Well it’s not exactly ‘hopping’, but you can work your way down through the seven countries of Central America and visit a range of amazing islands as part of your trip. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other, islanders often have a unique way of living, quite separate from the mainland, and depending on which sea you are based, it is often like stepping into an entirely different continent.
At five miles long, Caye Caulker is a small slice of paradise. The local community know this and although it is not far from the Spanish speaking mainland, the islanders are very much Caribbean in their lifestyle. Slow pace, beautiful beaches, fried fish and thick Jamaican sounding Creole. The ocean is part of life here and fishing boats, dive and snorkel trips are everywhere. It is well worth jumping aboard as the reef here is home to a huge array of fish and you can regularly spot manta rays, reef sharks and even turtles in the deeper water.
This is the largest of the three Caribbean Bay Islands and with the Mesoamerican reef just off the coast, it boasts some of the best scuba diving in the world. Honduras is still largely off the tourist trail, so what you get is an insight into what life was like before the tour buses came through. Turquoise water laps at white sand beaches; exotic butterflies land on lush green vegetation, mangroves offer endless wildlife spotting and life is incredibly laid back. It is also considerably cheaper than other parts of Central America. Get there before the rest of the world discovers it!
An island like no other, Ometepe is a double volcano sitting in the middle of freshwater lake. The dramatic volcano cones, fertile land, plentiful flowers, colorful birds, archaeological sites and wide beaches can be explored on foot, bike or by car, although you will need to bring yours over on the ferry as there are no car hire places on the island. If you are anything like those who travelled before you, prepare to stay on this island in Latin America a little longer than you had planned. The Aztecs for instance, believed they had found the Promised Land when they arrived at Ometepe, it’s that beautiful!
Many islands tout themselves as paradise, but Little Corn is what most people would describe as their dream island escape. As soon as you step off the boat from Big Corn, the entrance point to the two Corn Islands, you know you can take your shoes off and leave your cares behind you. There are no roads and crossing the one mile square island means picking your way through the thick vegetation, avoiding crabs and falling coconuts. The beaches are picture perfect, with white sand and palm trees scattered with cabanas and sleepy travellers. Diving and snorkelling is fantastic and the bountiful supply of fresh fish makes for some delicious dining experiences.
Panama has a different feel to it from the rest of Central America. The Panama Canal brought in influences and people from around the globe and as such life feels a lot more Western, with a well-established expat culture. The Bocas Del Toro chain of islands is a happy mix of beautiful beaches, colourful clapboard houses, banana plantations, lush vegetation, crystalline waters and some stunning hotels, eco-lodges, restaurants and bars. Boats will take you between the islands, giving you access to more remote parts of the archipelago, where a trek into the deserted interior will leave you feeling like one of the early explorers.