The Top 5 Islands in Mexico and Central and South America in 2020

A Galapagos sea lion on the beach with a cruise ship and turquoise ocean in the distance, Galapagos Island, Ecuador
Photo: Getty Images

This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

Islands usually are synonymous with beaches. But in this part of the world, they also boast history, wildlife, and archaeological splendors. That diversity of experience is reflected in the worthy winners of this category.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure 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.

Belize scores big with two entries on the list. The country’s biggest island, Ambergris Caye, comes in at No. 5, luring droves of divers to the nearby Belize Barrier Reef (the second-largest in the world), where the diving is, according to one reader, “the best that can be found in the Northern Hemisphere.” Caye Caulker (No. 4) is a five-mile-long spit with a distinctly laid-back vibe, where golf carts and bicycles — the only means of transportation ­here — facilitate its “Go Slow” credo. There’s a similar vibe on No. 2 island Isla Mujeres, Mexico, which, though only three miles from Cancún, feels far removed, with its beachfront fish shacks and sand-dusted streets.

Coming in at No. 3 is Chile’s Easter Island, one of the most remote islands in the world. Here, where the “culture and history are amazing,” as one reader praised, the iconic moai statues are the main draw. Almost 1,000 of them, carved from compressed volcanic ash as long ago as the 13th century, are still intact.

But it’s the Galápagos that once again seizes the top spot. Read on to find out why T+L readers love it so much — and which other destinations made their list of the best islands in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

1. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Woman swimming in a natural pool, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.44

Taking the top spot for an impressive 18th year, these Ecuadoran islands have been among readers’ favorites since the World’s Best Awards debuted. The archipelago’s ruggedly beautiful topography and rare wildlife are the star attractions. T+L readers attest that both can be enjoyed equally well, whether you base yourself on one of its three inhabited islands (day-tripping to neighboring ones, of course) or aboard one of the cruise ships or boats. “It’s incredible how close you can be to the wildlife and how diverse the landscape is,” one reader noted. “Galápagos is a gorgeous place that opened up my eyes to true beauty.”

2. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Aerial view of Isla Mujeres, Mexico
EyeEm/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 83.23

3. Easter Island, Chile

Moai at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile
Getty Images

Score: 81.75

4. Caye Caulker, Belize

Beach on Caye Caulker, Belize
Courtesy of Belize Tourism Board

Score: 80.11

5. Ambergris Caye, Belize

Dock at beach on Ambergris Caye, Belize
Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 79.91

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