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. But 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.
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. 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. Coron is 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.
4. Capri, Italy
Glamorous Capri, about 20 kilometers off the Amalfi Coast, lives up to all the hype. Sea stacks and soaring cliffs rise from the teal-hued Tyrrhenian Sea framed by sprays of colorful flowers. A popular attraction is the blue grotto, a glowing sea cave, where locals row tourists in on tiny boats and sing opera to demonstrate the acoustics. Once you arrive at the port of Marina Grande, catch the funicular up to the main town of Capri, which feels like a movie set. The piazza here buzzes with impeccably-dressed locals and tourists toting shopping bags filled with designer clothes and the island’s perfumes. While you’re here, be sure to also visit the highest town, Anacapri, and take the chair lift up to Monte Solaro for spectacular views across the island and sea.
5. Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Sprinkled along the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are Australia’s version of the classic tropical island fantasy. These 74 lush islands are the peaks of drowned hills rising above the strikingly blue Coral Sea. Sailing is a popular pastime here, and diving is excellent along the fish-rich coral reefs. This is an extremely fragile ecosystem protected by six national parks, and you can explore some of the islands on hiking trails. Accommodation ranges from beachfront campsites, eco-retreats, and family resorts to luxury escapes like Hayman Island and Qualia on Hamilton Island. Don’t miss the radiant silica sands of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour are the main launching points for Whitsunday adventures.
6. The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
A hidden gem with a stunning coastline in the Adriatic pretty much sums up Croatia. Ever since the end of the war in the Balkans this amazing country has attracted visitors from all over the world. 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.
One of Australia’s go-to tropical escapes, Fiji ticks all the fantasy island boxes. White sand beaches, translucent turquoise waters, and teeming coral reefs are all found here in abundan