30 Most Magical Islands on the Planet
Gorgeous paradises you won't believe are real
When you want to truly get away, is there anything more magical than a remote island escape? Whether it's the exotic scenery, the secluded beaches, or the fact that you feel like the king or queen of your own little paradise, there just something extra special about visiting an ultra-exclusive dot on the map.
But if you're looking for an island adventure you'll never forget, read on, because we've compiled the 30 most magical islands across the entire globe—from Koh Phi Phi, in Thailand, where the stunning beachside views pair perfectly with the atmospheric nightlife, to Old Monemvasia, in Greece, which has been perfectly preserved for millennia.
And for more hidden atolls, check out the 13 Secret Islands in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed.
Visayan Islands, Philippines
Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar make up the breathtakingly stunning group of islands known as the Visayans, located in the Philippines. From white sandy beaches to animal sanctuaries hidden in the lush jungle landscape, the Visayan Islands are destined to captivate travelers of all stripes. While you're in Bohol, be sure to visit the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary to get a first-hand look at these tiny (and adorable) primates in their natural habitat. If you're not a fan of mammals, then a journey through the Kawasan Falls on a bamboo raft will provide the perfect afternoon respite from your daily travels.
Pro tip: Become one with the islands in your personal polished living area (complete with an Instagram-worthy infinity pool and spa) at Kandaya Resort on Cebu Island.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
While many tourists flock to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres is a bit more under-the-radar. For supreme island views and activities, head to the El Garrafón National Park to swim with the dolphins and explore the land via zip lines and water via kayaks. You can also stroll along the El Malecon boardwalk, which runs from Half Moon Bay to El Colonia and features several lookout points along the way.
Pro tip: Book a room at the Zoëtry Villa Rolandi for a posh suite with island views and more spa therapy than you'll know what to do with.
And for a tropical vacation unlike any other, check out the 15 Floating Hotels That Are Simply Magical.
Similar to New York City, this island never seems to get any shut-eye. Visit Bolabog Beach for coastal adventure in the form of kiteboarding, windsurfing, and parasailing. For dinner, take a walk along the most popular tourist destination, White Beach, to peruse the local vendors offering fresh-caught seafood and other favorites to fully saturate your senses in this new land.
Pro tip: Settle into your chic living quarters at the Lind Boracay and rest easy at the photo-worthy infinity pool just outside.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
For the ultimate relaxing hideaway, a trip to Koh Phi Phi should be a must on every traveler's bucket list. Capture the beauty of this Thai beach with a longtail boat tour that transports visitors to Maya Bay, a hub for stunning views and beachside fun. Another element to the island that makes it so desirable is the party culture and amazing roster of bars that attract tourists of every age—so be sure to sample some of the local cocktails.
Pro tip: Stay at the Zeavola Resort & Spa for unmatched sophistication in all its forms—from fine dining to a glamorous seaside infinity pool. Tight on a budget but still want to travel? Check out these 17 Magical Destinations Where the U.S. Dollar Goes Further in 2020.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
There are many ways to enjoy your escape to the Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Australia—but your first excursion should be a snorkeling trip to explore the Great Barrier Reef. If you're more in the mood for land-based adventure, make a hike to the Nara Inlet for spectacular views of beautiful waterfall hidden among the lush greenery of the landscape.
Pro tip: If you'd rather stay firmly planted in one point of paradise, it would be wise to choose the Qualia resort for truly impressive views, private pools, and authentic cuisines.
St. Lucia's coastline is about as scenic as it gets—with the iconic Pitons framing the lush blues and greens of the island. Visit the Pigeon Island Landmark to get a taste of the cultural significance of the area—along with stunning views, of course. Travel further inland to explore the Diamond Botanical Gardens and Waterfall, where you can swim in the on-site mineral baths, dine at the Old Mill & Waterwheel Restaurant, or explore the Soufrière Estate.
Pro tip: For the most incredible view of the famous Pitons, book your stay at the Jade Mountain Resort, a private mountainside oasis in St. Lucia.
Despite its role in pop culture, Ibiza holds promising adventure for any traveler. Travel to the nearby island of Es Vedra that, according to legend, was home to the sea nymphs and sirens who sought to entice Ulysses in Homer's "Odyssey." After your trek to this island, surround yourself with the native people of Ibiza in Dalt Vila, an ancient seaside town teeming with restaurants and shops. And if you've visited the island to get a taste of what it's really known for—DJs spinning into the sunrise—Ibiza offers these kinds of late-night raves in spades.
For those seeking a luxurious getaway without the throngs of photo-hungry tourists, Maldives is here to deliver a truly unforgettable (and decidedly posh) experience. Get an up-close glimpse of the wildlife by snorkeling in Hanifaru Bay—or even book a deep diving expedition to swim among the whales and hammerhead sharks (if you dare). Begin your vacation with an underwater spa experience at Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi, where you'll be able to enjoy your couture facials while watching the marine life in the turquoise waters.
Pro tip: Book your over-water villa at Adaaran Prestige Vadoo with private plunge pools and upscale dining on-site.
This group of East African islands provides an intimate experience with nature, as the beaches are never overcrowded and the magic of Seychelles never seems to fade far out of frame. Begin your vacation with a sun-soaked detour on Anse Intendance, one of the more popular beaches in the region, where the rugged mountains outline the clear blue of the ocean in an entirely unique and breathtaking way. If you'd rather stretch your legs far from the shoreline, pay a visit to the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens for a look at the blossoming wildlife on the island.
Pro tip: For a truly relaxing stay, you can rest easy at Le Domaine De L'Orangeraie Resort & Spa.
This Greek island is famous for its white-washed cliffside homes overlooking the shimmering Aegean sea. At this incredibly magical destination, a visit to Kamari Beach, with its black sand and rugged terrain, make for a picture-perfect beach experience. Dig into some historical fun with a visit to ancient Akrotiri, a once-thriving port town that dates all the way back to the 17th century B.C.
Pro tip: The cave-style villas in the luxury hotel, Mystique, open up to breathtaking views of the island—meaning that a stay here is as unforgettable as you'd like your vacation to be.
The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
This popular stretch of islands off the coast of Croatia make for great sunbathing along their rugged valleys and coastlines. For a cultural experience, go to the coastline of Zadar, where the Sea Organ, designed by Nikola Bašić, plays music into the steps that descend into the Adriatic. For panoramic views of the city of Dubrovnik, take a kayaking tour around the Lokrum island. Oh, and the city is one of the primary shooting locations of Game of Thrones—that's where all the King's Landing scenes are filmed.
Pro tip: Stay at Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik, for a slice of your own private beach and posh accommodations.
Fiji has become a haven for adventure-seekers, looking to ride the waves and explore the expansive coral reefs. For a truly authentic Fiji experience (and to impress your friends), attend a fire-walking ceremony at a resort like Outrigger on the Lagoon.
Pro tip: Take a bite of Fijian culture by ordering a meal from Eco Café, a pizza joint on the beach of Coral Coast with spectacular views of the island.
For avid hikers and nature enthusiasts, this breathtaking island provides some of the best trails and hidden coves in the entire world—those seeking a lazy beach vacation need not apply. Hikers: You've met your toughest and most rewarding challenge in the Kalalau Trail that features out-of-this-world cliffs, vistas, and solitary beaches. For a shorter trek into paradise, pay a visit to the Grand Canyon of Hawaii, Waimea Canyon for dramatic dips and scenic waterfalls.
Pro tip: Retreat into Kauai's lush landscape by booking a peaceful room at the Ko'a Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu Beach.
Just as the photograph suggests, the islands of Samoa contain numerous treasures and magical coves that bear no small resemblance to fairy tales. The Sua Ocean Trench (pictured above) is a breathtaking swimming hole located on the southern coast of Upolu, and a trip to Samoa would be incomplete without taking this excursion.
Pro tip: Stay at Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa, which has unique living quarters next to a luxurious lagoon.
Reaching this otherworldly island is no walk in the park—but it's well worth the six-hour drive from Athens and a hike through a mountain. Those lucky enough to be let in on this special secret can park their car in the "new" part of the city, take the causeway over to the island, and walk through a medieval arch that leads to an ancient Greek town still perfectly preserved.
Pro tip: Stay at the Hotel Byzantino Monemvasia, where one step into its magical lobby is like turning a dial on a time machine.
This quaint island houses ancient villages, that, along with a volcano surrounded by lush forests and postcard-worthy beaches, makes it one of the more desired atolls on the planet. Descend into the wild side of Guadeloupe by making the trek out to Parc National de la Guadeloupe to see the summit of the volcano and explore the numerous waterfalls and forests. For a taste of the island's culture, visit one of its rum distilleries, like Distillerie de Rhum Longueteau et Karukera, where locals have been making this liquor for centuries.
Pro tip: For the kind of beach paradise you only see in the movies, book your stay at the cinematic La Toubana Hôtel et Spa.
Moorea, French Polynesia
This South Pacific cay, known for its rugged volcanic cliffs and sweeping sandy beaches, has some of the most stunning hiking trails on the planet. For those seeking to capture this beauty, a trek to the Belvedere Lookout offers panoramic views of the island's peak and Tahiti, peeking just through the distance. Part of what makes this island so special is the fact that it has been largely ignored by the typical tourist population, meaning that you'll have Moorea's lagoons all to yourself.
Pro tip: Despite it being an off-the-radar escape, Moorea offers truly chic and expansive resort options. Case in point: Hotel Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort.
For those wishing for a truly authentic European island vacation, they will find it in this Italian seaside paradise. Since cars are banned on Capri, your sightseeing will need to be on foot or bicycle—or by boat, which is best for floating along the turquoise coves. Other than lounging on the pristine beaches, visitors can (and should) make the trip to see the Villa San Michele for its amazing gardens and sweeping views of the entire island from above.
Pro tip: Make your stay on Capri even more remarkable by booking a room at the Capri Tiberio Palace, a boutique hotel with a spa and view of the island from every corner.
This beautiful hideaway is encased by clear blue waters, jagged cliffs, and centuries-old architecture that make it a truly desired vacation spot. If you're seeking a history lesson, then be sure to pay a visit to Palma, an area of the island rich in artifacts, like the Palma Cathedral. After taking the time to appreciate the man-made structures on the island, sink back into its natural beauty with a jaunt through the Serra de Tramuntana, the main mountain range on the island, and then dip your toes into the Playa del Muro beach.
Pro tip: Venture inland (we promise it will be worth it) to book your room at the Gran Hotel Son Net, a 17th-century mansion with a bar and restaurant.
Despite retaining its British elegance and customs, Bermuda still knows how to have fun—and you're sure to see signs of this merrymaking on your trip to the island. For prime ocean play, venture to Horseshoe Bay Beach—though often crowded, it's worth a trip just for the stunning views. For a taste of the island's architectural creativity, pay a visit to the Unfinished Church, a project that was eventually abandoned in the late 1800s after the settlers realized that they lacked the funds to finish the gothic church.
Pro tip: Grab a spot on the private beach at Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa, located out of the way in Somerset Village.
Rather than explore the beaches of Bali, head inland to truly find and capture the magic of this wild and ancient land. To begin your journey, try visiting one of the many beautiful temples, like Tirta Empul, Uluwatu, or Tanah Lot to gaze at the stunning architecture in Indonesia. Another must-see spot is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, an ancient irrigation system created in the eighth century, just north of Ubud, with a series of sloping hills that just beg to be photographed.
Pro tip: After a day of exploring, relax in your chic oceanfront room at The Oberoi, set against the jungle of Bali.
While in Greece, there's no better way to enjoy the sea than to stroll through the neighborhoods lining the coastline for captivating colors set against the deep blue of the ocean. Elafonisi Beach has striking pink sands and Rethymnon features narrow alleys and hidden shops dating back to the 11th century.
Pro tip: Find your own private paradise at the Blue Palace on Crete's shoreline.
The Ionian Islands, Greece
For more of Greece's hidden island gems, book a trip to the Ionian Islands—where colorful villas and crystalline waters serve up a truly beautiful vacation. While there are many islands that make up this particular chain off the coast of Greece, Antipaxos contains one of the more scenic beaches of the lot, Vatoumi, which is a prime perch to watch the local fishermen bring in their salty haul.
Pro tip: Stay at Kefalonia Grand Hotel, situated on one of the more picturesque hills on the islands.
This island is often described as the most idyllic of the Caribbean—and for good reason. The white sand beaches, friendly locals, and unique shops and food markets give it a unique appeal. For a thorough lay of the gorgeous land, embark upon a hike through The Baths, a system of pools, grottoes, tunnels, and arches that rest right along the sea's edge.
Pro tip: For amazing Caribbean cuisine, grab a waterfront table at Hog Heaven.
Vancouver Island, Canada
If you're seeking a nontraditional island getaway, then this oasis just off Canada's coast is a perfect choice. Vancouver Island is supremely romantic due to the persistent fog that seems to hang around every mountain peak and cluster of towering trees. Aside from the breathtaking scenery, the island offers a look into quaint fishing towns, amazing wineries (you'll need to book a Cowichan Valley Wine Tour to get a taste of them all), and West Coast Trail that features some of the best hiking in the world.
Pro tip: If you're visiting the island between April and October, you should spend the night outdoors, and head deep into the Strathcona backcountry to surround yourself with alpine lakes and endless mountain peaks.
Finally heed that call to the wild with a trip to Zanzibar, where exotic lands and luxury resorts find a perfect balance. While you're on the Spice Islands, you should take a spice tour to learn about all things clove, nutmeg, vanilla, black pepper, and coriander (and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of on your spice rack).
Pro tip: Become one with the sea by staying at the Essque Zalu Zanzibar, which offers total entertainment in the form of three bars, three restaurants, a kids' club, a pool, and a spa.
Japan's northernmost island offers impeccable views, amazing hiking, and some of the best skiing resorts in the world. To take in every landscape that Hokkaido has to offer, hike the paths winding throughout the Shikotsu-Toya National Park—from active volcanoes to lush green forests, this park has it all. As you might already know, Japan is home to some of the best fresh seafood on the planet—and this is the island where it is most legendary. For the best oysters you'll ever taste, be sure to stop in Gotsubo.
Pro tip: Experience the great skiing culture in Hokkaido by booking a room at The Green Leaf Niseko Village for easy access to the slopes.
Bathsheba Beach, located on Barbados' west coast, is a photographer's dream come true, as the rugged coastline and deep blue waters make for an unparalleled island backdrop. Though, if what you're seeking can't be found on a beach, the neighborhood of St. Nicholas Abbey is home to historic homes and rum distilleries like Mount Gay Rum.
Pro tip: For an authentic dining experience in Barbados, one can't miss a trip to Oistins Fish Fry, where marlin, flying fish, swordfish, tuna, and snapper are expertly prepared by the local chefs.
Big Island, Hawaii
Unfortunately for the Big Island of Hawaii, it often is forgotten in favor of its smaller and perhaps more tourist-friendly siblings. But it shouldn't be overlooked, with its black-sand beaches, snow-covered peaks, hardened lava deserts, and lush rainforests. The best way to enjoy these varying landscapes is by visiting state and national parks like Akaka Falls State Park and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
Pro tip: Indulge in authentic Hawaiian cuisine (and unforgettable ocean views) at ULU Ocean Grill, located in the Four Seasons Resort in Kailua-Kona.
Turks and Caicos
To fully escape the crowds (and grab a hotel at a discounted rate), book your vacation to Turks and Caicos in April or May. Be sure to take advantage of one the world's most diverse reef systems by snorkeling your way through Bight Reef or Smith's Reef, which offer more than enough marine life to explore.
Pro tip: After your long day out in the water, sit back and relax at Hemingway's, a casual and scenic seafood restaurant right on the water. And if you want to avoid the tourists, Here's Where to Go to Escape the Crowds on Your Summer Vacation.