels to include a healthy dose of adventure, here are eight amazing tropical spots for the perfect summer vacation.
1. El Castillo, Costa Rica
The Arenal Volcano stands tall over this mountain village beloved by expats and modern-day bohemians. Beauty is in plain sight: the Lake Arenal sparkles into the distance, and you’re surrounded by rugged rain forest. Mountainous roads and an off-the-beaten-path location make it a bit of a challenge to get here, but those who make the trek will be rewarded with zipline canopy tours, horseback riding, and the island’s largest butterfly conservatory.
Politically connected to Trinidad, Tobago is the smaller of this Caribbean island duo. It’s also an outdoor adventurer’s delight. Networks of hiking and biking trails traverse its canyons, waterfalls, and ancient rainforest. Hop on the Gilpin Trail and travel deep into the heart of the forest for the chance to see the island’s national bird, the cocrico. For sun-and-surf seekers, each of Tobago’s beaches has its own distinct personality. Visit popular Pigeon Point, a coconut-tree lined beach just at the edge of a fishing village, or Englishman’s Bay, a quiet beach backed by rainforest.
3. Islas Bastimento, Panama
It’s hard to believe that it takes just 10 minutes for the water taxi to whisk you from the crowded Bocas del Toro district to this serene island. Many of Islas Bastimento’s beaches are within the bounds of the national park—it’s not uncommon to witness a nesting sea turtle, and several of its untouched coral reefs offer scenic snorkeling. Many opt to explore the island by hiking through the jungle from the resort-developed Red Frog Beach to secluded Wizard Beach.
4. Caye Caulker, Belize
Just five miles long, this tiny island is known for its laid-back vibe, due in part to its blend of Creole and Rastafarian culture. But despite its no-hurries-no-worries attitude, there’s plenty of adventure to be had—like snorkeling with sharks and diving a famed submarine cave. At the end of the day, cold drinks will be waiting for you at The Split, a beach bar where Hurricane Hattie once split the island in two, or at the I&I Reggae Bar, where you chill out on a hammock or hit the dance floor.
5. Utila, Honduras
Of the three Bay Islands, Utila is the middle brother in spirit: not quite as resort-like as Roatan yet a bit more developed than Guanaia. It’s the perfect balance for a back-to-nature retreat and a breezy island getaway. You can enjoy a five-star, sit-down meal, but you can also embark on multi-day kayak expeditions through coral reefs. Most visit the Bay Islands for their spectacular diving—whale shark sightings are common at Utila’s popular Black Hills dive site.
6. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
It’s not easy to travel to this volcanic archipelago, and for good reason. It’s a World Heritage Site with a strictly protected ecosystem filled with species like sea turtles, humpback whales, and albatrosses. For the lucky few who do set foot on its shores, expect breathtaking scenery—like dark rock formations jutting up from turquoise waters and cliffs topped with sandy beaches. Scuba diving, 4×4 adventures, and hiking and camping tours offer plenty of opportunities to explore by land and by sea.
7. San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
There’s joy to be had just wandering around the village of San Juan La Laguna, where the streets are sparkling clean and the communal spirit is tangible. Here, you can meet local artisans, sample mouthwatering cheese platters at Cafe El Artesano, and admire vibrant murals depicting Tz’utujil culture. From Mayan ceremonial centers to the mountainous shores of Lake Atitlan, there’s a surprisingly rich natural and cultural bounty to explore for such a tiny destination.
More than 70 miles of sandy beaches on the outside and rich tropical rainforest on the inside compose the main island of Grenada. Snorkelers love taking to the waters off Grand Anse Beach to spot schools of shrimp and fish or from Levera National Park to explore coral reefs. On land, miles of rugged trail wind through dense forest and past waterfalls. After you’ve worked up a sweat, reward yourself with a rum drink at the island’s distilleries.
No matter where in the tropics you visit, there is one constant—you’re going to be hot. When it comes to choosing apparel for your trip, look for clothing that features 37.5 Technology. This patented fabric technology is used by a wide variety of outdoor clothing companies, and helps keep your body at its ideal core temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius as well as the relative humidity next to your skin at 37.5 percent. When you’re hot, the material helps remove moisture from your microclimate to cool you. When you’re cold, the fabric uses the body’s own infrared energy to warm you up. For a trip to the tropics, you can’t beat loungewear from Tommy Bahama for comfort. And for those hot hikes into the rainforest, consider protecting yourself from overexposure with Eclipse Sun Products. Both brands create products with 37.5 Technology to keep you comfortable and help you get the most out of your tropical adventure.
Written by Amanda McConnon for Matcha in partnership with 37.5 and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Christian Lendl