There’s something about islands that enchant us. Perhaps it’s their inherent remoteness—a pocket of land surrounded by vast ocean. Or perhaps it’s their unique cultures, made flavourful by centuries of near-isolation (depending on where you go, of course).
Either way, tropical islands have drawn intrepid travellers since time immemorial and continue to do so to this day. Thankfully, eco-conscious tourism has reared its head just in time to avoid the point of no return for these often over-visited islands.
In our humble opinion, the best islands to visit are those that put sustainability first. These jewels dotted around our planet are beautiful and worth saving.
From the Republic of Palau’s mandatory eco-friendly pledge to Mallorca’s move in the direction of sustainability, there are plenty of island paradises worth a visit, where your dollar will do more good than harm.
On that note, we’ve created the ultimate guide to the best islands in the world, from far-flung Pacific oases to eco-chic resort islands.
21 best islands in the world
- Isla Holbox, Mexico
- Tuvalu, Oceania
- Lombok, Indonesia
- Andaman Islands
- Santorini, Greece
- Palawan, Philippines
- The Cook Islands
- St Lucia, Caribbean
- Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
- Republic of Palau, Micronesia
- Chumbe Island, Zanzibar
- Madeira, Portugal
- Koh Lanta, Thailand
- Pumpkin Island, Australia
- Sri Lanka
- Viti Levu, Fiji
- Heron Island, Australia
- Maui, Hawaii
- Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
- Mallorca, Spain
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Take a sandy footstep back in time on Isla Holbox, just north of the Yucatán Peninsula. This island paradise says a firm ‘no’ to a fast pace of living; the people here enjoy a slow, easy way of life. In fact, Isla Holbox has gone out of its way to stay the region’s best-kept secret.
Since being discovered by tourists in the early 2000s, the island’s community has made a conscious effort to prevent super-resorts from being built. So, you’re far more likely to find cosy, family-run casas than sky-high hotels.
Keen bird-watcher? this is the island for you. You’ll find pelicans, flamingos, boat-billed herons, and plenty more winged creatures calling Isla Holbox their home.
But there’s something more: from May to September, this tropical paradise teems with the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world. So get close (but not too close) and personal with these placid seafarers on one of the island’s whale shark tours, and support the local economy in the same breath.
Just missing the award for the smallest island in the world, Tuvalu is no more than a dot among vast swathes of ocean. In fact, this island is so tiny, that the airstrip transforms into a football pitch and village meeting place when not in use! However, good things come in small packages, right? Sitting between Hawaii and Australia, you’re as far from the rat race as you can be.
Fewer than 100 visitors per year make the voyage to Tuvalu, making this remote island a true (almost) untouched paradise. Thought you’d be short of entertainment? Au contraire: Tuvalu offers an abundance of pursuits, from caving to snorkelling to watching local dance contests (trust us, that’s something you won’t want to miss).
If experiencing new cultures is your wanderlust modus operandi, Tuvalu is the island for you: Melanesian culture is extremely hospitable, so you’ll often find yourself invited into locals’ homes for a drink and a chat.
Sure, everyone knows about Bali. But Lombok? It sometimes flies under the radar. Take note, though: Lombok is about as beautiful as it gets. Located just east of Bali, Lombok is a mountainous island sheathed in thick jungle, lined with gentle lapping shores.
Lombok is Bali’s laid-back older sister. This cool-as-anything island offers surfing, relaxed vibes, fantastic snorkelling, and plenty of exploring to boot. What’s more: you’re only a stone’s throw away from the famous Gili Islands, where you can dive the crystal-clear waters and perhaps befriend a turtle or two.
If responsible travel is your style, Lombok is perfect. With countless eco-friendly accommodations from which to choose, you can live the eco-chic dream. Get around on donkey-drawn carts, or, if you’re in a rush (unlikely), hop in a taxi. Family-friendly, romantic, and packed with activities, Lombok truly has it all.
Not to be confused with the off-limits Nicobar islands, the Andaman Islands lie far to the east of the Bay of Bengal. If you go wild for pastel sunsets, crystalline waters, and coconut-white-sand beaches, the Andaman Islands are your mecca.
Comprising over 300 islands (of which 38 are inhabited), the Andamans are a far-flung utopia not easily matched. Divers flock to these remote isles, desperate to get amongst the cornucopia of sealife resident in the waters. Not a diving fan? No dramas: you can jump on a glass-bottom boat tour to explore the watery underworld behind the safety of thick glass.
Visitors can explore the islands via the ferries. They run from early in the morning, so you can spend a gorgeous day (or week) island-hopping until your wanderlust is satiated. And, while the islands have their fair share of concrete hotels, there are still plenty of rustic bamboo huts offering a more authentic stay.
One of the Cyclades islands nestled in the Aegean sea, Santorini is about as Greek-island as it gets. Famous for its bewitching white and azure buildings, Santorini is a photographer’s delight.
But, the mesmerising aesthetic doesn’t stop at the buildings: Santorini boasts a unique landscape thanks to a volcanic eruption centuries ago that left red, white, and black lava pebbles strewn across the island.
The best places to stay lie on the western edge of Santorini, with towns such as Oia, Fira, and Imerovigli attracting crowds every year. Why? One glance westwards from your balcony, and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the (thankfully now dormant) volcano.
Delight your tastebuds with a smorgasbord of authentic Greek cuisine, wine-tasting, and use Santorini as a base to island-hop. Trust us: if there was ever an island sure to bedazzle, it’s Santorini.
The Maldives have long enjoyed a terrific reputation for barefoot luxury. The Indian Ocean islands are the embodiment of pure bliss, with startling white beaches and lush green jungle. However, it’s the aquatic underworld that makes this island destination so beguiling.
With spa-like waters boasting an average temperature of 29 °C (84 °F) year-round, it’s always a good time to hop on a plane. Immerse yourself in the teeming reefs, atoll lagoons, and rock pinnacles (or thila) for an insight into the colourful world lying beneath the water’s surface. Eco-travellers, rejoice: the Maldives has recently granted protected status to 42 areas, helping to preserve the island’s precious ecology.
Of course, the Maldives are a collection of islands, each with its own unique atmosphere. Heading on your honeymoon? Head to Kandolhu for dreamy violet sunsets and exquisite villas. Jet-setting with your family? Check out the Niyama Private Islands for kid’s clubs, family-friendly activities, and even spa treatments just for little ones.
Palawan island already made the cut for our take on the best beaches in the world, so it’s no surprise it takes the win for the best island, too. This Phillipino paradise stretches for 403 miles, ending tantalisingly close to the far-off Borneo. Its expanse means Palawan offers ample variety, be it biodiversity, language, or cuisine.
Home to the Underground River (one of the 7 Wonders of the World), much of Palawan island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the island’s terrestrial and marine areas led to Palawan being voted the most beautiful island in the world in 2016, while its northern shore of El Nido took the prize for the most beautiful beach. Safe to say it’s unanimous—Palawan is paradise.
The dramatic topography is one of the many draws to this enchanting island, with a vast mountain range stretching from top to bottom. Framed with white shorelines (complete with towering palms and turquoise waters, of course), this island serves up a delicious slice of paradise to get your teeth stuck into.
The Cook Islands
Perched a short 4750 kilometres from Australia’s east coast, the Cook Islands lie bang-smack in the middle of the Polynesian triangle. Yes, that means stunning beaches, friendly locals, and glorious Pacific sunsets. Oh, and the antithesis of our daily grind.
Admittedly, these tropical islands have experienced their fair share of over-tourism. However, they’ve made a conscious effort to clean things up: aiming to be the best green travel destination in the Pacific, there are plans for wind farms, solar power, and eco-conscious living.
Most of the Cook Islands’ tour operators strive to be eco-friendly already, and you can go snorkelling, on an eco-cycling adventure, or enjoy a culture-rich experience with local dancers (to name a few!). Book your flights for April to November to avoid the monsoon season, and check out the fantastic array of eco-luxury resorts to lay your jetlagged head.
St Lucia, Caribbean
Ah, St Lucia: renowned for the iconic mountain twins erupting out of its west coast. A haven for the intrepid traveller and those with a taste for adventure, St Lucia offers a treasure chest of scenery, activities, and sumptuous cuisine. Like a woman who’s totally unaware of her own beauty, St Lucia is humble yet breathtaking.
While it’s tempting to while away your days lazing on the pristine beaches, St Lucia has plentiful activities to keep your mind and body active. Hike the Tet Paul Nature Trail for out-of-this-world views by day, and head to the Gros Islet Street Party by night for a true taste of Caribbean energy.
And to sleep? You’re spoiled for choice. Find tiny eco-friendly lodges tucked away in the hills, or head to one of the stylish resorts for a slice of the finer things. No matter where you stay, you’re sure to fall in love with the local hospitality, easy living, and rich culture.
Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
Dotting the coastline of Croatia, the Dalmatian islands sit protected by the Adriatic Sea. Ist, Pag, and Vir are three of the most popular islands, boasting lush nature and traditional fishing villages (and we’re just scratching the surface).
If you go starry-eyed for resplendent landscapes, head to the Paklenica National Park for a buffet of deep canyons, jagged peaks, and diverse wildlife. Those with a penchant for parties, this is your place: the Dalmatian Islands are (in)famous for their buzzing music festivals, where you can groove to international dance, traditional Balkan tunes, and everything in between.
Fancy a dip? Voyage to the Plitvice Lakes National Park (UNESCO-listed, no less) to enjoy a refreshing swim in the pure waters. With 16 inter-connected lakes spanning the park, you sure won’t be short of choice. And, if relaxation is the order du jour, grab a towel and settle down on one of the countless beaches.
Republic of Palau, Micronesia
One of the lesser-known tropical islands, the Republic of Palau is a pocket of paradise sitting far to the east of the Philippines. So naturally, it’s stunning, with azure shores lapping at bright white beaches and more thick jungle than you could ever fully explore. However, it’s Palau’s commitment to sustainability that we find most impressive.
After arriving in Palau, you’ll a) breathe in the clean air and breathtaking beauty and b) be asked to sign a pledge, promising to behave in an eco-friendly and sustainable way during your stay. Yep, really. Don’t want to sign? No visa for you. Perhaps this seems cut-throat, but when you consider the plethora of wildlife, untouched corals, and plentiful marine wonders to boot, you can see why.
A shining example of how things should be done, Palau takes its environment seriously. Thus, when you visit, you’ll enjoy pristine scenery, welcoming locals (as long as you respect your pledge), and an insight into a different world—a better world.
Chumbe Island, Zanzibar
At Chumbe Island, Zanzibar, you’re only permitted a small dose of this island paradise. Popular for day trips (though you can stay overnight), this idyllic landscape is reachable by boat, so you can truly absorb the views en route. Not a people-person? Wonderful: due to its MPA (Marine Protected Area) status, there are only 14 visitors allowed on the island at any one time.
For a true escape from the daily grind, Chumbe Island is the place to visit. You can even organise an eco-bungalow to take a quick five in between your adventures. So, rent a wetsuit and snorkel and head out to the water for a glimpse of the 400 species of aquatic life populating the virgin coral reef.
Or, take a wander through the 16-hectare forest, alive with strange, beautiful creatures. There’s even a quaint boutique selling locally handmade wares, so you can take a piece of paradise home with you.
Sure, you’ve likely sampled the eponymous wine from this wonderful island, but for a real taste of its beauty, you must take a trip. An oasis of lush green amidst the roaring Atlantic, Madeira offers a bounty of culture, eye-candy scenery, and pure holiday vibes.
So varied are the activities on Madeira, it’s easy to tailor your vacation just as you like it: swim in the lava pools of Porto Moniz, hike above the clouds along jagged mountains, or hop in a cable car to enjoy a birds-eye view over the city of Monte. Madeira is one of the best islands to visit for eco-luxury holidays, awash with eco-friendly hotels and charming farm stays.
Known as the ‘island of eternal Spring’, the moderate rainfall keeps this land emerald-green. Explore the region and fulfil your wanderlust, and when the sun sinks into the ocean, head to a bustling taverna and enjoy chats with the locals—they’re a friendly bunch.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Could we craft a list of the best islands without mentioning Thailand? Of course not. Koh Lanta is one of the country’s remaining pockets of utopia, as yet unspoiled by tourism. Though, one look at this idyllic island, and you can see why travellers flock there.
Though technically an archipelago, the main island of Koh Lanta is the one to visit. Only 27 by 10 kilometres, this compact portion of bliss is packed with beauty. Declared a national park in 1980, you’ll find 20 kilometres-squared of virgin rainforest, teeming with weird and wonderful wildlife.
Far from a party island, Koh Lanta is a haven for those seeking stillness, peace, and quiet. Recharge your batteries on one of the many beaches, or discover untouched beauty spots in the rainforest. And, if you fancy a little nightlife, there’s a small but refined scene on the island too.
Pumpkin Island, Australia
The ultimate eco-retreat, Pumpkin Island is one of the most sustainable islands in the world. This eco-conscious community will welcome you with open arms—as long as you respect their environment. A place to truly rejuvenate, Pumpkin Island offers a fantastic array of soul-nourishing activities.
Cruise across the water on your very own SUP, watching the sun peek over the horizon at first light. Or, take a gentle jaunt along the spellbinding rock formations, revealed only at low tide. Um, glass-bottom kayaking? Yes, please. Get up close and personal with the native turtle population, who you’ll find minding their own business in the crystalline waters.
Admittedly, it’s the 6th most expensive private island in the world, so it’s best if you fancy splashing the cash. However, it’s totally worth it. With endless views over the Great Barrier Reef, Pumpkin Island makes an eco-vacation you won’t forget.
Enter a whole new world: welcome to Sri Lanka. The ‘teardrop of India’ serves up a rainbow of culture and an inherent energy that’s unique to the tropical island.
Touch down in Colombo and take the winding coastal train down to the south coast, peppered with golden beaches. Despite being close (you can take a 10-minute train to reach the next beach), each coastal community offers a different feel. From vibing Hikkaduwa to surfer’s paradise Midigama, there are enough waves, bars, and golden sands to go around.
If you crave something other than beaches, head to the interior. The Tea Country is jam-packed with rolling hills, vast tea plantations, and friendly tea growers who’ll happily let you sample their wares. In Sri Lanka, every day is packed with a lifetime of adventure. Our tip? Don’t forget your camera.
Viti Levu, Fiji
If intrigue is what you aim for, head over to Viti Levu, one of Fiji’s two main islands. Viti Levu’s hero attraction is its swathes of beautiful nature, from sultry mangroves to natural hot springs. Thankfully, this isn’t a ‘look don’t touch’ situation, either: get immersed in Viti Levu’s plentiful beauty spots by kayak, foot, or snorkel.
And yes, we did say hot springs. The Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool is a must-visit, where you can get down and dirty with that glorious, skin-friendly mud. Then, for a slice of serenity, take a wander through the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, and take in the wonderful sights that await you.
For those seeking sustainable holidays, Viti Levu will steal your heart. Brimming with eco-friendly accommodation options, you’ll have the lion’s share of eco-lodges, retreats, and glamping options. Oh, and did we mention the kava? Take a sip of this euphoria-inducing (yet totally legal) drink, just like the locals.
Heron Island, Australia
If you were to paint a picture of the ultimate island paradise, no doubt it would closely resemble Heron Island. A jewel in the crown of the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is also Australia’s mother of pearl: precious, raw, and untouched.
In fact, the adventure begins before you even arrive: access Heron Island via boat or seaplane, and meander across still turquoise seas (or open skies) to get your spirit prepared for island-living.
In the summer months, you’ll be sharing this bliss with over 200,000 birds. From black noddies to Pacific reef herons, you won’t be short of skyward eye candy. However, grab your snorkel, and you’ll be treated to over 1,500 fish species swanning around your ankles.
Since the whole island is a national park, you can expect pristine scenery, a commitment to sustainable travel, and an eco-conscious approach to life. Naturally, if this were your back garden, you’d want to keep it perfect.
Hawaii’s second most-visited island, Maui, is a no-brainer on any ‘best islands’ list worth its salt. Upon arrival, the island’s energy will have you diving headfirst into the vibrant culture, glorious sunrises and sunsets, and maze of waterfalls, lakes, and coves.
You’ll be spoiled for choice with the organic extravaganza of cafes and restaurants, with many serving farm-to-plate dishes that’ll have your tastebuds tingling. In between sampling the local cuisine, head to the Haleakala national park, with an enchanting landscape straight out of Jurassic Park.
Or, take a bike or car along the Hana Highway, a winding road hugging the coast, ending in the slow-moving town of Hana. We love that Maui serves up something for everyone, and we’re not just talking about the food. Families, couples, and thrill-seeking friends alike will find a home in Maui—it’s everyone’s cup of tea.
Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
When we think of the tropics, we think of Bora-Bora. But have you ever been there? If not, that needs to change, trust us. Certainly the star of the show in French Polynesia, Bora-Bora epitomises Pacific beauty.
Newly-weds have long enjoyed the post-marital bliss offered by this languid island, where couples can relax into the oceanic oasis that is Bora-Bora. Spend your days exploring the numerous beaches (you’ll pinch yourself when you see them—their surreal charm more like a dream than reality).
Mount Otemanu and its sister peak Mount Pahia make an imposing centrepiece to this magical island. Though they make up an extinct volcano, this dramatic silhouette is softened by the shrouds of hibiscus carpeting the slopes.
So, if you adore the idea of pure Pacific bliss, complete with coconuts, palms, and flower leis, Bora-Bora is a must.
If you live in Europe, consider yourself grateful: the Balearic bliss of Mallorca is right on your doorstep. The largest of the Balearic isles and a calmer alternative to the club-capital Ibiza, Mallorca offers a pinch of serenity amidst the Mediterranean.
Interested in sustainable destinations? Book that flight, now. Mallorca is spearheading an eco-friendly movement within the Balearics. A recent ban on single-use plastics serves to clean up the beaches, while plans for extended cycling routes will encourage green travel. And travel, you must.
Mallorca is home to a diverse landscape, with mountain ranges, pristine beaches, and ample caves, lookouts, and viewpoints to discover. With the old town of Alcudia to the north and the world’s-away capital of Palma further south, you can opt for picturesque tranquillity or tantalising nightlife. Or, well, both. Yes, in Mallorca, you can have your paella and eat it, too.
Frequently asked questions about the best islands in the world
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to the best islands in the world. If we have to choose, however: 1. Bora-Bora, French Polynesia 2. Isla Holbox, Mexico 3. Sri Lanka 4. Palawan, Philippines 5. Tuvalu, Oceania 6. Madeira, Portugal 7. Maui, Hawaii 8. Pumpkin Island, Australia 9. Koh Lanta, Thailand 10. Heron Island, Australia
A better term is ‘eco-friendly’. An eco-friendly island reflects the community’s commitment to green practices, whether reducing plastic waste, encouraging carbon neutrality, or protecting their ecology. Preferably, you’ll see all of the above.
Palawan and the Maldives both took top spots for the most beautiful islands in the world. One look at their spectacular beauty, and it’s easy to see why. Check our list of the best islands in the world to find your island paradise.
St Lucia is one of the prettiest Caribbean islands. Its dramatic landscape and charming locals combine with a rich culture, along with glorious beaches. What more could you want from a tropical island?