South Pacific Articles & Reviews
World's Most Romantic Islands
Romantic island getaways from the Caribbean to the South Pacific to help start—or stoke—the flame.
By Emma Sloley
It’s easy to fall in love on an island. “I wore a bikini for five days straight and never put on real clothes for anything,” recalls Christina Greer, a New York professor who took a vacation to Panama’s Bocas del Toro a few years back with her boyfriend. “We went dolphin watching and snorkeling all day,” Greer says. “It was total relaxation.”
The two are now married and have visited 15 countries together on a tireless quest to uncover the world’s most romantic destinations.
Being marooned in the middle of the ocean with your beloved brings out the starry-eyed traveler in all of us. Travel agent Julia Douglas runs Jetset World Travel, a Virtuoso-member agency that attracts well-heeled couples looking for ultra-romantic escapes. Her clients often use words like “authentic,” “exclusive,” and “pampered” to describe their ideal island destination. Not surprisingly, bells and whistles like Wi-Fi and 24-hour room service aren’t as important as a beautiful beach and warm weather.
That perfect romantic island getaway might be a longtime favorite destination. Santorini, for example, offers black-sand beaches, sweeping views out over the Aegean Sea, and the classic whitewashed architecture that Greece’s islands are known for. Increase the romance factor even more by heading to one of the Old World vineyards that produce fantastic wines.
Sometimes, however, romantic-island seekers have to travel a bit off the beaten path. Pamalican Island is a tiny island—not even 1/2-mile wide at its widest—surrounded by crystal-clear blue water in the Philippines’ Sulu Sea. And it has just one resort—Amanpulo—with only 40 villas, each with a private chef and butler. Luxurious seclusion on a pristine beach is what lures travelers—and keeps them coming back.
Whether you’re after all-out luxury or sand-between-the-toes casual, there’s a romantic island for you. And while many of these dream destinations have “remote” and “secluded” as their principle selling points, others are surprisingly close to home. (One you can practically see from the Hollywood sign.)
No matter whether you’re a new couple just getting to know each other or you’re celebrating your golden anniversary, these romantic islands will help you holiday happily ever after.
A conspicuous absence of international hotel chains is just one reason this idyll—situated east of Oahu in the Hawaiian archipelago—draws romantics from all over. Hike to remote waterfalls, kayak secluded rocky coastlines, and ride donkeys into the lush valleys, or just laze beachside. (Head for the golden sands of secluded three-mile-long Papohaku Beach, at the far-west end of the island.) With just one traffic light on the island, the only gridlock you’ll encounter is caused by colonies of curious sea turtles frolicking in the outrageously clear waters.
Sure, noon in Capri Town can be a tourist swarm, but the bulk of visitors depart on the last ferry back to Naples or Sorrento—leaving the island blissfully free for lovers. And this dramatically craggy outcrop, a Mediterranean Garden of Eden splashed with floral color and perfumed by lemon trees and herb gardens, has remained a magnet for the A-list since antiquity, when Emperor Tiberius set up camp here.
St. Lucia, Caribbean
If the Caribbean Sea were a catwalk, St. Lucia would be its most bankable supermodel. This 27-mile-long island is lush, mountainous, and blessed with gorgeous beaches and verdant cocoa plantations. The jade-green twin peaks of the Pitons, jungle-swathed volcanic plugs that rise from a silvery ocean on the southwest coast, are the Caribbean’s most striking backdrop.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Located in the Caribbean Sea near the border with Costa Rica, this group of islands is all about low-key relaxation with a Latin American flavor, pitch-perfect for sybarites who don’t want to pack a designer bikini. The main island of Colon has a buzzy downtown full of waterfront bars and laid-back nightclubs, while the smaller islands offer deserted beaches, rainforests, mangroves, and coral reefs.
Catalina Island, California
Just 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Santa Catalina has a certain Mediterranean flavor. Yachts jostle in a glinting harbor, sorbet-colored homes cascade down the hillside, and the secluded coves are ready-made for romance—including the aptly named Lover’s Cove, east of Avalon.
Sweeping views over a picture-perfect caldera—the result of a volcanic eruption around 1600 B.C.—is just one factor in Santorini’s romantic charm. Gorgeous, striated cliffs and black-sand beaches don’t hurt, either. Head to the famously picturesque village of Oia (book a room at the 18-suite Mystique) with its classic whitewashed, cliff-edge architecture, blue-domed churches, and stone houses overhung with bougainvillea canopies.
If your idea of Eden is unpaved roads, truly deserted beaches, and nary a nightclub, this 68-square-mile island in the Eastern Caribbean is for you. Barbuda features just a handful of high-end hotels, including Coco Point Lodge, on its own 164-acre peninsula fronting glorious pink-sand beaches. Take a boat trip to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary on a lagoon in the island’s northwest and ogle the 5,000 namesake birds that call it home.
Rangali Island, The Maldives
Of the 1,192 islets that make up this island nation in the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,000 are uninhabited. Suffice to say, your chances of finding romantic seclusion are pretty high. Like most of the resorts here, the Conrad Maldives Hotel occupies its own private atoll, called Rangali Island. The romance factor kicks in before you even arrive, thanks to a seaplane ride over the shallow, impossibly clear lagoon. Soon enough, you’re dining in the underwater restaurant and kicking back in the over-water spa.
Laucala Island, Fiji
The South Pacific fantasy of swaying palm trees and extravagantly lush scenery reaches its fullest expression here. There are just 25 cottages on this privately owned resort, which occupies the entire island, each with a private pool, dining pavilion, and outdoor hot tub and shower. While the resort attracts deep-pocketed travelers, don’t expect glitzy lobbies. The emphasis is on rustic, pared-back luxury; every detail seems crafted to appeal to couples, including the lagoon pool with its man-made “islands” big enough for two.
Pamalican Island, The Philippines
You’ll find only one resort here—Amanpulo, set on its own private island southwest of Manila with just 40 secluded pitched-roof traditional villas, strung along a pristine beach with sand so white it’s blinding. Beachcombers can navigate the entire island on foot in less than two hours, keeping their eyes out for baby sharks, kingfishers, and sea turtles, which lay their eggs here between March and October.
Lizard Island, Australia
How’s this for romantic: Australia’s northernmost island resort is set on its own private speck of land in the middle of the world’s largest coral reef. Here, you’ll find seven-course private dinners on the beach; picnic hampers for two; and sundowners on the ocean-view deck. Every moment seems custom-made for couples. The island has no less than 24 white-sand secluded beaches. And couples can arrange a private picnic on any of them.
Swoon-worthy scenery is something Sicily has in spades: winding rivers, olive tree–studded hills, Greek and Roman ruins galore, and of course the brooding Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. Thanks to a slew of high-profile new hotels—including the much-vaunted Verdura Golf & Spa Resort on the south coast—this rugged, mountainous island off the tip of Italy’s boot is firmly in the spotlight. Fortunately, there’s still time to clock up some romantic R&R before the crowds arrive.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
This under-the-radar Polynesian paradise ticks several essential romantic boxes: seclusion, great beaches, and the complete absence of mass tourism. The combination was why New Yorker Nicole Daw and her husband chose to spend their honeymoon here. And the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, set on its own motu and comprising bungalows suspended over a blue lagoon, will make any getaway even more romantic.
Isle of Mull, Scotland
For those who prefer windswept grandeur and crackling open fires to swaying palm trees and turquoise water, Scotland’s Inner Hebrides (off the country’s west coast) rate highly on the romantic checklist. The chain’s second largest island, the Isle of Mull, is so comely it has starred in numerous movies, including several of the Harry Potterfilms. Heather-swathed hills, quaint fishing villages, brooding castles (like the postcard-perfect Glengorm Castle on the island’s northern tip), tranquil lochs…what more do you need to get a Wuthering Heights–worthy romance on?
La Digue, Seychelles
This Indian Ocean archipelago east of mainland Africa is fast gaining a reputation for romance to equal Bora Bora and the Maldives. Of the 115 islands that make up the chain, La Digue epitomizes what makes the Seychelles so special. The beauty here verges on the surreal: massive granite boulders jutting into the sea; palm-fringed beaches with dazzlingly clear water; and strange fauna like the paradise flycatcher, a rare bird with bright blue eyes. All of it lends the island an otherworldly feel. Check in to one of the idiosyncratic A-frame villas at La Digue Island Lodge to be further transported.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
In-the-know globetrotters have been whispering about this magical island for years. The secret is definitely out now—especially since W Hotels opened its first property here—but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a secluded corner to call your own. Naturally, Vieques has all the classic elements for a romantic escape: superb beaches, balmy weather, a languid pace. But the highlight is the bioluminescent bay on the southern shore of the island, filled with microscopic organisms that flash bright blue and light up the water with what looks like a million stars.
Ahead-of-the-curve romantics have set their sights beyond Santorini and Mykonos to this lesser-known island in the Cyclades group. A 12-square-mile dot in the ocean, Folegandros is all about what’s not there: no nightclubs, no crowds, no big hotels. Instead, you’ll find winding paved streets, whitewashed churches, and rustic tavernas, as well as a picturesque network of hiking paths and hidden beaches. When the sun dips into the Aegean after another perfect day, raise a glass of rakomelo—a heady concoction of raki, honey, and cinnamon—to your good fortune.
Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe, Caribbean
One of two islands that make up the Les Saintes archipelago off the southern coast of Guadeloupe, this tiny French commune consists of little more than a handful of Edenic beaches, a 19th-century fort, and a fishing village. Not surprisingly, the two most popular activities on the island are beachcombing and eating. Combine the two at Plage de Pompierre, a beach lined with coconut trees where a local entrepreneur sells delicious sandwiches made from fresh baguettes.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Gourmands in love have a special affection for this dramatically rugged island, with its reputation as a top-notch locavore destination. The scenery isn’t too shabby either: old-growth rainforest, mountain ranges, and lakes make for a heart-soaring backdrop. Take your appetite to the Wickaninnish Inn for inventive cuisine served with a panoramic ocean view, or the Sooke Harbour House’s award-winning restaurant overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
A 300-acre sprawl of jungle, sheltered coves, and pristine beachfront off the west coast of Malaysia, this single-island resort is the province of spotlight-shy celebrities and sybarites alike. The resort itself comprises private estates and spacious peak-roofed bungalows linked by wooden pathways above a gorgeous blue-green sea studded with rocky outcrops. Luxurious indolence is the name of the game here, but love-struck adventurers can also follow more rugged pursuits like jungle trekking and kayaking.
Mustique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean
This privately owned drop in the ocean is about as exclusive as it gets. Models, moguls, and resident celebrities like Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger may keep the A-list factor high, but the prevailing vibe is unpretentious and laid-back. Jump in a “mule,” one of the island’s ubiquitous open-air jeeps, and find a crescent of beach to call your own. Should the desire to socialize ever strike, mosey on down to the cocktail party held on Tuesday nights at the charming Cotton House, the island’s only hotel.
Ile des Deux Cocos, Mauritius
What could be more romantic than an island just for two? That’s the deal on this tiny, extravagantly beautiful outcrop off the southeast coast of Mauritius, which has just one villa, a Moorish-style folly built by former British governor Sir Hesketh Bell. The sugary white-sand beaches on the islet’s north coast border the Blue Bay Maritime Reserve, a coral reef made for snorkeling. If the price tag for staying the night—around $3,000 per couple—isn’t getting you in the mood, there’s always a day trip, which many hotels on the mainland can arrange.
From Garden of the Gods, a surreal landscape strewn with tower-like rock formations, to Sweetheart Rock, a monolithic landmark dedicated to two mythical lovers, Lana’i is wreathed in mystery and legend. Hole up in the charmingly rustic plantation-style Hotel Lanai, or go for full-bore luxury at the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay. Then spend your days swimming with green turtles and spinner dolphins and exploring this unspoiled island playground.
Amelia Island, Florida
A perfect marriage of tropical escapism and antebellum southern charm (Savannah is only a two-hour drive away), this island is truly unique. Explore the many historic sites (the island has famously had eight different flags flown over it since the 1500s) and stroll paths flanked by trees draped in Spanish moss. Or just chill at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, which plays host to weddings year-round.
Lamu Island, Kenya
An East African wildlife safari might top many romantic wish lists, but Kenya has another trump card when it comes to dream destinations—the lovely island of Lamu. Visit the Swahili settlement in Lamu Old Town to admire the coral stone and mangrove wood homes and Islamic architecture, kayak through the mangroves, or just kick back on one of the many fine beaches. On an island where donkeys outnumber cars, getting away from it all is assured.
Seekers of the exotic need look no further than Zanzibar, the East African island known for its spice trade, Swahili culture, and gorgeous beaches. Explore the fringing coral reefs on the east coast, home to a huge variety of marine life. Or walk through the forests, which conceal rare fauna like the Zanzibar red colobus (endemic to the island) and the highly endangered Zanzibar leopard. The 15 white-domed villas at the eco-conscious Kilindi resort have upped the luxury quotient of this laid-back island, but the quotidian life here is still simple and revolves around fishing and agriculture.
Espíritu Santo, Mexico
Flee the crowds on this idyllic isla off the coast of Baja California, an uninhabited nature reserve lavishly endowed with wild, unspoiled natural splendor. Sheer red cliffs, windswept desert sand dunes, and turquoise bays characterize this UNESCO-listed paradise. Swim with manta rays, whale sharks, and sea lions in the warm waters, then return to your luxury tent at the seasonal Baja Camp (open from June to September), where just-caught grilled seafood, sunset margaritas, and stargazing await.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
With its lush green interior, dramatic volcanic peaks, and uncrowded beaches, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha makes for a romantic South America getaway without any fear of crowds. Situated around 200 miles off the coast of Pernambuco State, this fantasy island’s deserted beaches feature water so blue it looks digitally altered, along with an array of wildlife like playful spinner dolphins, which ply the waters off Golfinhos Bay and Praia Sancho.
Racha Yai, Thailand
Located southeast of Phuket, this small island is a far cry from the mob scene that characterizes the better-known islands of southern Thailand. Avoid the Phuket day trippers, who tend to congregate around the main beach of Ao Tawan Tok, and head to secluded Siam Beach, where you’ll find crystal-clear turquoise waters and gorgeous views back to Phuket. After a hard day of snorkeling or diving, repair to one of the beachside bungalow-style restaurants for pad thai and beer as you watch the sun set.
Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos
While the main tourist hub of Providenciales is rife with high-rise beach hotels, this private island in Turks and Caicos is a world apart. The diving off the mile-long beach is exemplary, and the lack of nightlife and crowds means blissful solitude is all but guaranteed. There’s only one resort on the island, Parrot Cay, an ultra-exclusive retreat beloved of movie stars and fashion designers like Donna Karan.
Harbour Island, Bahamas
In spite of its reputation as a bolt-hole for glamorous types like model Elle Macpherson and designer India Hicks, this friendly island—famed for its miles of pink-sand beaches and balmy waters—has a relaxed Caribbean vibe that makes you feel at home from the moment you step off the boat from Eleuthera. There’s not a whole lot to do but swim, putter about on a golf cart, and eat freshly caught fish at low-key hip hangout The Landing.
The smallest of the Balearic Islands—which include Majorca and Ibiza—this wishbone-shape island is Spain at its most lovable. Stroll through medieval villages, sample tapas at one of the lively bars, or bike along the old Roman road that hugs the cliff tops for breathtaking views of the coastline.