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Travel & Leisure
updated 11/1/2011 3:45:54 PM ET 2011-11-01T19:45:54

After a long flight and a steep hike, you finally reach your own slice of paradise: Kauai’s private white-sand Pali Ke Kua Beach, where the only other living creature is a sea turtle laying her eggs.

Islands naturally ignite wanderlust, and the Hawaiian island of Kauai (ranked No. 8) is a longtime favorite among Travel + Leisure readers. Maybe it’s the frisson that comes from leaving the mainland—and your everyday cares—behind as you cross that watery barrier, a physical reminder that you are, indeed, cut off from the rest of the world. Whether your journey is a short ferry ride or oceans away, the extra effort it takes to get to that island seems to heighten the experience exponentially.

But which islands are most worthy of the trip? We asked readers to cast their votes in T+L’s 16th annual World’s Best survey, and the results reveal one universal truth: a predilection for islands with astonishing natural beauty. Bali continues to hold on to its ranking in the top five, but there are also surprises. Two of last year’s European islands fell off the list, while a desire for the far-flung raised the profile of destinations in the South Pacific and Asia.

One such newcomer, Boracay in the Philippines, may be one of the last undiscovered Asian beach getaways. The sandy-shored speck is accessible via a frequent hour-long flight from Manila to Caticlan, followed by a 10-minute ferry ride. Now is the moment to go, as the openings of five-star properties like the Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa and Discovery Shores will only spur on tourism.

Even if islands get you dreaming of remote places, you don’t need to abandon North America to find an unspoiled shoreline. On Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, rugged beaches and forested headlands set the scene for a rich local culture that blends Scottish, Acadian, Irish, African, and native Mi’kmaq influences. Take them all in at a ceilidh (kay-lee) dance gathering.

North America, Europe, Asia—every continent except for Antarctica is accounted for among the World’s Best Islands. Read on to find out which island nabbed the No. 1 spot and whether your favorite island escape made the cut.

—Jennifer Miranda

Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands, combines ancient ruins with a dynamic café and restaurant scene. Anchored by Rhodes Town, the popular destination is also beloved for its outlying villages, such as labyrinthine Lindos. Add ample sunshine, some of Greece’s most pristine beaches, hidden coves, and remnants of an Islamic and Jewish past, and you get a taste of the entire Mediterranean on a single island.

Copyright © 2012 Amex

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