Top 8 Island Paradise Destinations

Ralph Washington Sockman perhaps put it best when he said:

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder

The mental canvas of a tropical island paradise unfailingly conjures a dewy-eyed look from the most fatigued of faces. Palm-fringed beaches, iridescent amber starfish on powder-white sand, sun-kissed lagoons in resplendent turquoise, coral reefs playing kaleidoscope to a rainbow-parade of colorful fish…

A heaven with the power to transform anyone from the mundane to the exotic!

astonishedXpression extends the shoreline of wonder with these Top 8 exotic paradise island destinations. What will your next trip be?

8. Espíritu Santo, Vanuatu

Champagne Beach, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Champagne Beach, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

IMMORTALISED in James A. Michener’s classic Tales of the South Pacific, Espíritu Santo is the largest in an archipelago of 82 islands that form the Republic of Vanuatu. Champagne Beach represents the quintessential turquoise-lapped white sandy beach ringed with emerald green flora. Recent reports indicate the in-shore reef have been abused by unscrupulous tourists but still represents good snorkeling further away from the beach.

Nearby Lonnoc Beach is another idyllic destination that offers sheltered beaches with powder-soft sand. The crystal-clear water is good for snorkeling and working up an appetite for a paradisiacal picnic on the beach.

For snorkeling of a different kind, the famed Blue Holes midway between Luganville and Champagne Beach offer opal-colored freshwater that siphon to the surface through coral and limestone layers – jewels that must be seen to be believed.

For the more adventurous, there is an adrenalin-dumping Millenium Cave tour near Luganville that involves hiking, caving and canyoning in verdant surroundings. An alternative adventure is to climb the cascades towards Mount Hope Waterfall after floating down the Sarakata river through lush rain-forests.

When to go: April/May to October
Where to stay: Barrier Beach House, Luganville
Photo credit: Jae Lee

7. Redang, Malaysia

Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia

REDANG is part of an archipelago of nine islands in the South China Sea about 45km northeast of the Malaysian state of Terengganu. Mostly unknown until the year 2000 when the release of the Hong Kong movie Summer Holiday thrust the granite island into the international limelight, it has become a sought-after Malaysian and international destination.

The crystal-clear marine water surrounding Redang have been designated a marine park, providing a safe haven for fish and coral. Snorkeling is a popular pastime on the island with tropical fish inhabiting a number of reefs within 15m of the shore. Scuba diving is also very popular.

While jet skis are mercifully banned from the popular beach of Pasir Panjang, beach volleyball and sea kayaking may tempt you away from a lazy morning with a blockbuster novel. Despite the scarcity of liquor in this Muslim country, your favorite tipple should be available from local convenience stores to accompany a fantastic Malaysian-inspired meal.

When to go: March to October
Where to stay: The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort
Photo credit: Kamill85

6. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

ANOTHER island to have featured on the silver screen – in the 2000 movie The Beach – Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago of six islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. A spurt of construction in the wake of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami is centered along a narrow isthmus joining two hilly limestone spurs on the largest island Ko Phi Phi Don. However, the rebirth of Ton Sai village has had little impact on the incredible natural beauty at Ko Phi Phi Leh’s famous Maya Bay or the towering karst cliffs of Bida Nok and Bida Nai.

Phi Phi Don boasts a number of breathtaking beaches, including Monkey Beach, Yao Beach, Lanti Beach, Hin Khao Beach and Laem Tong – ideal for lounging on the white sand, relaxing in a hammock or launching a kayak! Snorkeling among Black Tip reef sharks is possible only meters from Long Beach.

Very few if any beaches in the world can compare to Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Bay: a sheltered aquamarine inlet surrounded by rugged limestone cliffs. Pileh Lagoon is another Thai jewel, offering pellucid water for snorkeling.

When to go: November to April
Where to stay: Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort and Spa
Photo credit: Tim Ove Bjånesøy

5. La Digue, Seychelles

La Digue, Seychelles
La Digue, Seychelles

LA Dique is an exotic painting in bold strokes of emerald and aqua come to life! One of 115 Seychelles islands, La Dique is situated in the warm Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.

Anse Source d’Argent – one of the most photographed beaches in the world – and Coco Island offer azure water perfect for swimming and snorkeling while water sports are popular on Grand Anse beach. Petite Anse is another beach that enthralls photographers, juxtaposing bold granite boulders with palm-fringed beaches and white-tipped waves.

Luxuriant forests cascade from Eagle’s Nest Mountain, brimful with orchids, vanilla vines, and Indian almond trees. The island is also home to the black paradise flycatcher – one of the rarest birds in the world. More endangered species can be seen at the Veuve Reserve bird sanctuary.

Epicureans will delight in the local Creole food: a rich and delicious blend of spicy fish and pork curries with seasonal vegetables and fruit.

When to go: April/May and October/November
Where to stay: Pension Hibiscus
Photo credit: Tobias Alt

4. Palawan, Philippines

Palawan, Phillipines
Palawan, Phillipines

PALAWAN, straddling the South China Sea in the northwest and Sulu Sea in the southeast, boasts two ecologically important UNESCO world heritage sites: the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.

With 600 fish species, about half of all coral species in the world, 11 shark species and no less than 13 dolphins and whale species, Tubbataha is heaven for divers! Ranked by CNN as one of the top 8 dive spots in the world, this underwater bio-paradise is only accessible from live-aboard boats.

Puerto Princesa Underground River is yet another stunning protected area of global significance. Regarded as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, the park features a spectacular karst landscape with an 8.2km underground river that forms the heartbeat of this unique mountain to sea ecosystem. Among the many highlights of an Underground River tour is the 20 million year old fossilised remains of a Miocene age dugong.

Steep limestone cliffs and placid bays provide for jaw-dropping seascapes around the coastal settlement of El Nido. While sunbathers head for pristine Nacpan Beach, those with more energy launch sea kayaks to explore photogenic lagoons punctuated by towering karsts. Island hopping boats regularly visit Bacuit Bay for snorkeling and diving.

When to go: March to June
Where to stay: El Nido Resorts Pangulasian Island
Photo credit: Philippine Fly Boy

3. Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki, Cook Islands

IF unadulterated romance is your goal, head to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. A betrothal on the coral sands beneath a palm tree or sharing a honeymoon kiss silhouetted against the backdrop of a flaming orange-pink dusk is what lifetime memories are made of!

Situated in the South Pacific, Aitutaki’s vast lagoon is fringed with coral islets, also called motu, which offer Robinson Crusoe-like experiences on uninhabited beaches. The lagoon is also ideal for snorkeling, the coral reefs showcasing a spectacular array of technicolored fish. Charter boats take to deeper water where novice or experienced anglers tangle with cod, snapper, trevally and monster bonefish.

Don’t miss Moturakau motu if you’re a fan of the British TV series Shipwrecked. Moturakau was also one of the base camps in the series Survivor: Cook Islands; the other being Motukitiu.

When to go: April to October
Where to stay: Etu Moana
Photo credit: Nicolas Jarraud

2. North Malé Atoll, Maldives


NORTH Malé is one of 26 atolls consisting of 1192 islands that stretch 800km through the Indian Ocean to constitute the Maldives. Aside from the romance of spending time with your significant other in an overwater bungalow while shimmering fish cavort among coral reefs, scuba diving is the primary activity in the Maldives. Marine life is abundant and the seclusion of the islands from the continental landmass accounts for excellent water clarity.

Surfing is growing in popularity, particularly along the south-southeast coastline of Malé where waves on reef passes break close to shore. Popular surf spots include Pasta Point, Jails and Tombstone.

Most resorts cater to romantics with champagne breakfasts, remote sand bank picnics, love boat cruises or candlelit seafood dinners. Symbolic betrothal ceremonies or renewal of wedding vows is de rigueur if you want to impress that special person in your life!

When to go: November to April
Where to stay: Gili Lankanfushi Maldives
Photo credit: rinrin

1. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Bora Bora, French Polynesia

FOR many, Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world. A verdant green motu guarded over by the craggy peaks of Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia and lapped by a sparkling tiffany-blue lagoon studded with coral reefs… The purest definition of paradise anywhere in the world!

The setting for movies such as South Pacific, Mutiny on the Bounty and Couples Retreat, Bora Bora is part of the Leeward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia situated in the Pacific Ocean midway between Australia and Peru. It is a dream destination that offers a host of experiences in the ultimate setting.

Photographers salivate at the scenic vistas that open up on a circle lagoon tour, while romantic couples step foot on parcels of white sand that fringe the Bora Bora lagoon. The warm lagoon water is also a snorkeler’s paradise. The coral garden at the southern end of Motu Pitiaau and Motu Piti Uuuta contain hundreds of brightly striped and spotted fish that flit through the pastel waters. Passing through Teavanui Pass into deeper ocean water will bring you face to face with graceful sharks or even dolphins.

CNN regards Matira Beach as the best beach in the world and should be on the top of the list of things to do in Bora Bora. This is also an ideal spot to view the setting sun as it scatters pastels of yellow, amber and red across the sky.

When to go: May to October
Where to stay: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Photo credit: Didierlefort


Has the travel bug bitten? You may want to explore:

VIETNAM Top 7 destinations
WORLD Canal settlements
NEW ZEALAND Kaiteriteri destination guide
INDONESIA The last paradise on earth
SOUTH AFRICA The challenge of the Cape’s West Coast

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