The Big Island, Hawaii
Always ranked high in lists of top island vacations is the Big Island of Hawaii. From tropical rain forests perfect for hiking to black sand beaches perfect for frolicking in the water to reefs full of fish, Hawaii provides areas that seem almost untouched by man. A special treat is visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, which showcases two of the world's most active volcanoes. You might even see lava flowing into the ocean.
From geysers (hot springs) and mud baths to glaciers and volcanoes, Iceland is sure to delight nature lovers. Cool in the summer and fairly mild in the winter, visitors can participate in winter sports such as skiing and snowmobiling, or hike to the most powerful waterfalls in Europe and venture on to the Blue Lagoon. Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on the planet, and in winter features the midnight sun.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The incredible beauty of the lagoon at Bora Bora, surrounded by coral reef islets (called Motu) prompted novelist James Michener to declare Bora Bora the most beautiful island in the world. From an exploratory dive into the lagoon to riding an aquabike underwater or perhaps crossing the lagoon with outrigger canoes, the water will provide adventure. Inland, eco-nature tours and botanical hikes will delight visitors.
Cat Island, Bahamas
Pristine virgin beaches remain uncrowded on Cat Island in the Bahamas; relatively unknown and inexpensive, you can just about pick a beach out and enjoy in solitude. A rustic asphalt road travels the length of the island, providing easy access to hiking trails, bird watching, and southern boot area ponds and lakes. Boating and diving in the turquoise ocean waters are always popular, or just enjoy the feel of oneness with nature.
Ranked high for South Pacific nature and wildlife, Fiji is dedicated to the ecological preservation of a unique heritage. Forests such as a mangrove forest cover half of Fiji and are home to at least 100 species of birds. The Garden of the Sleeping Giant showcases Fiji botanical life, with a jungle walk through a native forest and past a large lily pond. Not to be forgotten, sea turtles nest on the beaches, and the wildlife parks provide fairly rigorous hiking.
Easter Island, Chile (Polynesia)
Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by the natives, is both beautiful and haunting. "Soft" hikes will bring visitors to the Moai--the huge sculptures created by the island's original inhabitants, the Rapa Nui. Originally formed from volcanoes, which are now extinct, Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Virtually treeless, visitors can walk to volcanic craters filled with water, snorkel off the beaches or enjoy nature as they learn the history of the land.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines
Rated one of the best island vacations by National Geographic, the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, provides adventures found nowhere else in the world. From mangrove forests to rivers meandering down the mountains into the seas and tropical rain forests reaching the ocean's edge, nature will inspire in Palawan. Puerto Princesa is the capital, and provides entrance to the world's longest underground river. Another treat is snorkeling in Honda Bay among massive coral reefs.
An unspoiled reef and dramatic underwater walls more than 1,000 feet high provide entry into another world at Dominica. The volcanic history that created Dominica is in evidence under the ocean, awaiting divers. Underwater hot springs, sheer cliff walls and caves so full of fish they appear as curtains surrounding you signal entrance into another world. Earth-side, Morne Trois Pitons National Park features fumaroles, five volcanoes, the emerald pool with waterfall and a "boiling lake."
The southernmost island of the Cyclades, Santorini (called Thira by locals) is located in the Aegean Sea, south of Greece. The island was formed by volcanoes, which periodically awaken to rumble, before sleeping again. When arriving by sea, climbing the narrow, winding steps up the edges of a caldera to Fira, the capital town of Santorini, will provide a test in endurance. But perhaps the greatest part of Santorini is the sunsets; watching the sun go down after a day on a black sand beach or hiking the countryside will take your breath away.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
According to the Ojibwa and Odawa Great Lakes Indian tribes, life first began on Mackinac Island. Located almost as a sentry between the Upper and Lower penninsulas of Michigan in the waters of Lake Superior, Mackinac Island is a step backward in time and nature. Cars have been banned since 1898, and visitors can bike or hike among high limestone bluffs, or enjoy Mackinac Island State Park--a totally free gem of natural and geological treasures.