10 Islands to Explore Before You Die
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If you're going to imagine yourself on an exotic island, dare to dream big! Here are 10 one-of-a-kind islands where you'll discover every item on your wish list, from overwater bungalows and pristine wildlife to sublime street food and mysterious cultural monuments.
Find your center on an island so spiritual it's become known as "Island of the Gods." The warm, spiritual essence that writer Elizabeth Gilbert discovered here and celebrated in Eat, Pray, Love has been native to Bali for centuries. It's one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago—and the only one on which Hindus form the majority (93 percent). Even more striking is the fact that there is a spiritual celebration here nearly every day. Three Hindu temples at the Besakih (the Mother Temple of Bali) survived a 1963 eruption that destroyed nearby villages while missing by mere yards this terraced complex atop volcanic Mount Agung. The event is still considered a miracle by locals, who arrive in regular procession; they balance offerings on their head and climb the steps to the sound of mantras, jingling bells, and the sharp flutter of umbul-umbuls (ceremonial Balinese flags). Anyone interested in exploring the inner self might like the Nirarta Centre, an 11-room hotel set amid rice terraces and gardens that holds daily meditation sessions. After finding your center here, channel your energy into jungle treks, scuba diving, and big-break surfing along beaches of fine white and volcanic black sand. Exhale against a backdrop of rice paddies and Impressionist sunsets that illuminate the Indian Ocean.
Experience the world's clearest bioluminescent bay. When the U.S. Navy packed up and left Vieques in 2003, after more than 60 years, it left something behind: unspoiled nature. Land once used for bombing practice is now designated as a national wildlife refuge. So far there are only a few mega-resorts like those found on the Puerto Rican mainland—instead, you'll find homey inns like the aptly named Great Escape B&B, where breakfast is served poolside (from $115). There are only two notable towns (the population is less than 10,000): Isabel Segunda on the northern side of the island, and the far smaller Esperanza on the south. The effect is that when you reach a beach at the end of a dirt road here, your reward is having the sand largely to yourself. Playa de la Chiva (Blue Beach) attracts daytime snorkelers and divers, but the real reason Vieques belongs on your bucket list is Puerto Mosquito. Of the seven bioluminescent bays on the planet, Puerto Mosquito is the most impressive, thanks to the clarity and brightness of its waters. Schedule a moonless night for a swim or kayak tour and you'll be greeted by billions of micro-organisms called dinoflagellates that ignite the water with a magical blue-green glow (Aqua Frenzy Kayaks, from $30 per person). It's like swimming in a watercolor painting.