Ko Phi Phi,Thailand
In Ko Phi Phi, a small archipelago in the Krabi Province of Thailand, lush limestone peaks rise from the tropical sea, and warm waters lap on palm-lined sugary shores. Slammed by the tsunami in 2004, Ko Phi Phi has now recovered. Its natural beauty still recalls the tropical island dream evoked in the famous Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, which was filmed here at Maya Beach on the smaller neighboring island of Ko Phi Phi Leh. Ko Phi Phi Don is the only inhabited island and offers day trips to the surrounding islands. Other popular activities include swimming, snorkeling, and superb diving. Don’t miss Monkey Beach, famous for its cheeky namesake residents.
Capri, Amalfi Coast
Glamorous Capri, about 20 kilometers off the Amalfi Coast, lives up to all the hype. Sea stacks and soaring cliffs rise from the teal-hued Tyrrhenian Sea framed by sprays of colorful flowers. A popular attraction is the blue grotto, a glowing sea cave, where locals row tourists in on tiny boats and sing opera to demonstrate the acoustics. Once you arrive at the port of Marina Grande, catch the funicular up to the main town of Capri, which feels like a movie set. The piazza here buzzes with impeccably-dressed locals and tourists toting shopping bags filled with designer clothes and the island’s perfumes. While you’re here, be sure to also visit the highest town, Anacapri, and take the chair lift up to Monte Solaro for spectacular views across the island and sea.
Blissful white-sand beaches, rugged coastal peaks, mouthwatering cuisine, a unique blend of cultures, and ancient archeological treasures: What’s not to love about this saucy Italian isle? Most travelers have heard of the glamorous Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast, with its craggy coves and clear green seas, but this large and diverse Mediterranean isle also lays claim to many other attractions. Sardinia is home to the largest canyon in Europe, Gola su Gorropu; prehistoric archaeological sites; the captivating Catalan-tinged town of Alghero; and the medieval streets of Cagliari, the capital. While you’re here be sure to cruise along some of the scenic coastal drives and soak up the spectacular views.
St. Lucia exudes a dark and brooding beauty. Unlike other Caribbean islands, its best assets are not necessarily its beaches, though with their golden sands and graceful palms, they are popular with those who visit. Rather, the island itself is drenched in topographic drama. The towering Pitons, twin volcanic peaks, preside over the luxuriant landscapes, rising more than 700 meters from the sea, and provide a breathtaking backdrop to the stunning scenery. Bristling forests of coconut palms, waterfalls, quaint fishing villages, coral reefs, nature trails, and healing hot springs are just some of the sights to explore here. Pretty Marigot Bay and Anse Chastanet Marine Park are highlights. The island’s French influences also add to its exotic appeal.
The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
In the Adriatic sea off the coast of Croatia, the Dalmatian Islands are an enchanting mix of relaxed charm and rich history. Quaint villages and boutique hotels and restaurants dot these gorgeous isles, which are surrounded by sparkling seas. Top on the list is Brač with the famous beach strip of Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn). Hvar is also beautiful with its Gothic churches, car-free old town, and picturesque fishing harbor. From here, you can zip across to the beautiful Pakleni Islands, known for their crystal clear water and secluded coves. Other must-see Dalmatian islands include Korčula with its red-roofed white-washed buildings, Mljet with its two inland saltwater lakes, and relatively uncrowded Vis.
Cook Islands, New Zealand
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 known for their 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 boasts the beauty of Bora Bora, without the price tag. Hibiscus-laced villages snuggle on the hillsides, and along its heavenly lagoon lie 21 motus or small islets, 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.
Pristine and picture-perfect, the Seychelles are worth traveling for. East of Kenya, this relatively unspoiled archipelago of 115 coral and granite islands feature UNESCO-listed jungles; thriving coral reefs; and 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.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Shaped like a giant sombrero, this lush volcanic island stars in countless South Pacific fantasies. The focal point and best asset of this tropical beauty is its ravishing lagoon in technicolor turquoise. Fish, turtles, sharks, and rays swim in the clear waters, and tiny islets or motus dot the lagoon. The island, of course, is distinctly French, with mouthwatering cuisine to match. Diving and snorkeling are excellent in the surrounding reefs and hiking trails weave through the palm-studded forests. If you can afford it, hide out here in a luxurious over-the-water bungalow and bask in your good fortune as you fall asleep to the gentle slosh of the sea.