VACATION IDEAS

10 Islands to See Before You Die

We scoured the globe to find 10 islands that belong on your must list. Each of these places offers something that you can’t find anywhere else, from the largest man-made archipelago to hot springs so therapeutic they’ve been popular since Roman times.

Tanah Lot, one of countless Hindu temples on Bali, nicknamed "Island of the Gods."

(Romain Cintract/hemis.fr/laif)

If you're going to imagine yourself on an exotic island, dare to dream big! Here are 10 one-of-a-kind islands where you'll discover every item on your wish list, from overwater bungalows and pristine wildlife to sublime street food and mysterious cultural monuments. Of course, traveling to these islands comes at a price; the dollar signs below provide a general indication of how much you'll want to budget for accommdations and food. Multiply by seven if you stay a week or by 365 if you're convinced to quit your job and stay a year.

$: $1–$74

$$: $75–$149

$$$: $150–$224

$$$$: $225–Up

SEE THE ISLANDS!

VIEQUES: Experience the world's clearest bioluminescent bay
When the U.S. Navy packed up and left Vieques in 2003, after more than 60 years, it left something behind: unspoiled nature. Land once used for bombing practice is now designated as a national wildlife refuge. So far there are only a few mega-resorts like those found on the Puerto Rican mainland—instead, you'll find homey inns like the aptly named Great Escape B&B, where breakfast is served poolside (from $115). There are only two notable towns (the population is less than 10,000): Isabel Segunda on the northern side of the island, and the far smaller Esperanza on the south. The effect is that when you reach a beach at the end of a dirt road here, your reward is having the sand largely to yourself. Playa de la Chiva (Blue Beach) attracts daytime snorkelers and divers, but the real reason Vieques belongs on your bucket list is Puerto Mosquito. Of the seven bioluminescent bays on the planet, Puerto Mosquito is the most impressive, thanks to the clarity and brightness of its waters. Schedule a moonless night for a swim or kayak tour and you'll be greeted by billions of micro-organisms called dinoflagellates that ignite the water with a magical blue-green glow (Aqua Frenzy Kayaks, from $30 per person). It's like swimming in a watercolor painting. $$

>>Related: Dream Trips: Find a Deserted Beach

EASTER ISLAND: Ponder the handiwork of one of the most mysterious civilizations in history
With the nearest major landmass, Chile, lying 2,200 miles away, Easter Island is as remote as it is mysterious. No one knows exactly why nearly 900 gargantuan stone monoliths are sprinkled across this isolated, 60-square-mile scrap of land in the middle of the South Pacific—and those long, stone faces aren't talking. For several hundred years, the moai that are unique to this island have maintained their silent sentinel even as the civilization that created them collapsed and a trickle of tourists appeared in its wake. Intended to stand atop cut-stone altars (called ahu), the moai average 13 feet high and weigh nearly 14 tons each; most lie prone, toppled by civil wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. A particularly compelling spot is Rano Raraku, the collapsed volcano where many moai were quarried and where nearly 400 figures remain, all frozen in various states of completion. The island counts only one town, Hanga Roa, where you'll want to check in to Vai Moana, a low-key hotel with 18 rooms set in bungalows (from $102, including breakfast and transport to and from the airport). You can then wander from the volcanic coastline across grassy hills without bumping into another human being who might break Easter Island's spell. $$$

BALI: Find your center on an island so spiritual it's become known as "Island of the Gods"
The warm, spiritual essence that writer Elizabeth Gilbert discovered here and celebrated in Eat, Pray, Love has been native to Bali for centuries. It's one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago—and the only one on which Hindus form the majority (93 percent). Even more striking is the fact that there is a spiritual celebration here nearly every day. Three Hindu temples at the Besakih (the Mother Temple of Bali) survived a 1963 eruption that destroyed nearby villages while missing by mere yards this terraced complex atop volcanic Mount Agung. The event is still considered a miracle by locals, who arrive in regular procession; they balance offerings on their head and climb the steps to the sound of mantras, jingling bells, and the sharp flutter of umbul-umbuls (ceremonial Balinese flags). Anyone interested in exploring the inner self might like the Nirarta Centre, an 11-room hotel set amid rice terraces and gardens that holds daily meditation sessions. After finding your center here, channel your energy into jungle treks, scuba diving, and big-break surfing along beaches of fine white and volcanic black sand. Exhale against a backdrop of rice paddies and Impressionist sunsets that illuminate the Indian Ocean. $$$$

SEE THE ISLANDS!

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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