Central America’s Small Island Retreats

Three private Caribbean islands that are easy to reach, and hard to forget


Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping to a remote tropical island, far from cruise ship crowds and high-rise hotels? But unless you have a boat and plenty of time, your options are limited. Fortunately, there are some small islands off the Caribbean coast of Central America that are just a plane flight and a short boat ride away. Here are three such places where you can play castaway without giving up the comforts of civilization.

Turneffe Island Resort, Belize

For anyone who has dreamed of traveling to a remote tropical atoll, but can’t spend weeks getting there, this might be the answer. A two-hour flight from Miami or Houston, followed by a 90-minute boat ride or scenic helicopter hop, puts you on a small private island in the middle of the largest—and one of the only—coral reef atolls in the Western Hemisphere. Turneffe Atoll sits in the Caribbean Sea, 25 miles off the coast of Belize. At the southern end of this 30-mile long coral plateau, a 14-acre private island is the setting for a small resort that offers 12 guest rooms and ten private villas. Interiors are finished in rich mahogany and teak woods, and provide direct ocean views. Guests enjoy the splendid isolation of a remote tropical island, with no signs of civilization for miles around, but they can remain connected with Internet access and phone service.

Dive Boats Turneffe Island Belize

Dive boats and fishing skiffs sit at the docks at Turneffe Island Resort. In addition to daily dive and snorkel trips, the resort runs excursions to Belize’s famous Blue Hole. Photo: Turneffe Island Resort

On-site amenities include a lounge with TV, DVD player, movie & book library, an on-site spa, pool, outdoor social deck, restaurant and beach bar. With some of the best reefs in the Caribbean just a short boat ride away, and the famous Blue Hole within range of day trips, diving and snorkeling are favored activities at the resort. The expansive sand flats and mangrove forests that stretch north from the resort also draw sport fishermen, who come for both fly fishing on the flats, and blue water fishing outside the reef. To support these activities, Turneffe Resort has a dedicated fishing tackle shop and a PADI dive center. Sea kayaks, paddleboards and sailboats are available for guests who wish to explore the lagoon, and there are weekly activities such as beach BBQs and live entertainment.

Turneffe Belize Rooms

Rooms at Turneffe Island Resort are constructed from polished teak and mahogany wood, and include handcrafted furniture. Upper floor rooms have vaulted ceilings. Photo: Turneffe Island Resort

The Villas at Dunbar Rock, Honduras

The Villas at Dunbar Rock isn’t just on the water, it is entirely surrounded by water. This one-of-a-kind boutique resort rises like a giant house of cards above a small rock outcropping just off the coast of Guanaja. The greenest and most mountainous of the Bay Islands, Guanaja is cloaked in forests where hiking trails lead to secluded beaches, freshwater springs and waterfalls that cascade from the slopes. There is only one road, and most travel takes place by boat. The Villas is a self-contained, multi-level compound that includes a dive shop, restaurant, and resort facilities, with guest facilities occupying various levels, with water views in all directions.

Dunbar Rock Honduras

The Villas at Dunbar Rock rise from the water, with rooms spread across four levels. The upper deck is a favorite gathering place for meals and sunset socializing. Photo: Dunbar Rock

Getting to Dunbar Rock involves a puddle jumping flight into Guanaja’s small airstrip, then a ten-minute ride across the bay. From the resort’s dock, stairs rise through the various levels of the property, which includes ten guest rooms and suites. All accommodations have private balconies with direct water views. There’s in-room AC in case the sea breezes don’t suffice, and Wi-Fi for those who just have to stay connected. The place to be for relaxation and views is the top level, which provides huge 360-degree panoramas of ocean and island, and features a stunning infinity-edge pool that perches on the edge of the platform. The top level also holds a fitness center, dining room, bar and a great room with a pool table and media center. Meals are typically served family style, and include a variety of regional and international cuisines. Down at water level, there is a small beach, and a PADI dive shop offering daily scuba and snorkel trips to area reefs.

Dunbar Rock Penthouse Honduras

On the top floor of Dunbar Rock, the sitting room of the presidential suite delivers sweeping views that take in the lagoon and the shores of Guanaja Island. Photo: Dunbar Rock

Barefoot Cay, Honduras

Travelers can enjoy both isolation and easy access at this upscale retreat. The resort occupies a four-acre island perched right off the southern coast of Roatan, which is the largest and most developed of Honduras’s Bay Islands. Ten minutes by road and a two-minute boat ride away from the town of Coxen Hole, guests of Barefoot Cay can enjoy the intimate serenity of a private island, but are still close to shopping, dining and adventures on the big island. The resort’s beach is located inside Roatan’s barrier reef, which creates calm and protected water for swimming or paddling. The setting is also positioned perfectly for the easterly trade winds that create a tropical breeze over the cay.

Barefoot Cay Resort Honduras

Million dollar yachts sit at the docks of Barefoot Cay. This small, private island offers solitude, yet is just minutes away from the facilities of Roatan island. Photo: Barefoot Cay

Barefoot Cay’s one and two-bedroom villas are fitted with louvered doors that lead to living space and a private deck and beach. Guests are pampered with premium linens and Heavenly beds. Interiors blend traditional island charm with modern amenities such as Internet access, flat-screen televisions with both cable service and Apple TV connections. Each en suite bathroom includes a Balinese shower. The two-bedroom oceanfront villas are ideal for families and groups, as they include separate private entrances for each bedroom, and a central living area and gourmet kitchen. Water sports are a key focus at Barefoot Cay, and the island includes a PADI 5-Star dive center and full service marina. In addition to the pool and swimming beach, there is a snorkeling reef, and complimentary kayaks and paddleboards. The Cay’s signature restaurant showcases locally sourced ingredients and seafood, and guests can also enjoy causal dining at the pool cabana, or take in the view from the upper deck of the Lookout Lounge.

Honduras Roatan Barefoot Cay Pier Palapa

The over water palapa at Barefoot Cay sits at the end of a long pier that extends towards a shelter barrier reef, providing snorkelers with easy access to the corals. Photo: Barefoot Cay