Who doesn’t dream of idling away their days on the powder-white beaches of one of the world's most beautiful islands? Whether you long for lazy days where the only demand on your energy is lifting a tropical cocktail to your lips, or whether you’d prefer action-packed adventures into the wilds of the rainforest, there’s an island out there with your name on it. Of course, not all of the world's most beautiful destinations are possible to visit, but even if we leave those to one side for the moment, you'll still find plenty of options that more than fulfill the dream desert island checklist. Here, we take a look at the 20 most beautiful islands in the world.
20. Paxos, Greece
Kicking off our roundup in style is the stunning little Greek island of Paxos, an island that is, according to its tourist board at least, one of the top twenty greatest escapes in the world. With everything from tranquil villages to cypress groves to bougainvillea strewn mountains, it’s everything you’d want of a Mediterranean retreat and more.
19. Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii, has the unique status of hosting 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, a fact that allows it to offset lush tropical terrain with arid peaks, and sun-filled beaches with icy summits. It also has one of the highest lakes in the US – what more reason could you want to visit?
18. Martinique, Caribbean
Known as the Isle of Flowers, Martinique is a treasure trove of secluded inlets, black sand beaches, lush rainforests, and majestic waterfalls. The French heritage of the Island provides an enticing contrast to its West Indian warmth: if you want to enjoy a croissant for breakfast while overlooking some distinctly Caribbean scenery, Martinique is the best place to do it.
17. Cocos-Keeling, Australia
An experience beyond the ordinary awaits you on Cocos Keeling in Australia. Consisting of 2 atolls formed from 27 coral islands, the unspoiled nature of this remote piece of paradise is well worth the journey. Granted, you’ll not find the luxurious resorts, high-end restaurants, or any of the usual tourist trappings you’ll typically find in certain other destinations, but the stunning landscapes and uniquely varied wildlife are sure to make up for it.
If you want a location that combines stunning beaches with a 3000-year-old culture, you’ll struggle to do better than the magical island of Samoa. Caves, waterfalls, and lava fields compete for your attention against a local culture that is as warm as it is welcoming. For sun-drenched holidays that stay in your memory for years to come, try a slice of Samoan magic.
15. St. Barts
Playground of the rich and famous it may be, but there’s something charmingly understated about the beautiful island of St Barts. While unquestionably glamorous, the luxurious resorts, boutique hotels, and gourmet dining opportunities are perfectly balanced by a relaxed, congenial atmosphere that keeps things far from stuffy or overbearing. Of course, if you’ve got the money to spend, you’ll find plenty of places to spend it. If you don’t, you’ll still enjoy just as magical a time whiling away the hours for free on one of the many beautiful beaches.
14. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
The first of Thailand’s magical string of islands to make our list is the gorgeous Ko Phi Phi. Warm waters lap crystalline sands, while the towering limestone peaks that surround the island provide the perfect backdrop to an island of such beauty, it was chosen as the setting for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach. While we can’t guarantee the presence of a famous movie star, we can guarantee one of the most blissful holidays you’ll ever have.
13. Capri, Italy
Dripping with glamour and sophistication, there’s a reason Capri has been such a hot destination with international jet setters for so many years… a reason that becomes abundantly clear from the very moment you first set foot on the stunning little Italian island. From the teal-colored sea hugging the towering cliffs to the movie set like quality of the main town itself, this is the kind of place that stays with you long after the tan has faded.
12. James Bond Island, Southern Thailand
Any fan of Ian Fleming’s suave hero shouldn’t miss out on a chance to visit the famous James Bond Island in Thailand. The island provided the backdrop to much of the activities of “Man with a Golden Gun” and is the perfect place to indulge your own spy fantasizes. We can’t promise you’ll get to chase a very small person called Nik Nak around the beach or seduce a promisingly named blonde called Miss Goodnight, but you will get to splash around in the sea on one of the beautiful islands in Southeast Asia.
11. St. Lucia
While most Caribbean islands aren’t exactly hard on the eyes, the luxuriant landscape of St Lucia sets it apart from the rest. Despite offering the usual stunning beaches you’d expect of an island paradise, St Lucia has the kind of majestic topography that makes the white sand beaches almost a secondary attraction. The imposing volcanic peaks of the Pitons tower above a landscape littered with densely forested plantations of coconut palms, huge waterfalls, forking rivers, and healing hot springs. Intermixed with the natural scenery are quaint fishing villages, luxurious resorts, and some of the best seafood restaurants you’ll experiences anywhere in the world.
Known as the Garden Island, Kaua’I is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, but age has not withered its charms even slightly. Centuries-old tropical rainforests vie for your attention against forked rivers, cascading waterfalls, and emerald valleys. Some parts of the island are accessible only by boat or air, allowing you to leave the treaded path behind and find your own little sliver of island heaven. As much as it’s a delight for the eyes, it's not short of opportunities for you to indulge your other senses either. Whether it's kayaking down the Wailua River, hiking through the majestic Kokee State Park, or diving in the crystalline waters off the Nā Pali coastline, you’ll never find yourself short of an activity or two.
White sands lapped by turquoise waters, thriving coral reefs teaming with rainbow-colored fish, friendly locals cooking up some of the best food you’ll taste this side of the South Pacific, and an abundance of fishing, diving and snorkeling opportunities to keep you busy… if this sounds like your idea of heaven, then take a trip to Fuji, a land that desert island dreams were made of. Best of all, it’s not just an island for single folk and loved up couples- there’s enough going on to keep the whole family happy.
8. The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
Croatia’s tourist trade dropped off after the Yugoslavian War of the 1990s, but it’s back and bigger than ever thanks to the magical beauty of the country’s many islands. Of those, the Dalmatian Islands are arguably the most beautiful, boasting unique heritage sites, ancient ports, charmingly traditional fishing villages, dramatic, arid hills, a sparkling, turquoise sea, idyllic islets, and towns that manage to combine the best of relaxed Mediterranean charm with a modern, buzzing vibrancy. Whether you want to dance the night away at one of Hvar’s stylish nightspots, take a boat tour around the alluring inlets, or awake your spiritual side at one of the splendidly gothic churches that litter that landscape, you’ll find plenty to love about this European gem.
7. Bali, Indonesia
The exotic, enticing culture of Bali is sure to inspire even the world-weariest traveler. Whether you want to surf, sunbathe, or sight-see, you’ll not be short of opportunities for some serious R&R. If you tire of the main tourist hub of Kuta, rediscover your spiritual side in peaceful Ubad, or take a tour of the nearby volcanic island of Lombok. Whatever you do and whatever you see, don’t forget to get your fill of the delicious local cuisine, an enticing blend of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern influences that are sure to leave you wanting more.
6. The Cook Islands
Situated between French Polynesia and Samoa, the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands are truly some of the most extraordinary in the South Pacific. Palm-fringed beaches roll into crystal clear aquamarine waters, while the interior is studded with volcanic peaks and lush vegetation. The locals are welcoming, the food is delicious, the resorts are luxurious, and the weather is always clement… if you want to live out your castaway dreams on an island paradise, you’ll find few places better to do it than the Cook Islands.
5. Santorini, Greece
Some places are pretty in a gentle, rolling hill, flowered glade kind of way. Others have the kind of dramatic beauty that smacks you in the face with its raw power. The island of Santorini in Greece is most definitely in the latter category. Bleached white houses and blue-domed churches stud the volcanic cliffs, providing a blanket of color that perfectly mirrors the white sands and crystal blue waters that lie beneath. The black sand beach of Petrissa, meanwhile, looks like it was made specifically for Instagram worthy moments. Add to the abundant beauty some of the best seafood you’ll probably ever taste, and it’s easy to see why Santorini makes such an impression on its visitors.
It’s impossible to visit Seychelles without falling in love with its abundant beauty. Lying just east of Kenya, the unspoiled nature of the 115 coral and granite islands allows visitors to enjoy adventures into the UNESCO-listed jungles; snorkeling among the thriving coral reefs; lazing on palm-studded, pristine beaches; and the delights of Creole cuisine. With upscale resorts offering the best in luxurious living, it’s the kind of place you’ll never want to leave.
3. Palawan, Philippines
If you’ve ever wanted to see what paradise looks like in real life, then a trip to the island of Palawan in the Philippines should give you the answer. Stretching outwards to Borneo, the island has everything you could want of a dream island; crystal clear waters, emerald lakes, charming fishing villages, palm-studded beaches, jungle-clad interiors, hospitable locals, and some of the best diving sites in the world. Add to the list a world heritage site (the limestone cave system of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and you’re looking at one of the most desirable tourist hot spots on earth.
2. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Bora Bora… the island so good they named it twice. This volcanic island in French Polynesia is truly the South Pacific fantasy come true. From the turtles, sharks, stingrays and exotic fishes swimming the turquoise waters of the lagoon to the tiny islets sprinkled around, from the ancient Polynesian temples buried deep within the jungle to the dramatic scenery, the island is the true definition of a bucket list destination.
Powdery white sands, romantic, secluded beaches, coral reefs, pristine turquoise waters, beautiful weather… if you compiled a list of all the things you’d expect to find on your dream island, the Maldives would tick every box. Consisting of 1192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls, visitors to the Maldives will find no shortage of activities to keep them entertained, from snorkeling among brightly colored coral reefs, to touring the fascinating old town of Male, to taking in the whale sharks at Dhidhdhoo Beyru. Whatever you do and wherever you go, you’re guaranteed to be overwhelmed by the majesty of the world’s most beautiful island.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee