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Beautiful Bucket List Islands to Visit

Dreaming of beautiful islands, waves lapping at your feet, and a warm, gentle breeze? Vacation planning is a delicious respite as you envision your dream locale — second only to being there. And while some might be happy with a destination offering a plethora of culture, history, and art, true beach lovers cannot wait to hit the sandy beaches. Just imagine burying your weary feet in the warm sand, washing your cares away in a waterfall, and sipping on coconut cocktails as the sunset paints the sky in brilliant shades of hope. Later, you'll feast on glorious seafood that awaits you on the most beautiful island in the world. It's enough to pack your flip-flops and beach hats and book the vacation of your dreams.

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01 Visit a mountain peak church in Santorini

Oia at sunset, Santorini island, Greece Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

If you couldn’t get enough of the Broadway musical Mamma Mia, Santorini might be the vacation of your dreams. Think whitewashed houses, indigo-blue domed churches, lush vineyards, and black sand beaches. Head to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri at the summit of a large rock and feel like Meryl Streep for a day. This Greek island’s unique terrain was partly formed by a 16th-century volcanic eruption, which also left in its wake a steep underwater crater called a caldera which shyly peeps out of the water, always delighting its audience.

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02 Relax in an over-water bungalow in Bora Bora

Over water resort in a tropical sea. Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

The renowned over-the-water stilted villas with glass floors are a honeymooner's delight on this gorgeous South Pacific island in French Polynesia. Lounge in secluded luxury with room service brought in by special boats or frolic around on your own private deck. A gorgeous coral reef surrounds the lazy, translucent lagoon and provides opportunities to scuba dive if you’re looking for a bit of holiday adventure.

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03 Be awestruck by the Blue Grotto in mesmerizing Capri

Capri Island, the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) Maremagnum / Getty Images

Pack up the flowing, summery dresses and swim trunks before heading out to Capri, an Italian island in the Gulf of Naples, popular for its limoncello (lemon liqueur) and the famed Blue Grotto. Hire a rowboat to enter the cave, where the optical effect of the sun’s beams bouncing off the underwater walls makes the sea shimmer with an electric blue glow. You won't forget to revel in the extraordinary cuisine, and why not explore the myriad shopping options?

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04 Do the hula in tropical Maui

Upper Waikani Falls - also know as the "Three Bears" - on the road to Hana Ed Freeman / Getty Images

Set your sights on this beautiful Hawaiian ‘Valley Isle’ where the ever-smiling dancers will enthrall you as they perform the hula dance. To satisfy your inner adventure junkie, scale Maui’s highest volcanic peak at the Haleakala National Park and explore the natural plunge pools and waterfalls of Ohe’o Gulch. And who knows? You might have some luck spotting the migrating humpback whales if you visit during the winter months.

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05 Marvel at the golden Buddha in Koh Samui

Tourists in Thailand itsskin / Getty Images

Want to explore ancient Thai culture while not missing out on great food and a buzzing vibe? Palm-fringed beaches, posh resorts, and mountainous rainforest are at your doorstep on this idyllic island. Stroll around the Fisherman’s Village at Bophut and attend the fabulous beach parties. And why not book a bicycle tour to Ang Thong National Marine Park or take the causeway to admire the 300-feet-tall (92 meters) golden Buddha statue at the Wat Phra Yai Temple nearby.

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06 Meet the stingrays in the Grand Cayman

Woman snorkeling with a large Southern Stingray (Dasyatis americana) at Stingray City Grand Cayman. Justin Lewis / Getty Images

Drown all your sorrows in the crystal waters of the Grand Cayman islands, the largest of the British Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, and a huge cruise ship port. The striking coral reefs, massive stingrays, and various water sport options can help you rejuvenate. If that's not your thing, the duty-free shopping for luxury brands will definitely do the trick! The ruins of Fort George, Rum Point snorkeling, and the Turtle Centre will help complete your luxury vacation.

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07 Frolic with Australian wildlife at Kangaroo Island

Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, Australia, Australasia Ignacio Palacios / Getty Images

True to its name, this little island off the South Australian mainland is home to the native hopping marsupials better known as kangaroos — "roos" to the locals. In fact, more than a third of this island is home to indigenous wildlife, including koalas, seals, and sea lions. Just a half-hour plane journey from Adelaide, you can rent a car to explore the Flinders Chase National Park, well known for its unique sculpted rock formations, including the Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks with its penguin colonies.

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08 Search for the Loch Ness monster at the Isle of Skye

The Cuillins of Skye from the rocky Coruisk coastline, Scotland. The long hike to reach this point is tiring and involves some scrambling on rough gabbro rock, but is all the more rewarding. lucentius / Getty Images

With rugged cliffs surrounded by narrow glittering lochs (lakes), this Scottish island will regale you with its picturesque landscape. The 50-mile long "cloud island" is famous for its medieval castles and quaint fishing villages. Aptly named by Viking explorers, enjoy hiking the mist-covered hills or taking a boat ride to find the legendary Loch Ness monster.

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09 Take in the rich biodiversity of Seychelles

Woman snorkeling in clear water amongst granite boulders. Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Leave your worldly cares aside while you immerse yourself in the rich biodiversity of this Indian Ocean archipelago. The lush tropical vegetation creates a home for indigenous blue pigeons, black parrots, and unique seabirds. Visit the Aldabra Atoll’s giant wild tortoises, scour the mountain rainforests of Morne Seychellois National Park on Praslin Island, or snorkel in the waters of the serene Beau Vallon beach.

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10 Explore ancient temples in Bali

Asia, Indonesia, Bali, young Asian woman standing on boat admiring Tamblingan Hindu temple, submerged in water, using a smart phone to take a photograph. Martin Puddy / Getty Images

The verdant terraces, rice paddies, and sloped fields of this splendid Indonesian island will entrance you along with its culture and heritage. Make a day of hiking to the Uluwatu Temple by the cliffs, exploring the many coral reefs in the glassy waters, and enjoying the night markets with their tasty fare and native handicrafts. Book a yoga retreat or a meditation session or join enthusiastic tourists in sampling local cocktails in the many upbeat bars in nearby Kuta.

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