Islands conjure dreams of paradise; an escape from the rat race, a perfect patch of sand where you can relax under rustling palms and gaze at a serene blue sea. But not all islands are created the same. The beauty of some is defined more by the sea that surrounds them, which can captivate connoisseurs with its crystalline clarity and thriving coral kingdoms. Other islands feature luxuriant jungles and velvety peaks. And some enchant travelers with their cultural jewels. Whether it's sublime beaches, stunning topography, or exotic cultures you seek, these islands lie far from the workaday clamor but close to creature comforts. From the Seychelles to Santorini and the Caribbean to Capri, you can find your very own Shangri-la in this list.
2 Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Shaped like a giant sombrero, this lush volcanic island stars in countless South Pacific fantasies. The focal point and best asset of this tropical beauty is its ravishing lagoon in technicolor turquoise. Fish, turtles, sharks, and rays swim in the clear waters, and tiny islets or motus dot the lagoon. The island, of course, is distinctly French, with mouthwatering cuisine to match. Diving and snorkeling are excellent in the surrounding reefs and hiking trails weave through the palm-studded forests. If you can afford it, hide out here in a luxurious over-the-water bungalow and bask in your good fortune as you fall asleep to the gentle slosh of the sea.
3 Palawan, Philippines
5 Santorini, Greece
Encircling a sea-filled caldera, spectacular Santorini scores top points for dramatic beauty. Bleached white villas tumble down volcanic cliffs. Blue-domed churches rise against the sparkling sea, and bright sprays of bougainvillea add to the eye-popping canvas of color. Perched atop the black lava cliffs, the settlements of Firá and Oia are the island's most picturesque, and pricey, destinations, and Oia ranks among the most photographed locations in the world. Other highlights of the island include Akrotíri Archaeological Site, Ancient Thira, the black sand beach of Perissa, and of course, the sublime sunsets. Sailing into this stunning caldera surrounded by soaring sea cliffs makes an unforgettable first impression.
6 The Cook Islands
If you've ever dreamed of being a castaway in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands are for you. Strung between French Polynesia and Samoa but with strong ties to New Zealand, the archipelago's 15 islands are known for their enticing aquamarine lagoons, palm-fringed beaches, and volcanic peaks. Best of all, the locals are among the friendliest in the South Pacific. Rarotonga is the main tourist hub, with its many resorts, lush peaks, and plentiful beaches. Aitutaki boasts the beauty of Bora Bora, without the price tag. Hibiscus-laced villages snuggle on the hillsides, and along its heavenly lagoon lie 21 motus or small islets, many within kayak distance of the resorts. Ensconce yourself here in an over-the-water bungalow or hole up in a rustic beach shack on a remote out island and live your Robinson Crusoe fantasies.
7 Bali, Indonesia