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.
Male ‘is the capital, but most visitors head straight to one of the remote atolls, where luxurious resorts and sparkling white beaches lined with aquamarine waters await. Diving and snorkeling are world class, and the Maldives is also a top surfing destination with the most popular surf spots in the North and South Malé Atolls.
Other popular activities here include swimming with manta rays and whale sharks, as well as big game fishing. With water at its center and so many islands to choose from, the Maldives is also the perfect candidate for a cruise vacation.
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. Add a wealth of fun water sports, kayaking to small motu islands, scenic hiking trails and adventures like shark diving, and it’s easy to see why many travelers classify expensive Bora Bora as a top honeymoon destination and the ultimate once-in -a-lifetime place for a tropical vacation.
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. Swimming with stingrays and dolphins, diving, snorkeling and fishing are popular activities in the warm, clear waters, and culture lovers can explore the beautiful ancient ruins of Tulum, in a beautiful setting above the turquoise Caribbean Sea, or Chichén Itzá, a few hours away from the resort strip.
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.
More than 20 motu (small islands) are scattered around the lagoon and the small island of Tapuaetai (One Foot Island), in the southeast corner, is a popular excursion with a beautiful perspective of the lagoon. If you really want to splurge, opt for a luxury overwater bungalow. From here you can paddle to your own private motu, splash under a palm tree and pretend you’re a day Robinson Crusoe.
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.
Underwater you will find colorful coral reefs, where turtles and tropical fish swim. On land, you can sunbathe on golden beaches, admire the cloud-covered landscape from the cliffs above Hanalei Bay, hike among the velvety peaks of the breathtaking Napali Coast, and explore the deep and lush 10-mile Waimea Canyon. Tropical gardens, waterfalls, cute coastal towns and fantastic surf breaks are other top attractions.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing the beach with slumbering monk seals; nature rules here and that is a big part of the allure of the island.
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.
Accommodation ranges from lively backpacker resorts to family-friendly hotels with thatched bures (traditional huts) and luxurious retreats such as Vomo Island Resort, Likuliku Lagoon Resort and the adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort. Popular mid-range resorts include Matamanoa Island Resort, Malolo Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, and Castaway Island.
One of the best surf breaks in the world, Cloudbreak is about a mile from Tavarua Island Resort, but you can also enter this legendary vacation from other island resorts. Fijians love children, so this is also a fantastic destination for families with young people who want to relax.