World's Best Islands 2010
Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/National Geographic Stock
No. 1: Galápagos, Ecuador
2009 ranking: No. 2. The far-flung archipelago that sparked one of the fundamental scientific premises of our time (Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, inspired by his visit in 1835) has drawn an ever-larger cohort of amateur naturalists in recent years. The challenges of traveling here (the islands lie 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and can be visited only via boat in the company of a national park guide) hardly deter wildlife-enthusiast tourists; the remoteness seems to be part of the fun. It’s certainly what’s kept the islands’ myriad indigenous species—including marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions, and giant tortoises—unfazed by humans. Unique face-time with wild creatures: that’s what has put these islands at the top of our list.