Last year's World's Best Awards survey closed on March 2, 2020, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers' experiences before the pandemic, but we hope the honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.
Palm-fringed islands scalloped with ivory sand are the stuff of dreams, and this year's list of the best islands in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas offers plenty of inspiration. Sunny stalwarts such as Jamaica, Aruba, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands are well represented. But we're pleased to see less-traveled destinations — namely Nevis, Bonaire, and Culebra, Puerto Rico — also getting the nod.
Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.
Related: The World's Best Awards 2020
Unsurprisingly, archipelagos in the Bahamas, the United States, and the British Virgin Islands, known for their idyllic cays, dominate the rankings. Several readers raved about the "crystal-clear waters" and "sugar-like sand" of the Bahamas' Exumas (No. 8), home to "some of the most beautiful beaches in the world."
New to the rankings is No. 16 Nevis, a volcanic gem that's the smaller half of the twin-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Readers described it as "a lovely surprise" with "beaches, food, and people that make me want to return." Another Caribbean twin, No. 23 St. Maarten/St. Martin, received praise for its "very good food and restaurants," "wonderful beaches," and "incredible array of activities." One reader called it "the best island in the Caribbean."
But the official No. 1, according to the survey, belongs to Anguilla, a neighbor with "beautiful beaches and people." Succinctly described by one reader as "perfection," it snags the top spot for the fourth year in a row. Scroll down for the details and the full list of the best islands in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.
A half-hour ferry ride north of St. Maarten, this 35-square-mile island boasts a whopping 33 beaches, many of which you can have all to yourself. Beyond what one reader called "best in the world" sands, palatial villas and primo resorts — including Belmond Cap Juluca and Frangipani Beach Resort, which made this year's Best Caribbean Hotels list — draw discerning sunseekers. "Every single meal we had in Anguilla was so delicious," gushed one respondent about the dining scene, comprising more than 100 restaurants serving everything from potent rum punch to the indigenous lobster-like crayfish. It's hard to praise the four-time-winning island more than the reader who said, "If you want that postcard-perfect beach vacation, with palm trees, crystal-clear seas, and friendly locals, this is the island for you."
2. Abaco Islands, Bahamas
Raymond Sahuquet/Courtesy of Bahamas Ministry Of Tourism & Aviation
The boating capital of the Bahamas delivers all a sailor (or lucky passenger) could want: calm waters; superb fishing (bonefish, tuna, and marlin are plentiful); and easy anchorage throughout the 120-mile chain of 14 limestone islands afloat in turquoise sea. Homey cottage resorts scattered throughout the archipelago welcome water-loving visitors when it's time to take to land.
3. Harbour Island, Bahamas
Once the capital of the Bahamas, tiny Harbour Island's claim to fame is the three-mile-long ribbon of pink sand along its eastern coast. Book a room at any of several "Briland" beachfront boutique hotels (Pinks Sands and Coral Sands are good choices) and enjoy views of the rosy crushed-coral strip.
4. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 85.10
The third-largest BVI has natural beauty in abundance. Trails are flanked with wild tropical foliage. Hikes are rewarded with panoramic views of neighboring islands (head to Gorda Peak, the island's highest, for the best vantage point). And pristine beaches give way to stunning rock formations such as the Baths, where gargantuan granite boulders form tidal pools at the water's edge.
5. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Courtesy of U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 84.86
The smallest USVI is accessible only by sea (take the ferry from St. Thomas) but once you arrive you'll immediately catch the relaxed, flip-flop-friendly vibe. Dreamy beaches, a hilly landscape, superb snorkeling, and diving are big draws on the tiny Virgin, two-thirds of which is designated as Virgin Islands National Park.
6. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The Grenadines is an off-the-grid archipelago of 32 compact islands (nine inhabited), which is governed by two countries: Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St. Vincent's seven Grenadines (Mustique, Canouan, and Bequia among them) seduce visitors with palm-tree-pierced beaches and sapphire seas where you can spot, swim with, and snorkel among green turtles.
Courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority
Located beyond the hurricane belt, this Dutch-Caribbean favorite has easy air access, fabulous beaches, and a cosmopolitan culture comprising more than 90 nationalities. Little wonder that "one happy island" cracks our survey's top 10 this year.
8. Exumas, Bahamas
Courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation
A string of 365 cays in the Bahamas' 700-island chain, the Exumas float in epically blue water just a 40-minute flight from Nassau. Whether you want to swim with pigs (Big Major Cay) and nurse sharks (Compass Cay) or just snap a selfie straddling the Tropic of Cancer line on Pelican Beach (Little Exuma), these islands are where you need to be.
9. Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Courtesy of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board & Film Commission
This tiny Virgin lures yachties to alluring sandy stretches such as White Bay and Great Harbour, and draws drinkers to the beach bars that preside there, including the infamous Soggy Dollar Bar and Foxy's. If sipping Painkillers as you stand in warm waist-deep water is your kind of thing, then this rugged and rustic three-square-mile island is your kind of place.
10. St. Bart’s
The well-known and wealthy are drawn like magnets to this French-Caribbean outpost, which combines Gallic chic with Caribbean cool. It also boasts some of the most luxurious (and priciest) hotels in the region, including reader favorites Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa, Le Sereno, and Eden Rock St. Barths, which made our list of the top 25 Caribbean hotels this year.
11. Vieques, Puerto Rico
The larger of Puerto Rico's two "Spanish Virgin Islands" (its "sister" is Culebra), Vieques is a sleepy oasis just six miles offshore and a 30-minute flight from San Juan. The laid-back island is known for its quiet beaches; a pair of charming towns, Esperanza and Isabella II; the bioluminescent waters of Mosquito Bay; and the iconic "free-range" horses that roam the rugged landscape.
12. Eleuthera, Bahamas
Courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation
With the white grains of the Great Bahama Banks, this Out Island is definitely in with beach lovers, fishing fans, and visitors craving relaxed respite from the doldrums of daily life. A visit to the "pineapple capital of the world" (they've been cultivating them here since the 18th century) is sure to be sweet.
13. Turks and Caicos
Powdery sands and Windex-blue waters have made Providenciales, the islands' tourist hub affectionately known as Provo, famous. And with stunning sweeps such as Grace Bay and luxe resorts including Seven Stars Resort & Spa and Point Grace (which made our list of the top 25 Caribbean hotels) dominating the scene, the attention is well-deserved. Seven other inhabited islands in the archipelago boast beaches equally worthy of your bum.
14. Culebra, Puerto Rico
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico
With a population of just 1,800, this 11-square-mile island east of the mainland is a go-to for travelers in search of tranquil beaches (Flamenco is a must), snorkel spots (put your face in the water at Playa Tamarindo), and a relaxed vibe you won't find in San Juan.
This 21-square-mile North Atlantic archipelago offers the best of its not-so-nearby Caribbean neighbors: pink sands, rummy cocktails, and postcard-perfect colorful architecture, as well as those famous above-the-knee shorts. Beloved by families, golfers, and honeymooners, it's a fixture on the list, appearing this year for five years straight.
Courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority
Frequently described as magical, Nevis is only a 45-minute ferry ride from its big sister, St. Kitts, yet feels a world apart. The 36-square-mile isle will suit travelers in search of natural beauty and an unhurried pace seldom seen in better-known tourist hubs.
17. St. Lucia
Courtesy of Saint Lucia Tourism Authority
Stay within sight of its iconic volcanoes, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, at, say, Jade Mountain or Anse Chastanet (No. 9 and No. 21 respectively on our list of the top 25 Caribbean resorts), and you'll be awed by the rugged beauty of this gem, where the lush topography recalls the South Pacific.
18. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
We think that windswept beaches, a vibrant dining scene, and the historic towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted — as well as no passport requirement for U.S. citizens — make the largest of three major United States Virgin Islands a convenient Caribbean getaway. Clearly, our readers agree.
Lapped by both the crashing Atlantic Ocean and calm Caribbean, the easternmost island in the region ("Bim" to locals) is known for being the birthplace of rum and, centuries later, superstar Rihanna. Compact and easily explored, the family-friendly destination is packed with sights and attractions, including Harrison's Cave, where an electric tram plies a 1½-mile network of stunning caverns first mapped in 1974.
20. Cayman Islands
Famous for impressive dive sites and marine experiences such as Stingray City, this trio of islands has long been popular with visitors in search of fine dining and sophisticated resorts (Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa made our list of the top 25 resorts in the Caribbean), with jaw-dropping strands such as Seven Mile Beach on the side. The smaller sister islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are a laid-back alternative to George Town's bustle, and only a 45-minute flight away.
21. Antigua, Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua rightfully promotes its 365 beaches. But the larger of the twin islands offers more than just sun, sea, and sand. Enjoy panoramic island views from the colonial-era lookout at Shirley Heights, where the Sunday afternoon "jump-up" and barbecue is legendary. Post-party, repair to a plush hotel such as Jumby Bay Island (No. 15 on our list of the top 25 Caribbean resorts), a carless, all-inclusive private-island resort just offshore. Also offshore: the smaller sister island of Barbuda, whose pink-sand shores are a 90-minute ferry ride away.
Courtesy of The Jamaica Tourist Board
The Caribbean's largest English-speaking island is the total package: soaring mountains; seductive beaches; dynamic people; and a vibrant culture that's recognized worldwide. Make your base at a boutique resort such as Tensing Pen or Rockhouse in Negril (both made the top 10 of this year's best Caribbean hotel rankings), and then explore the island's natural attractions. Biking through the Blue Mountains or bamboo rafting along Portland's Rio Grande are good places to start.
23. (tie) St. Maarten/St. Martin
Donovane Tremor/Courtesy of St. Martin Tourist Office
Travelers score two countries for the price of one on this Dutch and French island known for its dining scene (check out the beachfront "lolos" on the French side) and strands such as Maho Beach, where incoming aircraft seem to soar just above plane-spotters' heads before landing nearby. Buzzy bars, duty-free shopping, and the castaway beach scene at Pinel Island top visitors' must-dos.
23. (tie) Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Courtesy of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board & Film Commission
The largest of 60 British Virgin Islands and home to the archipelago's capital, Tortola is the perfect launchpad for exploration of the waters that have made it the sailing capital of the Caribbean. While diving and snorkeling are worthy underwater pursuits, lush mountains, scalloped harbors, and evocatively named beaches such as Apple Bay and Smuggler's Cove tempt visitors on land.
Flavio Vallenari/iStockphoto/Getty Images
With a whopping 89 dive sites and 65 coral species, Bonaire is one of the Caribbean's best-loved diving destinations. But topside options — sampling the island's famous iguana soup and the world's only cactus liqueur, as well as touring its stunning salt flats — make the Dutch-Caribbean island worth the trip for divers and landlubbers alike.
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.