- By Park Wilson
Does your vision of how you'd like to spend retirement involve sunset walks on a long stretch of deserted beach or exploring nature in an exotic setting far removed from the cares of the world? Or is your view of the perfect tropical retirement destination clouded by perceived hassles of getting settled in a new place, stepping over sunbathing weekend tourists and dealing with rickety roads?
Truth is, the authentic tropical island experience is entirely attainable and within your reach. You just have to know where to look.
(MORE: 7 Best Places Around the World to Retire)
There are a number of affordable, accessible, breathtakingly beautiful, exotic tropical islands with world-class amenities that are ideally suited to American retirees.
Here are 10 excellent places to own an island lot or, even better, an entire island:
1. Caye Caulker, Belize
Photo by Mike Heller
Smaller and less populated than nearby tourist favorite Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker is the perfect place to slow down and live at your own pace. Here, life is lived outdoors, where the chirping of birds and the chattering of neighbors are the only sounds you'll hear, since cars aren’t allowed.
In fact, there aren't even any paved roads on the 5-mile-long island in the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of Belize. Shorts, sundresses and flip-flops are the recommended dress code for al fresco dining on some of the best seafood in the region.
Other favorite pastimes: stargazing from a dock, dancing barefoot to live music on the beach and enjoying the gorgeous sunsets illuminating the mangroves that dot the skyline.
(MORE: How to Choose Where to Retire)
2. Curacao, Dutch Caribbean
Photo by Matthew T Rader
The island nation of Curacao lies 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It's the perfect blend of traditional Dutch culture with just a hint of Latin spice. Curacao enjoys a tropical climate, with a brief wet season from October to December and cooling trade winds that keep temperatures around 80 degrees all-year-round.
The island has a small population of around 140,000, with 125,000 of its residents living in the capital of Willemstad, a well-appointed town with an international airport (nonstop flights from Miami and Atlanta) and a modern hospital.
3. Boca Chica, Panama
Photo courtesy VivaTropical
Located off the Central American nation's Pacific Coast, Boca Chica is one of Panama’s best up-and-coming destinations for expats.
The mainland features rolling hills with a few boutique hotels and eco-lodges (many centered around the world-class sport fishing that first attracted outsiders to the area). Offshore is an archipelago of over 50 spectacular islands, which National Geographic depicted as "myriad emerald isles strewn like jewels in a sapphire sea.” Each has a unique terrain — you'll find white sand beaches, thick mangrove forests and ancient rain forests.
(MORE: 11 Cool Webcams From Around the World)
Boca Chica is practically completely untouched, so a day of island hopping can leave you feeling like you've discovered territories and species never seen by human eyes. It’s also a great place for sailing, whale watching, snorkeling and diving.
Recent infrastructure projects, including the expansion of the airport, have increased Boca Chica’s investment potential, making it a great place to own an island or at least a piece of one.
And Panama, in general, is hugely popular among overseas retirement analysts. International Living recently named the country the best place in the world to retire, partly due to its excellent discounts for retirees.
4. Roatan, Honduras
Photo by Jose Luis Duron
The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan lies a short ferry ride off the coast of Honduras (it also has direct flights). The island is adjacent to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. As a result, Roatan is ideal for active expats who want easy access to a wealth of aquatic adventures.
In addition to scuba diving and snorkeling, you can spend your time island hopping, sport fishing or kayaking through the mangroves. On land, there are zip-lining tours of the canopy, ATV rentals, jungles to explore and indigenous villages to visit.
If a less heart-pumping lifestyle is more your speed, there are plenty of remote spots far removed from the cruise ship docks and tourist operations of the busy West End. On Roatan’s northern shores, you can find a stretch of deserted beach to enjoy a picnic or a relaxing swim.
There are plenty of properties for sale and, according to Steve Hasz of Roatan Life Real Estate, prices are often far below those of other Caribbean locations.
5. Nevis, Lesser Antilles
Photo by tiarescott
For a quieter Caribbean experience, consider Nevis, a small island that’s roughly 200 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. It’s next to St. Kitts, separated from the larger island by a shallow two-mile channel known as "The Narrows."
While peace and quiet are its hallmarks, there are also plenty of things to do in Nevis besides relaxing on the beach, such as exploring rain forests and abandoned British-era plantations. You can also enjoy incredible views from the top of the island's extinct volcano.
6. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Photo by Carlos Rivera
Another idyllic island with a slower pace of life is Isla Mujeres. Located just a few miles across the bay from Cancun, it's only 5-miles-long and half-a-mile wide.
Despite its growing popularity among tourists and expats, Isla Mujeres has retained the quaint atmosphere and authentic charm of its earlier days as a fishing village.
This Caribbean island is completely surrounded by stunning beaches, which offer the perfect place for an evening stroll or for chatting with local fishermen as they unwind after the end of a long day.
7. San Andres, Colombia
Photo by Yassef Briceño Garcîa
This little-known island is part of an archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Colombia. San Andres has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, along with about 10 percent of the Caribbean Sea, to help conserve its beautiful, biodiverse reefs, cays, coves, and picturesque beaches.
Much of San Andres’ appeal lies in its beautiful tropical settings and exotic flora and fauna. Its landscapes include coconut palm plantations, tall forests and lush pastures, all adjacent to the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean.
8. Pearl Islands, Panama
Photo by Gaspar Serrano
Located in the Gulf of Panama, about 30 miles from bustling Panama City, the Pearl Islands Archipelago is popular with locals and tourists. In fact, it's where many Panamanians (as well as foreigners) have chosen to build their colossal second homes, due to its easy access from Panama City.
Because it's comprised of around 100 islands, many of which are uninhabited, the Pearl Islands are also the perfect place to search for an entire island to call your own. Most boast beautiful, white sand beaches leading into the sparkling turquoise water. It's no wonder the archipelago has hosted three seasons of Survivor.
On Isla Contadora, the most popular of the Pearl Islands, you'll find a number of luxury hotels and restaurants, as well as a 9-hole golf course and a small airport.
9. Palau, Micronesia
Photo by Mark Kenworthy
Located in the western Pacific Ocean near Indonesia and the Philippines, Palau is a nation comprised of 250 lush, green islands forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands.
Its waters are home to some amazing diving and snorkeling destinations, ranging from coral reefs to World War II shipwrecks.
Palau’s friendly population of around 13,000 makes adjusting to the local culture a breeze. The nation also has relatively simple immigration policies and relatively affordable housing ($200,000 for an ocean view).
10. Dominica, Lesser Antilles
Photo by Chris Ford
Another of the Lesser Antilles, the Commonwealth of Dominica lies just northwest of Martinique and is referred to as the "Nature Isle of the Caribbean," due to its unspoiled natural beauty.
Home to the world's second-largest hot spring, Dominica is still being formed by geothermal volcanic activity. Additional natural features include lush rain forests, many rare bird species and 365 rivers — one for every day of the year.