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.

>>Related: Secret Islands of Southeast Asia

ISCHIA: Revive with therapeutic hot springs and mud wraps
This volcanic island in the Bay of Naples has hot springs so therapeutic that they have drawn admirers for 2,000 years. Greeks, Romans, and Turks quickly discovered that Ischia's fumaroles, hot springs, and heated mud hold the power to ease sore muscles—or simply provide a degree of self-indulgence. Today's travelers are likewise pampered by massages and mud wraps courtesy of the island's geothermal characteristic, which helps fill the 22 thermo-mineral pools of the beachfront spa Giardini di Poseidon Terme. After your treatment of choice, peel off the sandals for a walk on the beach, a visit to the 15th-century Castello Aragonese, or a glass of biancolella (white) or per 'e palummo (red) wine from local vineyards. You can also get a taste of the glam, jet-setter lifestyle associated with Italy and depicted in the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, shot here on location. Retreat to the family-run Hotel Villa Angelica, whose garden naturally includes a thermal swimming pool with a Jacuzzi (from $75, including breakfast). $$$

CHILOÉ: Experience a culture and wildlife developed in isolation
The lush, cloud-covered Chiloé archipelago may lie off the western coast of Chile, but its history, customs, and language bear little resemblance to those of the mainland, or anywhere else in the world, because of its isolation. Local farmers have passed down a mythology of gnome- and witch-filled woodlands and ghost ships. Valdivian temperate rain forests are protected within Parque Nacional Chiloé. In the Pacific, dolphins, penguins, otters, and the largest creatures in history—blue whales—are studied and protected by the Cetacean Conservation Center. In the central city of Castro, order a steaming meal of curanto (shellfish, meat, and potatoes) and peruse handicrafts made of wood and colorful garments created from Chilean wool. Residents still live in traditional palafitos (stilt houses). Jesuit missionaries, who first arrived in small numbers in the 1600s, used local materials and construction techniques to build exquisite chapels. Their work survives in more than 50 wooden churches found in communities such as Castro, Nercón, Chonchi, Dalcahue, and Quinchao; their appearance reflects a hybrid of European and indigenous styles that you won't find anywhere else on earth. $$

BORA BORA: Settle into your own overwater bungalow on the world's most famous idyllic island
If you envision yourself on an island in French Polynesia, Bora Bora is the place to hang your hammock. Even novelist James Michener, who penned sweeping epics set in the South Pacific and beyond, dubbed it the world's most beautiful island. Mingled in among the Society Islands northwest of Tahiti, Bora Bora's lowland reefs and islets are lorded over by Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, twin peaks forming an extinct volcano in the island's interior. Super-expensive upscale resorts along the western edge—and a fair share of inns and vacation rentals—feature overwater thatch-roofed bungalows built on stilts above shallow, clear-as-gin waters. (Maitai Resort is a comparatively affordable option, considering the $800-plus competition, with rooms from $198 and bungalows from $408, including taxes.) Slip on a sarong and relax while savoring the vision of endless miles of soft sand beaches and lagoons. Luxurious, certainly, but of even greater value is the philosophy of Bora Bora's residents: Aita pea pea. In other words, "not to worry." $$$$

>>Related: Overwater Bungalows: Stay Literally on the Ocean

KEY WEST: Embrace Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" utopia
Laid-back, beach-y living coupled with a flamboyant arts scene lends a one-of-a-kind appeal to this lowland island (peak elevation: 18 feet). Key West inspired Mississippi-born balladeer Jimmy Buffett, and it remains hallowed ground for his followers—the "parrotheads" that roost here throughout the year and keep the mythical utopia of Margaritaville alive. Tennessee Williams, Harry S. Truman, and Ernest Hemingway were also seduced. Defying easy categorization, Key West is capital of the Conch Republic, the tongue-in-cheek micro-nation created in 1982 by residents proud of their liberal lifestyle. Natural sand beaches are surprisingly rare here, but with the chance to snorkel above North America's only living coral reef and enjoy the company of a Technicolor collection of 400 species of tropical fish, it would be a shame to spend your beach time on land, anyway. When you've dried off, head to Mallory Square to catch street performers during the daily Sunset Celebration. Follow it up with brews along the "Duval Crawl," a tour of watering holes in the early 20th-century buildings that line Duval Street. From there, it's a pleasant, 15-minute walk to the Grand Guesthouse (from $98, including breakfast). $$$

SEE THE ISLANDS!

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