Dreamy beaches, silky warm seas, lush scenery, and endless sunshine – these are some of the top ingredients of the ideal tropical vacation. But each destination offers its own sultry charms. Some dazzle with their natural beauty. Others add cultural attractions to the mix, with exotic customs, architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine. A few offer eco-adventures and wildlife-rich wilderness, and some sleepy islands seem to take you back in time.
Divers flock to thriving coral reefs, and surfers seek the perfect wave. It’s just a matter of finding the perfect fit. From Asia to Australia and the US to the Caribbean, this list of tropical vacation hot spots covers some of the most beautiful islands in the world. You’ll also find ideas for rewarding things to do and tropical places to visit for all budgets, whether you’re seeking an over-the-water bungalow in Bora Bora or a bamboo hut on a Bali beach.
Design your ideal getaway with our list of the best tropical vacations.
Strung across the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the 26 natural atolls of the Maldives exude an almost surreal beauty. This is due, in large part, to the luminous blue waters that surround them. If slipping into the crystal-clear, soul-warming sea is a top criteria for your perfect tropical vacation, this is the place to do it – water comprises 99 percent of the Maldives. Paradoxically, it also threatens to inundate the shores of this low-lying island nation.
Male is the capital city, but most visitors head straight out to one of the remote atolls, where luxury resorts and bone-white beaches fringed by aquamarine waters await. Diving and snorkeling are world-class, and the Maldives is also a top surfing
Bora Bora, Tahiti
Bora Bora is the quintessential South Pacific paradise. This lush and dramatically beautiful island in French Polynesia rises to a sharp emerald peak ringed by an azure lagoon. Clusters of coconut palms bristle along the beaches, and luxury bungalows perch over the crystal-clear waters, some with glass floor panels, so you can peer into the thriving sea below.
While Bora Bora scores top points for natural beauty, it also ticks the box if you’re seeking some cultural appeal. The official language is French, and you can taste the Gallic influence in the gourmet cuisine. Add a bevy of fun water sports, kayak trips to tiny motu (islands), picturesque hiking trails, and adventures such as shark dives, and, it’s easy to see why many travelers rank pricey Bora Bora as a top honeymoon destination. It’s the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime place for a tropical vacation, and one of the best tropical vacations for couples.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, with close ties to New Zealand, is a dream destination for closet castaways. Blessed with a luminous aqua lagoon, lush peaks, sublime beaches bristling with palms, and some of the friendliest people in the South Pacific, Aitutaki ticks all the boxes for the perfect exotic tropical vacation.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, and the main tourist gateway, but Aitutaki, a 45-minute flight away, is the jewel in the crown, and that’s saying plenty in an archipelago of 15 ravishing tropical isles. Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing are all popular activities in the Cook Islands, and the island offers a window into laid-back village life, which slows to a halt on Sundays for church services.
More than 20 motu (small islands) are sprinkled around the lagoon. The small island of Tapuaetai (One Foot Island), in its southeast corner, is a popular Cook Islands day trip with a beautiful perspective of the lagoon.
If you really want to splurge, opt for a luxurious over-the-water bungalow. From here, you can paddle to your own private motu, plonk down under a palm tree, and pretend you’re Robinson Crusoe for a day.
The Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
If you’re dreaming of an idyllic South Seas island bathed in sunshine, the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji fit the bill. A short boat ride from the gateway town of Nadi, this picture-perfect string of about 20 islands are popular for their gleaming palm-studded beaches, crystal-clear waters, and thriving coral reefs.
When you first glimpse these tropical beauties, it’s easy to see why Survivor and the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away were filmed on islands in this chain. When choosing where to stay, your budget and interests will determine the best Fiji island for you.
Accommodation ranges from lively backpacker resorts to family-friendly hotels with thatched bures (traditional huts), and luxury hideaways like Vomo Island Resort, Likuliku Lagoon Resort, and the adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort. Popular mid-range resorts include Matamanoa Island Resort, Malolo Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, and Castaway Island.
One of the planet’s top surf breaks, Cloudbreak, lies about a mile away from Tavarua Island Resort, but you can access this legendary break from other island resorts as well.
Fijians love children, so this is also a fabulous destination for families with youngsters looking to relax, and you’ll find plenty of family-friendly resorts here, too.
Need a nature fix? The Seychelles should top your list of tropical islands to visit. UNESCO-listed nature reserves, flourishing coral reefs, and beautiful boulder-rimmed beaches are a wonderland for wilderness lovers, and more than half the land area of these 115 emerald beauties is protected.
The only dilemma about visiting the Seychelles is deciding which tropical island to visit. International visitors fly into Mahé. Here, you’ll find Victoria the capital, as well as the international airport, the cruise ship port, and beautiful Morne Seychellois National Park.
On Praslin Island, you can explore the UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai, a prehistoric forest studded with rare giant coco de mer fruit palms. And if you’re a beach aficionado, you’ll love laid-back La Digue, which is home to some of the Seychelle’s most beautiful beaches. Add to this a sprinkling of ravishing outer islands, and you’ll have plenty of places to live out your tropical fantasies.
Besides exploring the luxuriant jungles and nature reserves, the top things to do in the Seychelles revolve around the water. You can bask on the beaches, dive and snorkel the reefs, sail, and surf the swells. Fishing is also excellent here – especially on Alphonse Island and Farquhar Atoll.
For those seeking a tropical vacation with a spiritual side, Bali beckons with its mystical charm. Temples filled with fragrant incense; rice paddies glowing in the late amber sun; and the calm, gentle people are some of Bali’s highlights. Best of all, this is an ideal destination if you’re looking for cheap tropical vacations – food and accommodation are relatively affordable.
If you’re seeking a lively beach scene, with plenty of shops and restaurants, base yourself in busy Kuta or Seminyak, where you’ll also find fantastic surf beaches. Sanur is a great spot for families, with gentle waves, and Ubud, in the lush hills away from the coastal hubbub, is the island’s emerald soul.
Bali is also known for its relatively affordable spa treatments. You can pamper yourself here without the sticker shock.
Accommodation includes everything from cheap-as-chips hostels to beach resorts and luxury villas staffed with personal chefs and drivers.
The neighboring volcanic island of Lombok is also a popular destination, with less development than its famous sister island.