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.

PENANG: Treat yourself to Malaysia's unique fusion of cultures and flavors
Start your food crawl at stalls that crowd the streets of Georgetown, Penang's largest city and Malaysia's food capital. The delectable fare on offer memorably mingles Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, and European flavors. Foodies in search of supreme bliss should head to the marketplace Ayer Itam—adjacent to Kek Lok Si (the Temple of Supreme Bliss)—to dine on a variety of dishes based on rice, noodles, fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, vegetables, eggs, and coconut. Look for lor bak (deep-fried marinated minced pork served with a chili sauce); lok-lok (skewered seafood, meats, and vegetables); and ikan bakar (grilled or barbecued fish marinated in spices and coconut milk, wrapped inside banana leaves, and grilled over hot coals). The same fusion of cultures is evident in the local architecture, which ranges from modern high-rises to buildings built by 19th-century British colonialists. Add to the mix beach resorts, preserved mangroves, small fishing villages, and a share of temples, mosques, and churches. Kek Lok Si best exemplifies this coexistence. At seven stories, it's the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, and it reflects the shared values of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism—designed with a Chinese octagonal base, a Thai-accented middle tier, and a Burmese-style peak. $$

>>Related: 7 Little-Known Islands: Get There First

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS: Follow in the (r)evolutionary wake of Charles Darwin
The namesake tortoise is only one reason to explore this archipelago overrun with more than 500 spectacular native species found nowhere else. Charles Darwin's 1835 visit sparked his curiosity, leading to his landmark book and the observation that these islands are the "laboratory of evolution." Much of the biological kaleidoscope noted by Darwin—such as penguins, sea lions, finches, blue-footed boobies—is still visible on the Galápagos, which are scattered more than 600 miles west of Ecuador. Look out for the waved albatross, which has a 7- to 8-foot wingspan, on Española. Tour operators navigate the islands on everything from luxury catamarans to motor yachts, and many employ naturalists to guide you through the archipelago's rocky coasts, lagoons, coral reefs, bays and white sand beaches. Gap Adventures offers small-group itineraries that often include meals, airfare from Quito, and a cabin aboard a 16-passenger ship. Life on the island is only half the equation, so pack your mask, snorkel, and wet suit. $$$$

PALM ISLANDS DUBAI: Size up the world's largest man-made archipelago
Nature creates and removes islands every day, but it took a supernatural influx of cash and credit to create what developers hope will be the permanent Palm Island archipelago. Based on a sketch by a sheikh, the world's largest man-made islands are being dredged up and put in place as destination resorts: the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, and Palm Deira. Each work-in-progress is designed to attract tourists, who (more than fossil fuels) can provide a renewable source of income. If all goes well, the three islands will be the focal point of Dubai and become a Middle East playground of spas, resorts, upscale residences, villas, and superior shopping malls. Palm Jumeriah is already in place with an Atlantis resort and its wild water park open and a Trump hotel slated to open in 2011. (A more concrete, if off-island option, is the Arabian Courtyard, whose rooms have hardwood floors and richly colored upholstery, with prices as low as $100 a night.) Some islands might be more exotic—and certainly less expensive—but none are more impossibly engineered and ambitious. $$$$

SEE THE ISLANDS!

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