The 5 Best Islands in Mexico and Central and South America

The best islands in Mexico, Central America, and South America, as voted by Travel + Leisure readers, have gorgeous beaches and a staggering array of wildlife.

Picture-perfect beaches, otherworldly snorkeling and diving, and exceptionally warm and friendly locals — it's not a mystery why travelers across the globe flock to the best islands in Mexico and Central and South America year after year. For blissed-out honeymooners looking to canoodle in the sand, adventurers chasing the next big thrill, or a family with diverse interests, these isles promise an unforgettable trip.

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.

"Snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, visiting Mayan ruins and parasailing…. We have done it all and continue to go back," wrote one reader about Cozumel (No. 5), which sits just south of Cancún off the eastern tip of Mexico. Thanks to its location on the world's second-largest coral-reef system, the roughly 190-square-mile island is famous for its incredible scuba diving sites, where enthusiasts can spot sea turtles and moray eels.

Isla Mujeres, another favorite on the Caribbean side of Mexico, took the No. 4 spot. With an even more relaxed vibe, it's ideal for travelers looking to kick back, grab a plate of fresh ceviche, and enjoy a small-island feel. "It's a great place to get away from the busyness of the mainland," wrote two voters, one of whom specifically touted the isle's north-end beaches.

Ambergris Caye, in Belize, made this year's rankings at No. 2. The long, narrow barrier island is known as the place to see the Great Blue Hole — a 406-foot-deep, 1,000-foot-wide marine sinkhole that looks like an enormous blue circle that can be seen from space. Scientists predict it won't be around forever, so diving enthusiasts would do well to visit sooner rather than later.

Another reader favorite this year is Roatán (No. 3), in Honduras, which was described by one reader as "my favorite island of all I have ever visited," adding that the "water is perfect at all times." Among the top pursuits for visitors: kitesurfing and parasailing.

But for the 20th year in a row, Travel + Leisure readers voted Ecuador's Galápagos Islands No. 1 in Mexico and Central and South America. Whether they're getting there by air or sea, or exploring above or below water, voters consider the volcanic archipelago to be one of the greatest places to visit dramatic landscapes and see animals — including the famed marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies — up close and personal.

1. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

View on the volcanic landscape of Bartolome Island with famous Pinnacle Rock and Golden Beach, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Markus Gebauer Photography/Getty Images

Though the Galápagos have garnered worldwide attention ever since Charles Darwin published his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, in 1859, they've yet to lose their allure as one of the most special places on earth, thanks to careful conservation. "A natural wonder that is well protected by the government and people," noted one reader. The islands were designated a national park — Ecuador's first — in 1959 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. WBA voters recalled incredible experiences, whether they chose to visit on a multiday expedition cruise or stay in one of the hotels (most are on Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal) and take day trips. Either way, the consensus is that to get the most out of a trip, everyone should visit multiple islands to learn about how and why the wildlife has evolved.

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 92.00

2. Ambergris Caye, Belize

Picturesque beachfront scene with transparent waters in San Pedro, Belize
Michael Godek/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 84.31

3. Roatán, Honduras

Scenic view of tropical white sand island in the caribbean coastline of Roatan, Honduras
Pola Damonte/Getty Images

Score: 82.46

4. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Idyllic beach at Isla Mujeres in Caribbean Mexico
Pola Damonte/Getty Images

Score: 82.44

5. Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel Mexico Carribean Sea Shoreline
adogslifephoto/Getty Images

Score: 81.83

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