The Best Islands In The World For Your Travel Bucket List


What do you want from the perfect island? Are you all about the idyllic beaches? Do you crave some nightlife? Culture? A food scene? Are you a sand connoisseur or are you open to someplace a little more rugged? The list of possible X-factors is enormous. The options are neverending.

As Uproxx’s two premier aficionados on the subject, travel writer Zach Johnston and I decided to rank the best islands in the world to visit for millennial travelers. It was no small task. Turns out, there are a lot of islands on earth and cherry picking a few (okay, slightly more than a few) to dub the “best” is a huge challenge. It literally pained us to leave Ko Tao, Antigua, and Grand Cayman off the list. And how can you possibly write a “best islands” article and skip Tahiti? (Relax, Mo’orea made it.)

After an endless string of difficult choices, we winnowed our picks down to 40. These are the castaway paradises and dramatic vistas that travel dreams are made of; the places that leave your Instagram followers wanting to recreate your trips in a very Single White Female sort of way.

A few quick bullet points on methodology:

  • We left out all mini-continents (Madagascar, Iceland) and most countries-that-are-also-islands.
  • Size seems to have mattered, but not in the way you might expect. Smaller was better for this list. These are (mostly) all places you can visit and thoroughly explore in a week or so. Cuba is the only spot that’s also on the list of the world’s 20 largest islands, and that was a special exemption.
  • We aimed for balance. It would have been easy to pick 35 islands in SE Asia or East Africa or South America. Instead, we spread the love.
  • We also tried to switch up the price. We picked both budget spots and the sort of places you’ll need serious cash to even consider. Same goes for nightlife, emphasis on nature, and a score of other tiny factors that we bickered about for days. Point being: There’s something for everyone.
  • We were blatantly unfair to cold-weather locales. Sorry, not sorry. The word “island” has become codified to mean “cool tropical place” and we fall prey to that as much as anyone else. So, while you’ll see a few chillier spots on this list, you can practically feel us dragging our heels. Most of what you’ll find here is in the tropics.
  • We went with islands that our audience of young, social 18- to 40-year-old audience of Gen-X, Gen-Z, and Millennial travelers are looking for. There are better islands than those we listed for families, for instance. Most of our favorite spots are places where you can find a party, an adventure, and an inexpensive meal.
  • Lastly, yes, this is mostly arbitrary. But we still A) think we’re absolutely right and B) look forward to your bitter insults and vehement disagreements in the comments.

Without further ado, let’s start at #40 and work our way to the #1 spot!

Steve Bramucci, Travel Editor, Uproxx Life

40. Tasmania — Australia

Tasmania is a good-sized island that has a lot to offer. There’s a real sense of wonder here — with craggy peaks, sandy beaches, and a wine country second to none.

Hitting Hobart and it’s killer local food scene is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Tassy. Exploring the island will take you through local farms, high-range treks, national parks, and deserted surf breaks. Oh, and then there are great vineyards found along green mountain slopes.

Another great reason to visit Tasmania is to catch the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. If you’re really lucky, you might catch a set of red auroras as the solar winds dance through our atmosphere. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience on a magical island down under.

39. Mauritius — Mauritius

Mauritius stole the low spot on this list, but it belongs higher on the list of the planet’s “absolutely underrated islands.” Perhaps that’s because it’s not “best” at any one thing. It’s small but not tiny; well developed but not bustling. It’s not really a party island or a tourist island or but you can find partyers and tourists with ease. It has some fantastic waterfalls and two great surf breaks, but it’s not famous for either.

That’s not to undersell the place. The beaches are second to none and the interior holds plenty to explore. The island is majority Indo-Mauritian and the food is an incredible combination of traditional Indian favorites and east African seafood specialties. It’s tough to beat when you can get curried daal and fish roasted in banana leaves at the same street market.

Best of all, perhaps, the island is thriving even without tourism, and visiting is a chance to see a culture that welcomes tourists with welcome arms but isn’t desperate to have them. This lack of tourism focus allows the visitor to feel like a local — a quality we all crave from travel.

38. Tavarua — Fiji

If you’re a surfer, you’re going to think that Tavarua is getting ripped off to come in 34. If you’re not a surfer, you might think it’s overrated (remember, Tahiti didn’t even hit the list).

We can’t kid ourselves: As lovely as this heart-shaped island is, it’s a surf retreat. Sure you can fish for yellowfin and SCUBA on the lay days, but if you’re at Tavarua you came for the waves. You wanted a chance to surf Cloudbreak — one of the best on the planet. You wanted to paddle until your arms ached, then sit in the jacuzzi with a brew.

If that’s what you’re going for, this is one of the best places on earth. But if you’re not a surfer, hanging at the resort might get a bit repetitive (inasmuch as paradise can ever get repetitive, which isn’t much).

37. Rhodes — Greece

Rhodes is the best of all worlds when it comes to Grecian islands. There’s a real sense of history on the streets (this is, after all, where the Colossus stood). There are gorgeous beaches, entire districts devoted to partying, lush resorts, and odd hippy communes.

You’ve never had lamb until you’ve wandered into a gyro shop and ordered the lamb with extra garlic-y yogurt sauce. That meal fortifies you. The unctuous, fatty, and spicy flavors are a better fix than any hangover cure on the planet. The soft pita, sun-kissed tomato, crisp lettuce, and fresh feta tie the whole thing together perfectly.

Later, after wandering the old town and taking a dip in the med, savor a slow Greek dinner with more slow-roasted lamb, bright fruits, grassy-flavored olive oils, local cheeses, just-baked bread, seafood pulled from a few steps away, and plenty of wine. You’ll leave the meal completely in love with the Rhodes way of life.

Ready to work off all those calories after a long dinner? Time to head into town to dance the night away in a club.

36. Santa Cruz (Galapagos Islands) — Ecuador

You’ve heard about the Galapagos Islands since you were a kid. You’ve listened to tales of the massive tortoises that roam the interior. You’ve torn photos from National Geographic of the blue-footed boobies. You’ve promised that one day you were going to set foot on the unspoiled beaches.

And you should. Because the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos is all of those things. But there’s more to it. There’s a thriving city. A surprising nightlife. And a few choice seafood spots. There’s pirate history and natural history and great surf waves if you’re intrepid enough to bring a board.

That’s the point: The Galapagos in general and Santa Cruz in specific is a lot of things to a lot of people but it pulls them all off. With all the hype these islands get, it’s hard to live up. But when you’re hiking lava tunnels in the morning and sprawled on a beach totally covered with iguanas by noon, you realize that Santa Cruz in the Galapagos chain is everything you’ve heard and more.

35. Socotra — Yemen

This is a tough pick for the hearty among us. Traveling to Yemen is not an easy task right now since the Saudis have put a nix on all flights to the island. That means sailing is going be your best option. For us, that makes this one all the more alluring.

All of that aside, Socotra is one of the only places on earth that truly feels otherworldly. The trees look like little broccoli shrubs and are almost completely endemic. The landscape is a bizarre mix of craggy peaks and rolling sand dunes. The birds are even different. There’s literally no other place on earth like Socotra. And that means you’ve kinda gotta go… just to fully savvy how varied nature really is.

This iconic island has been a stopping point for travelers for thousands of years. Thomas the Apostle (yes, an actual old-school apostle of Jesus) and Marco Polo both made sure to bask on the beaches. If you do go, be sure to hire a local driver with a 4WD to get you around all the points of interest. Another option is to rent a motorcycle and circle the island on your own. Don’t expect much partying though. This is a natural UNESCO World Heritage site, not a resort.

34. Formentera — Spain

This island is a hidden paradise. Just off the coast of Ibiza, Formentera is an artist and bohemian hangout that only the coolest kids know about. It’s pristine and beautiful in all the classic ways you’d expect a Spanish Mediterranean isle to be. It’s also where the in-the-know partiers on Ibiza go to recoup and recharge after a week or two of hitting it hard at the clubs.

The island is all about the comedown, the chill, and the recovery. Feasts of Spanish-quality seafood abound. Tiny villas dot the cliffs and beaches — easy to rent at surprisingly low prices (think 30-50 a night for a house). Then there’s the atmosphere. You can spend days hanging on a beach, chatting with hippies and artists, or you can just chill all on your own and comedown from your Ibiza trip.

33. Little Corn Island — Nicaragua

If you’d met someone who’d visited Little Corn Island, roughly 50-miles off Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, you’d know it. Visitors to the place are absolutely cult-like in their devotion.

Visit once, and you’ll know exactly why. Little Corn is everything you want from the tropics. Stunning, warm, inexpensive… but most of all, it’s languorous. Chill with a capital C. Part of this comes from the fact that there are no cars or even golf carts on the island. Part of it comes from the proliferation of hammocks slung between palm trees. And a big part is due to the friendly, welcoming locals.

Days at Little Corn are spent in and out of the ocean, breaking off pieces of the local specialty, “coconut bread,” and looking for lost flip-flops. It’s a lovely was to spend a few days… a week… a month.

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32. Curaçao — Dutch Protectorate

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Scharloo #houses #curacaohouses #detail

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The story behind the brightly colored houses that line the waterfront in Willemstad, Curaçao’s capital, goes something like this: A former governor, believing his regular headaches resulted from the glare reflecting off the city’s lime-plaster white buildings decreed that all structures must be painted in any color but white. Some versions of this story include the appropriately colorful detail that this same governor also had a financial stake in the island’s only paint store. Never mind whether it’s true — and the story very well may be apocryphal — it still makes for a simple narrative that touches on many of the thematic elements that make this autonomous Dutch island just off the coast of Venezuela so intriguing: Vivid colors, colorful characters, and a lingering whiff of corruption.

“Discovered” by an underling of Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century, Curaçao has been a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for centuries. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad, establishing a hub for both piracy and the Atlantic slave trade. And while that morally dubious history can cast a dark pallor over the island’s lively-hued present, it’s also what gives Curaçao its unique cultural fabric, a weave of European, African, South American, and indigenous influences that’s difficult to define and impossible to find anywhere else.

In Willemstad, visitors can live a bit of that history at the Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village, a restored Dutch-colonial settlement that also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site (though with two beautiful swimming pools and a slew of spacious suites, it doesn’t necessarily feel like your average UN-protected cultural monument). It’s the ideal jumping-off place from which to explore Willemstad’s floating market (where Venezuelan fish and produce vendors tie up their boats), or one the city’s many uniquely Dutch-Caribbean restaurants. (Pro tip: grab drinks at Luke’s Cocktailbar, then dinner at Blessing Curaçao a couple of blocks away, in Willemstad’s nightlife-rich Pietermaai neighborhood.)

Get outside of Willemstad, and Curaçao is all protected nature preserves, vibrant coastline, and al fresco roadside restaurants serving Afro-Caribbean inspired fare like the life-changing peanut soup at Trio Penotti. Or delicacies like the goat-meat burger at Willyburger, a local dive alongside the highway heading northwest from Willemstad, toward vast stretches of unmarred beach and clear, azure blue Atlantic waters. There’s a beauty and warmth to each of these stops, reflected in the locals and the many visiting Dutch you’ll meet along the way.

Translation: It’s a colorful place, beyond just the houses.

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so many turtles!!! feeling #blessed

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31. Isla Holbox — Mexico

good islands to travel to
Via The Blonde Abroad

Isla Holbox has been on the travel radar for about 20 years now. In the early days of it’s tourism development, it was a refuge for hippies, horrified at the mega resorts being built in nearby Cancún. Later, it was a special secret passed between friends, a place with a few beach hostels and a mellow vibe. These days, Isla Holbox is slightly more developed, but definitely not overrun — still the chillest of Mexico’s tropical islands and the perfect place for a castaway retreat.

There are no cars on the island — people get around with bikes and golf carts. Though, when you’re hanging in the iconic Holbox Hammocks… where else do you need to go? Walking the expansive beaches is a joy. A game of sand soccer is a must.

This spot nails all the island “must haves” — pale blue water, white sand beaches, friendly locals, coconuts to cure your hangovers. Best of all, it’s in Mexico: Which means plenty of fish tacos as you bask on the beach.

30. Rügen — Germany

The Baltic Sea is one of those corners of the world that gets very little travel love from outsiders. Poles, Germans, Russians, Balts, and Scandinavians know what’s up though. The Baltic is a half freshwater, half saltwater tideless sea with an insane amount of seemingly-endless sandy beaches. Beaches where you can have miles of space to yourself, even in the summer.

Rügen is a German island on the western reaches of the Baltic that feels a bit like you’re stepping back in time to a Belle Epoque jet-setting scene. Something straight out of a mid-century postcard. The beaches are massive and dotted with little wicker huts where you can chill, feast, and drink the days away. There are pedestrian only promenades peppered with kiosks selling locally smoked fish on freshly baked rolls and bottles of local beer. There are old-school resort hotels with spas and amazing views over the water.

We can’t emphasize enough how chilled out this place is. You can spend the morning getting a massage, the afternoon swimming, eating smoked salmon, and day-drinking local white wine, and the evening hitting bars or lounging in a cool old hotel bar that probably has the word ‘palace’ in the name.

It’s a slice of Germany you probably never imagined existed and it’s the perfect summer or winter escape.

29. Sulawesi — Indonesia

There are few places more remote and exotic than Sulawesi. The uniquely shaped island in the Indonesian archipelago is a place where pirates hid, spices were traded, and time slows to a standstill. If you’re still not convinced, Sulawesi is shockingly beautiful and damn near empty of tourists.

The northern reaches of the island are living tropical postcards where you’ll find miles and miles of white sand beaches giving way to crystal clear seas with no one on them. Seriously, you can have five miles of paradise mostly to yourself.

Now, this amazing, empty beauty does come with a few caveats. Don’t expect Mexico or Thailand levels of infrastructure for tourism here. Yes, amazing resorts exist (and are far cheaper than their Maldivian or Fijian counterparts) but this island is truly over the hills and far away in every meaning of the phrase. This is “you may have to catch your own fish from the sea and cook it over a beach fire” level remote, if that’s what you dig.

As beaches from the Philippines to Thailand to Mexico get strained past the breaking point, maybe it’s time to consider the places that are just as (if not more) idyllic. Again, this place is hard to get to, which helps keep the day-trippers and Instagrammers at bay and that, in turn, makes it even more desirable as a truly unique escape.

28. Hvar — Croatia

Croatia needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s a fantastically beautiful country with ancient cities, breathtaking coastlines, food that rivals Italy (yes, we’re serious), and a party scene that feels like Spain with a Slavic twist.

Croatia has a long list of islands that are worth your time and tourist dollars, but Hvar is the best as far as we’re concerned. The city of Hvar on the western tip of the island has 13th-century city walls and streets, renaissance cathedrals, gorgeous beaches, and a cafe and bar culture that’s got a modern vibe in old-school digs. Working out from there, you’ll find dozens of amazing beaches, villages frozen in time, farms, mountains, and tiny churches.

You’ll get a definite Westeros feel when you’re strolling the ancient rock alleyways and cafes. The beaches often erupt into parties centered around beachside hotels and bars. The atmosphere is very chilled out and the newness of it all will blow you away.

27. Ilhabela — Brazil

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Life is better in a bikini 😝🍍

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Ilhabela is one of those islands that the locals know well, but outsiders are pretty much in the dark about. That’s a good thing. You’ll need to catch a ferry from São Sebastião, which, in turn, is reachable from Sao Paulo. The island is mostly park area with a narrow strip along the western reaches with resorts, villas, and almost all of the restaurants along the main road. Tracks and trails go up into the mountains and jungle where stunning waterfalls and views await.

The beaches are on point and the beachside offers a great place to eat, drink, and be merry. It’s Brazil after all, so a party is never that far away. This is a spot in Brazil that few savvy tourists ever make it to, so you’re going to get a real slice of a spot Brazilians dig as tourists. And that, for us, is always illuminating.

26. Ibiza — Spain

This is an absolutely basic pick and it barely made the top 30. Truth be told, Ibiza’s been a popular party island for nearly 40 years now. It’s a known entity. But some islands just have an inexplicable ability to stay cool, even when they go mainstream.

No place pulls that off quite like this one. Ibiza has gone through all the phases of an island being hot, popular with backpackers, and, finally, discovered by mainstream tourists, but it remains a favorite worldwide. At this point, the love isn’t just for the party scene that literally launched the techno revolution, but also for the calmer pace of life easily found and accessed on other parts of the island.

Sure, this stop has been on every backpacker’s bucket list since backpackers started making bucket lists, but it deserves the spot. It’s absolutely worth your time and energy. No, it’s not like it was 20 years ago, but it’s not going to be the same in 20 years either.

Go now, and embrace the fact that the places we fall in love with are always changing.

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A new sunny day starts in Ibiza❤️

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25. Whitsunday Island — Australia

Figuring out the best islands on earth is one matter, but picking the absolute best beaches is a whole different category altogether. If that’s your quest, look no further: Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, in Queensland, Australia wins in a walk. The silica sand is so white and pure that it squeaks when you walk. The water is so pale blue and warm that you feel like you’re trespassing in god’s own bathtub.

As for the crowds? Well, they’re nonexistent… if you time it right. From 10am-3pm, Whitehaven Beach is besieged by day trippers, but at nights it’s the sole property of anyone with a tent and the passengers of the few boats anchored offshore.

How much time you spend on Whitsunday Island is really dictated by a simple question: “How long would it take you to get bored of a truly pristine paradise?” Because facilities are nonexistent and food is BYO, but swimming with sea turtles and watching translucent crabs flit across the sand is plenty of activity for refugees from the workaday world.

24. Penang — Malaysia

Malaysia doesn’t get the travel love that Thailand gets from western vagabonds. That’s both a shame and kind of great — because the Malay islets are rarely known entities in the way that their Thai counterparts are.

Penang is a big island with a lot to offer. The northern stretch of the island is one long beach with high-rise hotels, beach bungalows, and teeming night markets hawking everything you’ll need to savor the beach life. The interior is jungle mountains with waterfalls full of flying lemurs and civets. And if beach-bumming and jungle trekking get boring, you can head to Georgetown and party the night away at the bars.

Don’t sleep on the food here either. Penang — and Malaysia by in large — is a cross-section of Muslim Indian, Indo-Malay, and Chinese cuisines. You’ll find roadside chapati for breakfast with seriously strong sweet teas. Dope fried rice carts for lunch. And killer outdoor food courts slinging colorful and spicy dishes where locals and tourists mingle for dinner.

Penang is cheap, tropical, and beautiful. It may not show up on Travel & Lesuire’s list, but vagabonds “in the know” make a point of visiting.

23. Rarotonga — Cook Islands

Deep in the Pacific, you’ll find the Cook Islands. This is a place that’s the very definition of “over the hills and far away.” The 15 islands are all centered around Rarotonga where the airport and main resorts are. Generally speaking, you’d want to get as far away from the airport as possible. But when it comes to the beauty of Rarotonga, you’ll be happy to post up on the “big” island for a spell.

The best way to get around the island is by motorscooter or dirt bike. You can easily rent one once on the island. That way you can spend plenty of time exploring the mountainous interior and all the lagoons and beaches you want at your leisure. There are plenty of backpacker spots around the island where you can snag a bed for around ten bucks a night. Trust us: You’ll be in paradise.

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Floating on cloud nine…🏝😎 . 📸 @calsnape

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22. The Gilis — Indonesia

The Gili Islands are life-changing. The three islands at play here are Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air and it’s hard to not take them all in together. Gili Trawangan is the largest and has some of the best diving anywhere on the planet. The tiny islands of Gili Air and Meno are each a nature and animal lover’s paradise (though — and we can’t stress this enough — beware of Komodo Dragons; sleeping on the beach is possible, but not always the best idea).

What really helps make the Gilis so attractive — besides the beaches, the surfing, the partyers, the locals — are the prices. You’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than $20-$30 a night for good accommodations. Homestays will be a lot closer to $10 per night, maybe even less. Then there’s the food. Indonesia never disappoints on this front. Fried noodles and rice will dominate alongside various fish pulled straight from the sea that day. Ikan Bakar (charcoal grilled white fish slathered in sambal chili sauce) is a must after a hard day of trekking, snorkeling, and lounging on the beach.

This is a real paradise with a little danger lurking just under the surface. That is to say: It’s a place where real adventure awaits.

21. Kodiak Island (Alaska) — USA

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Island life….

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Up Alaska way, Kodiak Island is guaranteed adventure. This place is remote, wild, and extreme. And, yes, there’s a lot of big ol’ bears (so proceed with real caution and invest in a bear spray).

There are a lot of reasons to visit Kodiak: Surfing, salmon fishing, trekking and hiking, camping, photography, unplugging from, well, everything but the wilds of nature. The island is a drastic place of dense old-growth forests rising into alpine peaks and then crashing down to craggy seashores. This is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.

There are a few small villages around the island, but don’t expect to spend a lot of time there besides transiting on and off the island. The adventure is out in the wilds and on the beaches. Get your gear, plot a course, and tick some items off your adventure bucket list.

20. San Blas — Panama

San Blas is a group of islands off the Atlantic coast of Panama that’s still largely inhabited by indigenous Panamanians. The islands are remote and it’ll take you a day or so to get to them, but they’re 100 percent worth it. The beaches on these small islands are almost completely wild. You’ll live in grass huts on the beach that’ll cost mere dollars. The food you eat will be what the local fishermen pulled in from the sea that day.

These aren’t tropical islands to go and party on. They’re a pure escape from everything the modern world has to offer and step back into a land time has forgotten. The only thing you’ll have to worry about while there are the falling coconuts from the trees (seriously).

The rest will just melt away as the soft sea breeze and the warm seas wash away your troubles.

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19. Nuku Hiva — Marquesas Islands

It’d be easy to put Tahiti here. It’s a magical place. Don’t get us wrong. We love Bora Bora, too. But we want to go with a little less trafficked corner of the South Pacific, so we’re picking the Marquesas Islands.

Nuku Hiva is a striking place. The earth juts from the sea with violent, green jags covered with waterfalls so tall the water actually evaporates before it hits the ground again. The beaches are lined with those palms that lean just the right way. The food is fresh, vibrant, and pulled from the sea (alongside the pigs that run all over the island). Expect feasts of great, slow-cooked food with bright colors and flavors, all washed down with plenty of rum and beer.

This is a Polynesian paradise that will leave you wanting to come back again and again.

18. Hydra — Greece

Oh, we get it: Your favorite Insta-traveler likes Santorini. And those blue roofs! But this was a shared decision and we stand by it.

Why? Santorini is the lover you date, Hydra will make you want to buy a ring. It’s rocky and rugged, but dotted with private coves. There are ancient houses to sleep in and traditional foods to eat. Also: There are no cars. And unlike other “no autos” spots on this list, Hydra actually has elevation.

The remedy for the car situation is donkeys — and to hear them clop-clopping on the cobblestones is a reminder that you really, really need to relax. Visit the famous Pirate Bar, a legend full of local lore. Dive into the Agean Sea from the rocks at Kamini. Feast on gyros and play tavoli (a variant of backgammon) with the old men.

At night, toast an uzo to the good, slow life. Santorini can wait, Hydra is a gem.

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Этой фотографией я встречаю первый день своего личного Нового года. Открываю себя новым свершениям, впечатлениям и дорогам. ⠀⠀ Минувший год был непростым, полным на события и эмоции. Обличительным, переломным и от этого таким ценным. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Сегодня мне 34 и я не хочу скрывать свой возраст. Ведь каждый год, который я прожила – он мой и только мой. Каждый из этих минувших лет меня чему-то научил, что-то показал, отнял или подарил. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Спасибо моему личному аисту, что выбрал мне таких чудесных родителей. Спасибо моим родителям за то, что они подарили мне лучшую в мире сестру! Спасибо моему мужу, что уже 11 лет растит из маленькой девочки взрослую меня. ⠀⠀ Спасибо Вселенной за целых двух подруг, которые всегда рядом – и в горе, и в радости. ⠀⠀ Я счастлива, друзья, быть той, кто я есть и идти той дорогой, которая выпала мне из множества жизненных коллизий. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ С днем рождения меня!

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17. Svalbard — Norway

Svalbard is the polar opposite of a paradisical beach near the equator. This is an arctic tundra with extremes around every corner. It’s extremely beautiful with snow-covered mountains slopping perfectly towards icy seas. Polar bears still roam freely between the icebergs and mountains. The weather is brutal at times. The people who call this place home are truly the mad ones.

It’s also Norway, so the place is put together well and very accessible — even though it literally looks like the ends of the earth. You do need a bit of kit to go to places this extreme. A good down jacket and plenty of merino wool will be a smart investment. Lodges will often provide cross-country skis and snowshoes, just make sure to ask wherever you’re staying what they provide adventure-wise.

Overall, this is one of those places that will elicit a lot of blank stares from people when you tell them you’re going. It’s remote. It’s mysterious. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous. It’s also extreme and will test your adventure mettle at every turn. And that’s a good island experience right there.

16. île Aue Nattes — Madagascar

Île Aue Nattes, or “Nost Nanto” as it’s often called, is tiny. You could circle it on foot in three hours. It doesn’t have one iconic food or drink or even beach. In fact, of all the islands on this list, it’s by far the lowest profile. But Île Aue Nattes is a paradise specifically because it’s an unknown. That’s what makes it special.

Walk the white sand beaches, diving off the parched dunes into the crystalline water. Explore the tiny village where girls sell homemade toffees for a penny each. Feast on fish dragged straight out of the ocean. Play the East African checkers game “Flying Kings” with a local fisherman when they return to shore in their boats. This is a retreat in the truest sense.

If you crave more activity, the more famous (and developed) île Saint Marie is just a swim away. Seriously, it’s about twenty feet through a pale blue channel. There, you can explore a real pirate graveyard, spot leaf-tailed geckos in the dense jungles, and eat at fine French restaurants (at insanely affordable Malagasy prices).

15. St. Helena — St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha

St. Helena is famous for two things really: 1) Being the most remote inhabited place on earth and 2) Being the spot where Napoleon died. The island was only accessible by mail ship until literally last year, when the airport opened. Now, adventure seekers looking for the ultimate bucket list check can get to St. Helena via South Africa and Namibia. It’s a long way to go, but it’s also one of the most unique places you can see on the whole planet.

The volcanic island has a small population, abundant coffee orchards, lots of history, and the two oldest living animals on the earth (two gigantic tortoises). The eldest, Jonathan, hatched in 1832 — yes, 1832, not 1932. The long flights are worth it to meet that tortoise alone.

Overall, St. Helena is just a special corner of the world where English is the language, pubs pour beer, and adventure awaits. There are few places left that you can still go that are this unique.

14. Cuba

Cuba may be a cheat. Or maybe it’s the exception that proves the rule. Or, maybe, it’s just a really dope island-nation that everyone should see once in their lives.

Cuba is huge, varied, and full of life. It’s getting harder again to go, but don’t let that stop you. It’s worth the extra effort. The island is still dirt cheap once you’re there. There are homestays, hardcore western resorts with all the perks, and smaller hotels to choose from.

The food and coffee culture is on point. But it’s really the old-school bar culture that shines. This is a cocktail lover’s paradise that goes way beyond a Cuba Libre or Mojito. Try a real daiquiri, not the smoothie version. It’s perfection in a glass.

After you spend a good amount of time exploring Havana, get out into the countryside. Smoke cigars, ride motorcycles, hang with the locals. Cuba is a wonderland that’s such a short jump from Florida. You’ll be amazed you haven’t been going there your whole life and then wonder how you can fold Cuba into your regular travel routine from here on out.

13. Culebra — Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has had a hell of a time recovering from last year’s hurricane season. The island was hit hard and a lingering sense of destruction shrouds the island. We’re here to break through the negative nature of the coverage and assure you that it’s open for business and in need of your tourist dollars more now than ever.

If you really want to get lost in the wonder and beauty that is Puerto Rico, then a trip out to Culebra Island is in order. The island is a mix of parklands, off-the-beaten-path villages and beaches, and abundant coral reefs. You can get to the island by small plane from San Juan or take an hour-long boat ride from Fajardo on the eastern end of Puerto Rico. The slowdown in tourism means you’ll have a lot of this to yourself, or, at the very least, the crowds will be much lighter than expected.

However you get there, be sure to hit Flamenco Beach. It’s often ranked among the world’s best beaches and lives up to that moniker in every way with white sands, leaning palms, and bathwater-warm seas. It’s truly a paradise where a beer is about a buck and the piña coladas never stop flowing.

12. Ibo — Mozambique

Mozambique’s Ibo Island is an old Muslim slaving port turned island retreat — peppered with giant stone mansions (now guesthouses), pale sand beaches, fantastic seafood and a rich local culture. The island is also known for silversmithing and you’re sure to come home with beautiful jewelry carved by the locals from pre-war coins.

Hop in a local dhow to sail the island. If the tide is right, pay a visit to “Sometimes Isle” — the nearby spit of white sand that appears in the Indian Ocean at low tide and dissapears as high tide. It’s a perfect white sand beach and you’ll want to spend the whole tide cycle basking there before heading back to Ibo for rich East African stews and whole baked fish preparations.

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11. Mo’orea — French Polynesia

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We know what you want out of French Polynesia. You want the hut out on the water. You want to have sex with sharks looking up at you through your glass-bottomed dock. You want water so shallow that you can wade for miles.

You want, in short, a honeymoon. And you’ll get it! Your honeymoon awaits!

But it’s worth noting that Mo’orea also has a rich interior, dense jungles, tiny villages, volcanos to climb and vanilla plantations to explore. There are some of the best lo mein noodles on earth and, of course, all the seafood you could ever dream of. You can bike the ring road, dive with sharks, and surf in heavy reef breaks.

Sure, you go to French Polynesia for the honeymoon vibe, but it’s everything else Mo’orea offers that’ll keep you coming back.

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10. Harbour Island — Bahamas

Briland! Briland! Briland! It’s a word that trips off the tongue, a shortening of the island’s name and really the only thing to call it when you’re there. Regardless of whether you’re visiting or a local.

Part of the Bahamas, Harbour Island is long and narrow — with endless stretches of sand, superb jerk chicken, and more grog shops than you can shake a stick at.

The perfect Briland day is simple and common: Wake up late and score breakfast at a locally-run food stall, ride a bike (or golf cart) to the famous (very Instagrammable) pink sand beach, lounge for hours (dipping in an out of the azure Caribbean), and finish with conch fritters and a night partying at one of the local discos.

Obviously, this region has endless islands to pick from what sets Briland apart is the amazingly friendly, always welcoming, deeply warm locals. The culture of the place is all about joy and that is made clear through every interaction.

9. Hokkaido — Japan

Some of the best whisky in the world? Check. Some of the best food on the planet? Check. Incredible nature and four seasons? Check. Sure, Hokkaido is another really big island that stretches our parameters. But that’s what makes it so perfect. There’s a lot on offer here. You can spend a winter just exploring old distilleries and skiing. Or you can take the spring to learn the basics of making, strolling under blossoming cherry trees after your lessons are through.

Hokkaido is easily accessible through Sapporo, well connected by public transportation, and every type of accommodation exists for every price point. Though we’d be remiss not to nudge you towards spending a long weekend in a traditional onsen (hot spring spa resort) while you’re visiting. You’ll be treated to hot spring baths, massages, local cuisine, and a sense of serenity that’s hard to find anywhere else in the world. It’s the ultimate in unplugging and resetting your life.

8. Palawan — Philippines

Palawan is #1 on our eventual “shipwrecked power rankings.” The beaches are straight up idyllic. The waters are almost too clear. The jungle is lush and full of waterfalls and mountains just waiting to be explored. It’s Instagram ready and waiting for you.

Overall, this is a corner of the world that feels big. The whole island of Palawan is actually huge and stretches almost all the way from the western reaches of the Philippines to the northern reaches of Borneo. So there’s a lot to explore here. To the northwest of Palawan, there are tiny islands peppered in the clear blue Pacific — many of which are completely uninhabited. Towards the southern reaches, the island narrows and the landscape gets insanely picturesque.

Another huge perk: You’re in the Philippines, where the food is a wonderful cross-section of East Asian spice and Polynesian sweetness melded together. It’s every bit as special as the scenery.

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7. Kauai — USA

25 years ago, people said of Kauai: “It’s a little less mainstream, a little more rugged; less touristy, more adventurous.” They were right back then and they’re still right today. That’s not because the mega resorts never came calling, of course. It’s because Kauai has absolutely taken control of its own development and has resisted paving paradise to put up a parking lot.

Thank god for that. Because right now, in 2018, Kauai is almost unarguably the most remotely beautiful, wild, breathtaking (both through physical exertion and stunning vistas) tropical island in the United States.

Hidden beaches and secret surf breaks? Check. Dense jungles and plunging waterfalls? Check. Millions of package tourists rubbing sunscreen on their rapidly burning bellies and flicking their neon mai tai straws in the sand? Nope. And the Kauaians are aiming to keep it that way.

So yes, go to Kauai. Swing off of the rope swing at Kipu Falls like Tarzan. Explore the remote beaches of the Nā Pali coast like Robinson Crusoe. Feast on the delicious and endless fish preparations like any fool who recognizes the joys of eating whole fish grilled on an open flame. But for god’s sake don’t try to make the place fit your ideas of what a tropical island should be.

6. Zanzibar — Tanzania

Zanzibar might not be #1 on the best islands list, but it is #1 on the Best Island Names list, winning in a landslide.

Zanzibar! Zan-Zi-BAR! Doesn’t that sound like a place where you can eat grilled octopus straight from the source? A paradise where Arabic sailing dhows with jaunty lateen sails slice through the crystal blue Indian Ocean? An island with a rich history and locals who speak a hybrid of Kiswahili and English?

In truth, the island is all those things. Of equal importance: It’s also home to the absolute best night market on this list. Every night the port at Stonetown becomes a flurry of activity as hawkers set up stalls full of the freshest seafood you’re likely to find without catching it yourself. Everything served is fresh from the fishing boats — from lobsters the size of your arm to tiny sea scallops — and everything is delicious.

Pro tip: Be sure to get a Zanzibar Pizza, a strange stuffed double crepe that doesn’t resemble a pizza at all but is deservedly famous across the island.

5. Vancouver Island — Canada

Vancouver island feels like that elusive “mystic” Van Morrison once sang about. It’s a corner of the world that’s unlike any other. Ancient, gnarled pines lean and sway on cliffs overlooking the sea. There’s an incredible amount of wildlife in those forests and in the sea below — from bears and wolves to orcas and salmon.

This is a magical place where native life still thrives and a grove of totem poles — waiting to tell you a story — is never far away. You can find secluded breaks and surf in pure wilderness. You can hop in a van and mosey up and down Highway 19. You can post up in old fishing camps and catch enough salmon to feed you for a year. And, if you get tired of outdoorsy life, you can hit up Victoria for a little British-themed city living. Translation: this island has the best pubs on the list.

4. Praslin Island — Seychelles

Don’t ask about budgets. Throw your “on the cheap” dreams out the window. Seychelles is going to cost you and Praslin (the second biggest in the chain) is no exception. But boy is it worth it. Of all the islands on this list, Praslin is surely the most iconic looking. The pale Indian Ocean laps gently against massive limestone boulders — it’s an Insta influencer’s fever dream.

Beautiful images aside (but not to undersell it, because those boulders on the beach are literally the most stunning sight), Seychelles has some of the best whale shark diving on earth and Praslin is home to a World Heritage-listed jungle — full of towering palms and teeming with wildlife.

3. Rangali Island — Maldives

Baller alert. The Conrad Maldives Rangali Resort has been voted the best hotel in the world multiple times. The Conrad takes up the whole island, so there’s not even a way of going unless you’re staying at the resort. And, yes, it’s crazy baller. There are infinity pools off mansion-sized huts over the water. There are underwater rooms where sharks and fish will lull you to sleep. The beaches are, well, perfect. It’s everything it sells itself as and more. It’s a Conrad, so the staff and perks are all exemplary.

Really, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime retreats that we all dream of seeing one day. Save up and you’ll get there too.

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2. Pantelleria — Italy

Pantelleria is one of those places that feels like its too good to be true. The vistas are idyllic. The villages are postcard perfect. The island itself looks like it could be a stand-in for a Francis Ford Coppola movie. The food is a beautiful blend of freshly hooked fish and squid, sun-soaked fruits and veg, strong cheese, fresh, crusty bread, and dark wines all filtered through the classic Italian foodways. Real talk, that means it’s fantastic.

Pantelleria is one of those places where you’re either baller enough to get a villa on a hill like a rockstar or you’re still bohemian enough to rock up to a camp and set up shop for a season. It’s up to you. Go there. Get a little lost amongst the craggy mountains, volcanic beaches, and caper farms. It’s an Italy that few ever see — the perfect balance of seclusion, uniqueness, and, in a way, exactly what you want from Italy.

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1. Ko Wua Talap — Thailand

Thailand has soooo many islands and plenty of those are household names. Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket… these are known entities. Ko Wua Talap isn’t quite so famous. Or… it is, but no one has ever really called out the connection.

Remember the book The Beach? It was written by Alex Garland (who went on to direct Ex Machina and Annihilation). Eventually, it became a movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and was filmed on Phi Phi Leh, over in the Andaman Sea. But the bestselling novel that defined a generation of backpackers clearly calls out the Ang Thong Marine Park over in the Bay of Thailands as its location.

And guess what island hosts the most famous white sand beach in Ang Thong? That’s right, Ko Wua Talap.

Ready for the best part? You don’t need to build a secret utopia to make your castaway dreams come true. It’s already waiting for you. Camping is 75-cents and a series of guesthouses cost roughly $10/night. So all you have to do is get to the island with the heaps of day-trippers, talk to your captain, hop off the boat at Ko Wua Talap and pay the park rangers to camp there. From 8am-11am and 3pm-sunset you’ll have the world’s most stunning beach all to yourself. In the middle of the day, when the massive swath of sand suddenly gets crowded, you can explore the hills or cross over to the other side of the island where more abandoned white sand beaches await.

The visitor’s center makes world-class pad thai, the water is #NoFilterNeeded blue, and park staff is thrilled to have long-term guests. At night, the tiny community of wanderlusters, vagabonds, and park staff party together like one big, rum-sipping family. This is paradise, just they way Garland imagined it in The Beach… without all the murder.

It’s inexpensive, beautiful, and remote. There are fun parties and fantastic food. Has it made anyone else’s “Best Islands” list? Never. But it’s our pick at the #1 spot.

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