Top 10 Island Getaways


Sit back and relax in a sandy paradise. See more pictures of paradise.
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Sometimes you need to escape your cares, unclench the knots and just celebrate being alive on this marvelous planet. Other times, you need a romantic retreat to recharge that restive relationship. Either way, what could be better than an island getaway? It's the idyllic microcosm of natural beauty, soothing surf, diverse diversions and precious inaccessibility.

Of course, being on holiday means different things to different people. So, this list offers a smorgasbord of selections that span the sphere -- options to suit any taste, be it beachcombing, bauble buying or bungee jumping. Consider it a mixtape, each track unique, but unified by a through-line of fun, history, access, privacy, cost, popularity, beauty, climate, amenities and, of course, that elusive "wow factor." And like any good mixtape, it includes a few pleasant surprises.

We hope you enjoy a good beach read.

10

Bali, Indonesia

Visitors to Bali describe it as a place of great natural beauty, hospitality and spirituality. Here, active volcanoes rise from impenetrable jungles and tower over stunning beaches. Although it's part of the often troubled Indonesian archipelago, Bali is far more tranquil than many of its sister islands. Its rich culture, perhaps best known for its dance forms and the intriguing, exotic music of the gamelan (both must-sees), is one of the best reasons to visit this scenic land, where indigenous animistic beliefs and ancient Javanese tradition mix with Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. Bali is also known for the crafts -- goldsmithing, silversmithing, carving, painting and textiles -- that constitute an important part of the island's culture.

Bali offers ample sunning, surfing and nightlife, as well as cultural experiences and nature excursions, such as feeding monkeys in Monkey Forest or climbing Gunung Batur, an active volcano. If you'd prefer a bit of resort life, the island also features several villas known for their pampering and personal butlers. The fishing village Tanjung Benoa offers windsurfing, water-skiing and catamaran opportunities, but you'll find the best snorkeling near Menjangan, on the less-touristy north shore.

9

Bermuda

The Bermuda beaches are unmatched.
The Bermuda beaches are unmatched.
Comstock/Thinkstock

No list of island getaways would be complete without Bermuda. For years, it's been known as one of the best romantic getaways around. Located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) east of North Carolina, Bermuda's perfect pink beaches are easily accessible by plane. For Americans on the eastern coast of the United State, flying to Bermuda is as effortless and cheap as flying within the country. It's also a favorite stop for cruise ships.

After soaking up some sun and surf, try hiking or biking the old right-of-way of the Bermuda Railway, since converted to an 18-mile (29 kilometer) long trail spanning three islands and offering amazing views. Then get in a little shopping in the current capital city of Hamilton or wander over to the old capital of St. George for a taste of historic Bermuda. While you're there, visit nearby Fort St. Catherine museum, which overlooks the beach where the ship Sea Venture ran itself aground in 1609, a key event in the history of the island colony. The fully restored Commissioner's House at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyards in Sandy's Parish offers another way to step back in time, to the heyday of British sea power in the Atlantic.

8

Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Who says all getaways have to be balmy? Vancouver Island offers the best of beautiful, remote landscapes, delicious dining and upscale lodging. Rough, remote rainforests run alongside coastal wilds in a landscape that virtually begs for exploration by foot or kayak.

Once you're there, take a day trip by ferry to the rustic Gulf Islands or stay put and explore the wineries and dairies of Cowichan Valley. Nearby, just outside the totem poles of Duncan, explore the culture of the Cowichan, a First Nations indigenous people, at the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre.

A long road meanders along the wilder west coast of the island. At Pacific Rim National Park, you can hike or walk the beach, paddle a sea kayak out into a still and secluded bay, or take a fishing trip or wildlife boat tour. Tofino, also on the west side, is home to some of the finest lodgings on the island, as well as restaurants serving excellent local seafood. Back on the east side, Courtenay includes a golf course and an estuary teeming with wildlife.

7

Lesser Antilles

Arcing along the border of the Caribbean and the Atlantic between Puerto Rico and the tip of Venezuela, the Lesser Antilles comprises the Virgin Islands, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Netherlands Antilles, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. With their miles of sugary sand beaches, perpetual sunshine, waters of crystal turquoise and rich cultural history, these coral and volcanic isles offer something for everyone, whether your preference is for being a beach potato, sailing, watching the sunset or taking a boat ride.

If you're going to the Caribbean, chances are it's for a beach vacation, and the Lesser Antilles do not disappoint. Anguilla, though hardly cheap, is lovely and welcoming. Aruba boasts sand dunes, odd boulders, diverse ecosystems, old farms (called cunucus), and caves featuring indigenous rock glyphs. Lonely Barbados, known as the Caribbean's "Little England" for its continuing cultural ties to colonial tradition, offers both expensive and moderately priced lodgings. St. Kitts offers unspoiled volcanic mountains and a panoramic view of the surrounding islands. Its sleepier sister island, Nevis, features reef-protected waters great for snorkeling and swimming. Beach hopping and kite-surfing are the pastimes of choice on St. Barts -- that is, when people can tear themselves away from the best shopping in the Caribbean. It's all duty- and tax-free!

6

Seychelles (Republic of Seychelles)

Seychelles, a scattering of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, offers something a bit different from the other beachside stops on this list, if only for the characteristic boulders separating many of its beaches from the lush hills inland. Here, sparkling sands slide into topaz lagoons kept calm and clear by sheltering reefs. La Digue is home to the most famously beautiful of the Seychelles' many strands, but you really cannot go amiss on any of these captivating isles. Famously home to many private and exclusive resorts, the Seychelles also sport their share of affordable options, often on some of the choicest real estate.

The Seychelles are a true getaway, which is to say that you won't be bumping into crowds out here. It's therefore a choice spot not only for honeymooners but for nature-watchers and eco-tourists as well. Here you can observe submerged worlds unfolding in serene lagoons, hike jungle trails and watch birds and giant tortoises in their native habitat. If hiking is your bag, try the trails of Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahé, a reserve of habitats ranging from mangrove forests to the highest peak on the island.

5

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The view of Mackinac Island Harbor
The view of Mackinac Island Harbor
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A getaway perhaps better known to Great Lakes locals, Mackinac Island (pronounced MAK-in-aw) lies in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan's waters mingle with those of Lake Huron. Historically, it was a nexus of the fur trade and British-American conflict. Today, it's a popular summer getaway spot -- a historic landmark known for its architecture, cultural events, picturesque landscape and ban on nearly all motor vehicles (snowmobiles are allowed in winter, but most amenities are only open during the summer months). The Grand Hotel, made famous by the film "Somewhere in Time," is the place to stay, but there are plenty of options for those with tighter purse strings.

While some may find it a bit sleepy, others will say it's just what the doctor ordered: a spot for walking and shopping, golf, tennis, kite-flying, butterfly-watching and maybe a bit of scenic photography. Take a carriage tour through Mackinac State Park, or head back to town and wander down historic Market, Mission and Huron streets, then catch some chills on a haunted history tour. Visitors who are more active will want to walk off their confectionery purchases, particularly the famous Mackinac fudge, by participating in the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to its Lower Peninsula.

4

Hawaiian Islands

Taken individually, the Hawaiian Islands could dominate half this list -- and justifiably so, based on the sheer number of top 10 lists (of various categories) on which they appear. Every island offers something special and together they constitute one of the top 10 global honeymoon destinations [source: Modern Bride]. From the more hectic, metropolitan life of Oahu's Honolulu to the unspoiled retreats of Molokai, this still-expanding volcanic archipelago offers something for everyone, including the infectious, easygoing friendliness of the Hawaiian people.

The Big Island is Hawaii in microcosm, comprising some of the best scenery, beaches, historical sites, culture, lodging and food. It's composed of five volcanoes, including the still-erupting Kilauea (visit it at sundown for the best dusk and night viewing) and Mauna Loa, Earth's largest volcano in terms of volume and area. Pink, black and green beaches dot the island. Maui is home to excellent beaches, nightlife and trekking, while Kauai offers perhaps even better scenery at a more laid-back pace. Oahu is home to the stunning Lanikai Beach and, as the site of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, occupies an important place in American history. For a real escape, try Molokai, a time capsule of island life from the 1950s proud of its lack of tall buildings and traffic.

3

Santorini, Greece

Yes, it's quite beautiful here.
Yes, it's quite beautiful here.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

A small, circular group of Aegean islands located about 120 miles (193 kilometers) southeast of mainland Greece, the isles of Santorini are actually the edges of a submerged caldera, the remains of a larger island blown apart by volcanic eruption around 3,500 years ago [source: Manning]. Their shared landscape is suitably dramatic, a vertical protrusion of vertiginous cliffs sloping gently oceanward to terminate in beaches of red, black and white. Perched atop the inner cliffs are the key cities of Fira and Oia, their white and blue domes glinting in the sun as they overlook the calm inner sea.

On-season or off, you'll find Santorini's main streets packed with people ducking in and out of its many shops, discos and restaurants. Eat, drink and be merry on the islands' famous wines, tomatoes, eggplant and capers, then get out of town and explore Santorini's two archeological wonders, Akrotiri and Ancient Thira. Akrotiri was preserved, Pompeii-like, by the very volcanic materials that destroyed it. Ancient Thira, a city of Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences tumbling along its soaring headland, is worth the trip for the view alone.

2

New Zealand

Geographically, it's hard to imagine a more diverse place than New Zealand, a nation seemingly quilted together from all of the scraps left over when the world was made. This gorgeous gestalt embraces every ecotone on Earth, from rainforest to icy mountain crags to sweeping coastlines embroidered with fjords. Indeed, the landscape is one of the chief resources of this scenic South Seas country, a favorite location for Hollywood epics like "The Lord of the Rings," and is itself ample argument for choosing it as your island getaway.

Tourism makes up a large portion of the New Zealand economy and it shows in the comprehensive business hours kept by stores and pubs [source: Tourism New Zealand]. Getaways abound in the countryside as well, where bed and breakfast proprietors and tour guides extend characteristic Kiwi warmth. Museums and wineries present welcome diversions, and opportunities abound for experiencing Polynesian and Maori cultural influences.

New Zealand is also a veritable pilgrimage site for adventure tourists and extreme sports enthusiasts, and the South Island in particular offers endless possibilities for pushing your boundaries. It's also home to the Milford Track, an ancient Maori trail through the rainforests, wetlands and alpine passes of Fiordland National Park.

1

French Polynesia

This group of archipelagoes, located in the South Pacific Ocean about halfway between South America and Australia, offers dramatic landscapes and mild tropical weather. Noted for its rugged highlands and reef-encircled lagoons, French Polynesia includes Tahiti, one of the top 10 honeymoon destinations globally [source: Modern Bride], along with lovely Bora Bora and mysterious Moorea.

This is the land of the Old South Seas, a place of coconut, vanilla, sailors and missionaries. It's where many of the mutineers of the HMS Bounty made their home, and there's plenty of history here still. The Tuamotu Archipelago shows current Polynesian life largely untouched by modern trappings, and the Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles (Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands) provides information on the history, culture and geography of the islands. Be sure to visit some of the ancient Tahitian stone temples, known as marae, restored near the village of Maeva on the island of Huahine.

Moorea's jagged ridges offer gorgeous views of Tahiti, while Bora Bora's feral landscape, with its tumbledown remains of ancient volcanoes, seems to resonate with something primeval in the human soul. Bora Bora offers excellent snorkeling areas as well as a marine sanctuary. Taken together, these present some outstanding opportunities to view and interact with manta rays, sharks, giant mussels and much more. The volcanic black sand beaches are scenic, but your best bet for sun-soaking are the numerous white beaches surrounding the coral lagoons.

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