One of the greatest rewards of traveling — discovering the new — is reflected in T+L readers’ picks for the world’s best islands. Not only do several islands make their debut but one newcomer to the list also vaulted directly into the No. 1 spot. Thanks to those adventurers who have gone before you, all you need to do is pick your desired body of water to find your paradise.
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.
The Greek islands have long been beloved by T+L readers for their distinctive natural beauty, exquisite food, and ancient culture, and Santorini (this year’s No. 14) has been a regular in the world’s best islands category. But three others — olive-grove-filled Crete (No. 7), volcanic Milos (No. 4), and marble-rich Páros (No. 11) — also earned spots for 2019, making Greece the most represented country on the list.
No. 6 Anguilla, named best island in the Caribbean for the third year in a row, earned praise for its welcoming residents, which one reader called “some of the friendliest I’ve encountered in the Caribbean,” and its “mesmerizing” beaches. Also lauded for its coastlines: the perennially popular Philippine island of Palawan (No. 2) and honeymoon favorites like Fiji (No. 12), Bali (No. 3), and Maldives (No. 5). One reader called Palawan the “single most beautiful place I have ever seen,” while a fan of Maldives — located in the Indian Ocean — gushed over “crystal water with white-sand beaches and very, very friendly locals.”
As for the No. 1 pick, it ups the ante with elephants, leopards, and an excellent cup of tea. Read on for the big reveal.
15. Maui, Hawaii
14. Santorini, Greece
13. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
12. Fiji Islands
11. Páros, Greece
10. Azores, Portugal
9. Koh Lanta, Thailand
8. Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
7. Crete, Greece
4. Milos, Greece
3. Bali, Indonesia
2. Palawan, Philippines
1. Sri Lanka
Located just south of India, this roughly 25,000-square-mile island tempts travelers with a diversity of experiences. Along the stunning coastline, the marine national parks make this destination a surfer’s, snorkeler’s, and diver’s dream. Inland, tea plantations await exploration, as do wildlife parks, which teem with animals, including elephants, monkeys, and one of the world’s largest populations of leopards. Luxurious lodgings suit all tastes, from the eco-friendly, five-star Jetwing Vil Uyana, comprised of thatched dwellings set amid paddies and marshes in the Central Province, to the beachside Amanwella, a 30-suite property that embraces Aman’s dedication to understated indulgence. As one T+L reader wrote, “No wonder it is called the pearl of the Indian Ocean.”