Spring is coming. Except, not as fast as we all would like. That means it’s time to start making those travel plans. You may be thinking of an exotic tropical getaway but don’t have your passport yet. Well I found six tropical places to which you can travel without a lengthy wait for a passport. These days, U.S. citizens can travel to a handful of tropical destinations with just a drivers license in hand. Whether it’s an island paradise close to home or a more exotic location, all you’ll need is an ID and your sandals.
#6 American Samoa
The unincorporated territory of American Samoa is a collection of five volcanic islands and two atolls between Fiji and the Cook Islands. If you’re looking for somewhere way off the beaten path then this is the place. It has only a handful of hotels in Tutuila and the neighboring islands. The waters are filled with coral, hardened lava rock, and untouched beaches. In the village of Alega you can visit the Barefoot Bar for a drink and the chef will grill up whatever fish or lobster you catch that day. How do you get there? Fly into Pago Pago by way of Hawaiian Airlines.
There is so much to do on this vivid little island. Tumon’s beaches are known for unbelievable snorkeling and the seas are well known to divers due to high visibility of up to 150 feet. It has become a tourist destination for both Japanese and U.S. citizens. Guam was colonized by the Spanish, then changed hands during WWII. It gets most of its income from the U.S. military. Actually, about one-third of it’s territory is made up of navy, coast guard, and air force bases. You can visit Two Lovers Point, a cliff-side lookout, to see spectacular views from 400 feet above the Philippine Sea. It’s not cheap to fly to Guam, but the hotels average around $200 a night.
#4 North Mariana Islands
These islands have been governed by many in their past. First by the Spanish colonists, then by Japanese during WWII, and finally the United States since 1944. These islands rely mainly on tourism from Japan, Korea, and the States. The largest island, Marianas, is home to several war memorials and museums. If you like to scuba dive, you can go to the Grotto. It is a 70 foot deep limestone cavern where you can spot sea turtles and reef sharks. There is also a nearby lagoon surrounding Managaha island that you can boat to. It’s a relatively remote island group, with the exception of some major hotels including the Hyatt that runs four and five-star properties on Saipan.
#3 United States Virgin Islands
These islands are practically minutes away from Puerto Rico (average $75 airfare from San Juan). They are made up of three main islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Tourism makes up the majority of the islands’ economy (as well as the rum). St.John has a national parkland and some of the best scuba diving in the world. St. Thomas island spans 32 square miles and is just off the coast of Puerto Rico. It has countless boutiques and jewelers, as well as two very busy cruise ship ports. It offers sparkling white beaches for swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking. St. Croix is a favorite to the honeymooners and luxury seekers for its rum and Danish heritage. The U.S.V.I. enjoy about 2.6 million tourists a year, and most go for the rum! You will need a passport if you decide to hop over to the neighboring British Virgin Islands though.
#2 Florida Keys
Just off the southeastern coast of Florida, it’s like you’re practically in the Caribbean. It’s a 120-mile chain of islands home to the country’s only living-coral barrier reef. The Keys are palm-lined and the beaches are pristine. Many people consider it the world’s diving capital. You can enjoy snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking (where you just may spot a dolphin or sea turtle). All this and only about a 3 hour plane ride from New England.
#1 Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is officially an unincorporated territory of the United States. Very reasonable airfares are available from Spirit, Southwest and JetBlue. That makes Puerto Rico an affordable option for East Coasters. You can hike through El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. then head over to Old San Juan for a history lesson in beautiful architecture and culture. Did we mention it’s the birthplace of the Pina Colada? If a beach is what you crave go to Culebra. It’s a little tiny island that measures 10 miles long and has 9 different beaches to choose from as well as a bird sanctuary. You can head over to the west coast for some real authentic Puerto Rican food where there are a handful of small eateries where you can feast on some amazing fresh seafood.