The ocean, sandy shorelines, and palm trees overhead are never out of my sight. I guess it comes with the territory, given that I live on one of the best tropical islands in the world (see the first entry on my list below).
Even before living on a tropical island, I always sought out the beach. I guess growing up in wintery Michigan will have that effect on you. Clearly, I need the sun and the ocean.
If you’re itching for a tropical getaway, or maybe a nice island to retire on, I’ve compiled my list of the best tropical islands to visit. Let’s escape to paradise together, from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to the exotic landscapes of Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Africa.
Table of Contents
- 31 Best Islands and Tropical Places to Visit
- St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
- Puerto Rico
- The Cook Islands
- Isla Holbox (Mexico)
- British Virgin Islands
- Whitsunday Islands (Australia)
- Palawan (The Philippines)
- San Blas Islands (Panama)
- Big Island, Hawaii (USA)
- Key West and the Florida Keys (USA)
- The Maldives
- St. Croix (US Virgin Islands)
- Vieques (Puerto Rico)
- Bali (Indonesia)
- Con Dao Islands (Vietnam)
- The Galapagos (Ecuador)
- Bimini (The Bahamas)
- Ibiza (Spain)
- Trinidad & Tobago
- Zanzibar (Tanzania)
- St. John (US Virgin Islands)
- Culebra (Puerto Rico)
- Tahiti (French Polynesia)
- Penang (Malaysia)
- Curaçao (Dutch Caribbean)
- Fraser Island (Australia)
- San Andres (Colombia)
- FAQs About the Most Beautiful Tropical Islands
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31 Best Islands and Tropical Places to Visit
St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
Enjoy island life on one of the best tropical destinations in the world, with beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, and colorful marine life, without ever leaving the United States.
As someone who’s lived on St. Thomas for a few years now, I will say this is among the most accessible tropical places from the mainland United States – the east coast or the west coast. And despite the easy access, this small island features tons of things to do.
St. Thomas is home to world-class beaches like Magens Bay, high-end beachfront resorts, delicious dining options, and plenty of island hopping opportunities to other nearby tropical islands like Water Island, St. John, St. Croix, the British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
The Island of Enchantment uniquely blends history, culture, and natural beauty.
Beginning in Old San Juan, you can circumnavigate your way around the entire tropical island witnessing cultural sites, riding the waves in Rincon, climbing historic lighthouses, hiking to refreshing waterfalls, and plunging into ancient cave systems.
If that sounds like too much adventure, don’t worry, you can always kick back, relax, and enjoy a Piña Colada under the shade of palm trees on one of Puerto Rico’s gorgeous beaches. With no passport required for US residents to visit, it’s definitely one of the most popular tropical islands to visit for a reason!
The Cook Islands
Indulge in the pristine white sand beaches on this beautiful tropical getaway in the South Pacific.
The Cook Islands remain an untouched gem of the South Pacific between French Polynesia and American Samoa. And although slightly difficult to reach, the 15 islands feature some of the world’s most pristine beaches, stunning coral reefs, and crystal clear waters.
You’ll find the country’s most accessible and largest island, Rarotonga, filled with reclusive yet exciting adventures like buggy rides, snorkeling with sea turtles, and indulging in local cuisine.
And although you’ll find plenty of options for small and quiet resorts, the Cook Islands (thankfully) are not lined with the skyscrapers, mega-resorts, and large hotels you’ve grown accustomed to seeing along most beaches.
Isla Holbox (Mexico)
Snorkel with whale sharks departing from this laid-back island north of Cancun.
Isla Holbox, located on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of Mexico’s most stunning tropical islands and a great alternative place to visit in Mexico for those seeking a quieter and more laid-back atmosphere than the nearby Riviera Maya.
The car-free island boasts white sand beaches and abundant wildlife, including endangered species like whale sharks and the occasional flamingo. With easy access from Cancun, Isla Holbox is one of the most accessible tropical islands to visit from the United States.
British Virgin Islands
Sail amidst the BVIs’ 60 islands and discover secluded coves, vibrant beach bars, and pristine beaches.
The British Virgin Islands is an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea with four main islands and 60 smaller islets and cays. Each main island offers unique experiences like the iconic Soggy Dollar Beach Bar on Jost Van Dyke, a vibrant lobster festival on Anegada, Caribbean and cultural heritage in Tortola’s Road Town, and jaw-dropping rock formations in The Baths of Virgin Gorda.
With so many islands to see, the best way to explore the BVIs is by boat – whether by chartering one for a week or ferrying to each island while staying on the largest island of Tortola. The best way to get to the British Virgin Islands is by ferry or water taxi from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
Whitsunday Islands (Australia)
Sail, snorkel, and dive into the world’s largest coral reef system.
During my first months-long backpacking trip, I had the privilege of setting sail in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. And to this day, I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything quite like this beautiful string of islands – especially the powdery white sands of Whitehaven Beach.
The archipelago is in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef – offering fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities. Sailing charters depart Airlie Beach daily – a vibrant town with backpacker hostels, high-end resorts, and great dining options. You can reach the village via a long bus ride from larger cities like Brisbane and Cairns or fly direct to the regional airport (PPP).
Palawan (The Philippines)
Adventure through the best tropical islands in the Philippines while visiting the islands’ many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It’s near impossible to narrow down the best tropical island in the Philippines – the country has thousands of them. However, I went with the Island Province of Palawan primarily because of the island’s ease of access, natural setting, and many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Additionally, Palawan is the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, ideal for solo travelers, couples, and families with children. You’ll find many accommodation options upon arrival, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels.
San Blas Islands (Panama)
Discover sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs in this string of tropical islands.
With over 300 islands, the San Blas Islands have plenty of distinct charm and character. Nestled along the MesoAmerican Reef, it’s no surprise that snorkeling, diving, and sailing are all the recommended activities in the scenic archipelago.
Specifically, I recommend venturing to Isla Wailidup – a beautiful island retreat known for its cabanas built on stilts over crystal blue waters. You can access the San Blas Islands from the Panama City airport (PTY), followed by a taxi and island ferry.
Big Island, Hawaii (USA)
Explore active volcanoes, ancient Hawaiian traditions, and outdoor adventure as you witness Hawaii’s geological marvels.
The Big Island in Hawaii is my top pick for travelers seeking maximum adventure. Starting with the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, visitors can witness firsthand the raw power of nature as molten lava flows down the mountainside.
Enjoy a long list of hiking opportunities for stargazing on mountain summits, trekking through rainforests, or basking in the sun along the black sand beaches. If that’s not enough, the Big Island features a few snow-capped peaks almost year-round within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Key West and the Florida Keys (USA)
Take a road trip on the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West before sailing to the Dry Tortugas.
It just so happens that some of the world’s best tropical islands are found right within the continental United States. Just south of Miami is the Florida Keys – a 120-mile string of islands beginning with Key Largo and culminating in Key West. The island chain is full of character and makes for one fantastic road trip down the Overseas Highway.
Start with breathtaking scuba diving opportunities in Key Largo on Molasses Reef before heading south for epic deep-sea fishing charters in Islamorada. Make a pit stop at Bahia Honda State Park near Marathon before exploring the historical town of Key West. Finish the trip with a sailing charter to Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson.
Stay in luxurious villas perched above turquoise waters before plunging below the surface for world-class scuba diving.
Seemingly, The Maldives don every tropical photograph or promo of the last ten years. And rightfully so. These islands are that gorgeous. But despite the publicity and reputation, The Maldives are still among the ultimate tropical islands to visit. Just be prepared to pay for it, as they have become known for their luxuriousness and high prices.
Regardless of the cost, you’ll still discover some of the world’s clearest waters and healthiest coral reefs. Plenty of small islets are lined with reclusive cabanas for a quiet and relaxing vacation in paradise.
St. Croix (US Virgin Islands)
Taste local rum and escape to white-sand beaches in this American tropical paradise.
This tropical island has a distinct multi-cultural vibe bringing the best of many Caribbean nations with a heavy Latin influence courtesy of a large Puerto Rican and Dominican population. Many of these cultures are represented well in the local fare and traditions found around the island.
As for the best things to do on St. Croix, the diving is incredible with world-renowned dive sites like the Cane Bay Wall and the Frederiksted Pier. Sandy Point Beach might be my favorite shoreline in the US Virgin Islands while hiking to the Annaly Bay Tide Pools is a thrilling adventure.
Other must-dos include visiting the three properties managed by the US National Park System: Buck Island Reef National Monument, Salt River Bay National Historical Park & Ecological Preserve, and Christiansted National Historic Site.
Vieques (Puerto Rico)
Experience the nighttime glow of the world’s best bioluminescent bay.
East of mainland Puerto Rico are two outlying islands belonging to the US territory: Vieques and Culebra (see below).
You’ll have plenty of options for accommodation in Vieques, including resorts, boutiques, and private apartments.
There are loads of fun activities to do in Vieques, with snorkeling nearby coral reefs and kayaking in Mosquito Bay. Plus, getting there is easy with a cheap ferry service from Ceiba and daily flights from San Juan.
Discover the world’s most popular tropical island getaway with stunning beaches, surfing, scuba diving, and vibrant nightlife.
Bali is a large island in Indonesia that’s become one of the world’s most popular backpacker, influencer, and vacation destinations. The beautiful island has exploded in popularity and remains the best tropical island, with endless adventure opportunities suitable for most travelers.
The island is best known for its lush green rice paddies, picturesque beaches, and world-class surf breaks. Budget hostels are plentiful, while luxury resorts line the shores and dot the island’s hillsides.
And despite its reputation as a popular tourist destination, this has made Bali all the easier to access, with daily flights from major cities landing at Ngurah Rai International Airport near Denpasar, Bali’s capital city.
Con Dao Islands (Vietnam)
Discover Southeast Asia’s best and healthiest coral reefs via scuba diving or snorkeling.
The Con Dao Islands in Vietnam offer travelers in Southeast Asia a unique tropical getaway from the hustle and bustle of the country’s largest cities. Most known for its peculiar and haunting past, history buffs will love exploring the former prison camps sprinkled throughout the island.
The island also features world-class beaches like Dam Trau, Nhat, and Bai Dat Coc. Take your pick between budget-friendly guesthouses or luxurious resorts after quickly arriving on a daily flight from Ho Chi Minh City or a ferry ride from Vung Tau.
The Galapagos (Ecuador)
Support conservation efforts for some of the planet’s rarest and endangered wildlife species.
The Galapagos Islands are a world-renowned destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The archipelago of volcanic islands is located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, providing Charles Darwin with the inspiration to articulate the theory of evolution.
To this day, the Galapagos are home to rare and iconic wildlife like giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, and iguanas. The waters surrounding the islands might even be more impressive with jaw-dropping migrations of hammerhead sharks with frequent appearances from manta rays and whale sharks.
Getting there may be difficult for some, with daily flights departing mainland Ecuador in Quito and Guayaquil. Once on the island, guided tours and boat trips are the best way to explore and get the most out of your trip.
Bimini (The Bahamas)
Unwind on a peaceful island, a short ferry ride from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Bimini is a small island chain located in the Bahamas, just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. The island is easily accessible from Miami or Fort Lauderdale aboard a 20-minute flight or a two-hour ferry ride. Upon arrival, hop aboard one of the many fishing charters to land your next big catch in the surrounding waters dubbed “The Sportfishing Capital of the World.”
Nonfishers will appreciate the pristine beaches stretching the length of the islands as the turquoise waters lap their sandy shores. Go for a dive or snorkel before chowing down on fresh conch fritters at one of the many seafood shacks dotting the shoreline.
Learn about Palau’s rich cultural heritage, unique landscape, and stunning underwater formations.
Palau is a string of 500 islands and another hidden gem in the Pacific Ocean. These islands remain relatively untouched, with easy access from Guam, Taipei, Manila, and Seoul. The two main islands, Koror and Babeldaob, offer the most accommodation options, including budget-friendly guesthouses and luxury resorts.
Once on the island, enjoy some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs aboard one of the many dive or snorkel charters. Explore hidden waterfalls, scenic hiking trails, and unique natural occurrences like Jellyfish Lake, home to millions of harmless jellyfish.
Although most famous for its nightlife, Ibiza features stunning beaches for a premier tropical island vacation.
Ibiza, Spain, is among the top tropical destinations in the Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean. While this famous tropical island is known for its lively party scene, Ibiza also boasts some of the best beaches in Europe. Getting to the island is easy as most major European cities have direct flights to Ibiza Airport.
The island offers many eclectic activities ranging from pristine beaches, countryside hikes, and mysterious ruins considered remnants of Atlantis. Food lovers can indulge in classical Spanish cuisine infused with a heavy dose of fresh seafood. Many accommodation options include luxury resorts, backpacker hostels, and private villas.
Trinidad & Tobago
Attend the cultural Carnival celebration before relaxing on white-sand beaches overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Trinidad & Tobago is a beautiful island country with two main islands of the same name. The nation is a beacon of cultural influence over the entire region. Notably, the island hosts the largest celebration in the Caribbean, the Carnival Festival. This annual event celebrates culture, freedom, and dance with colorful costumes and energetic music.
Nature lovers and adventure seekers will love the immense amount of beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife preserves, including the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Pick between private guesthouses, apartments, or luxury resorts lining the oceanfront for accommodation.
Island hop between the 115 isles of this archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
Seychelles is an independent island chain off the coast of East Africa known for its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and ancient tropical rainforests with rare bird species and giant tortoises. The country is a top destination for honeymooners and luxury travelers.
To get to Seychelles, search for flights landing at Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) on the main island of Mahé. You’ll find direct flights from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Johannesburg, plus other major African cities.
Arab, Indian, and African traditions influence this unique paradise among the world’s top tropical destinations.
Zanzibar Island is an often overlooked destination for pristine tropical island vacations on the east coast of Africa. However, the island doesn’t lack any of the beauty of other tropical islands while offering a unique twist in cultural experiences.
Visitors love exploring the historic Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before plunging into the crystal blue waters for diving and snorkeling with immense amounts of tropical fish. Major airports worldwide service direct flights to Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ).
St. John (US Virgin Islands)
Sip rum drinks under palm trees after a long Virgin Islands National Park hike.
Thanks to the Virgin Islands National Park, St. John might be the least developed of the main islands in the Virgin Islands and, more broadly, the West Indies. Naturally, as a result, the entire island is stunning, with untouched forested hillsides spilling into turquoise waters and white sand beaches.
My wife and I visit St. John regularly from our home on St. Thomas. It’s a short ferry ride away and our favorite place in the Caribbean to escape into nature on a hike, snorkel colorful coral reefs, or simply enjoy a beautiful day at one of the many beautiful beaches.
Culebra (Puerto Rico)
Enjoy one of the best tropical vacation destinations with easy access from the United States.
Culebra is a small and charming island between the east coast of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Along with Vieques, these Puerto Rican islands are often called “the Spanish Virgin Islands” and boast unspoiled beaches like Flamenco Beach.
The island is easily accessible by small plane from San Juan, boat tour from Fajardo, or ferry from Ceiba. Upon arrival, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options like hillside cottages and small beachside hotels.
Tahiti (French Polynesia)
Visit one of the world’s best tropical vacation spots with fine sand beaches and vibrant coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.
Tahiti might be the most well-known island in the South Pacific while providing an authentic experience to visitors willing to venture into the traditional villages. Witness Polynesian dance performances or taste the local cuisine before sinking your toes into the golden beaches stretching the shoreline.
Major cities in the US and Europe service several international airlines visiting Tahiti. Upon arrival, expect many luxury accommodation options like high-end resorts and private platform villas.
Explore a unique blend of Asian and European cultures, including the historic city of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Penang is a tropical island on the northwest coast of Malaysia with a distinct cultural identity influenced by European, Indian, and Asian roots. The British colonial architecture combined with ancient temples, mosques, tropical rainforests, and pristine beaches makes the island a rare blend of scenery.
You won’t be short on exciting things to do when visiting Penang, like hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or exploring the beautiful temples and colorful buildings sprinkled throughout historic George Town.
Get planning with Nate’s full article on where to stay in Penang.
Curaçao (Dutch Caribbean)
Enjoy the colorful architecture, crystal blue waters, and cultural heritage of the Dutch Caribbean.
Curacao is an ideal destination for adventure seekers or relaxing beach-goers in the South Caribbean. A part of the Dutch Caribbean, the island boasts colorful colonial architecture, serene beaches, and glimmering turquoise waters suitable for snorkeling and diving.
Hike through the scenic Christoffel National Park, wander the vibrant neighborhoods of Willemstad, or unwind at Playa Porto Mari.
Lay back on one of the best tropical islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with gorgeous beaches, crystal clear waters, and rich cultural experiences.
Fiji is a breathtaking paradise in the South Pacific with direct access from Australia, major hubs in Asia, and the United States. The island nation is known for its sprawling white sand beaches, lush tropical greenery, and piercingly clear waters.
While you’re there, take advantage of the warm hospitality from the Fijian people – enjoy local food, fresh seafood, and traditional dances. And, of course, don’t forget to relax, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and explore the warm blue waters of the South Pacific.
Relax on Bermuda’s famous pink sand beaches overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on one of the easiest tropical vacations from the eastern United States.
Bermuda is a stunning tropical island seemingly misplaced in the North Atlantic. A British Overseas Territory, the island enjoys warm wind and ocean currents from the Caribbean region creating a unique environment where a lush tropical environment thrives despite its northern position.
The pink sand beaches highlight the top things to do on the island along with touring vestiges from the Royal Navy’s occupation, impressive fortresses from the past, and Crystal Cave’s elaborate underground passages. The island is incredibly easy to access from the United States or the United Kingdom aboard a cruise or direct flight from major hubs.
Fraser Island (Australia)
Rent a 4×4 to discover the world’s largest sand island with unique natural features and access to the Great Barrier Reef.
Much like the Whitsunday Islands, a 4×4 Jeep Tour of Fraser Island is a right of passage for backpackers visiting the east coast of Australia. The island is a dream for adventure seekers, with a rare combination of sprawling beaches, lush rainforests, geologically unique freshwater lakes, and incredibly rare wildlife.
A multi-day, guided, 4×4 tour is the best way to explore the island. In fact, I was able to do this same trip years ago during my travels through Australia. I recommend anyone to do the same visiting the country.
San Andres (Colombia)
Indulge in fresh seafood and Colombian cuisine influenced by African and Caribbean flavors on this little-known tropical island.
San Andres is an often forgotten Caribbean island off the coast of Nicaragua, yet governed by Colombia in South America. You can visit the island by plane from Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, and other major airports throughout Colombia – offering travelers easy access from South America for one of the best tropical vacations available.
The island is best known for its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, making it a popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers. The island boasts unique flavors as African, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures heavily influence the local cuisine, primarily seafood, coconut rice, plantains, and other fruits.
FAQs About the Most Beautiful Tropical Islands
What are the closest tropical islands to the US?
The closest tropical islands to the United States include Bermuda, the Bahamas, and many Caribbean islands like the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Other tropical islands within the United States include the Florida Keys, Key West, the Dry Tortugas, and Hawaii.
What are the best tropical islands you’ve visited? Let us know in a comment below!
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