As lovers of the ocean, the slower-paced life, surfing, snorkelling and SUPPing, it isn’t hard to believe that Vaughan and I find ourselves drawn to islands (who isn’t?!) But there’s so much more to islands than just palm trees, coconuts, the smell of tanning oil and beaches. Islands are havens for wildlife, adventure activities, rugged mountains, volcanoes and, apparently, even castles.
During our travels we’ve been lucky to visit and live on many tropical islands in Southeast Asia and it got us thinking about what some of the best islands from around the world are. So we turned to some of the top Travel Bloggers from around the world and asked them which islands they love the most and why.
Ps, of course the Philippines features more than once!
1. THE BIG ISLAND, HAWAII.
The Big Island of Hawaii is an incredible piece of paradise that many overlook when coming to Hawaii. Oahu has beautiful beaches and lovely hiking trails as does Maui and Kauai but what the Big Island has that is unique is an intense amount of diversity. You can swim on one of it’s beautiful beaches in the morning, drive to an active volcano to see the lava flow and the ground steam in the afternoon and finish up on top of the world’s largest mountain (as measured from it’s sea floor base) to watch one of the most intense sunsets I’ve ever witnessed with a delicious cup of Hawaiian kona coffee.
The Big Island is home to 5 out of 6 major climate zones so it offers a wide array of things to do. You can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive in some of the clearest water or stay on land where you can do everything from hiking to skiing. So whether you are a couple enjoying a relaxing honeymoon, an adventurer looking for a thrill or even a family looking to experience culture and beauty you can find it all on this amazing island. I’ve had the pleasure to call home for over a year.
Paula and Gordon from Contented Traveller. Vanuatu is located in the Pacific Ocean and is not far from Australia and New Zealand. There are over 80 islands, and this is an irresistible tropical island because the people are amazing, and there are many unusual activities to be experienced here. One of the highlights of visiting Pentecost Island (one of Vanuata’s islands) is what is known as land diving, or Nagol or N’gol. This routine sees the men of the island jump from a 30-meter tower with vines wrapped around their legs. And diving was the forerunner of bungee jumping. Yes, Vanuatu also has the world’s only underwater post office. It is located off Hideaway Island, and you literally dive down to post a letter. The post office is manned, and you write on a waterproof card and send it. Unusual and brilliant.Vanuatu was made for both sailing and diving, and there are many places where you can get your PADI certificate and many shipwrecks to explore once you pass the course. It is also ideal for sailing, and a catamaran is a great choice.And Vanuatu has the best ribs ever because it is a farming community as well.
3. CONZUMEL, MEXICO.
Just 19km off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is the island of Cozumel. At 48km long and 16km at its widest point, Cozumel packs a punch. While the island is a popular stop with cruise ships, its claim to fame lies beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea: world class diving and snorkeling. We’ve been several times and love snorkeling at Chankanaab Park where they have underwater sculptures. The entire west side of the island is an unbelievable reef wall and features some of the best drift diving anywhere in the world. There are many tropical islands in the world, but Cozumel is special!
4. LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA.
Heidi and Alan from Wagoners Abroad. When looking for that perfect island getaway, Wagoners Abroad loves Langkawi, Malaysia. Of course you will experience majestic sunsets and soft white sands, while enjoying the beautiful turquoise waters, but there is so much more. There are plenty of activities for the adrenaline junkie, with parasailing, ATV tours, jet skis and more. Yet, the beaches aren’t crowded and the island isn’t packed with hotels and resorts. If you like dining out, there is no shortage of great restaurants to choose from with amazing prices. The nature is what will really impress you! You will experience rainforests, mangroves, wildlife, beaches, and even learn about their culture and legends. The snorkeling and diving are incredible and don’t skip the sunset dinner cruise. It is absolutely majestic watching eagles soar above you, as you are out on the water. That would be a rare sighting in the USA and they are plentiful while in Langkawi.
5. BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA.
A remote island in French Polynesia, Bora Bora is a tropical wonderland that often lands at the top of everyone’s luxury bucket list because of its incredible beauty, enticing white sand beaches and luxurious overwater bungalows. The entire island is only 11 square miles, surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef, so it’s hard to imagine there are too many things to do there, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Activities include snorkeling with sharks and stingrays, kite surfing and parasailing, jeep safaris and hiking excursions.
If you’re into food, Bora Bora has many high-end restaurants to indulge in. Even relaxing in Bora Bora comes with stunning views of Mount Otemanu and incredible sunsets. It’s truly paradise on earth.
6. SKYE, SCOTLAND.
Heather Cole from Conversant Traveller. Islands aren’t all about swaying palms and sandy beaches. Rugged and wild can be just as inspiring, and nowhere does this better than the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. Famed for its dramatic mountain ridges, hidden inlets and secret bays, Skye wasn’t recently voted ‘4th best island in the world’ by National Geographic for nothing. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the island to traverse the jagged Cuillin ridge, or go wild swimming in the emerald Fairy Plunge Pools. Heritage buffs can explore Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in all of Scotland, and follow in the footsteps of the infamous Bonnie Prince Charlie who once sailed ‘over the sea to Skye’. One of our favourite trips is a journey by boat from the coastal village of Elgol out to the famous Loch Coruisk (pictured) to photograph the seal colonies and hike in the heart of the Cuillins. A fabulous place to feel immersed in a remote landscape for relatively little effort. If all that is too energetic, a tasting tour of the Talisker Whisky Distillery is a must, just toss a coin for the designated driver!
7. SRI LANKA.
The island nation of Sri Lanka is an irresistible island. Located in the Indian Ocean, this island not only has stunning, tropical beaches, but a gorgeous interior with ancient cities, tea plantations, animal safaris and a fascinating culture. If you are looking for variety on your holiday then Sri Lanka is the perfect destination. This island packs quite a punch. You can start the morning sun bathing at the beach and spend the evening in the chilly hill country sipping tea at a plantation. The next day, you can go on a safari to spot leopards and elephants and then explore ancient ruins.
If there is one thing you will not be in Sri Lanka, it is bored! If the most important thing for you on an island getaway is sipping cocktails by the pool, don’t worry you can do that too. Really you will find something for just about any interest in Sri Lanka.
8. EL NIDO, PALAWAN, THE PHILIPPINES.
Anne Apostol from Girl Chasing Sunshine. The inspiration behind Alex Garland’s famous novel “The Beach,” El Nido in Palawan Philippines is truly a breathtaking tropical paradise. Nestled about 250 miles south of Manila, this quaint town in Bacuit Bay features a jaw-dropping vista of pristine beaches and surreal landscape of limestone karsts, lagoons, and azure waters. The island is blessed with an out-of-this-world kind of beauty that will make you wanderlust over its perfection. You can enjoy four island hopping tours A, B, C, and D. Not only will you get to see stunningly beautiful islands, lagoons, and coves but you’ll also be served with a delicious lunch buffet by your boatmen. While at the tours, you can also snorkel and fish feed at Shimizu Island, or kayak around Big and Small Lagoons. Alternatively, you can visit the twin beach of Nacpan-Calitang, 45 minutes away from town. Along the way, you can drop by the Makinit Hot Springs and Nagkalit-kalit Falls. To see El Nido’s panoramic beauty, climb the Taraw Peak, a limestone cliff rising over the town. Sunset viewing at Corong-Corong, Marimegmeg Beach, or Las Cabañas is always an option. Whatever you choose to do, this little corner of paradise will surely capture your wandering heart.
9. DJERBA ISLAND, TUNISIA.
Djerba Island, just off the coast of Tunisia, is a must-see for any “original” Star Wars fan. Scenes from the spaceport, Mos Eisley, and the exterior of Ben Kenobi’s hut were shot on this island. Djerba is also a site of pilgrimage for many North African Jews who come to visit the beautiful El Ghriba synagogue, whose structure can be dated back nearly 2,000 years. Djerba stands as a symbol of harmony in a polarized part of the world- a minority population of Jews and the Muslim majority have managed to coexist peacefully for thousands of years.
The Mediterranean beaches with their turquoise-blue water attract many European tourists, creating the peculiar scene of topless European women wading into the same ocean waves as Muslim women who enter the water fully dressed in their clothing and head scarves. Because of the European influence, there is also a string of nightclubs along Djerba’s shore. But Djerba maintains its ancient Berber cultural identity, the austere white-washed Mediterranean architecture, and an agricultural heritage with cultivated fields and flocks of sheep leisurely crossing the roads.
10. TIOMAN ISLAND, MALAYSIA.
Lauren and Vaughan from The Travel Manuel. While based in the tiny town of Mersing, we were incredibly lucky to find ourselves only two hours away from the tropical island of Tioman– One of over 40 islands in this archipelago in the Malaysia’s south. Both bonafide water babies, this is our kind of island boasting some of the world’s most magical marine life and underwater world. While I’ve snorkeled and Vaughan has dived, we’ve seen black-tipped sharks, turtles, cuttle fish, nudibranchs, sting rays, ship wrecks and every creed and colour of fish imaginable. While Salang is best for diving/snorkeling, Juara is a quieter side with waves for surfers during monsoon (December-February) and SUPPing (Stand-up paddle boarding) any other time. Volunteer at turtle sanctuaries, hike from one side of the island to another or play golf at the one golf course. Take the two ferry from Mersing and choose between simple huts right on the beach (e.g Ella’s Place) or more high-end bungalows (e.g Tunamaya).
11. SOUTHPORT ISLAND, MAINE.
With lobster boats off the shore, rocky coasts, lighthouses to explore, and a laid back vibe; Southport Island delivers the Maine of vintage postcards. Just across the swing bridge from Boothbay Harbor, it’s an excellent home base for a quiet, authentic Maine experience. Stay at a beautiful Inn or budget motel, rent a cottage by the water, or hide away at the Inn at Cuckold Lighthouse, reachable only by boat. Southport Island and the Boothbay region offer beautiful hiking, kayaking, and biking, or venture further on a boat tour out of Boothbay Harbor.
Whales, seals, and puffins are all close by, along with beautiful lighthouses, the Bath Iron Works, and quaint islands to explore. Of course, you could just grab a book and a spot along the rocky coast to watch the lobstermen collect their catch. Speaking of lobster, Robinson’s Wharf and Oliver’s both offer fresh catch with an ocean view, and the Lobster Shop prepares excellent lobster rolls and whoopee pies. Eat lobster, play on the rocks, hike through fairy tale woods, stare at the ocean, eat more lobster. Southport Island is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the special rugged beauty of Maine .
12. THE MALDIVES.
Beth Williams from Travel in Translation. The Maldives is truly paradise on Earth. Made up of 26 coral atolls in the isolated Indian Ocean, it’s the world’s lowest country at only four feet above sea level. During low tide, natural sandbars form off the islands, allowing you to walk into the sea for miles. At high tide you’ll be able to take part in some of the best diving in the world, with clarity often over 100 feet, often right off the deck of your own private over water villa.
Iceland literally means Ísland. I visited this island nation in the heart of winter. Despite the cold weather, the island offered a large collection of winter outdoor activities. My first activity on the island was exploring the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is made of three outdoor wonders; Þingvellir National Park (the land between two continents), Geyser (the first geyser), and Gullfoss Waterfall. Later in my trip, I would SCUBA dive in Silfra, the fissure between the continents. My next adventure was hiking on the Myrdalsjokull Glacier and exploring the Black Sand Beaches of Vík.
I spent time watching the seals play in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and explored the Vatnajökull Glacier Ice Caves. In north Iceland, I rode an Icelandic Pony and explored the North of the Wall film locations of Game of Thrones. I spent many nights laying outside waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. I ended my trip with a visit to the Blue Lagoon Spa. During the summer, Iceland offer many activities. The puffins spend the summer breeding and hunting on the cliffs of Iceland. The summer allows access to the many hiking trails on the island. The summer waters off Iceland are home to several different whale species.
14. THE COOK ISLANDS.
Toni Broome from 2 Aussie Travellers. The Cook Islands are everything you imagine a tropical paradise should be and much more. The outer islands are pristine and secluded, it’s not difficult to imagine you’ve found yourself on a very lush and picturesque deserted island. They’re definitely worth the extra travel but my ‘irresistible’ pick is the main island of Rarotonga. With the major airlines flying in here it’s far more accessible and affordable while maintaining the relaxed island vibe in a picture perfect setting. On Rarotonga you’ll find the postcard worthy beaches, coral reefs teaming with life for diving and the Aroa lagoon marine reserve for unsurpassed snorkelling. The flat outer ring road is only 32km right around making it perfect for finding your way around the island on mountain bike and or taking extended walks on the white sand beaches. The interior of the island is lush and mountainous with some great hiking trails, and as the island has no snakes, poisonous insects or dangerous wild animals you shouldn’t run into any problems exploring on your own. Rarotonga is predominantly a destination where you need to find your own adventure, be active and explore. That’s not to say there aren’t a few tours, trips out to the reef and tourist focused activities within the resorts but it’s key attraction is its natural beauty and having what we’ve found to be some of the friendliest locals in the South Pacific.
Sardinia may well be considered the most beautiful island in the world. People who visit it once, end up going back for more. It is full of pleasant surprises. Sure, the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Sardinia is its amazing beaches, each one different from the other: from small coves to long sandy beaches, there is one for just anybody. But Sardinia has more to offer than just that. There are gorgeous cities, from the main one Cagliari to the smaller Alghero, Bosa and Castelsardo and even the pretty Nuoro, in the middle of the mountains.
There are great hiking and climbing opportunities that take adventure seekers to beautiful mountains and canyons or to secluded beaches (what’s better than joining a great hike in nature with a day at a gorgeous beach?). There are fun music festivals – jazz lovers always have a blast. Bird watching can be done even in the main city, by taking a short walk to the lake of Molentargius. There are unique archeological sites that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. And the food and wine are oh so good. What more could anybody want?
16. BORACAY, THE PHILIPPINES.
Danka from Do You Speak Travel. You’ve might heard tons of great things about Boracay, and you might think it is just another overrated island packed with tourists… Well, hang on there. These were my exact thoughts before flying to the Philippines. But the minute I put my foot on the smooth sand and saw the beautiful turquoise water, I knew I’ve found my personal heaven. For the first time in my life I’ve found myself lying on the beach for a week straight and actually enjoying it! And while this was my favorite activity while staying in Boracay, there are plenty other things you can do. Diving, snorkeling, island hopping, paddle boarding, and hiking are just a few of many things you can enjoy in Boracay. And if you are a fan of kite surfing you will definitely love it here – one whole side of the island is dedicated to for kite surfers. Even though Boracay is more expensive than the rest of the Philippines, the prices are still much lower comparing to the Western countries. Bonus: Filipinos are the nicest and friendliest people I have met on my travels!