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
Steeped in an intoxicating culture, the island of Bali is a feast for the senses. Incense wafts from Hindu temples, rice paddies glow in electric greens, and the food jolts the taste buds. Surfing, swimming, shopping, and sunbathing are the prime pursuits on this exotic isle, as well as sightseeing in the lush countryside. Soak up the spiritual side of Bali in Ubud, see Seminyak, and family-friendly Sanur, feel the pumping pulse of touristy Kuta, or explore the attractions on the neighboring volcanic island of Lombok. Bali’s enchanting spirit will wash over you like a warm, tropical wave.
8. The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
In the Adriatic sea off the coast of Croatia, the Dalmatian Islands are an enchanting mix of relaxed charm and rich history. Quaint villages and boutique hotels and restaurants dot these gorgeous isles, which are surrounded by sparkling seas. Top on the list is Brač with the famous beach strip of Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn). Hvar is also beautiful with its Gothic churches, car-free old town, and picturesque fishing harbor. From here, you can zip across to the beautiful Pakleni Islands, known for their crystal clear water and secluded coves. Other must-see Dalmatian islands include Korčula with its red-roofed white-washed buildings, Mljet with its two inland saltwater lakes, and relatively uncrowded Vis.