As the weather gets colder, sometimes you just need to get away—especially to somewhere that doesn't have piles of snow, ice on the roads, and wet slush that somehow infiltrates your shoes no matter how sturdy they are. But just because you want to get out of the cold, doesn't mean you have to get bogged down with the anxiety of planning a big trip.
There are so many tropical islands, filled with beaches, snorkeling spots, and amazing food, out there to explore—and plenty of them are within three hours of the continental United States. You don't need to undertake layovers and seemingly endless flights just to get out in the sun. Instead, check out the 10 best tropical islands that are within three hours of the continental U.S.
The Best Tropical Islands You Can Get to Easily From the U.S.
1. St. Martin
Located in the northeast Caribbean Sea, St. Martin is a relatively unique island—it's divided about 60:40 between the French Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. So in one trip you can get a bit of French culture, Dutch culture, and a lot of Caribbean fun all in one island. Because of that, the island's known as St. Martin in English, Saint-Martin in French, or Sint Maarten in Dutch.
Translating between French and Dutch isn't the only thing to do on the island, though. It's known for its beautiful beaches, hiking trails that lead from beach to beach, and snorkeling opportunities.
St. Martin is reachable from several destinations on the East Coast through a nonstop flight, including New York City, Newark, and Atlanta, and the island's Princess Juliana International Airport is a three-hour flight away from Miami.
2. Puerto Rico
You can catch a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico from most major cities in the United States, but it's easily reached in under three hours from most destinations in Florida. As a U.S. territory, U.S. citizens can travel to Puerto Rico without needing a passport or needing to change money. While the main language spoken on the island is Spanish, many people also speak English, making it an easy transition for travelers from the U.S.
"The island is filled with natural and historic wonders," says Steve Prohaska, a travel expert and the founder of See the Best Places. "There you can hike the trails of El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Go kayaking in a bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. San Juan National Historic Site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as part of the National Park System. Walk the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and explore historic Spanish forts like Castillo Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal."
Prohaska also recommends stopping by any of the island's beautiful beaches, and trying local cuisine like lechon, arroz con gandules or mofongo, a dish made from plantains, chicharrón, oil, and garlic.
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3. U.S. Virgin Islands
To get to the U.S. Virgin Islands, all travelers have to fly into either St. Thomas or St. Croix, which are both reachable in under three hours from Miami, and St. Thomas is reachable in just over three hours from New York City.
"The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of three main islands: St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, as well as numerous smaller islands," says Feross Bessadeg, the founder of Travelness. "The total land area of the islands is 133.73 square kilometers (51.67 sq mi). There are many things to do in the U.S. Virgin Islands, such as snorkeling, diving, sailing, exploring the rainforest, and visiting historical sites."
Travelers to the islands can also stop at Virgin Islands National Park, which is located on St. John, to go boating, explore the park's beaches, or go for a hike among historic ruins.
4. The Bahamas
It takes less than an hour to fly from Miami to many destinations in the Bahamas, including the nation's capital, Nassau, and can take less than three hours to get there on a boat from Miami as well, as the country is only 110 miles northeast of the Florida city.
While it's easy to spend an entire trip to the Bahamas on the many islands' beautiful white-sand beaches, if you feel like getting out of the sand and water for a bit, check out some history on the real pirates of the caribbean. Blackbeard's Tower is one of the most fascinating sights on Nassau, the crumbling ruin was used as a lookout point for the many pirates, including Blackbeard, who occupied the island in the 18th century.
Don't feel restricted to just staying in Nassau. The Bahamas is made up of more than 3,000 different islands, many of which are accessible for travelers.
Maybe you've seen the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series, or gone on the famous Disney ride, but if you want to authentically experience where the pirates were based, and learn about the history of when they were ruling the seas, all while enjoying beautiful beaches, then there are few better locales than Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean Sea.
"The island was the preferred destination of the earliest known colonial pirates, a notable one being Henry Jennings," says Jamari Douglas, the vice president of marketing, PR, and communications at Bermuda Tourism Authority. "Jennings is one of the world's most renowned and iconic Black pirates. All around the island, you can still feel the impact of their history. With more than 300 shipwrecks surrounding the island, Bermuda has the most shipwrecks per square mile in the world, providing for endless amounts of discoverable bounty. The island is also surrounded by a ring of coral reefs which protects and caused many of these historic wrecks dating from the 1600s to 1997."
If you're flying into the small British territory, you're going to be landing at L.F. Wade International Airport, less than 10 miles northeast of the island's capital, Hamilton. The airport has nonstop flights arriving from several destinations on the East Coast, including Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a two-and-a-half hour flight away. A flight from New York City will also take just over two hours to reach the small island.
6. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Though the name Isla Mujeres means the island of women in Spanish, it's full of laid-back fun for everyone. Located near the popular Mexican tourist destination, Cancún, Isla Mujeres is a bit more relaxed than the action-filled, party hotspot on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is filled with plenty of stunning beaches and snorkeling destinations, including the Isla Mujeres Underwater Museum of Art, a dedicated art museum that's completely underwater, and only accessible by snorkeling to it.
"Here you can have the gorgeous views of a Mexican island without the business of places like Cancun or Playa del Carmen," says Nick Mueller, director of operations at HawaiianIslands.com. "Known for its friendly locals, Isla Mujeres offers sports, shopping, views and relaxation."
To get to the island, you'll need to fly into nearby Cancún, and take a 15-minute ferry ride to the island from there. Most large airports in the United States fly to Cancún, and several have flights under three hours, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale.
7. Roatán, Honduras
Originally occupied by the Pech people, an indigenous group from northeastern Honduras, Roatán switched hands between the Spanish, British, and groups of pirates for a while, before eventually being annexed to Honduras in 1861. Now, the island serves as one of Honduras' most beautiful tropical destinations. In addition to a fascinating history, the Honduran island is also home to incredible natural sights and wildlife.
"One of the things that makes Roatán so special is it's situated on the second largest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef," says Jenn Lloyd, a travel writer and the founder of the blog Sick Girl Travels. "This makes for spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving. The island also offers encounters with local wildlife like sloths, dolphins, and various tropical birds. There are plenty of stunning white sand beaches and crystal clear waters."
Roatán is serviced by Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport, and has direct flights from a few airports in the continental United States, including Dallas and Miami, the latter of which has a flight time of two hours and 27 minutes.
8. Caye Caulker, Belize
If you're looking for a laid-back trip, there are few better places to have one than Caye Caulker, an island in Belize that's located about 20 miles from the country's largest city, Belize City. The island mostly consists of white coral sand beaches, and a majority of the island's transportation is based on walking, golf carts, or bicycles.
"The island of Caye Caulker in Belize is one of the most gorgeous tropical islands in the world," says Larry Snider, vice president of operations of Casago Vacation Rentals. "You can snorkel, scuba dive, and swim with the sharks at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve reef system. You can also feed tarpons at a special tarpon feeding dock."
To get to Caye Caulker, you first have to connect in Belize City, which can be reached in a little over two hours from cities like Houston, Dallas and Miami. From Belize City, you can either take a 10-minute flight to Caye Caulker, or a 45-minute water taxi ride.
9. South Padre Island, Texas
Right at the southern tip of Texas, near the state's border with Mexico, sits a string of barrier islands, and South Padre Island sits as the most southern of all of them. The small island, which only has an area of just over 3 square miles, is best known for its beautiful beaches and calm water.
"This barrier island off the coast of Texas is a tropical haven all year long," says travel writer Jenny Ly, the founder of Go Wanderly. "The island offers 34 miles of white sand beaches, warm, clear water, comfortable weather, and a variety of activities. A few activities to enjoy on the island include fishing, boating, and visiting the South Padre Island Bird, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary."
There's no airport on the island, but it's a 30-minute drive in a rental car from Brownsville SPI International Airport, which has services from American Airlines and United Airlines, and the island is a 50-minute drive from Valley International Airport, in Harlingen, Texas. The island's a two hour and 50 minute drive from Corpus Christi.
When you're thinking of a tropical island vacation destination, Jamaica probably pops into your mind pretty quick. The island nation is a beloved hotspot in the Caribbean, receiving millions of tourists every year. While that may make it seem like a place that's suffering from overtourism, there are plenty of spots on the island to check out that won't be packed with people.
Visit the country's many, many beaches and enjoy time in the sun, but also stop by Dunn's River Falls and Park in Ocho Rios, to see some of Jamaica's most majestic waterfalls and beautiful springs. Don't finish your trip without stopping by the Bob Marley Museum, at the reggae legend and Jamaican icon's former home in the nation's capital, Kingston.
Jamaica is accessible to fly direct to from many cities in the U.S., and is reachable in under three hours from just about everywhere in Florida, as well as New Orleans and Atlanta.