The results of travel magazine Travel + Leisure’s latest ‘World’s Best Awards’ for island oases prove that no destination is too remote when pristine, white sand beaches and exotic fauna await. Here are the top 10
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
This wildlife-filled archipelago, hundreds of miles off Ecuador’s shores, has long tempted thrill-seekers and photography enthusiasts with its pods of sea lions, flightless cormorants, the world’s only seafaring lizards and short-feathered penguins that dart casually across the equator. Volcanic landscapes and beaches relatively untouched by tourism are best seen by sea. Cruise ships, such as Silversea’s 100-passenger Silver Galápagos, pair travellers with naturalists for a truly educational experience.
Of all the tropical islands that comprise Indonesia (17,508 to be exact), the mystical island of Bali outshines them all. With its rice paddies, ornate Hindu temples and rocky headlands, it’s the country’s crown jewel. Head to Sanur to watch the sun bleed over the horizon in the mornings, or to Besakih, the holiest and most mystical temple at the slopes of Mount Agung.
The world’s lowest-lying nation has no land more than 6ft above sea level, meaning a trip to the Maldives is truly about communing with the warm ebbing tides. Many hotels are built directly over the sparkling azure waters and the best take full advantage of the other-worldly real estate. Coral nurseries, underwater nightclubs and feasts enjoyed on floating pontoons are just a few of the luxury trappings travellers might encounter here.
Travel + Leisure’s readers raved about this Australian state, calling it a little-known treasure that’s unmatched by any other island destination. Its diverse and stunning landscape is nearly hallucinatory: rolling dunes covered in psychedelic banksia wildflowers, granite formations that erupt from the beaches and the wonder of the tessellated pavement at Eaglehawk Neck.
Everything is brighter on Santorini, where blanched-white houses and blue-domed churches erupt down the sides of an ancient caldera. Highlights include the black sands of Perissa Beach, the richly preserved, pre-historic Akrotíri settlement, best known as the ‘Minoan Pompeii’, and the postcard-worthy sunsets over Oia, the clifftop village that is one of the most photographed spots in the world.
Moorea, French Polynesia
This heart-shaped island levitating on the South Seas has convinced even the most selective travellers that there is such a thing as paradise on earth, thanks to impossibly blue lagoons and rugged, rainforest-blanketed mountains. The less-trafficked sister island of Bora Bora offers coconut-strewn beaches and an intoxicating aroma of vanilla, grapefruit and Tahitian gardenia, as well as thatched bungalows at luxe properties such as the InterContinental and views of Tahiti, only 11 miles away, at The Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort.
Hawaii’s golden child appeals to everyone from gilded Hollywood celebrities to barefooted surfers. It’s a veritable melting pot for the next generation, complete with buzzy cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and ultra-chic resorts (enter the new Andaz Maui at Wailea with three infinity pools and an open-air lobby), as well as breathtaking natural sights to seduce visitors and natives with intrinsic force.
Kauai, the oldest Hawaiian island, formed when lava bubbled up from the ocean floor five million years. To this day, it maintains a certain sense of dignity that is not uncommon among the community’s elders. For example, it’s defiantly more low-key than its glamorous sibling to the east, though no less dramatic. Can’t-miss sights include Pali Ke Kua, or Hideaways beach, kept secret by towering black lava walls, as well as the Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, both banded by scenic hiking trails and switchbacks.
Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia
A vast, 1,600-mile sweep of coral reef unfurls from the north-eastern tip of Australia, teeming with more than 400 species of marine life spanning from the great baleen whales to thorny urchins. Divers can be found year-round in this labyrinth of 3,000-plus individual reefs, one of the seven wonders of the world and the largest living feature on earth, made from billions of coral polyps.
History aficionados have long loved this Mediterranean nation, evidence that you don’t need palm trees or daiquiris to be one of the world’s most tantalising islands. Malta has been overrun by every major empire in the region, from the Phoenicians to the Byzantines, the British to the 1.5 million tourists who flock to the island’s colourful shores. Limestone cliffs are dotted with baroque churches, crumbling castle walls and fortresses.