Travel: Islands conjure dreams of paradise; an escape from the rat race, a perfect patch of sand where you can relax under rustling palms and gaze at a serene blue sea. But not all islands are created the same. The beauty of some is defined more by the sea that surrounds them, which can captivate connoisseurs with its crystalline clarity and thriving coral kingdoms. And some enchant travelers with their cultural jewels. Whether it's sublime beaches, stunning topography, or exotic cultures you seek, these islands lie far from the workaday clamor but close to creature comforts.
The Maldives are home to some of the world's most ravishing islands, but it's the sea, which truly makes these islands shine. Luminous aquamarine waters with a crystal clarity lap upon these dazzling white shores, which barely peek above the Indian Ocean. Consisting of 26 natural atolls, the Maldives archipelago is the planet's lowest lying nation, rising no more than three meters above the sea at its highest point, a measurement that shrinks every year. Beneath the mesmerizing waters, coral reefs flourish, luring divers and snorkelers from around the world.
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.
Palawan is the Philippine's answer to paradise. This island province stretches southwest to Borneo with lush limestone peaks rising from a jewel-like sea so clear, that you can almost see the expressions on the fish from above the surface. Slivers of gleaming white sand fringed with rustling palms rim many of these jungle-clad islands, while under the water, coral reefs flourish with an impressive diversity of tropical fish, offering some of the best diving in the world. Other attractions include the islands' unique wildlife, emerald lakes, and quaint fishing villages.
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.
Bleached white villas tumble down volcanic cliffs. Blue-domed churches rise against the sparkling sea, and bright sprays of bougainvillea add to the eye-popping canvas of color. Perched atop the black lava cliffs, the settlements of Firá and Oia are the island's most picturesque, and pricey, destinations, and Oia ranks among the most photographed locations in the world.
Incense wafts from Hindu temples, rice paddies glow in electric greens, and the food jolts the taste buds. Surfing, swimming, shopping, and sunbathing are the prime pursuits on this exotic isle, as well as sightseeing in the lush countryside. Bali's enchanting spirit will wash over you like a warm, tropical wave.