By THRILLIST / Posted on May 27, 2018

You fantasize about a island vacations for the same reason everyone else does: Earth gave us hundreds of thousands of islands to choose from, so whatever your perfect dream trip entails, an island somewhere will fit it perfectly. Maybe you’re cool flomped on a sandy stretch of strangers’ skin, nodding at the fittest among them and listening to some dude blasting “Turn Down for What” on a football-sized Blu-Ray speaker. Or maybe you’re inclined to find a vacant, balmy postcard sanctuary known only to sea turtles and mapping satellites. You do you, Robinson Crusoe.

We put the question to a gaggle of world travelers and asked, what are the islands you would recommend as a dream vacation? The picks they came back with were as varied as you’d hope, hotspots for weird art, unique grub, total transcendence/disassociation from the physical world, whiskey, saltwater, caves, skiing, orangutans, the whole gamut. At these destinations, the hills are chocolate, the riverbeds are volcanic, the biking is extreme, the hammocks are a swingin’, and the living is most certainly easy.

South Island, New Zealand

The epic antidote to a scorching Northern summer
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Miami or Minnesota — come August you’re going to be sick of the film of perma-sweat on your brow, the stench of BBQ on your clothes, and that niggling flip-flop sore between your toes. The solution? Head south — far, far south, so freaking south that you end up in South Island. Down here in New Zealand, June to August is deep midwinter. That means you get snow by the boatload. You’d be hard pressed to find better skiing and snowboarding anywhere in the world; Queenstown and Wanaka are your best bet for guaranteed powder, and they’re a great-looking pair of lakeside towns for the après scene too.

It’s also prime time to see some of South Island’s copious natural wonders. The big-gun glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox, to their friends) are at their fullest and most fuck-you-global-warming — you’ll get more ice crevasses and caves, and fewer tourists lining up for Instagrams with them. It’s also whale migration season, so prepare to meet some affable humpbacks, especially off the coast at Kaikoura. And if you get desperate for a hit of heat, head to Lake Tekapo for a soak in one of the many natural thermal springs. — Jonathan Melmoth

Crete, Greece

Not just any Aegean island
Don’t get us wrong — we love the Greek islands, but they can blend together after a while. Dry, rocky hills drop dramatically into crystalline waters. A whitewashed chapel perches on a cliffside ledge. You’ve seen the pictures. You get it.

Crete, the largest of the bunch, has retained a flavor all its own. Over the course of its history Crete has played host, with varying degrees of reluctance, to Roman, Venetian, and Turkish empires, whose cultural and architectural influences all splendidly converge on the island if you look close enough. You’ll spy, for example, an oddly rounded gift shop that looks out of place along Chania’s gorgeous Venetian waterfront, until you learn it used to be a Turkish mosque. And in this part of Greece, ordering a raki won’t get you the ouzo-esque Turkish tipple rakı, but rather a Cretian version of grappa. Crete also boasts one of Europe’s most dramatic canyons, the Samaría Gorge, perfect for a daylong hike through the stunning mountainsides (keep an eye out for the endemic Cretan wild goat, the kri-kri). And if you’ve got your heart set on those postcard rocky hills dropping into crystalline waters, look no further than Balos beach, one of the true treasures of the Mediterranean. — Conor O’Rourke

Raiatea, French Polynesia

An under-the-radar South Pacific paradise
It’s all in the name: Raiatea means “faraway heaven.” Jade peaks, swaying palms and a thousand shades of brilliant blue — this the kind of place you see on the front cover of a travel magazine and announce “Phwoar, it’s amazing what they can do with Photoshop these days.” As for the “faraway” part — sure, it’s a little trickier to get to than cruiseshippy Tahiti and honeymooner-infested Bora Bora, but that means it’s quieter, and you come away with a more authentic taste of wild and wondrous French Polynesia. And anyway, it’s only a 45-minute flight from the capital, Papeete.

The most popular thing to do here is… nothing. Just find yourself a hammock and breathe in the hibiscus-scented air. There aren’t any beaches, but you can take a boat out to a motu (an uninhabited tuft of palm trees and white sand poking out of the lagoon) and live out your desert island fantasy. For a dose of culture, head to the UNESCO-approved archaeological site at Taputapuatea, featuring some of the best damn blocks of stone this side of Easter Island. Inland, hike up the verdant Mount Tapioi or hack through bamboo jungle to a trio of shampoo-commercial-worthy waterfalls. Above all, explore the coral-laden lagoon by yacht, or with a shipwreck-dive if you’ve got the nerve (the black-tip sharks like it down there too). — Jonathan Melmoth

Grenada, the Caribbean

A sweetly scented antidote to the crowded cruise ship ports and resorts
Grenada only spans 21 by 12 miles if measured in straight lines, but there are weeks’ worth of discovering to be done. Options include jungle hikes, loafing on silky-sand beaches, roaming past waterfalls and plantations, digging into spiced fish for breakfast (Grenada’s flag bears a nutmeg; the smell follows the breezes everywhere), and dancing to live calypso bands and upbeat soca music. You’ll enjoy the latter after a few rounds of $2 beers, which you’ll order barefoot on a sand-floored bar. Go wild, but don’t swear. Grenadians still follow British Colonial law — language stays PG, and bowing to a picture of the Queen is required when entering a court.

Following the smell of barbecue or the call of steel drums will lead you to a buzzing outdoor marketplace and traffic circle near Grand Anse Beach, baptized as “Wall Street” because it’s bookended by banks. At night, vehicles blast music and peddle beverages out of ice chests in pickup beds, starting street parties where locals mingle, dance, and snack on grilled meat. Don’t leave without tasting the hometown dish, oil down, a coconut-milk-oil-grounded one-pot stew of breadfruit, cabbage, callaloo, dumplings, fish, okra, turmeric, and whatnot. Homesickness is doubtful, but there’s also 5,000-plus global students boning up in the medical school should you want for a new friend. — Bruce Northam, American Detour

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Microdose on all that’s good in the Mayan Riviera
At 4 miles long and less than half a mile wide, Isla Mujeres is a tiny sliver of calm a fast ferry ride away from the chaos of Cancún. The island’s north tip is edged with white sand beaches, sheltering palms, and turquoise surf where locals snooze under umbrellas and toast the day away at any number of beach bars. If you can peel yourself off the sand for some exploring, do so by bike or moped, or on foot along paths that line the Caribbean side. It’s worth getting up early to see the sunrise on the south end, where wind-worn cliffs break the open sea below a small pyramid in honor of Ixchel, Mayan deity of fertility and healing. If you’re staying for a bit, a visit to colonial Valladolid, a town built around a cenote (a partially underground swimming hole) makes for a swell day trip.

Bluff Island (Sha Tong Hau Shan), Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s non-concrete jungle that you never knew existed
As one of the world’s most densely populated cities, most people (including me, before I visited) think of Hong Kong as the land of skyscrapers and more than 7 million people. Turns out, that “land” only takes up a mere 30% of the vast area; the majority is barrier islands, wetlands, woodlands, and protected country parks. One such park, Hong Kong National Geopark, was formed during dinosaur days 140 million years ago; lying within are region’s most breathtaking natural sites that are essentially tourist-free, and not even all Hongkongers (yes, this is the term locals refer to themselves as) know about. Especially one of true gems of this rocky and blue water wonderland: Sha Tong Hau Shan (aka Bluff Island).

Bohol, the Philippines

Home of the famed “chocolate hills” and cheeky little monkeys
Part creepy, part cute, the Philippine tarsier is one of the smallest known primates in the world, about the size of a frog with disproportionally gigantic eyes. Out of more than 7,000 tropical islands in the Philippines archipelago, these bizarre little creatures are found only on a small handful of islands in the southeastern quadrant, Bohol among them. As if you needed another reason to go, Bohol is also the stage of an iconic geological marvel: the Chocolate Hills. Across 30 square miles you’ll find more than 1,200 of these giant, camel hump hills, named for their brown color during the dry season as they bake in the sun. The island stays hot and sun-drenched from May through July, so prepare to get wet as frequently as possible. You’ll find world class scuba diving and the heavily Instagrammed Hinagdanan Cave, an underground swimming hole where you can do the backstroke under the stalactites. — Erik Trinidad

Madeira, Portugal

Way more than just a pretty face
I suspect most Americans who have heard of Madeira heard about it on The Bachelorette in 2013. Yes, it’s rocky, it’s lush, it’s gorgeous — but that doesn’t do it justice. Madeira has been carving out a space for itself as an extreme-sports capital, not unlike Queenstown has done in New Zealand. With little in the way of flat terrain, downhill mountain biking is the thing to do here. “It’s quick, it’s fast, muddy, dusty. All the very big names, they come to Madeira to ride just for fun,” says former national champion Rosie. “It’s a volcanic island, so anywhere you go, you can make it a track.”

Naoshima, Japan

A huge contemporary arts destination in a tiny, rural setting
Naoshima is one of several tiny islands that decorate Japan’s glassy Seto Inland Sea. They’re sleepy, rural, and lightly populated — yet over the past decade the Seto Islands have evolved into a big-time arts destination, home to countless extraordinary outdoor sculptures, installations, and museums. Naoshima boasts one of artist Yayoi Kusama‘s famous yellow pumpkins, holding court at the end of a dock; other highlights include the hilltop Chichu Art Museum and the Art House Project, where various artists including James Turrell have filled abandoned homes with bizarrely compelling installations. The Benesse House, part museum and part hotel, is worth the splurge (my seafront room had an actual Frank Stella in it) but between the islands’ two small towns there are plenty of guest houses to choose from, plus kickass hole-in-the-wall eateries and gems like Ramane Tsumu, where you’ll chow down on what is — no joke — the best karaage chicken of all time. The islands are particularly well suited for women traveling solo, the sort of place where time just stops, encouraging you to toss your cell phone aside (except when you need it for that matcha ice cream cone selfie). — Emily Zemler

Vancouver Island, Canada

A North American floating fortress of fun
Named for the same guy but well apart from the city, Vancouver Island is a couple of hours by ferry from the Vancouver you’re probably thinking of. Visitors who do take the extra step west from the edge of the continent too often confine their island adventures to Victoria, the charming-af capital of British Columbia. And it’s easy to see why — you can’t throw a hockey puck without hitting a coffee bar, an oceanside farmers market, a beautiful brewery, a heritage bookstore, or an artisan patisserie. The city is lousy with great restaurants, whether you’re after fish and chips or cedar-plank salmon or Japanese tapas. Seals cavort in the harbor. And from the water’s edge, you can see Washington State’s Olympic Mountains rise in the distance. Moms frickin’ love it.