best tropical vacations – Dreamy beaches, silky seas, lush landscapes, and constant rays of sunshine – are some of the main ingredients of the ideal tropical vacation. But each destination offers its own sensual charms. Some dazzle with their natural beauty. Others add cultural attractions to the mix, with exotic customs, architecture, and delicious cuisine. Some offer ecological adventures and wildlife-rich wilderness, and some tranquil islands seem to take you back in time. Divers flock to thriving coral reefs, and surfers search for the perfect wave. After that, 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 spots covers some of the world’s most beautiful islands. We also cover ideas for fun things to do and destinations for every budget, whether you’re looking for an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora or a bamboo hut on a beach in Bali.
1. Bora Bora, Tahiti
Bora Bora is the paradise par excellence of the South Pacific. This lush and dramatically beautiful island in French Polynesia rises to a sharp emerald peak surrounded by a blue lagoon. Clusters of coconut palms bristle along the beaches, and luxury bungalows perch on crystal-clear waters, some with glass panels so you can look out over the thriving sea below. While Bora Bora gets top marks for natural beauty, it also does the trick if you’re looking for cultural appeal. The official language is French, and you can taste the Gallic influence in the gourmet cuisine. Add fun water sports, kayaking trips to motu (islands), scenic trails, and adventures like shark diving. It’s easy to see why many travelers rank expensive Bora Bora as the best honeymoon destination, a once-in-a-lifetime place for the perfect tropical vacation.
2. Mayan Riviera, Mexico
If you’re looking for beautiful beaches, culture, and tasty cuisine at an affordable price, the Riviera Maya (Riviera Maya) in Mexico is a great option. At the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, along the Caribbean coast, the Riviera Maya encompasses the tourist destinations of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the island of Cozumel. You don’t have to stay in a giant all-inclusive resort, though you’ll find plenty fronting the long, postcard-worthy beaches. Intimate boutique hotels and yoga retreats are also in the mix. Swimming with manta rays and dolphins, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing are popular activities in the warm, clear waters, and culture vultures can explore the magnificent ancient ruins of Tulum in a stunning setting above the turquoise Caribbean Sea or Chichen Itza. A few hours’ drive from the resort strip.
3. The Maldives
Chained to the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the 26 natural atolls of the Maldives exude an almost surreal beauty due in no small part to the luminous blue waters surrounding them. If slipping into the warm, soul-warming, crystal clear sea is one of the main criteria for your perfect tropical vacation, this is the place to do it, as water comprises 99 percent of the Maldives. Yet, paradoxically, it also threatens to flood the shores of this low-lying island nation. Male’ is the capital city, but most visitors head straight to one of the remote atolls, where luxury resorts and white-sand beaches fringed by aquamarine waters await. The diving and snorkeling are world-class, and the Maldives is also a top surfing destination with the most famous surf spots in the North and South Male Atolls. Other popular activities include swimming with manta rays and whale sharks and sport fishing. With the water being a focal point and having many islands to choose from, the Maldives is also the perfect candidate for a cruise vacation.
4. Editor’s Pick Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, with close links to New Zealand, is a dream destination for castaways. Blessed with a shimmering lagoon of water, lush peaks, sublime palm-studded beaches, and some friendliest people in the South Pacific, Aitutaki ticks all the boxes for the perfect exotic tropical tropical tropical vacation. Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands and the main tourist gateway. Still, Aitutaki, a 45-minute flight away, is the jewel in the crown, and that’s saying a lot for an archipelago of 15 stunning tropical islands. Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing are all fantastic, and the island offers a window into quiet village life, which slows down on Sundays for church services. More than 20 motu (small islands) are sprinkled around the lagoon, and the small island of Tapuaetai (One Foot Island), in its southeast corner, is a popular excursion with a beautiful perspective of the lagoon. If you really want to splurge, opt for a luxurious overwater bungalow. From here, you can paddle out to your own private motu, sit under a palm tree, and pretend you’re Robinson Crusoe for a day.
5. Kauaʻi, Hawaii
Kaua’i is a tropical Eden called the Garden Isle, with lush rainforests, waterfalls, and spectacular green coastlines. A natural masterpiece of dramatic lava-sculpted landscapes, the island has a more laid-back vibe than its famous sister islands of Maui and Oahu. Although Kauai is known for being home to one of the rainiest places on earth, the island is made up of several microclimates, and the area around the Poipu tourist area tends to be drier. Underwater, you’ll find colorful coral reefs, where turtles and tropical fish swim. On land, you can enjoy golden beaches, admire the cloud-shrouded scenery from Hanalei Bay cliffs, trek among the soft peaks of the stunning Nāpali Coast, and explore the deep, jungle-like 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon. Other major tourist attractions include tropical gardens, waterfalls, cute coastal towns, and fantastic surf spots. Don’t be surprised if you share the beach with sleeping monk seals; nature reigns supreme here, and that’s a big part of the island’s charm.
6. The Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
If you’re dreaming of idyllic, sun-kissed South Sea islands, the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji are the best. Just a short boat ride from the gateway town of Nadi, this chain of approximately 20 islands is famous for its shimmering palm-fringed 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 the islands in this chain. When choosing where to stay, your budget and interests will determine the best island in Fiji for you.
Accommodation ranges from lively backpacker resorts to family-friendly hotels with thatched-roof bures (traditional huts) and luxury lodges such as the Vomo Island Resort, the Likuliku Lagoon Resort, and the exclusive Tokoriki Island Resort for adults. Popular mid-range resorts include Matamanoa Island Resort, Malolo Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, and Castaway Island. One of the best surf breaks on the planet, Cloudbreak, is located a mile away from Tavarua Island Resort. Still, this legendary break is also accessible from other resorts on the island. Fijians love children, so this is also a fabulous destination for families with youngsters looking to unwind.
7. St Barts, Caribbean
If you like the glittering jet-setting scene, private villas, and pretty beaches, French-influenced St. Barts should be at the top of your list. But everything has a price. A constant stream of visiting movie stars and mega-tycoons means accommodation and food costs more here than in other destinations, especially during peak season. In return, however, you’ll find beautiful blonde-sand beaches with rolling green hills, world-class shopping and dining, and cultural sophistication that many other tropical destinations lack. Like everywhere else, the off-season offers excellent deals, and all the beaches are public, so you can hide away in a private villa or boutique hotel and live the rich and famous life for less. In addition to enjoying the beaches, shopping, and indulging in delicious continental delicacies, popular activities here include snorkeling, scuba diving, kite surfing, kayaking, fishing, surfing, and sailing. The best beaches are Saline Beach, Gouverneur Beach, and Lorient, and the red-roofed capital of Gustavia is one of the prettiest cities in the Caribbean.
8. The Abacos, The Bahamas
Almost 300 kilometers east of Florida, the beautiful Abacos in the Bahamas offer some of the best waters in the world for boating and sailing. These peaceful Atlantic islands are also called the Out Islands or Family Islands. They seem a world away from the busy tourist strips of nearby Florida, with their secluded pine-lined beaches, thriving coral reefs, and sleepy fishing villages, where golf carts and boats are the primary means of transportation. British Loyalists established these islands, and you can witness this heritage in the cute and colorful colonial cottages that line the narrow streets. Prime areas for low-key vacations include cute Elbow Cay. Its famous candy-striped lighthouse; enchanting three-mile-long Green Turtle Cay, which feels like stepping back to the old Bahamas; and Treasure Cay, in Great Abaco, with its dazzling white-sand beach lapped by turquoise technicolor waters. Guana Cay, Walker’s Cay, and Man “O’ War Cay are other famous islands. Favorite activities include fishing, diving, snorkeling, relaxing, and chatting with the locals, and with miles of pristine beaches, it’s easy to find your spot. Own private patch of soft, white sand.
9. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize’s Ambergris Caye is one of the country’s top tourist destinations and the largest of its 200 cays. While its Caribbean beaches are generally better for fishing than swimming, thanks to its flourishing turtle grass flats, the magnificent Hol Chan Marine Reserve makes up for it with excellent diving and snorkeling less than half a mile from shore. This underwater paradise is part of the Belize Barrier Reef system, the second largest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Shark Ray Alley is a popular site where divers can meet with nurse sharks and manta rays. Anglers also gather here to hunt the plains for bonefish and try their luck with a permit, tarpon, snook, and barracuda. Part of the island’s charm is its colorful town of San Pedro, where golf carts rule the streets and trendy restaurants showcase fresh seafood and Mexican-inspired cuisine. Since the northern part of the island is just a stone’s throw from Mexico, the island has a strong Mexican influence, and many locals speak Spanish.
10. The Dominican Republic
On the eastern side of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is an excellent option for budget-conscious travelers. Still, this popular vacation destination is about much more than glorious beaches and great-value resorts. Rich in history and culture, “DR,” as it is called, also boasts some of the most diverse ecosystems in the Caribbean, with rainforests, deserts, mangroves, coral reefs, savannahs, and towering green peaks.
Venture away from the tourist fringes of Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, La Romana, and Samaná, where all-inclusive resorts cluster along idyllic sweeps of palm-fringed beaches, and you’ll discover a world of adventure. You can scale the highest peaks in the Caribbean, paddle the white waters of the Rio Yaque del Norte, hike to waterfalls through steamy jungle, and bike through pine forests along alpine trails. Of course, the cultural attractions are also a highlight. The capital, Santo Domingo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with charming colonial architecture and fascinating history. But if you just want to enjoy a beautiful beach, snorkel, swim, surf, and dive, you will also find many opportunities.
11. Balinese, Indonesian
Bali beckons with its mystical charm for those looking for a tropical vacation with a spiritual side. Temples full of fragrant incense, paddy fields resplendent in the late amber sun, and Bali’s calm and friendly people add to this island’s irresistible charm. If you’re looking for a lively beach scene with plenty of shops and restaurants, base yourself in busy Kuta or Seminyak, where you’ll also find great surfing beaches. Sanur is an excellent place for families, with its gentle waves, and Ubud, in the lush hills away from the coastal hubbub, is the emerald soul of the island. Bali is known for its relatively affordable spa treatments so that you can pamper yourself without the sticker shock. Accommodation ranges from budget hostels to luxury villas with personal chefs and drivers. The neighboring volcanic island of Lombok is also a popular destination, with less development than its famous sister island.
12. Port Douglas, Australia
About an hour’s drive north of Cairns in Queensland, Port Douglas is an ideal destination for adventurous nature lovers. This luxury town has evolved from humble origins as a snoozy fishing village into a popular tropical resort and a good base for reef trips and wildlife safaris. Two of Australia’s wealthiest ecosystems are just a short drive from here: the Great Barrier Reef, with excellent diving and snorkeling, and the Daintree Forest, part of the Humid Tropics World Heritage Site, falls into the splashing waters of Cape Tribulation reefs. The city’s leafy streets are lined with mango and palm trees, as well as a bevy of unique shops, cafes, and art galleries, and its star feature is Four Mile Beach, a crescent of blond sand fringed by jungle. Swimming is restricted here during sea stinger season (November to June); however, it is always a favorite spot for a stroll. Other top tourist attractions include the Wildlife Habitat and the Bally Hooley Sugar Train, which runs through the sugar cane fields to Mossman. Fishing trips and expeditions north through the rugged landscape of Cape York Peninsula are also popular. May through September is the best time to visit the winter season when temperatures are more relaxed, and the weather drier prevails.
The ultimate list for beach fans
Nothing is better than a good beach with fine sand, umbrellas or palm trees, and transparent waters to enjoy the summer. There are beaches of all types and for all tastes. This selection includes some of the most beautiful in the world, all wrapped in the tropical paradisiacal atmosphere.
13. Rangiroa (French Polynesia)
This impressive coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific, the second largest in the world, is the most remote and lonely place to be found. Many tourists go there to go scuba diving, but what’s wrong with lying on the beach and having a couple of cocktails? There is also a vast lagoon, almost an inland sea, which increases the already broad perception and sense of perspective; even the very name of the island means “vast sky.” Rangiroa is one of the travel proposals within French Polynesia for those who find Bora Bora, Moorea or Tahiti places too touristy.
14. Cape Tribulation (Australia)
This World Heritage-listed region of Queensland deserves attention for many reasons; splendid beaches and ancient tropical forests that reach the water, coastal reefs, beautiful fauna and flora, rock pools, mangroves, wooden boardwalks, and impressive rugged mountains as a backdrop. Forty minutes from the coast is the Great Barrier Reef, a unique place in the world.
15. Gili Islands (Indonesia)
This group of three islands northwest of Lombok, Indonesia, has the essentials for a vacation: coral reefs, pristine waters, great fishing, and diving spots. But according to legend, there is a magic ring around it that prevents people from leaving. If you are immune to the ring’s power, tuna loins, the excellent local beer, and the absolute absence of motor vehicles will achieve what magic could not.