22 Beautiful Island Vacations Worth Budgeting For
An island vacation may seem like a far away dream -- especially if you're currently enduring frigid temperatures -- but an escape may be closer than you think. With some smart budgeting and careful planning, you can make that vision of crystal clear waters and white sand beaches an attainable and affordable reality. From under-the-radar Mediterranean getaways to jaw-dropping tropical landscapes, here are the most beautiful island vacations worth budgeting for.
While Hawaii offers plenty of island adventures to explore, the less developed island of Kauai is a beautiful place to trade the crowds for tranquility. Known as the "Garden Island," Kauai offers dramatic landscapes with a tropical rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and peaceful beaches. Essential include sunsets at Hanalei Bay, exploring Makauwahi Cave, and seeing the stunning cliffs of the Na Pali cliffs by hike, kayak, or helicopter. You can opt for an inexpensive Airbnbs or if you're looking to be pampered, try a cottage at Kukui'ula, which features a spa, pools, island excursions, a golf course, and even a farm.
While the mainland of Iceland offers plenty of pristine beauty and activities to explore, if you're looking for an even more remote and tranquil island getaway, Flatey has you covered. Accessible by ferry, Flatey is a bit chillier than most of the tropical trips on this list, but nonetheless offers a magical escape. You'll find a small, traditional village of brightly colored buildings, sheep wandering around, migratory birds like puffins and arctic terns, and beautiful vistas. Hótel Flatey, is the only accommodation in town, but is well-priced, highly rated, and has its own restaurant.
While Santorini, Crete, and Mykonos are among Greece's many popular island destinations, Milos offers a less crowded, less pricey, but no less stunning alternative. Rich in history -- this is where the Venus de Milo statue was found -- there's plenty here to explore, including catacombs, an ancient amphitheatre, a Venetian castle, white-walled Cycladic villages, underwater caves, excellent seafood, and more than 70 spectacular beaches -- the most in the Aegean. Consider renting a rustic syrma -- traditional fishing homes -- found on AirBnB, or stay at a hotel like the family-run Tania.
Located at the southernmost tip of the 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef -- the second largest barrier reef in the world -- Roatán is a paradise of pristine white sand beaches, warm turquoise water, and dense mangrove forests. A haven for scuba divers and snorkelers looking to explore the tropical marine life reef, the narrow 33-mile island also offers plenty to explore on land, including the Gumbalimba Park animal preserve, ziplining, and more. If you're looking for a family-friendly resort or nightlife, consider staying along West End beach, but for more privacy and water activities, consider the Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort.
The smallest of the inhabited Aeolian islands off the north coast of Sicily, Panarea is known as an idyllic, laid-back, and car-free escape -- despite its popularity with celebs and European elites. Visit in May, June, and September (and avoid the yachts of August), when you can explore rocky coves or the sandy shore of Cala dei Zimmari, admire bougainvillea-adorned whitewashed cottages, or take a coastal walk along Punta Milazzese to see the Bronze Age settlement of Villaggio Preistorico. While Hotel Raya, with its open-air dance parties is popular with celebs, there are a few other hotel options as well as Airbnbs.
Considered to have the most beautiful beaches of Brazil -- which says a lot -- Fernando de Noronha is a volcanic archipelago off the northeast coast of the country. It's also one of the most protected environments in the world and only 420 tourists are allowed to visit at any time -- which only adds to the allure. Crystal-clear waters and pristine beaches are a major draw, as is snorkeling, boat excursions, and hiking through lush vegetation and rocky outcroppings. You'll find excellent seafood at places like Ze Maria, and you can find hostels and inns on the official website.
While the islands of Croatia have become increasingly popular in recent years, Brač remains the lesser-known hidden gem worth visiting. The largest of the central Dalmatian islands, the island is home to the highest peak of the Adriatic islands, Vidova Gora, as well as beautiful beaches (most famously Zlatni Rat), dramatic cliffs, and pine forests. Its famous limestone quarries were used to build everything from ancient Rome to the White House. You'll find the most options for accommodations in Bol, the oldest village, and be sure to enjoy the local flavors of roasted lamb, fresh skuta (sheep milk cheese), local olive oil and wine, sour cherries, and, of course, seafood.
While Bali is probably one of the first places to come to mind when you think "beautiful island vacation," consider next-door neighbor Gili Trawangan as a less-crowded option with pristine beaches. The largest and most developed of a three island archipelago, the island is car-free, so you'll explore by foot, bike or charming horse-drawn carriage. The island offers plenty of dive schools and fishing charters, or you can lounge on the powder-white sand at one of the many beach clubs. Gili Yoga is also a popular retreat for unwinding, while at night there are bustling restaurants and clubs. Opt for hostels or splurge for the Kokomo Resort.
As the lesser-known island of the Maltese archipelago, Gozo is charming, under-the-radar destination worth saving up to visit. Located between Sicily and the North African coast, peaceful Gozo is known for quaint fishing villages, beautiful beaches like San Blas, and numerous historical sites and natural wonders. While the famous Azure Window, a massive limestone arch, sadly collapsed after storms in March 2017, there are still plenty more marvels to behold like Dwejra Bay, the Blue Grotto, and St. Peter's Bay. You'll also want to visit the Ggantija Temples, built between 3,600 and 3,200 B.C.E. -- the oldest freestanding structures in the world.
If pink sand beaches, crystalline waters, coral reefs, and freshly picked pineapples sound like your ideal island getaway, Eleuthera is the place to be. One of the lesser-known islands in the Bahamas, this narrow island (just a mile at some points) offers more than 200 miles of shoreline and is just a short flight from Florida. You'll definitely want to take a coastal boat tour to explore the island and consider visiting Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, a 25-acre national park. Culinary highlights include conch, lobster, jerked chicken, and tropical fruits like plantains, papayas, melons, and pineapples.
For those that really want to go off the grid and escape to an island retreat without distractions, this small island is a hidden paradise. Just a short boat ride from the busy shore of Sihanoukville, this road-free island offers white sand beaches for lounging, calm waters for snorkeling and scuba diving, trails for hiking and biking, and not much else. Electricity comes from generators and solar power, and good luck finding Wi-Fi. Accommodations range from cheap bungalows along Saracen Bay to more plush yet affordable resorts.
A kaleidoscope of thatched bungalows perched above a lagoon of dreamy blue waters, Bora Bora is the postcard perfect vision of a honeymoon for many. There's plenty of snorkeling, paddle boating, fishing, and boat cruising to be done, while others prefer to just lounge and enjoy the stunning views. With pricey resorts and expensive airfare, Bora Bora is a bigger splurge than most, with the help of Airbnb guest cottages and smart flights, savvy travelers can do Bora Bora on a budget.
Perched at the top of the Yucatán peninsula, Isla Holbox has remained one of Mexico's best-kept secret getaways -- despite being just a short bus and ferry ride from oversaturated Cancún. The main modes of transport in this sleepy paradise are walking, biking, and golf carts. Swim in sparkling waters on white sand beaches, spot flamingos, kayak past mangroves, eat some of the best Mexican seafood you've ever had, and swim with whale sharks -- one of the islands most popular attractions and definitely worth experiencing.
If you're looking for a beachy escape, the name Hideaway Island says it all. The very small island -- part of the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu -- is an extremely laid back destination for beach lounging, snorkeling in the marine sanctuary, and dive trips. Accommodations and much of the activities revolve around Hideaway Island Resort -- where the island gets its nickname (it's technically known as Mele). When you're not lounging by the water, don't forget to send a postcard from the world's only underwater post office.
This archipelago of 19 islands and numerous islets -- made famous by Charles Darwin -- is located roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and is at the top of many bucket lists for good reason. A double World Heritage site, where both land and sea are protected, the Galápagos are a spectacular destination for wildlife watching along the volcanic rocks, white sand beaches, and underwater. Guided boat tours, hikes, and kayaking are a great way to explore and spot penguins and blue-footed boobies. While snorkelers will swim alongside Pacific sea turtles and sea turtles, experienced divers will see hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, and more.
It's easy to see why Palawan Island is regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the world where tree-covered rock outcroppings rise out of turquoise waters. Less developed and more affordable than many island escapes, there's plenty to do for most travelers, including hiking, diving, and island hopping to the close to 2,000 surrounding islands. Puerto Princesa offers excellent culinary options and a great jumping off point for explorations like boat rides through the caves of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River.
This string of islands in northwest Fiji is just a short boat ride away from the main island of Viti Levu, and offers rugged beauty, sparkling sand beaches, and fewer people than the popular Mamanuca Islands. Perfect for a limited budget, you'll find a range of accommodations from thatched bure (huts) for backpackers to reasonably priced (and high end) resorts. Outdoor activities abound from diving and scuba excursions to hiking and exploring the Sawailau Caves. Many resorts offer tours to visit traditional villages for a kava ceremony or to see fruit plantations.
Unlike its clubby neighbor Ibiza and bustling Mallorca, the southernmost Balearic island of Formentera offers a laid-back escape with gorgeous beaches. Explore rugged caves and lighthouses, cruise around on mopeds, dine on incredible seafood-rich paellas and pasta, and, mostly, just lounge on the tranquil white sand beaches along with the bohemian Europeans who love it here. Gecko Hotel and Beach Club is a well-priced option that's great for families, and be sure to stop by Can Carlitos for the best tapas on the island.
This small island -- about the size of Manhattan -- has managed to remain a pristinely preserved gem of the French Riviera, thanks in large part to laws protecting it from overdevelopment. You won't find any cars here, just your feet or bicycles to explore the rugged cliffs of the southern side and the picturesque white beaches of the northern coast. Be sure to visit the museum inside the 16th-century Fort St. Agathe and visit the family-owned vineyard Domaine Perzinsky. You can find some well-priced inns and hotels, just be sure to visit the luxurious Le Mas du Langoustier for some al fresco dining.
This tropical island nation, to the east of Madagascar, is surrounded by the brilliantly blue waters of the Indian Ocean and offers a spectacular escape -- even if it takes a while to get there. There's pristine sandy beaches, but also plenty to explore like an incredible botanical garden, one of the oldest horseracing tracks in the world two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Casela Wildlife Park where the brave can meet lions up close. And hikers will love exploring the sprawling Black River Gorges National Park. You'll also find excellent food and a range of accommodations.
This island state is often overlooked by travelers, which lucky for you makes for a less-crowded island adventure. You'll find lush rainforests, rugged mountains, World Heritage Sites, expansive national parks, and more. Other essential stops include Salamanca Market for artisanal goods, live music, and fresh produce (much of Australia's best produce comes from Tasmania); the Museum of Old and New Art; and the Port Arthur Historic site, the prison that once housed the country's convicts. Foodies should also visit Barilla Bay Oyster Farm.
One of the more overlooked Caribbean destinations, French-speaking Martinique offers an escape from the crowds with rugged terrain to explore, sandy beaches, top-notch cuisine, and plenty of champagne and rum (aka rhum) to sip. Hikers will want to trek up the volcanic mountain of Mount Pelee, while beachgoers will want to check out the black sand of Anse Noire and the white sand of Anse Dufour. You'll also want to visit the historic Schoelcher Library, and head to Le Petibonum, a bar-restaurant on the beach, for drinks and French-Creole fare.
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