Turks and Caicos
Providenciales, or Provo as it’s known locally, is the tourism capital of the Turks and Caicos. It’s home to a busy international airport, some fairly rampant development and its crowning glory, miles of beautiful white-sand beaches along its northern coast.
Everything is modern and commercial because it’s mostly new. There’s no old town – just a few decades ago, this was all salt flats.
When it comes to outdoor adventure, Maui wins best in show. Just check out that zipliner launching into a canopy of green. Or the mountain biker hurtling past eucalyptus and pine. Hikers have it darn good too, with trails winding through lava flows and bamboo forests. Along the coast, surfers barrel through waves, windboarders skim across whitecaps and snorkelers glide beside green turtles.
And we haven’t even mentioned Maui’s most iconic adventures – all of them flanked by once-in-a-lifetime backdrops. Along the Road to Hana, lofty waterfalls plunge into shimmering pools. A mesmerizing sunrise illuminates the cindery summit of Haleakalā. And the view from Makena Bay? Downright sublime in winter when kayakers share the sea with frolicking humpback whales.
Top-notch restaurants and lodging enhance the island’s natural charms. From scrappy food trucks to white-linen dining rooms, eateries embrace local food and its traditions. Resorts wow guests with impeccable service and prime seaside locations.
Roatán is the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands. Long and thin (50km long, but only 2km to 4km wide), the island is (like neighboring Utila) a real diving and snorkeling mecca – virtually its entire coastline is fringed by an astonishingly diverse coral reef teeming with tropical fish. On land, exquisite white-sand beaches like West Bay, a mountainous interior of pine-forested hills and the remote wild east of the island (once a pirate hangout) beg to be explored.
Roatán attracts a far more midrange crowd than Utila, with few budget options for sleeping and eating. The vast majority of backpackers base themselves in West End, where there’s at least a smattering of hostels and affordable eating options.
Unsurprisingly, this natural beauty hasn’t been ignored by property developers and tour operators: a slew of resort hotels, a shopping mall and a cruise-ship terminal have opened in recent years.
Santorini may well have conquered a corner of your imagination before you’ve even set eyes on it. With multicoloured cliffs soaring over 300m from a sea-drowned caldera, it rests in the middle of the indigo Aegean, looking like a giant slab of layered cake. The island spoons the vast crater left by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history. Smaller islands curl around the fragmented western edge of the caldera, but it is the main island of Thira that will take your breath away with its snow-drift of white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops and, in places, spilling like icy cornices down the terraced rock. When the sun sets, the reflection on the buildings and the glow of the orange and red in the cliffs can be truly spectacular.
Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for most of the year, yet it wears its tourism well and its offerings make it worth the bustle. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique microbrewery, and some of the Cyclades finest accommodation and dining experiences. The multicoloured beaches are simply the icing on the cake.
Once the baby of the Samui–Pha-Ngan–Tao trio, Ko Tao may still be the smallest in size but in many other ways it’s grown up. The island is consistently gaining popularity and going more upscale, but for now this jungle-topped cutie has the busy vibe of Samui mixed with the laid-back nature of Pha-Ngan. But Tao also has its wild card, something the others don’t: easy-to-get-to, diverse diving right off its shores. Cavort with sharks and rays in a playground of tangled neon coral, toast the day with sunset cocktails on a white beach then get up and do it all over again the next day. But even while the island may be synonymous with diving, there is much more to the place. Hikers and hermits can re-enact an episode from Lost in the dripping coastal jungles. And when you’re Robinson Crusoe-ed out, hit the pumpin’ bar scene that rages on until dawn.
To be continued …
Sources: 1. TripAdvisor; 2. Lonely Planet