Best Island Vacations
Sprawling beaches, rich cultures and untouched pockets of wilderness are just a few alluring characteristics of the best island vacations. According to experts and U.S. News readers, each of the islands listed here boasts a little something extra that keeps travelers enchanted. Consider which islands you favor, cast your vote below and help us rank next year's list of best coastal locales. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
- View 23 PhotosBelongs on List?#1 in Best Island VacationsRead More
This popular honeymoon spot is more than a hideaway for amorous duos. Oenophiles can savor top-notch vino during a winery tour. Meanwhile, history buffs can explore the remains of Thira and Akrotiri. Plus, the Greek island's volcanic setting gives travelers the chance to admire unique red and black sand beaches and hike to the top of the caldera for picturesque views of whitewashed villages. After taking in their surroundings, visitors can stroll through the cliffside village of Oia, which is home to multiple restaurants and shops.
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In the 100-plus years since Charles Darwin discovered this natural wonderland roughly 620 miles west of mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands have yet to lose their magic. Countless birds, iguanas and tortoises roam this archipelago, and herds of sea lions and sharks swim in the surrounding waters. Bring your hiking shoes so you can make your way to the islands' sky-high rock formations and Sierra Negra Volcano, home to the second-largest crater on the planet. While the Galápagos are certainly not your typical beach getaway, you can still find relaxing beaches like La Lobería and Tortuga Bay.
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Cyprus#3 in Best Island Vacations
With its white sand beaches, forested nature trails and ancient ruins, Cyprus appeals to a wide array of travelers. Beach lovers can head to Nissi Beach to swim in its crystal-clear water, while history and architecture enthusiasts can admire the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque. This Mediterranean island is home to both Greek and Turkish descendants, giving it a wealth of culture and a unique cuisine full of wine, slow-cooked meat and lots of halloumi cheese. Work up an appetite with a hike through Cyprus' jagged mountains or a walk around the city of Paphos – the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite.
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When you're not surfing or sipping tropical cocktails in your overwater bungalow, explore Tahiti's striking natural wonders, including the white sands of La Plage de Maui and the cascades at Faarumai Waterfalls. Looking for more adventure? Hop on a boat and head to Tahiti's sister island, Moorea, to hike breathtaking Magic Mountain. Then, return to Tahiti to explore the shops and markets in Papeete, French Polynesia's capital.
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Composed of nine lush islands in the Atlantic, the Azores have grown in popularity over recent years. These Portuguese paradises are perfect for hiking, whale watching and eating fresh seafood. Choose the largest island of São Miguel for its lakes and charming downtown, the smaller Flores Island for its waterfalls and foliage, or the picturesque Pico Island for its towering volcano. Regardless of which unique island you pick, you'll find a relatively untouched setting that exudes authenticity and promotes sustainability.
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Whitsunday Islands#6 in Best Island Vacations
Head to this beautiful collection of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland, Australia, to enjoy a laid-back vacation filled with swimming, sunbathing, sailing and lots of snorkeling. The Whitsundays' proximity to the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef makes it an excellent place to base yourself when visiting iconic sights like Heart Reef. When you're not exploring above or beneath the water's surface, sink your toes into the soft sand and admire the incredible scenery at Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island or hike to the top of Passage Peak on Hamilton Island.
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A quintessential Bora Bora vacation includes days spent lounging along secluded white sands, boat trips through clear aquamarine waters and four-wheel-drive tours through the French Polynesian island's lush forests. Gazing at extinct Mount Otemanu from above during a helicopter tour or from below in the lagoon is a must. Adventurous travelers should also save time for feeding sharks and stingrays. Although this destination is already pricey, vacationers should save up to splurge on an overwater bungalow for the full Bora Bora experience.
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This South Pacific archipelago's white sand shores offer fantastic scenery, but there's more to Fiji than what you'll see from your beach towel. You can hike the volcanic mountains on the Mamanuca Islands, peruse the boutiques of Suva or venture beneath the surface and snorkel with the islands' colorful fish. Plus, Fiji offers unique cultural experiences like firewalking ceremonies and tastings of a traditional plant-based beverage called kava. When you want to learn more about the area's history, head to the Fiji Museum in Suva.
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A British territory in the Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda features hidden coves, pink sand beaches, friendly people and a relaxing atmosphere – all of which draw vacationers in droves. Easily accessible from the East Coast, Bermuda offers posh stores and restaurants, as well as nine picturesque golf courses. In fact, the island boasts the world's highest concentration of golf venues per square mile. When travelers are not hitting the links, shopping or sunbathing, they can admire St. George's colonial architecture or snorkel at Horseshoe Bay Beach or Tobacco Bay Beach.
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With breathtaking mountains and pointed pagodas, it's no wonder why Bali is often referred to as heaven among visitors. On this Indonesian island, you can tour ancient religious sites like the waterfront Uluwatu Temple and Pura Tirta Empul, where you'll see worshippers praying in a large pool. You should also save time for exploring Bali's intricate rice paddies and simply lounging on resplendent beaches like Sanur and Nusa Dua.
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Thanks to its luxurious resorts and shops, this small Italian island is a favorite among well-heeled vacationers and daytrippers. Capri's rocky landscape and famous blue waters can be reached via a short boat ride from Italy's mainland. Marina Grande welcomes travelers with its colorful homes and storefronts, and it acts as a departure point for tours. Explore by boat to see the luminous Blue Grotto and the dramatic Faraglioni rock formation. For an unforgettable view of Capri, the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, take the chairlift up to the summit of Mount Solaro.
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Home to one of the largest reef systems in the world, the Turks and Caicos Islands are a diver's paradise. Visit the Bight Reef to see hundreds of colorful fish near the shore, or head to Smith's Reef to swim with stingrays and turtles. Above the surface, this network of approximately 100 named islands and cays plays host to a bevy of luxurious hotels and picturesque beaches perfect for sunbathing or horseback riding. Families should spend time in Taylor Bay's shallow, crystal-clear water, while others will want to check out Grace Bay's beautiful white sand and adjacent restaurants.
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South Island, New Zealand#13 in Best Island Vacations
New Zealand's South Island is the place to go if your ideal island vacation has less to do with lounging on a beach and more to do with having an adventure. On the larger of New Zealand's two main islands, you'll discover ice blue lakes, towering mountains, pristine glaciers and lush forests waiting to be explored. Start your trip hiking or boating through Fiordland National Park on the island's west coast. Then, sign up for a bungee jumping excursion in Queenstown before heading east to the Otago Peninsula, where it's common to spot wild animals like penguins and albatrosses.
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Kauai is the oldest and most rugged of the Hawaiian archipelago. Adventure seekers will love hiking Waimea Canyon's red rocks, while the Napali Coast beckons to photographers with its 17 miles of dramatic cliffs and gorgeous ocean vistas. Those who would rather spend their vacation swimming and sunbathing should head to the shorelines of Poipu Beach Park and Hanalei Bay, both of which typically offer calm waters. Think about renting a car to easily get around this unique island, and make sure to bring sneakers or hiking boots, as some of Kauai's most beautiful sites are only accessible on foot.
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This dreamy Thai island in the Andaman Sea balances cosmopolitan flair with rugged beauty. Here, you'll find white sand beaches sidled up next to mountainous rainforests and towns full of ornate Buddhist temples like Wat Chalong. For the best views of the sea, venture to Promthep Cape, the southernmost point of the island, or sign up for a boat tour. Don't miss the chance to enjoy the shopping, dining and rollicking nightlife scene in Patong.
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The pure versatility of the Big Island's geography is enough to earn this Hawaiian island recognition as one of a kind. A walk through Akaka Falls State Park will bring you past exotic vegetation, while a trip to Kealakekua Bay will present ample snorkeling opportunities. But no visit would be complete without checking out the island's black sand beaches and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. This national park is where you'll find two of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
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The Greek isle of choice for travelers on a budget, Corfu is home to a plethora of sprawling, pebbly beaches. Glyfada and Paleokastritsa are perennial favorites. There's also the Canal d'Amour, a beach that will reportedly bring you love when you swim in its water. When you need a break from the sand and surf, explore the island's cultural offerings, including the Paleokastritsa Monastery (a 13th-century structure situated among olive trees) and the Palaio Frourio (a 14th-century fortress with sweeping island views).
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A trip to the Maldives will require patience since it takes plenty of cash and more than a day to fly there from the U.S. But what this Indian Ocean paradise lacks in accessibility it makes up for in striking beaches and exceptional diving conditions. Of course, your first stop should be at the shore; try Hulhumale Island for snorkeling and sunbathing or Cocoa Island for a romantic stroll at sunset. After you've soaked up some sun, head to Malé to marvel at the Grand Friday Mosque and explore the bustling Malé Fish Market.
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Malta#19 in Best Island Vacations
Situated between Sicily and the coast of North Africa, this Mediterranean archipelago appeals to everyone from history buffs to nature lovers. During the day, travelers can spend time wandering around verdant San Anton Gardens, touring impressive Fort St Elmo, exploring ancient temples or even diving to World War II-era shipwrecks like the HMS Maori. Once the sun sets, visitors can go dancing at a local nightclub, attend a show at the opulent Manoel Theatre or simply take in the surroundings while dining at a waterfront restaurant.
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The British Virgin Islands are considered some of the Caribbean's chicest and least-developed islands – perfect for travelers with deep pockets and a love for boating and seclusion. Plan to sail between islands – there are more than 50 to choose from. Virgin Gorda is a must-visit because of The Baths, an array of coastal boulders and caves that vacationers can wade or climb through. Meanwhile, Tortola offers some of the archipelago's best beaches, as well as hiking-centric Sage Mountain National Park.
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