Islands conjure dreams of paradise; an escape from the rat race, a perfect patch of sand where you can relax under rustling palms and gaze at a serene blue sea. Not all islands are created the same, the beauty of some is defined more by the sea that surrounds them, which can captivate connoisseurs with its crystalline clarity and thriving coral kingdoms. Other islands feature luxuriant jungles and velvety peaks. And some enchant travelers with their cultural jewels. Whether it’s sublime beaches, stunning topography or exotic cultures you seek, these islands lie far from the workaday clamor but close to creature comforts. From the Seychelles to Santorini and the Caribbean to Capri, you can find your very own Shangri-la in this list of best islands in the world…
The Maldives are home to some of the world’s most ravishing islands, but it’s the sea, which truly makes these islands shine. Luminous aquamarine waters with a crystal clarity lap upon these dazzling white shores, which barely peek above the Indian Ocean. Consisting of 26 natural atolls, the Maldives archipelago is the planet’s lowest lying nation, rising no more than three meters above the sea at its highest point, a measurement that shrinks every year. Beneath the mesmerizing waters, coral reefs flourish, luring divers and snorkelers from around the world. Surfers also flock here to ride the uncrowded breaks. Back on land, luxury resorts provide the perfect launching points for adventures focused upon the sea, the archipelago’s greatest asset, but also, as the planet’s climate changes, its single greatest threat.
2 Bora Bora, French Polynesia
3 Palawan, Philippines
Palawan is the Philippine’s answer to paradise. This island province stretches southwest to Borneo with lush limestone peaks rising from a jewel-like sea so clear, that you can almost see the expressions on the fish from above the surface. Slivers of gleaming white sand fringed with rustling palms rim many of these jungle-clad islands, while under the water, coral reefs flourish with an impressive diversity of tropical fish, offering some of the best diving in the world. Other attractions include the islands’ unique wildlife, emerald lakes, and quaint fishing villages. Coronis home to plush resorts, and El Nido drips with natural beauty and is one of the most alluring islands in the chain. From here, you can island hop around the spectacular Bacuit archipelago. One of Palawan’s top attractions is the World Heritage-listed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, an impressive limestone cave system with a long underground river.
Pristine and picture-perfect, the Seychelles are worth traveling for. East of Kenya, this relatively unspoiled archipelago of 115 coral and granite islands feature UNESCO-listed jungles; thriving coral reefs; and palm-lined, powdery beaches flanked by giant boulders. Almost half the total land area of these equatorial isles is protected, and many of the islands lie within fish-rich marine sanctuaries with excellent diving and snorkeling. The Seychelles also feature some of the planet’s richest fishing grounds, making this a top destination for anglers. Add some spicy Créole cuisine into the mix as well as the plush resorts of Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue, and it’s easy to understand the Seychelles’ allure.
5 Santorini, Greece
6 The Cook Islands
7 Bali, Indonesia
8 The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
In the Adriatic sea off the coast of Croatia, the Dalmatian Islands are an enchanting mix of relaxed charm and rich history. Quaint villages and boutique hotels and restaurants dot these gorgeous isles, which are surrounded by sparkling seas. Top on the list is Brač with the famous beach strip of Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn). Hvar is also beautiful with its Gothic churches, car-free old town, and picturesque fishing harbor. From here, you can zip across to the beautiful Pakleni Islands, known for their crystal clear water and secluded coves. Other must-see Dalmatian islands include Korčula with its red-roofed white-washed buildings, Mljet with its two inland saltwater lakes, and relatively uncrowded Vis.
Kauaʻi is called “the Garden Isle” for good reason: Rainforests cloak much of the interior. Waterfalls tumble from lava cliffs, and the intoxicating fragrance of tropical blooms hangs heavy on the sultry air. But the island’s beauty lies not just in its luxuriant flora and abundant rain; its spectacular coastline will take your breath away. Lava sculpted this stunning island, thrusting up from the ocean floor to form velvety ridges and vertiginous cliffs rimmed by gorgeous beaches. Beneath its cobalt-blue seas, turtles and tropical fish swim along coral reefs, delighting divers and snorkelers from around the globe. Compared to its popular sister islands, Maui and Oahu,Kauaʻi exudes a low-key vibe and tends to move at a more relaxed pace. Don’t miss the breathtaking Nā Pali Coast, 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon, and the cloud-capped vistas from the cliffs above Hanalei Bay.
11 St. Lucia
St. Lucia exudes a dark and brooding beauty. Unlike other Caribbean islands, its best assets are not necessarily its beaches, though with their golden sands and graceful palms, they are popular with those who visit. Rather, the island itself is drenched in topographic drama. The towering Pitons, twin volcanic peaks, preside over the luxuriant landscapes, rising more than 700 meters from the sea, and provide a breathtaking backdrop to the stunning scenery. Bristling forests of coconut palms, waterfalls, quaint fishing villages, coral reefs, nature trails, and healing hot springs are just some of the sights to explore here. Pretty Marigot Bay and Anse Chastanet Marine Park are highlights. The island’s French influences also add to its exotic appeal.
12 Capri, Italy
13 Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
14 Whitsunday Islands, Australia
15 Sardinia, Italy
16 St. Barts
Stunningly beautiful, yet understated, St. Barts lures movie stars and moguls from around the world, and for good reason. This pretty island offers a luscious taste of France in the tropics, with a relaxed charm that discerning travelers love. Glamorous blond beaches curve around its coastline, backed by rolling green hills. Privacy and seclusion are its other top selling points, but of course all this comes at a price. This alluring island is one of the Caribbean’s most expensive, but if money’s no object, you can ensconce yourself in a private villa or boutique hotel, dine on gourmet French cuisine until your heart’s content, and live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.