Discover the top ten tropical destinations around the globe

Sometimes, dreaming doesn’t cut it for us and reality simply must be a Piña Colada at noon from a hammock overlooking a mind-easing expanse of water. Or even; anywhere but home, anything but drizzle. Before you can drop your standards and accept any old place, take a look at Mr Hudson’s top ten of the best tropical vacations on the planet, bringing you desert island perfection just when you needed it. Sailing the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific, we pass firm favourites like Fiji and lesser-known pearls of the Perhentians. Pack light and let’s go.

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Maldives | Photo: Asad

1. Maldives

A solid favourite among gay travellers the world over, the Maldives has something of a divine status among the world’s best tropical islands. A chain of 1,000 coral atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a vulnerable little fella in the face of climate change, lying as one of the lowest and flattest nations in the world. Get there while you still can to appreciate the transience of life on earth while indulging in luxury retreats and world-class diving opportunities. You may baulk at the price of a Maldives getaway, particularly if staying at a private resort, but this tiny archipelago is hard to beat in terms of crystal ocean views with nothing but white sand and wildlife for company.

The solitude of the resorts may be the reason many come to the Maldives, but also making the Maldives special is its friendly capital Malé, paradoxically one the most densely populated cities in the world relative to its size. As well as diving and snorkelling off the coast, other activities include surfing at North and South Malé atolls, fishing and swimming with manta rays and even whale sharks. The best weather lies between November to May, while latecomers in June to October will experience wetter and more unpredictable weather in the lead up to monsoon season nearing August. For more need-to-know info, check our guide on gay travel to the Maldives.

Maldives | Photo: Nattu Adnan

Photo: Ishan Seefromthesky

2. Cook Islands, New Zealand

When asked to conjure up images of New Zealand, verdant hills shared by sheep and a few Hobbits may spring to mind. Now, what if those grassy mounds and that magical vibe could be placed beside blue lagoons and beaches so clean they’d make your eyes water. Fortunately, Aitutaki archipelago in the Cook Islands makes all that a reality. Though Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands and a top destination in its own right, Aitutaki takes the limelight for its choice of 15 isles from which you can snorkel, kayak, swim and fish to your heart’s content. One such isle is Tapuaetai (One Foot Island) allowing visitors to paddle out and play out desert island fantasies before returning to stilted bungalows to rest.  Besides marine life and lagoon views, Aitutaki’s roots are tethered to village life, most apparent on Sundays when laid-back locals trek the hilltop above the lagoon to attend church. Pre-Christian traditions can also be glimpsed on Jeep-led Aitutaki Punarei Cultural Tours which take travellers to discover ancient marae sites and traditional baked food called umu kai.

The chill atmosphere on Aitutaki will surely win your affection, but with extra time it would be criminal not to explore the Cook Islands more widely. Depending on time, consider the Punanga Nui Market and night-time entertainments on Rarotonga as well as the volcanic and caving destination of ‘Atiu.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands | Photo: Christoph Burgdorfer

3. Costa Rica

Big fans of Costa Rica that we are, we couldn’t keep her off this list of best tropical vacation spots. This biodiverse nation has it all; endless Pacific Coast beaches for surfing and turtle watching sided by dense jungle forests for ziplining, horseback riding and yoga. For surfing, try the developed areas of Tamarindo with its colourful comforts and endless activities, while the Playa Grande is prime real estate for leatherbacks. Move southwest to take advantage of the upscale resorts and wellness retreats of Mal Pais, while, in Nosara, trekking is your go-to. Montezuma and Samara meanwhile are beach towns still in keeping with an old-world of a slower pace, both based within a day trip of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a rarity on the continent.

If it’s island lifestyles you’re craving, however, Costa Rica has just the place, or rather two places, just off the coast from Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curú. Sharing the name Isla Tortuga, these joint islands bring ever more tropical beauty to Costa Rica’s shores, with its white-powder beaches edged by palm trees and tropical forest. While there is no reef in Tortuga, banana boating, kayaking and jet skiing keep this place popular particularly in high season and on weekends. Get advice on bookings and lodgings with our guide to how to plan your dream Costa Rica vacation.

Costa Rica | Photo: Asap Story

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Sculpted by lava and blooming into a tropical wonderland of rainforest, waterfalls and volcanic cliff formations in the thousands of years since, Hawaii’s ‘Garden Isle’ is worldly perfection

4. Hawaii

Sculpted by lava and blooming into a tropical wonderland of rainforest, waterfalls and volcanic cliff formations in the thousands of years since, Hawaii’s ‘Garden Isle’ is worldly perfection. Real name Kaua’i, this island is Hawaii’s biggest, coming out in front of Maui and Oahu thanks to its lovably laid-back locals centred around slow-moving surfer towns. Admittedly Kaua’i’s weather is a little on the unpredictable side, due to its several microclimates which earn the island the title as one of the world’s rainiest places. The tourist centre of Poipu, however, tends to be drier than elsewhere, while still being in proximity to the coastal mountains of Na Pali, the epic Waimea Canyon and the cliff surrounds of Hanalei Bay. Nature is, of course, a big deal on Kaua’i, whether in the scent of tropical flora on rainforest walks or the shape of sunbathing monk seals on the beach. In the azure waters meanwhile, Hawaii’s marine life is at its best; dive and snorkel off any of the island’s beautiful beaches to glimpse all kinds of tropical fish and sea turtles playing among the vibrant reefs. Fill your extra Hawaii days with our Hawaii vacations great big island itinerary.

Photo: Roman Odintsov

5. Fiji

A jewel of the South Seas, 2,000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand, Fiji’s name is synonymous with paradise. Famed for its rugged landscapes flanked by palms and fed by crystal lagoons, Fiji and its 300 islands have more to offer than you might expect. Of these islands, the Mamanuca Islands rise above all others thanks to the picturesque beaches and protected coral reef that lie undisturbed here. Enter through the gateway town of Nadi by boat, towards the set of Tom Hanks’ movie Castaway, to find desert island solitude as well as a choice of additional comforts thanks to the range of backpacker’s hostels, hotels and luxury retreats of offer. Top of the range options include Vomo Island Resort, Likuliku Lagoon Resort and adults-only Tokoriki Resort, though mid-range offerings at Matamonoa, Malolo and Mana Island are also great options.

Families and honeymooners can find all manner of activities to keep busy on Mamanuca, whether by diving, sailing, snorkelling or whale watching the day away. The liveaboard cruise and diving tours, in particular, are popular attractions, made so by the 1,500 species of fish and marine mammals that call Fiji’s reefs home. Inland meanwhile, hikers, birdwatchers and amblers will find Taveuni and Kadavu full of prehistoric forest wonders. While most young people congregate on the Yasawa Island cluster, you’ll also find nightlife hubs in Suva and Savusavu, with most of the surfers heading straight for Cloudbreak, one of the best-surfing destinations found anywhere in the world, about a mile from Tavarua Island Resort. One thing to note about Fuji island lifestyles is that nothing happens fast. Wind down your internal clock on the boat ride over and slowly soak up the island’s undeveloped natural beauty at a fraction of the pace of life back home.

Fiji Islands | Photo: Magdalena Love

Photo: Roman Odintsov

6. Palawan, Philippines

Rivalling the famed Vietnam cruise destination Ha Long Bay, Palawan is everything you could wish for from a dappled island paradise, allowing for remote bay cliff jumping and beach hopping amid stunning karst landscapes. Based in the least populated region of the Philippines, Palawan requires a little effort to get to, but what awaits is beyond worth it. Stretching 650 kilometres towards Borneo on a thin strip of land largely dominated by rainforest and sidled by beaches, Palawan is most happening towards the north surrounding the popular towns of El Nido or Coron. Though El Nido gets somewhat busy in high season, it remains a convenient base for tours towards the best Palawan beaches, with either town allowing boat trips to the Bacuit Archipelago and Calamian Islands further out. Kayangan Lake is also a big draw for Coron, a site hosting pristine diving opportunities among WWII shipwrecks and boundless reefs.

If package tours aren’t for you, charter your own ride to any of the region’s remotest islands and camp out under the stars in utmost solitude. Two lesser-known gems for you are Port Barton and Balabac; while Port Barton has the whisperings of becoming a hub for kayaking, snorkelling and island-hopping tours, Balabac offers more exclusive travel to the province’s private islands and islets, on negotiation with local guides or via a travel agency before travelling. With more time on your hands, combine your Palawan vacation with Cebu and Siargao in our all-inclusive 2 week Philippines itinerary.

El Nido, Palawan | Photo: Jonathan Beckman

7. The Perhentian Islands

Malaysia’s lesser-known island group, hiding behind the popularity of luxury isles like Langkawi, the Perhentians are a dream come true for travellers looking to chill beachside for the duration of their trip. While the two atolls that make up the Perhentian Islands – Pulau Kecil and Pulau Besar – don’t offer much in the way of organised activities, what they do offer is sun-soaked desert island vibes in amongst laid-back beach resorts and undeveloped coastline. Of the two, Pulau Kecil is the smaller one, it’s one kilometre Long Beach serving as the height of action across the Perhentians. Here you’ll find a mixture of budget and luxury accommodation near to various beach bars, restaurants and dive shops. The nightlife on Kecil is also pretty lively, comprised of backpackers and internationals looking for a good time. For quieter island getaways, try Coral Bay on the opposite side of Kecil or head to the ‘Big Island’ of Besar, where the private resorts and guesthouses are best for family and honeymooners seeking solitude. Cocktail lovers should bear in mind that the Perhentians are majority Muslim and many restaurants outside of Kecil’s Long Beach may not serve alcohol.

Photo: Austin Distel

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A bucket-list topper lying 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are famed the world over for their incredible biodiversity and unique ecosystems, almost entirely protected as a national park.

8. The Galápagos Islands

A bucket-list topper lying 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are famed the world over for their incredible biodiversity and unique ecosystems, almost entirely protected as a national park. Despite all efforts, wildlife here is under threat from warming waters and erratic weather patterns, serving as a bitter reminder of how deep an impact climate change is already having on the world. Nevertheless, we are still lucky enough today to enjoy an abundantly inhabited Galápagos, specifically, wild penguins (the northern hemisphere’s only colony!), the Galápagos tortoise (with an average lifespan of one century!) and rare blue-footed boobies (boobies!).

Don’t come here expecting your usual beach paradise as much of the land here caters primarily to wildlife and not humans. Nor does the Galápagos look like your average tropical paradise; in place of green forest, you’ll find hard volcanic landscapes ruled by myriad creatures big and small. Beneath the shores meanwhile, you’ll also share space with white-tipped sharks and marine life like nowhere else on earth. Within the island’s towns, the human population regroups and helps build a thriving tourist centre working in harmony with the island’s fearless wildlife to bring eco-tours and sustainable lodgings. Stay on the islands a while longer, discovering activities and insights into the Galapagos Islands Wildlife to make the most of your trip. But whatever you do, respect the local conservation laws and aim to leave no trace.

Photo: Derek Owens

Galapagos Islands | Photo: Simon Berger

9. Bora Bora

Neighbour to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, Bora Bora is another Polynesian paradise. While sharing the region’s relaxed vibe and immense natural beauty, Bora Bora differs from the others with its distinctly French allure. Besides French being the official language, the island’s tempting cuisine has a heavy Gallic influence and accommodation prices are also somewhat European. If you can afford it, choose a luxury bungalow suspended above the ocean, viewing marine life through glass panels in the floor. Get a little closer to the fishes with a dive among the lagoon’s surrounding reefs, where turtles, sharks and rays seem also to have picked up a Parisian air of nonchalance towards visitors. Back on land, Bora Bora continues to excite with its perfect beaches and many hiking trails through thick palm forests, leading towards basalt peaks and prime sunset views across the central lagoon.

Bora Bora | Photo: Tomas Gonzalez de Rosenzweig

10. Seychelles

One final choice to consider can be found on the east coast of Kenya on a series of 115 jungle-covered coral and granite islands. This is Seychelles, famous for its rich marine life and lavish resorts (such as La Digue, Mahé and Praslin) contrasted by ramshackle beach huts on powdered sand beaches. As much as 50% of Seychelles is protected, including its UNESCO-listed jungles and marine sanctuaries off the coast, making it an opportune place for wildlife watching, diving and snorkelling. The unique Créole culture of these islands is also a reason to visit, best showcased by the spicy seafood dishes on offer across the islands. Though pricey, there could be a chance to recoup on your expenses, as the island’s history tells of pirate hideouts and legend has it there may be buried treasures yet to be found!

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Seychelles | Photo: Christian Cacciamani

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