I recently had the chance to pitch and write a story for Bravo TV’s The Daily Dish called “13 Islands You Have to See Before You Die.” Of course, this was also a chance for me to sit at my desk wanderlusting madly.
In the piece, I included a mix of some of my favorite islands on earth… as well as an approximately equal number of places that I haven’t yet seen with my own two eyes — but have on my bucket list for sure.
From natural landscapes plucked from fantasies to all-night European party destinations, behold the picks I culled together (as the list originally appeared on The Daily Dish) so that we can all start making our plans — or at least building our dreams — to cross off every last one of these beauties.
How many have you visited so far? And which island are you dying to visit next?
13 Bucket-List Islands You Have to See
1. Bora Bora
Multiple French Polynesian islands are well worth a visit: Tahiti is an easy (if spendy) nonstop from L.A., and Mo’orea is an easy jaunt from there. But Bora Bora is the epic stunner that will take your breath away. Stay in one of the region’s signature overwater bungalows, and drop right off the deck into the turquoise lagoon for an unforgettable snorkel sesh. (We visited as part of our French Polynesian honeymoon back in 2010.)
The Indonesian Island of Bali has it all: arts, culture, adventure, relaxation, unrivaled natural beauty. Hit the beach in resort towns like Nusa Dua, or center yourself with massage or meditation. Visit stone temples and the Monkey Forest in Ubud — but hold onto your stuff… those monkeys don’t take no for an answer! (Bali is home to one of my top two adventure-travel days ever, as well as some of the most gorgeous hotels on the planet.)
3. Ambergris Caye
Remember the “San Pedro” referenced in “La Isla Bonita?” Well, that’s on the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize. Scuba lovers come for world-class diving along the Belize Barrier Reef — it’s the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Hop on a fun Tropic Air puddle jumper from the mainland to reach the island. (That pic at the top is from my own visit to Ambergris Caye — part of an unforgettable trip to Belize!)
Although neighboring Greek isle Mykonos has a well-deserved reputation as a fabulous party island, nothing beats Santorini for views that seem pulled right out of your imagination. Photogenic all-white architecture hangs off the cliffs in the main towns of Fira and Oia, above a volcanic crater in the Aegean sea. Gather with olives and ouzo in an evening ritual to watch a sunset you’ll never forget.
Feel like you need to get off the grid? Consider that Hawaii is the most isolated inhabited place in the world — with nary a passport required! — and permit yourself to unplug and relax on the beach. Or, find all sorts of adventure: Hike the Na Pali Coast, zipline over gorgeous rain forests, or kayak along the Wailua River. (Find my Hawaii coverage here.)
The Caribbean offers all manner of gorgeous beaches and warm water for relaxation and romance. But few also islands offer the same kind of cultural vibrance asJamaica, with its pulsing music and dance scenes. Plus, there’s the Rastafari tradition that includes healthy, wholesome vegan fare for some island detox. (Or just indulge in the island’s copious Red Stripe, if you prefer — we won’t judge.) Skip the cruise ship port of Montego Bay and find calming isolation in the more remote Treasure Beach along the island’s southwest coast. (It’s probably a good thing my trip to Jamaica came before I started blogging. Half of what we did on our girls trip is best preserved in a pristine mental jewel box. #YOLO, etc.)
While Honduras’ crime problem is well known around the world, its majestic off-shore island of Roatán is becoming equally well known for its world-class reef diving and snorkeling. (The island now even has a cruise ship port.) The long and skinny isle in the Caribbean Sea also offers pristine beaches and pine forests.
8. The Maldives
Say you’re planning a visit to the Maldives and you’re instantly the envy of all your friends.The Indian Ocean archipelagic nation is composed mostly of sea — as well as nearly 1,200 islands and sandbanks surrounded by lagoon and protected by a reef, which is home to some of the most breathtaking underwater life in the world. Snap insane photos on a seaplane flight — and then wait until the haters start unfollowing your Instagram feed.
With a year-round tropical climate, there’s no bad time to find yourself in the Seychelles. The Indian Ocean locale is dripping with luxurious accommodations (though there are some more under-the-radar local lodging options, too). Powdery white beaches and dramatic rock landscapes are the stuff of dreams. Victoria Market dates back to 1840 and offers stalls with fish, spices, and other local goodies.
A province of Ecuador, the volcanic archipelago of the Galápagos Islands is a coveted destination among wildlife lovers and photographers. Some species found here — like the land iguana and the giant tortoise — can be found nowhere else on earth. (Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835 inspired inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection. Cool, right?)
11. Koh Kood
Thailand’s many islands are well known for their pristine beauty, and are popular with vacationers from all over the world. Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Phuket are all among the famous destinations. But Koh Kood — located in the South East part of Thailand near the maritime border with Cambodia — is a uniquely relaxing and remote paradise, and a favorite among travelers truly in the know.
Is there a word more synonymous with all-night Euro party than Ibiza? The Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea has a major nightlife scene, with clubs all over Europe setting up shop here in the summertime. It also makes for great eating — and excellent beaching among the world’s most beautiful vacationers.
The teeny Philippine island of Boracay is not the undiscovered, off-the-map paradise it once was. But it’s a continually developing magnificent island destination, just an hour-flight and quick ferry trip from Manila. The location is known for excellent diving, fresh local seafood, outrigger sailboating, killer massage, and nightlife.