Plan your next vacation to the best islands in the world, from Bora Bora to the Caribbean 🦀 Get ready for a beautiful island getaway 👒🕶
Island vacations offer an escape to paradise with sparkling beaches, tranquil waters, luxury resorts, and exotic natural beauty. But the world is filled with thousands of lovely islands, so how do you narrow down the options to find the very best islands to visit? We tapped into expert opinions and traveler experiences to spotlight the top island destinations around the globe, from classics like Hawaii and the Caribbean to more off-the-beaten path gems. Read on for the best islands to visit for your next beach vacation or romantic island getaway.
The Hawaiian Islands – A Top Pick for Best Island Vacations
Hawaii certainly earns its place as one of the best islands to visit in the world. This Pacific island chain features year-round beach weather, verdant rainforests, towering volcanoes, and spectacular waterfalls. The Hawaiian Islands offer variety for all travelers – combine big city Honolulu with peaceful resorts, road trip between diverse islands with unique personalities, hike scenic nature trails, and explore underwater rainbow coral reefs.
Most visitors begin their Hawaiian island-hopping on vibrant Oahu, home to the famous Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. Then venture to quieter islands for a more relaxed vibe, like stunning Kauai with its epic Napali Coast or the Big Island of Hawaii with its active volcanoes. Maui balances golden beaches in West Maui with the trendy surf town of Paia, while Lanai stands out for its exclusive, luxurious resort enclaves.
You simply can’t find more diverse natural beauty packed into one island chain. Hawaii is undeniably one of the best island destinations in the world.
Big Island, Hawaii – Adventurous Eco Island
The Big Island earns its moniker, as it’s over twice the size of all other Hawaiian islands combined. This makes Hawaii’s largest island one of the best for eco-adventures and diversity. Drive from black sand beaches, green sand beaches, towering sea cliffs, rainforests, and even snow-capped peaks. The Big Island also claims the world’s most active volcano – Kilauea – with red lava continuously flowing seaward when erupting. After admiring erupting lava flows, head downhill to frolic with giant manta rays. Nature lovers find endless fascination exploring Hawaii’s Big Island.
The Galápagos Islands – A Top Eco Island Destination
When choosing the best islands to visit, the Galápagos Islands earn top honors for nature lovers. Located over 600 miles west of Ecuador, this volcanic archipelago in the Pacific is renowned as one of the best places for wildlife encounters. Get up close with blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, and many species found nowhere else on Earth. The islands emerged from the sea as volcanoes, leaving behind mars-like landscapes mixed with idyllic beaches. This living museum of natural history offers some of the world’s best eco-adventures, like kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking past fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.
Visiting the unspoiled Galápagos Islands is a travel experience like no other. Though reach takes effort – flying to Ecuador then several more flights to various islands – intrepid travelers who prioritize sustainability are increasingly drawn to this bucket list natural wonder as one of the best island destinations worldwide.
The Caribbean Islands – Top Islands for Classic Beach Vacations
Speaking of best island vacations…few places say “tropical paradise” more than the picturesque islands scattered across the Caribbean Sea. With destinations belonging to over 30 different countries and territories, unique island flair mixes with laidback vibes, sparkling beaches, and cool ocean breezes.
Classic favorites like Jamaica feature lively resort towns and stretches of white sand beaches backed by lush rainforest. Puerto Rico tempts with historic Old San Juan alongside magnificent beaches facing brilliant bioluminescent bays. Meanwhile, Grenada delivers exotic spice plantations, lush rainforests bursting with waterfalls, and dreamy beaches like Grand Anse and Pink Gin. And that’s just scratching the surface – every island offers something unique, from sailing around the British Virgin Islands to exploring Mayan history in Belize.
The Caribbean islands really do have endless appeal for water lovers seeking a warm weather escape – especially during the winter months. Their proximity and ease of access add to their popularity as the best islands for a relaxed beachfront vacation.
The Exumas, Bahamas – Top Islands for Sailing & Snorkeling
Within the far-flung Out Islands of the Bahamas, the Exumas deliver some of the most spectacular island scenery on Earth. This 120-mile-long chain of 365 islands and cays displays every shade of blue imaginable as you sail from hidden cove to seaside village. Pop into secluded beaches and lively beach bars along the way. The Exumas invite both relaxation and adventure. Swim in tidewater pools like the famous Thunderball Grotto cave from a James Bond film. Then go snorkeling in one of many underwater sculpture parks or kayaking through mangroves to spot vibrant birds. With yacht-filled harbors and ultra-exclusive resorts on islands like Great Exuma, the Exumas embody luxury travel in remote tropical settings amongst some of the most beautiful beaches and islands found anywhere.
The Seychelles – Top Remote Island Destination
The Seychelles delivers quintessential island life far from the stresses of civilization. Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean and just south of the equator, the Seychelles islands combine pristine beaches, dramatic granite peaks, and some of the world’s rarest wildlife. With 115 islands to explore, visitors behold one breathtaking view after the next. These enchanted isles range from popular Mahé with its vibrant capital city to barely inhabited coral atolls rarely visited except on cruises. The mix of developed and deserted islands creates a choose-your-own-adventure vibe, where laid back beach bums lounge alongside adventure seekers hiking rugged peaks.
The Seychelles remoteness adds to the allure for travelers seeking natural wonders in a castaway setting. The journey requires effort, with flights arriving from major hubs like Dubai and several connections. But this splendid isolation ensures the Seychelles remains unspoiled, cementing its spot among the world’s best island destinations.
The Maldives – Top Islands for Overwater Bungalows
Imagine gazing at translucent blue waters right from your hotel room…this is reality in the Maldives, where overwater bungalows perch atop the Indian Ocean. As arguably the world’s best destination for water villas that create a sense you’re floating atop the sea, the Maldives ranks highly for best island vacations. And that’s not all – this chain of nearly 1,200 islands south of India also delivers exceptional white sand beaches, vibrant turquoise lagoons teeming with sealife, peaceful island vibes, and ultra-luxe resorts.
Most islands focus on tourism, with an emphasis on premium travel, secluded hideaways, and dazzling ocean panoramas from every room. Resorts take full advantage by offering underwater adventures through a pristine reef ecosystem, with excellent snorkeling and diving steps from your water villa. The Maldives set the standard for luxury island escapes – the perfect spot to indulge your inner beach bum.
The Greek Islands – Top European Island Destination
From party islands packed with nightlife to off the beaten path hideaways, the Greek Islands have something for every type of traveler. And with over 6,000 islands scattered across sunny Mediterranean waters, all blessed by plenty of sun and sea, the hardest part is narrowing down where to go. Mykonos draws the glam crowd with its hot beach clubs and nonstop nightlife, while Santorini seduces lovebirds with its amazing sunsets and volcanic caldera views. Quiet Naxos delivers authentic island life and lovely mountainous landscapes, while island-hopping between picturesque Cyclades like Paros reveals charming fishing villages and serene beaches. From luxury escapes to affordable vacations, culture and history to lounging poolside on sunbeds, the Greek Islands check every box for best islands to visit.
The Greek Islands convenient location close to European capitals adds to the appeal, as visitors can easily mix cosmopolitan Athens into an island-focused trip. Few other destinations offer such an extensive lineup of spectacular island options with regular flight and ferry options linking these island gems scattered across the Mediterranean waters.
Zakynthos, Greece – Top Island for Sea Caves & Shipwrecks
While Santorini sunsets beckon travelers to the Greek Islands, few people explore lesser-known Zakynthos, one of the Ionian islands west of the Greek mainland. Navigation around Zakynthos reveals striking coastal scenery, from dramatic white limestone cliffs plunging into sapphire waters to sea caves with crystal-clear pools. The famous azure caves even resemble a cathedral with arches and columns. History buffs will appreciate one of the Mediterranean’s best shipwreck coves. And animal lovers come to catch the annual nesting of loggerhead sea turtles on golden Laganas Beach. Withsomething for everyone among a variety of landscapes, peaceful Zakynthos rightfully deserves its spot amongst the best Greek islands to visit.
Bali, Indonesia – Top Island with Cultural Riches
As a top island destination, Bali seduces with its gorgeous beaches yet offers so much more than a beach vacation. The rich Balinese culture mixes with Hindu influences, delivering colourful traditions, ornate temples, vibrant crafts and dances, and serene wellness retreats across the island. Rugged landscapes with towering volcanoes, lush jungle, and sculpted rice terraces add to Bali’s magic and intrigue. You can spend days exploring ritzy beach enclaves before heading inland to one of Bali’s enchanting villages, with dancing waterfalls adding to the island’s mysticism and beauty.
This Indonesian island overflows with culture, natural wonders, and hidden tropical coves waiting to be discovered. For travelers seeking meaningful cultural immersion alongside sandy beaches on their island vacation, Bali checks all the boxes as one of the world’s best island destinations.
The Azores, Portugal – Top Islands for Eco-Adventures & Wildlife
Dreaming of exploring uncharted island territory bursting with natural diversity? Add the remote Azores to your list of the best islands to visit. Situated nearly 900 miles off the coast of mainland Portugal, this Atlantic Ocean archipelago is renowned as one of the world’s top eco-tourism islands. Fierce Atlantic storms crash against towering cliffs covered in lush foliage. Unique wildlife species call the Azores home, like the Azores bullfinch, priolo trees, and loggerhead turtles. Peer into volcanic craters, soar over patchwork farmland in a hot air balloon, drift along lakes in a canoe, or go whale watching in the vibrant blue Atlantic waters. With nine islands to explore, visitors can island hop via quick inter-island flights or ferries to experience the Azores beautiful isolation and biodiversity. Those seeking a sustainable island vacation that balances outdoor adventures with culture should put the Azores at the top of their destinations list.
Vancouver Island, Canada – Island for Outdoor Lovers
Off the west coast of Canada, Vancouver Island tempts outdoor adventurers with endless nature pursuits across its lengthy 160 mile expanse. Spot orcas from a whale watching boat in the wildlife rich waters in the south. Further north you’ll find peaceful harbour towns and quiet coves for kayaking, as well as surf breaks. But the pièce de résistance is Pacific Rim National Park with its rugged, untamed wilderness stretching from the waves on Long Beach up to the mountains. The remote west coast with its hot springs and old growth forests contrasts beautifully with the lively, artsy capital Victoria. With so much natural diversity and wildlife, Vancouver Island ranks high on lists of the best islands to visit worldwide.
Mnemba Island, Tanzania – Secluded Private Island
For the ultimate exclusive and romantic island escape, travelers rave about tiny Mnemba Island off the Tanzanian coast. At just over 3 football fields in size, this private island paradise has room for only 20 guests at its eco-friendly luxury lodge at any one time. The lucky few who secure a coveted stay on Mnemba Island awake to the sound of waves gently lapping the beach and staff delivering fresh tropical juices. Spend languid days relaxing in rustic luxury before strapping on a snorkel mask to explore colorful coral gardens with tropical fish. At the end of the day, enjoy a sunset dhow cruise with cocktails followed by a beachside seafood barbecue under the stars. Mnemba Island offers modern comforts alongside Robinson Crusoe vibes on a palm-fringed coral island seemingly a world away.
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Narrowing down all the world’s beautiful islands to the best ones to visit could fill an entire book. Stunning white sand beaches, lush rainforests, vibrant cultures, luxury villas perched over water, exotic wildlife…these wondrous islands tempt travelers with promises of paradise and relaxation. Use this list of the world’s top island destinations as a starting point when choosing your next vacation.