This year, the winning islands offer a lost-in-paradise magic. Since there are 1,102 islands and 26 atolls in this Indian Ocean archipelago—and some resorts take up entire islands—picking your beach is often just about choosing a place to sleep. While the Maldives also ranked at No 1 in the survey for island romance, it likewise ranked at No 2 for friendly locals: One of the more social resorts is Niyama Maldives, which encompasses two small islands and features SubSix, an underground nightclub and restaurant.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
This archipelago 600 miles off Ecuador actually won as readers’ overall favourite in the island survey—even if it doesn’t conjure images of lounge chairs on pristine white sand. Rather, you come to the Galápagos to watch iguanas and blue-foot boobies skitter across the surf. If you want to play yourself, the long beach at Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz offers excellent surfing as well as the chance to see pelicans, flamingos and turtles (hence the name). For dedicated wildlife viewing, it’s hard to beat Bahia Gardner, on Española Island, where you can see red lava lizards, Española mockingbirds and sea lions.
Harbour Island, Bahamas
Plenty of destinations boast of their pinkish sands, but this three-mile-long island off Eleuthra may have the strongest claim: tiny red-shelled foraminifera creatures have literally left their mark all over the otherwise white sands of Pink Sands Beach, and have inspired such thematically consistent resorts as the cottage-style Pink Sands Resort and the 38-room (and also anti-shoe) Coral Sands Hotel (“leave your Louboutins at home,” reads the site).
This Hawaiian island, lined with red-walled canyons, rainforests and waterfalls, took the silver medal for attractions and active endeavours—like hiking along the Na Pali coast’s Kalalau Trail, which takes you to the gorgeously remote (but too rough for swimming) Hanakapi ai Beach. To make the most of the water, you can find classic surfing waves at beaches like Hanalei Bay; if you want to snorkel, go to the nearby, cave-lined Tunnels Beach. If you can’t stand to be too far from the water, stay at Hanalei Colony Resort where some of the suites are just 10 feet from the beach (and they’re nicely unplugged, with no TV or phone, but obligatory Wi-Fi).
If you like long sightlines, you’ll love this British West Indian island, which has both a pretty flat terrain and a nicely undeveloped ambience (as in, no cruise ships or casinos). Shoal Bay and Rendezvous Bay are the most popular beaches, but if you stay at the recently renovated Malliouhana, you can walk to three other options: Turtle Cove, Bobbing Cove, or Mead’s Beach, which has long stretches of unpopulated white sand.
With its 30 miles of public beaches, Maui was the readers’ favourite Hawaiian island in the overall survey. Lovely Wailea and Kaanapali are the best-known beaches for good reason, but your ideal beach may depend on what you want to do on the No 5 island for activities. For bodysurfing, go to reliable Makena State Park or Honokahua Bay, which neighbours the Ritz-Carlton Kapaula. For snorkeling (as well as dramatic cliff-jumping), go to Pu’u Keka’a, near Kaananapali. If you’d rather watch sunsets than sunbathe, go to Keawakapu Beach, which tends to stay uncrowded and offers a great view of the late-day show.
With its hibiscus flowers, black pearls and shallow, fish-rich waters, this honeymoon magnet ranked at No 2 for lovebirds in the island survey. Indeed, the home of iconic Mount Otemanu offers a number of never-need-to-leave-the-hotel options, like the St Regis Bora Bora, with its 79 thatched-roof, overwater bungalows, a private snorkeling lagoon, and an on-site restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. To sleep near the island’s iconic public beach, Matira, stay at the Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora on Matira Point, which has two private beaches.
This archipelago didn’t rank very highly in the survey for either affable locals or restaurants—maybe because, relatively speaking, there aren’t that many people or eateries among the Exumas’ 365 cays (at least one of them is just inhabited by lizards). If you stay on Great Exuma, however, you can walk from several hotels to Georgetown’s Jolly Hall Beach, known for its shallow turquoise waters. On Little Exuma, go to Tropic of Cancer Beach, which intersects the meridian line and is the longest beach on the little island.
St John, US Virgin Islands
Readers ranked St John at No 4 among all Caribbean islands, loving it perhaps because it’s just far enough out of reach—a short ferry ride from St Thomas—to feel secluded, but without being remote. Plus, it has stayed fairly pristine, since two thirds of the island is a national park, including popular Trunk Beach and Honeymoon Beach.
This mountainous but mellow island was readers’ No 1 pick in French Polynesia, and ranked at No 5 overall for islands around the world. Tamae is the most popular beach in Moorea, but you can secure your own piece of it when you stay at nearby Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort (for even fewer crowds, go to the slender beach at the
end of Hauru Point).