Islands conjure up visions of paradise: a respite from the daily grind and a pristine spot of beach where you may unwind under rustling palms while gazing out at a calm blue sea.
However, not all islands are made equal. Some people’s beauty is characterized more by the water that surrounds them, which may enchant connoisseurs with its crystalline purity and vibrant coral kingdoms.
Other islands have lush rainforests and silky peaks, while others attract visitors with their cultural treasures. These islands are far from the workaday bustle yet near to creature comforts, whether you’re looking for magnificent beaches, stunning landscape, or fascinating cultures.
Find your personal Shangri-la on this list of the world’s most beautiful islands.
Pristine and picture-perfect, the Seychelles are worth traveling for. East of Kenya, this relatively unspoiled archipelago of 115 coral and granite islands is packed with attractions, from UNESCO-listed jungles and thriving coral reefs to 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.
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 among the underrated jewels of the South Pacific.
Among the islands’ top attractions are 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 is one of the most beautiful islands in the South Pacific. Hibiscus-laced villages snuggle on the hillsides, and 21 motus or small islets lie along its heavenly lagoon, 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.
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 popular things to do in Fiji, 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 best island for your vacation, 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.
Koh Samui, Thailand
Jungle-backed beaches, jewel-toned seas, and perfectly arching palms: Koh Samui is pure, tropical eye candy. Throw in kaleidoscopic coral reefs and the emerald peaks rising from the turquoise sea in the sublimely beautiful Ang Thong National Marine Park, and it’s hard not to fall in love with this tropical Thai paradise.
Koh Samui’s sister islands, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, are also worth a visit. In fact, day trips to these idyllic islands are one of the top things to do during a visit to Koh Samui. Other popular places to visit include the beautiful boulder-strewn Chaweng and Lamai beaches, the shops and food stalls of Fisherman’s Village, and majestic Buddhist temples.
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 one of the popular things to do in the Whitsundays, 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, one of Australia’s best beaches, on Whitsunday Island.
Airlie Beach is the main launching point for Whitsunday adventures.