Dreamy beaches, silky-smooth seas, lush landscapes and endless sunshine: these are some of the top ingredients of the ideal tropical vacation. But every destination has its own sultry charms. Some are dazzled by their natural beauty. Others add cultural attractions to the mix, with exotic customs, architecture and mouthwatering dishes. A few offer eco-adventures and natural wilderness, and some sleepy islands seem to take you back in time.
Divers flock to thriving coral reefs, and surfers seek the perfect wave. It’s just a matter of finding the perfect fit. From Asia to Australia and the USA to the Caribbean, this list of tropical vacation hotspots covers some of the most beautiful islands in the world, as well as ideas for fun things to do and destinations for all budgets, whether you’re looking for a Overwater bungalow in Bora Bora or a bamboo hut on a beach in Bali.
Scattered across the Indian Ocean, southwestern India and Sri Lanka, the Maldives’ 26 natural atolls exude an almost surreal beauty, largely because of the clear blue waters that surround them. If slipping into the crystal clear, soul-warming sea is a top criterion for your perfect tropical vacation, this is the place to do it, as 99% of the water is Maldives. Paradoxically, it also threatens to flood the shores of this low-lying island.
2. Bora Bora, Tahiti
Bora Bora is the ultimate paradise in the South Pacific. This lush and dramatically beautiful French Polynesia island rises to a sharp emerald peak surrounded by an azure lagoon. Clusters of coconut palms line the beaches, and luxurious bungalows are located above the crystal clear waters, some with glass floor panels, allowing you to view the blooming sea below.
While Bora Bora scores top marks for natural beauty, it also ticks if you’re looking for cultural appeal. The official language is French and you can taste the Gallic influence in the gourmet kitchen.
3. Riviera Maya, Mexico
If you’re looking for beautiful beaches, culture and spicy dishes all wrapped up in an affordable price tag, the Riviera Maya (Riviera Maya) in Mexico is a great choice. On the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, along the Caribbean coast, the Maya Riviera encompasses the resort destinations of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel.
You don’t have to stay in a large, bustling all-inclusive resort here, but you will find plenty on the long, postcard-worthy beaches. Intimate boutique hotels and yoga retreats are also in the mix.
4. Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, with close ties to New Zealand, is a dream destination for potential castaways. Blessed with a radiant aqua lagoon, lush peaks, sublime palm-lined beaches and some of the friendliest people in the South Pacific, Aitutaki ticks all the boxes for the perfect exotic tropical getaway.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands and the main tourist gateway, but Aitutaki, a 45-minute flight away, is the jewel in the crown, and that says it all in an archipelago of 15 enchanting tropical islands. Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing are all fantastic, and the island offers a window into laid-back village life, which comes to a halt for church services on Sundays.
5. Kaua’i, Hawaii
Called the Garden Isle, Kaua’i is a tropical paradise with lush rainforests, waterfalls and spectacular green coastal peaks. A natural masterpiece of dramatic, lava-sculpted landscapes, the island has a more relaxed atmosphere than the popular sister islands of Maui and Oahu. Although Kauai is known as home to one of the rainiest places on Earth, the island is made up of several microclimates and the area around the tourist Poipu is drier.
6. The Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
If you dream of an idyllic South Sea island bathed in sun, Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands are just the thing for you. A short boat rides from the Nadi gateway, this picture-perfect array of about 20 islands is popular for their gleaming palm-studded beaches, crystal clear waters and thriving coral reefs. When you first get a glimpse of these tropical beauties, it’s easy to see why Survivor and the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away were filmed on islands in this chain. When choosing where to stay, your budget and interests determine the best Fiji island for you.