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Island vacations conjure up thoughts of relaxation, exploration, and regeneration. Whether being cradled on a hammock hanging between two swaying palms, feeling gentle warm waves break in the evening sand, or experiencing the exhilarating rush of diving into a vast blue ocean, every island vacation is unique and memorable.
The magic of islands is that there’s not one that’s exactly like another. Some islands are defined by the sea that surrounds them, offering watersport enthusiasts the opportunity to slay the waves, explore the thriving coral reefs, and become immersed in the deep-sea kingdoms beneath the waters.
Other islands, covered in sublime beaches, stunning topography, and lullaby luxury, are places to turn off the noise and escape the daily grind.
But the truth is, the beauty of any island is in the eye of the beholder. While one visitor might never even leave their beach chair, others won’t ever sit down. From Mallorca to the Maldives, the Caribbean sea to the Pacific shores, there’s an island Shangri-la that’s ideal for everyone.
And while the world’s oceans are filled with islands of all shapes and sizes, one more exotic and enthralling than the next, we’ve put together a list of the most breathtaking islands on earth.
So, pack your waterproof camera, beach towel, and flip-flops and head to one of these island vacation destinations.
A lush volcanic island shaped like a giant sombrero, Bora Bora in French Polynesia is one of the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful locations on earth. Widely recognizable for the iconic over-the-water luxury bungalows perched directly in the turquoise lagoon, this distinctly French technicolor island is home to over 1,000 species of tropical fish, luminous coral gardens, and a vast array of magnificent marine life.
Friendly dolphins, giant manta rays, and 21 species of sharks call the clear waters of the palm-studded shores of Bora Bora home. Built in 2012, encompassing 1.5 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia is the site of the world’s largest shark sanctuary where visitors can book an aqua safari to safely swim among tiger, blacktip reef, hammerhead, and mako sharks.
It goes without saying that no suitcase packed for a trip to Bora Bora is complete without a high-quality waterproof camera to record the once-in-a-lifetime sights you’ll see on this magnificent rock in the Pacific.
The Maldives is an independent island country in the north-central Indian Ocean. The chain of islands that make up the country, which extend more than 510 miles from north to south and 8 miles from east to west, is characterized by beautiful blue waters and tropical islands with swaying palm trees and sugar-white sandy beaches. The Maldives is home to some of the world's most ravishing islands, but it's the crystal clear aquamarine waters that peek just slightly above the Indian Ocean that make these islands sparkle.
The Maldives is the planet's lowest-lying nation, rising less than 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Beneath the mesmerizing waters, jewel-toned coral reefs flourish beckoning divers and snorkelers from across the globe 365 days a year.
This archipelagic nation is home to a diverse array of wildlife, both on land and in the sea. From tiny reel fish to giant whale sharks, this ocean-locked nation is home to a rainbow of corals and over 2,000 species of fish from colorful reef fish, moray eels, turtles, and rays to giant tuna, sharks, and dolphins. Octopus, squid, giant clams, anemones, and jellyfish also inhabit the bathtub-like waters of the Maldives.
The crown jewel of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca is an island off the eastern coast of Spain, famous the world over for its breathtaking beauty, chic Euro culture, and buzzing beach scene.
Sun-soaked beaches and turquoise-colored bays, limestone peaks, and a lively vibe make Mallorca, the largest Balearic island, a Mediterranean hot spot.
But Mallorca offers more than just parties on the beach. Head inland to tour hilltop monasteries, hike the rugged trails of the Serra de Tramuntana, wander aimlessly around quaint villages, feast on fresh Mediterranean cuisine, and immerse yourself in the culture.
A visit to Santanyí, known for its historic villages and jaw-dropping beaches, magical coves, and scenic cliffs offers one of the most popular bucket-list attractions. Visitors the world over travel to this tiny treasure of a town to jump into the electric blue waters beneath the rocks.
A favorite destination for diving enthusiasts, the seabed surrounding the island is rich in exotic marine life and underwater landscapes.
The complex ecosystems, more diverse than those found on the surface, due to factors like light, water temperature, depth, and currents create different backgrounds around every corner, making diving ad snorkeling experiences unlike anyplace else on earth.
One of the most incredible areas of the Balearic Islands is the Menorca Channel, the water space between Menorca and Mallorca, which is filled with over 1,600 species of marine life, 58 of which are protected, including barracuda, silly turtle, white sharks, conger, and green fish - a water lover’s paradise.
One of Australia's go-to tropical escapes, the archipelago nation of Fiji ticks all the bucket list boxes. White-sand beaches, translucent turquoise waters, and teeming coral reefs are all in abundance, while the Fijian people welcome visitors with open arms.
Diving, snorkeling, fishing, and, in some areas, surfing, are all popular things to do in Fiji, but sprawling under a palm tree on a lazy hammock and slipping into the silky warm sea can be an equally enthralling experience.
With 333 islands, each uniquely idyllic, there’s a sublime stretch of sun-soaked sand to suit any vacationer’s dream and budget.
From the picture-perfect Yasawas to the international tourist town of Nadi, Fiji offers everything from romantic hideaways and family-friendly resorts to rustic eco-lodges and cozy Air BnBs.
A short hop from the tourist hubs of Nadi and Denarau Island, the magnificent Mamanuca Islands with its sublime white sand beaches and striking turquoise waters are among the most popular places to visit in Fiji. Best known for having more sunny days and less rain than other coral reefs, the Mamanuca Islands lure divers, snorkelers, and surfers who flock here for world-class breaks, including the famous Cloud Break, a short boat ride away. From thatched Fijian huts to chic beachside chalets, visitors can find accommodations to suit every budget and style.
And if photo ops are what you seek, the Mamanucas are the place to be. The location of shows like Survivor and movies like Tom Hank’s Cast Away, pack your waterproof camera when visiting this famously stunning fan favorite.
If tranquility is what you seek, you don't have to travel far to flee the crowds and find your own Fijian paradise. Lush rain-soaked islands like Vanua Levu and Taveuni are off the beaten tourist track, with hiking trails, waterfalls, and flower-flecked jungles, while unspoiled Kadavu lures divers to the planet's fourth-largest barrier reef.
Whether you're an avid diver seeking fish-rich reefs, an eco-backpacker excited to explore the rainforest or a beachcomber primed for the world’s most relaxing beaches on earth, you’ll find the perfect island getaway in this South Pacific paradise.
Insider Tip: Fijians love young children, so this is a fabulous destination for families!
The supermodel of the Greek islands, Santorini is most instantly recognizable around the world by its multicolored cliffs that soar out of a sea-drowned volcanic crater, topped by bleached whitewashed buildings that appear to tumble down the hillside into the sparkling blue sea.
Picturesque views, dazzling panoramas, romantic sunsets, and volcanic-sand beaches place Santorini at the top of the world’s collective bucket list.
Part of the Cyclades island group, Santorini sits in the Aegean Sea, roughly halfway between Athens and Crete.
Shaped like a wonky croissant today, the neighboring islets hint at the fact that Santorini was once circular. Known as Strongili (the Round One) thousands of years ago before a huge volcanic eruption caused the center of Strongili to sink leaving a crater with towering cliffs along the east side, Santorini’s trademark landscape is famous the world over.
Encircling the sea-filled caldera, spectacular Santorini’s blue-domed churches rise against the sparkling sea, while bright sprays of bougainvillea add to the technicolor color palette.
Perched atop the black lava cliffs, Firá and Oia are the island's most picturesque (and pricey) destinations. Famous for its breathtaking views, Santorini’s magnificent iconic landscape has served as a backdrop for dozens of movies. Ranked as one of the most photographed locations in the world, it goes without saying that a good waterproof camera is a must!