12. San Blas Islands, Panama
East of the Panama Canal is an archipelago of islands and sand specks. Although over 360 of these sandy escapes can be found, only around 50 of them are inhabited.
Some are tiny sand cays, others are islands with communities, but with rising tide levels the concern of many disappearing is real.
Beyond the obvious reasons to visit: remote sandy beaches, palm trees and lapping waves, they provide a fantastic place to island hop thanks to the relative proximity. A digital detox is ensured on many of the islands, and with family-run accommodation the norm here, it is still an authentic experience. Tourism only opened here in the 1940s, and The Guna Yala who are the indigenous people of the islands now share their culture with visitors. From Panama City, a three-hour jeep ride through a jungle will transfer you to the port to access the archipelago.
Traditional Kava ceremony in Fiji
Fiji felt like being welcomed home by friends from the first Bula! Arriving at customs with a guitar serenade put on by the airport, the island vibes, or Fiji time as the locals call it, began straight away. Laughter and smiles crack as often as coconuts here, and you can really tail your island experience to suit you.
The main island, Viti Levu, is home to Suva the main cruise port and Nadi the airport, and as such is the gateway to the archipelago. Backpacker travel is starting to grow here, based out of Nadi, thanks to more affordable options sprouting up around the airport and plenty of day trips from Nadi. A short drive away at Denarau Island, though not really an island, is where you’ll find the luxury resorts.
Fiji still felt quite real to me, as soon as I stepped out of the resorts, and I think that’s something you won’t always find on heavily touristed islands or at the resorts of the Maldives Whether you want to relax on a beach with a massage, do watersports off a private island, stroll through lush national parks or embrace the cultural side of island life, Fiji offers everything up in a safe, family-friendly environment.