There are several hundred thousand islands on planet Earth, and there’s no doubt that each one is beautiful in its own way. But when you’re deciding where to spend your free time, why not choose from one of the absolute most beautiful islands in the world? With so many impressive contenders, it wasn’t easy to narrow down the options to a mere 18. Read on to see which islands we chose from around the globe—from the Caribbean and Salish Seas to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, you’ll find some of Mother Nature’s finest work in each of these selections.
With 330 islands making up this archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, there’s a lot of beauty to choose from when it comes to Fiji. And while you can get into the “Bula” spirit on any of them thanks to the warm hospitality of the locals, Taveuni—the third-largest of the islands—is one of the most beautiful. Called the “Soft Coral Capital of the World,” the Somosomo Strait between Vanua Levu and Taveuni is a remarkable dive site teeming with white coral and colorful fish. Within Bouma National Heritage Park, look for the three waterfalls and natural swimming pools that make up Tavoro Waterfalls, and carve out time to visit the Waitavala water slide, a natural rock slide.
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The crystal-clear, turquoise-blue waters may be the star attraction on this Southern Caribbean island only 90 miles north of Venezuela—but don’t overlook the lush mountains and arid desert on the western side of the island, either. The capital city, Willemstad, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where visitors love to take pictures against a backdrop of European-style architecture painted in the bright colors of the Caribbean. Curaçao offers 35 beaches to suit any travel style, including the popular Mambo Beach, the family-friendly Kokomo Beach, and the Playa Lagun, with its myriad reef fish and turtles.
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Koh Samui, Thailand
The second-largest island in Thailand (after Phuket), Koh Samui is known for its palm tree-lined beaches—especially Chaweng Beach, the island’s most popular stretch, where you’ll find postcard-worthy coconut trees and miles of white sand. The Na Muang Waterfalls are a particularly alluring stop for a swim (the second of the two is a bit harder to reach, and therefore less touristy), while the Secret Buddha Garden features statutes of all shapes and sizes deep within the jungle. Afterward, head to the iconic 39-foot, gold-painted Big Buddha Temple, which is actually just offshore on its very own island, Koh Faan.
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Located off the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar is often referred to as “The Lavender Island” thanks to its vast fields of fragrant purple blooms each summer. It’s the sunniest spot in Croatia, which all but guarantees travelers beautiful photographs of the yacht-filled harbor, palm-lined seafront promenade, hilltop castle, and cobblestone towns. Many visitors borrow bicycles and follow routes that immerse them in 360-degree views of the countryside and coasts. Hvar happens to be the only island on Earth that boasts six UNESCO World heritages, including Stari Grad Plain, an agricultural landscape set up by the ancient Greeks that dates back to the 4th century BC.
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Maui, Hawaii, US
Known as “The Valley Isle,” Maui is revered for its impressive beauty in the Central Pacific Ocean. Its highest peak is Haleakalā, a volcano on the island’s eastern side, though there’s an older volcano to the west that forms the peaks of the West Maui Mountains, too. There are more than 30 miles of beaches to explore, plenty of hiking opportunities, and the snorkeling in Kapalua Bay will introduce you to an extraordinary array of tropical fish (including the state fish, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a) and inquisitive green sea turtles.
Many local resorts, including The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua, participate in the Mālama Hawaii Program, which allows guests to connect with the local culture and lifestyle through such experiences as tree planting and beach cleanups. From West Maui, you can see two other Hawaiian islands, Moloka’i and Lana’i—the latter of which is accessible by ferry.
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Kodiak Island, Alaska, US
Some of the most beautiful islands in the world aren’t tropical, as is the case with Alaska’s Kodiak Island, located an hour’s flight from Anchorage in the southwestern part of the state. It’s the United States’ second-largest island, and its lush, green landscape is filled with many wonders for outdoors enthusiasts. Here, you’ll find kayaking, whale watching, saltwater and freshwater fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. But the most special activity is Kodiak brown bear viewing. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is home to 3,500 of these enormous animals, and they are most active during late summer when the salmon runs are in full swing.
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Isle of Skye, Scotland
When you picture Scotland’s most iconic landscapes—think brooding castles and dramatic seaside cliffs—you may very well be picturing photos you’ve seen of the Isle of Skye. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than Point of Sleat, where you can walk the peninsula at the southernmost point of the island and be treated to a white sand beach, a modern lighthouse, and views of the small isles of Rum, Canna, and Eigg. The Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum is a popular spot to see 1,500 years of history, while the Fairy Pools feature rock pools of icy cold mountain spring water. Animal lovers will be wowed by the island’s wildlife, which includes otters, dolphins, golden eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, and puffins.
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Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Just 8 miles off the coast of Cancun is Isla Mujeres, which translates to “Island of Women” in English. Known for its undeniable beauty, this little slice of paradise has some astonishing surprises lurking under the sea. You can visit the MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) and its collection of 500-plus, life-size sculptures, and in the summer months, snorkel with a population of enormous yet docile whale sharks. Back on land, relax underneath a palm tree on Playa Norte’s white sands and take in the sweeping views of Punta Sur at the easternmost point of the island.
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Experience the vivid hues of the iconic Blue Grotto, and you’ll understand why Capri is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The moment your rowboat slips through the small opening of this sea cave, you’re immediately surrounded by a brilliant blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. After you’ve had your fill of those azure waters, take the Monte Solaro chairlift up to Anacapri, the highest point on the island at 1,932 feet above sea level, for 360-degree views of the Bay of Naples.
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When it comes to the most beautiful islands in the world, Seychelles always makes the list. Why? Let’s start with its insanely gorgeous beaches, including Anse Source d’Argent, which was featured in Tom Hank’s “Cast Away” and is an ideal spot for snorkeling. But there’s more to do than just lie on the beach, like touring the fragrant Le Jardin du Roi Spice Garden on Mahe Island, the largest of the Seychelles archipelago. Or consider visiting Curieuse Marine National Park on Curieuse Island, where you’ll find some 300 Aldabra giant tortoises, the world’s second-largest species of tortoise, wandering freely.
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Aruba’s nickname is “one happy island,” and it’s safe to say that’s exactly how visitors feel when exploring this beautiful country in the Southern Caribbean. Located outside of the hurricane belt and home to cooling trade winds, the weather here is lovely most any time of the year. Make Arikok National Park your first stop, leaving plenty of time to explore the ancient caves with prehistoric rock paintings and natural rock pools. For an afternoon spent in shallow, crystal-clear water, settle down at the family-friendly Baby Beach. Meanwhile, snorkelers, paddleboarders, and kayakers will want to head to the picturesque and somewhat secluded Mangel Halto beach for water sports and shore diving.
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Amazing scenery happens where volcanic and glacial terrains meet, which is one of the reasons many people consider Iceland to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. This Nordic island nation is a feast for the eyes, with volcanoes, hot springs, lava fields, geysers, and incredible views of the magical aurora borealis. The Blue Lagoon is a relaxing geothermal spa where you can luxuriate in warm seawater, but for a little more adventure, try a snowmobile tour on a glacier, take a dogsledding tour, and go arctic rafting or cliff jumping. Be sure to take the famous Ring Road for the ultimate scenic road trip that’ll pass many of Iceland’s most iconic sites.
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For most travelers, the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos come to mind for their beauty, but don’t sleep on lesser-known Corfu. Its stunning scenery is made up of rugged mountains rising from the Ionian Sea and imposing Venetian fortresses with massive bastions. The entire Old Town of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, so there’s much to see and do within the city limits. Beyond that, swim through the “channel of love” at Canal d’Amour, explore the charming fishing villages, and visit the monastery in Palaiokastritsa, which dates back to 1225.
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There are many reasons why the Republic of Maldives, an archipelagic nation of more than 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, is a bucket-list tropical vacation for many. For starters, scuba diving here is second-to-none, thanks to 26 atolls, coral reefs, and coral islands. Some favorite dive sites include Ari Atoll, known for barracuda and stingrays; Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve teeming with manta rays; and Fuvahmulah Atoll, which attracts tiger sharks, whale sharks, and hammerheads. Meanwhile, fans of surfing, wakeboarding, parasailing, and kite surfing will have endless opportunities to get their adrenaline pumping in other ways. If you’re here for pure relaxation, though, the white-sand beaches with blue lagoons and turquoise seas are truly Instagram-worthy.
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Another jewel of the Caribbean is Nevis, a 36-square-mile island only accessible via water taxi from sister island St. Kitts. Thanks to the island’s small stature, you can’t miss the 3,232-foot volcano at the very center—as such, there’s plenty of geothermal energy to enjoy in the form of therapeutic hot springs at Bath Village. Despite its size, there is no shortage of activities to do on Nevis, including hiking Nevis Peak, taking a sunset horseback ride along the beach, meandering through the lush Botanical Gardens of Nevis, or bicycling the 20-mile main road around the island. History buffs should be sure to tour the two-story, Georgian-style Hamilton House, Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in the capital city of Charlestown.
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The islands of Malta (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) are an archipelago in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa. Known for its 7,000 years of history and rich culture, Malta is home to the highest density of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in any nation-state—including temples dating back to 3600 BC and a capital city surrounded by bastions and ornate architecture. The archipelago’s famous Blue Lagoon has one of the best beaches and intensely turquoise water perfect for swimming. You’ll also find more than 120 dive sites, mega yachts galore, and five Michelin-starred restaurants to tempt any foodie’s taste buds.
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Off Canada’s Pacific Coast lies Vancouver Island—and it’s positively brimming with beautiful scenery and rich history. A particularly popular area is Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. Here, visitors often flock to the world-famous Butchart Gardens to walk among its rose, sunken, and Japanese gardens. The Malahat SkyWalk rises about 820 feet above the sea for expansive views of the Salish Sea, and high tea at the Fairmont Empress is not to be missed. There’s no shortage of whale-watching cruises to join, beaches and rainforest trails to explore, and beautiful buildings to tour (including the Parliament Buildings and Craigdarroch Castle).
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You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place with such epic wildlife viewing than the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. In fact, many of the plant and animal species found here aren’t found anywhere else in the world, earning it a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. While you could certainly spend your visit simply being astounded by the landscape, most people go to see giant tortoises, sea lions, sea horses, blue-footed boobies, pink flamingos, marine iguanas, waved albatross, Galapagos penguins, and great white sharks. The memories you make here will last a lifetime.