1. Atiu, Cook IslandsThis particular Cook Island has got all the tropical gear: deserted beaches, bluest water, whiter-than-white sands. But it’s also got that little bit extra, with a clutch of famous, multi-chambered limestone caves tucked away in thick jungle on the coral coastal plains surrounding the island. Some of the caves were used for burials, which means there are human bones about, but relax: Atiu’s vicious warrior history is long gone. Nowadays, Atiu is also a mecca for ecotourists, with more flora and fauna than you can shake a pair of binoculars at.
Refer to www.atiutourism.com when planning your adventure; worldwide flights can now be booked via Rarotonga.
2. Rangiroa, French PolynesiaA coral atoll beyond compare, Rangiroa (the world’s second-largest coral atoll) is about as languorous and remote a place as you’d care to find. Most come here for diving, but what on earth is wrong with just lazing around on the beach and sipping a cocktail or three? There’s also a huge lagoon that’s more like a massive inland sea, sure to add to your expanded consciousness and sense of perspective – even the name ‘Rangiroa’ means ‘vast sky’.
Visit around the time of the Moorea Tere Fa’ati festival on 15 February for song, dance and the soothing sounds of the ukulele.
3. Kuna Yala, PanamaLook up ‘tropical paradise’: there will probably be a picture of the Kuna Yala archipelago. These small islands (also known as the San Blas Islands) are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Kuna people and feature palm trees, gorgeous beaches, thatched huts and timeless charm. Big business hasn’t gained a foothold because the Kuna rule the roost, with a series of laws to preserve the natural environment. So no ugly hotels spoiling the view and no package tourism polluting the vibe, just plenty of uninhabited islands to explore.
Almiza Tours offers three-day tours to San Blas, departing from Panama. The total cost is around US$300.
4. Cape Tribulation, AustraliaThis World Heritage–listed, biodiverse region in Queensland deserves to be on your radar for so many reasons. Gorgeous beaches and ancient rainforest that extends right to the water, fringing reefs, wild and beautiful animal and plant life, rock pools, mangrove boardwalks and a backdrop of breathtakingly rugged mountains are the main ingredients. Then there’s the Great Barrier Reef, just 40 minutes off shore. Now you understand – it’s a unique part of the world.
Check out www.capetribulation.com.au for self-drive and guided tour options that leave from Cairns or Port Douglas.
5. Gili Islands, IndonesiaThis collection of three beloved islands, northwest of Lombok, have all the island-holiday essentials: coral reefs, stunning beaches, pristine water, superb fishing and snorkelling opportunities, and friendly locals. According to legend, there’s also a magical ring around the island that makes it impossible for people to leave. Go on – test it out. If you can resist the ring’s power, the tuna steaks, plentiful local beer and the complete lack of motor vehicles of any kind might still accomplish what magic failed to achieve.
Catch an outrigger to Gili Air (the nearest of the three Gili islands to the mainland) from Perinenang village; it’s easy to hire bicycles to tour the islands.
6. Fernando de Noronha, BrazilThis sparsely populated archipelago off Brazil’s northeastern coast is famous as a diving destination, with dolphins, shipwrecks and psychedelic coral all available for underwater viewing. Not only that, but the islands play host to the Western Atlantic’s largest colony of tropical seabirds, a fact that’s sure to raise the pulse of twitchers everywhere. There aren’t that many facilities here, but the trade-off is that you have the islands pretty much as they have been for the last 500 years, with only some ex-Portuguese ruins providing clues to past life.
For daily flight information, accommodation and food options visit www.noronha.com.br, which also includes swell updates for surfers looking to score tubes in paradise.
7. Lalomanu, SamoaMmm, thank God for the South Pacific, keeper of more sea, sand and sun than any person can cram into a lifetime. This time round it’s Samoa’s turn, with Lalomanu beach on ‘Upolu turning out to be the perfect spot for first-class swimming and snorkelling. From the beach, you can spy the uninhabited island of Namua. If you want to stay, sleeping in open beach fales (huts) can impart the sense that you’re doing it in some kind of authentic, beachy, tropical island style. A kind of paradisiacal virtual reality for jaded Westerners, perhaps? If you like, locals will argue the toss. Lalomanu is what it is, and the sunsets just have to be seen to be believed.
Get in on the action and hang free in a beach-side traditional-style fale; book at www.samoabeachfales.com.
8. San Andrés & Providencia, ColombiaIf you like your tropical paradises ‘Caribbean’ flavoured, then you should probably visit this little-known haven, with its swashbuckling English, Jamaican and pirate history. There’s a big Rastafarian influence around these parts; we’re sure you don’t need us to tell you the attendant treasures of such a culture. What we will tell you, though, is that beautiful beaches, coves, caves and swimming holes combine with native architecture and lots of reggae, rum and cocktails to provide sensual delights.
A trip to the ‘perfect islet’ of Johnny Cay is a must; boats leave from the dock near the Decameron Aquarium.
9. Tulum, MexicoMake no mistake, Tulum, on the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, is one of the world’s premier beaches. It features 7km of the finest powder sand, perfect blue water ripped straight out of your dreams, and the beach’s famous, unpowered, cabana-style accommodation right along the coastline. Not enough for you? (Some people are hard to please.)
For added value, backing onto Tulum is something amazing: the ruins of a 6th-century Maya walled city (tulum is the Maya word for wall), possibly the most majestic backdrop of any beach in the world. Rent cheap cabanas along the beachfront; follow the beach south to get to the ruins.
10. Cape VerdeThis archipelago of 10 volcanic islands off the coast of Senegal has long been a byword for ‘mystery’. A strange amalgam of West African rhythms and Portuguese colonialism, Cape Verde is now finally succumbing to tourism, with the government planning to aggressively market all that sun-kissed splendour. But tread carefully: with its unspoiled coastlines and uninhabited beaches, the archipelago may sound inviting, but it also shields a fragile ecosystem; you’ll be sharing space with many species of animal unique to the cape.
Be prepared to experience flight cancellations from December to late March, when it’s ‘dusty season’. Luggage delays are common so pack essentials in hand luggage.