10 Most Beautiful Islands in the World
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. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Shaped like a giant sombrero, this lush volcanic island stars in countless South Pacific fantasies. The focal point and best asset of this tropical beauty is its ravishing lagoon in technicolor turquoise. Fish, turtles, sharks, and rays swim in the clear waters, and tiny islets or motus dot the lagoon. The island, of course, is distinctly French, with mouthwatering cuisine to match. Diving and snorkeling are excellent in the surrounding reefs and hiking trails weave through the palm-studded forests. If you can afford it, hide out here in a luxurious over-the-water bungalow and bask in your good fortune as you fall asleep to the gentle slosh of the sea.
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. 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.
5. Santorini, Greece
Encircling a sea-filled caldera, spectacular Santorini scores top points for dramatic beauty. Bleached white villas tumble down volcanic cliffs. Blue-domed churches rise against the sparkling sea, and bright sprays of bougainvillea add to the eye-popping canvas of color. Perched atop the black lava cliffs, the settlements of Firá and Oia are the island’s most picturesque, and pricey, destinations, and Oia ranks among the most photographed locations in the world. Other highlights of the island include Akrotíri Archaeological Site, Ancient Thira, the black sand beach of Perissa, and of course, the sublime sunsets. Sailing into this stunning caldera surrounded by soaring sea cliffs makes an unforgettable first impression.
6. The Cook Islands
If you’ve ever dreamed of being a castaway in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands are for you. Strung between French Polynesia and Samoa but with strong ties to New Zealand, the archipelago’s 15 islands are known for their enticing aquamarine lagoons, palm-fringed beaches, and volcanic peaks. Best of all, the locals are among the friendliest in the South Pacific. Rarotonga is the main tourist hub, with its many resorts, lush peaks, and plentiful beaches. Aitutaki boasts the beauty of Bora Bora, without the price tag. Hibiscus-laced villages snuggle on the hillsides, and along its heavenly lagoon lie 21 motus or small islets, many within kayak distance of the resorts. Ensconce yourself here in an over-the-water bungalow or hole up in a rustic beach shack on a remote out island and live your Robinson Crusoe fantasies.
7. Bali, Indonesia
Steeped in an intoxicating culture, the island of Bali is a feast for the senses. Incense wafts from Hindu temples, rice paddies glow in electric greens, and the food jolts the taste buds. Surfing, swimming, shopping, and sunbathing are the prime pursuits on this exotic isle, as well as sightseeing in the lush countryside. Soak up the spiritual side of Bali in Ubud, see Seminyak, and family-friendly Sanur, feel the pumping pulse of touristy Kuta, or explore the attractions on the neighboring volcanic island of Lombok. Bali’s enchanting spirit will wash over you like a warm, tropical wave.
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.
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 abundance. And the Fijian people welcome visitors with warm, friendly smiles. Diving, snorkeling, fishing, and in some areas, surfing are all fantastic, but sprawling under a palm tree and slipping into the silky warm seas can be equally rewarding. With more than 300 islands, it’s easy to find the perfect match, from luxurious celebrity hideaways and family-friendly resorts to the sublime Yasawa and Mamanuca group. Fijians love young children, so this a fabulous destination for families looking to relax.
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, Kauaʻiexudes 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.