Where We're Going in 2009: 5 Picture-Perfect Island Escapes
Imagine, for a second, that you edit travel guides. Sounds like fun, right? It is. But there's one downside, one tiny little sliver in a travel guide editor's thumb. All day long, day in and day out, a steady parade of new, different, and exotic destinations crosses your desk. It's so hard not to be able to visit all of them!
So, just for fun, a couple of years ago we began a tradition of querying our editors each winter: Irrespective of your editorial assignments, where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world?
Here is a sample of the destinations submitted for favorite Island Escapes. Some are completely within reach, and some may just have to remain dreams for now. In any case we are all dreaming of the same thing here: a white sand beach, a hammock in the shade, and the cares of the world a very long way away. Enjoy!
Bocos del Toro, Panama
With its turquoise waters, sugar-sand beaches, and funky island towns, the relatively isolated archipelago of Bocas del Toro has the same attractions as major Caribbean destinations—but with a fraction of the crowds and development. You can stay busy for days here diving amongst sponge-studded reefs and endless coral gardens, bird-watching in the beachside jungles, or just swinging in the ocean breeze on a shaded hammock. The archipelago's main transportation hub is Bocas del Toro Town, a colorful place where a cool drink with an ocean view is easy to come by, and where boatmen and diving outfitters vie for the opportunity to share their slice of paradise with you.
You can't beat the Cyclades for Greek island magic. While the crowds still head to sexy, jet-set Mykonos and spectacular Santorini, the idyllic getaway of Antiparos, a stunning beauty of white sand beaches, blue seas, and pink bougainvillea, still retains an off-the-beaten-track vibe. Get there quick, though, because the rich and famous (Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks, to name two) have recently discovered it. Antiparos' one town, also called Antiparos, has a slew of affordable hotels. The main, indeed only, sight on the island is the Antiparos Cave, an extravaganza of pipe-organ stalactites—look for Lord Byron's grafitti—while just off shore is the sacred isle of Despotikon, home to a late-Archaic marble temple complex to Apollo. Basically, people head here to chill out, sun-worship, and do absolutely nothing at all. Bliss!
Moorea, French Polynesia
Called Tahiti's "sister island"—it's just 19 km (12 mi) across the Sea of Moon—Moorea is about an eighth of the size of its sibling, but packs all the same classic island features into a single, tiny, triangular package. You can explore the many traditional villages on a circle-island tour. Pineapple plantations dot the hillside, residents tend their luxuriant gardens, and wild rain forest dominates the inland peaks. Also, Moorea is home to more artists than any other island in French Polynesia, including painters, woodcarvers, sculptors, and jewelers working with pearls and shells. For a taste of traditional local culture, check out the vigorous hip-shaking, the swishing of grass skirts, the evocative drumming, and the blaze of firedancing at the Tiki Village, a perennial tourist favorite.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
At the heart of this booming yet tranquil Caribbean community is Virgin Islands National Park, which takes up a full two-thirds of the island's 20 square miles. Though things can get crowded in the main town of Cruz Bay, it's easy to escape from the fray: just take off on a hike or head to the beach during off hours. Within the park itself you may stumble across the stone ruins of old plantations. The Maho Bay Camps (a Fodor's Choice) offer a tent community in the trees, where wooden platform "tents" are linked by wooden stairs, ramps, and walkways that take you to the beach without disturbing the terrain beneath your feet.
A pristine tropical hideaway of majestic strands, swaying palms, and azure waters, the Seychelles is a favorite destination of the high-class travel magazines, but lately has been gaining in popularity for all kinds of travelers. The islands make a fantastic get-away-from-it-all destination for those in need of serious downtime, but beyond the luxury resorts, the Seychelles also has some of the world's best-preserved natural habitats. Situated off the east coast of Africa, many of the more than 115 coral and granite islands have never been settled by man—though they were notorious pirate hideouts—and remain just as nature intended. Known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, they have important populations of rare plants, birds, and animals, including the giant tortoise and the coco de mer, once thought to be the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
–Caroline Trefler, Robert Fisher, Mike Nalepa, Salwa Jabado, and Alexis Kelly
Photo credit: Bocas del Toro image courtesy istockphoto / Joel Carillet.
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