World's Best Island Hotels
It’s so idyllic it’s almost cliché: a South Pacific bungalow that stretches out over clear blue water, with a bedside picture window to take in the view. That’s exactly what you’ll find at the InterContinental Bora Bora, along with a seawater-centric spa and Bora Bora’s chicest lounge.
The combination of luxury and location got this InterContinental the nod as one of the world’s best island hotels by Travel + Leisure readers. The results are culled from T+L’s World’s Best Awards Survey, where we ask readers to vote on their favorite hotels around the globe. (Vote now in this year’s survey!) In other words, if your travel plans include an island escape, this is the list to consult.
Of the 20 best island hotels, Caribbean properties made the biggest splash this year, with seven on our list. Coming in at No. 11, Jamaica’s Couples Swept Away in Negril, epitomizes the destination’s couples-only, all-inclusive appeal in its 312 romantic suites with louvered windows overlooking the soft sand and gentle surf of Seven Mile Beach.
The sand’s a bit grittier at Chesterman Beach on British Columbia’s wild Vancouver Island. That’s the setting of the No. 4 best island hotel, the 75-room Wickaninnish Inn. A haven for nature lovers year-round—even during winter’s tumultuous “storm-watching” season—the Wickaninnish charms guests with its in-room fireplaces and soaking tubs, plus a hotel restaurant that serves seasonal dishes with 240-degree views of the crashing waves.
Further out in the Pacific, Hawaii lays claim to five of the 20 best island hotels. One of the winners: The Lodge at Koele—the Four Seasons resort on the island of Lana’i. You’ll find rattan armchairs on covered porches, shaded forests and gardens, and the charming sensibility of an upland plantation estate. Although it’s not a beachfront paradise, the 102-room Lodge at Koele has its own trump cards: a tranquil vibe, world-class golf, and room rates below those found at five-star hotels on neighboring Maui. For those unwinding at the Lana’i hotel in the island’s central highlands, the scene is indeed mai ka lani (“heaven sent”).
Want to know which property is No. 1 of the best island hotels? Read on for the winners.
No. 1 Nisbet Plantation Beach Club,Nevis
At the Caribbean’s only historic plantation inn set right on the beach, wicker-furnished cottages are spread among palm trees filled with green Vervet monkeys and beachfront hammocks that swing in the breeze. For the best views book one of the six Lower Deluxe Junior suites, with attached patios facing the ocean. Hoping to see more of the island’s sugar plantations? The hotel will be happy to put you in touch with Reggie Douglas, Nevis’s reigning cycling champ, for a 2-hour bike tour.
No. 2 Jade Mountain, St. Lucia
Located at the highest point of the island, near the west coast town of Soufrière, this hillside hotel with a curved exterior and rough stone accents may be one of world’s the most recognizable. Inside, each of the 28 suites is unique, but they all share impressive features: infinity pools or jacuzzis, 15-foot ceilings, and loftlike architecture—even the raised bathroom is essentially part of one huge space. But since there is no fourth wall obscuring the view, the Piton mountain vistas takes center stage.
No. 3 Jamaica Inn, Jamaica
Long a favorite among visiting British elite, including the likes of Winston Churchill, this classic Caribbean resort on the east side of Ocho Rios was thoroughly renovated in 2007. Now the 47 suites are a blend of Indonesian, colonial, and retro Jamaican décor, but remain refreshingly unplugged, with no TV’s to shatter the peace. Every suite has its own outdoor space, with a private infinity pool and sea entrance just steps from the bedrooms.
No. 4 Wickaninnish Inn, British Columbia
The Wickaninnish Inn, set on a remote, pine forest–ringed promontory near Pacific Rim National Park, is best enjoyed during fierce weather—the more tumultuous, the better. In the 75 rooms, plush beds and deep soaking tubs sit beside floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the churning ocean. Don a rain jacket for a walk along Chesterman Beach, or relax next to your fireplace with a Pacific Northwest Pinot Noir and the binoculars that are provided in each room.
No. 5 Little Palm Island Resort &Spa, Florida Keys
This well-regarded private sanctuary is comprised of a cluster of thatched-roof bungalows, a Thai-and-Balinese spa, and a beachfront restaurant (not to mention a new Chef’s Table), and it’s all reachable by a 15-minute boat ride or by seaplane from the mainland. A bonus? Overnight rates include valet parking, boat transfers, mini-bar beverages, and use of watersports equipment.
No. 6 Four Seasons Resort Hualalai,HI
“Perfect,” “heaven,” and “the best vacation of my life” are just a few ways guests describe this tropical island resort where all 228 rooms, in two-story bungalows, have ocean views. Meanwhile, the grounds border the dramatic volcanic rock coast with seawater and freshwater swimming pools and an open-air spa teems with tropical vegetation. Be sure to schedule tee time: The private 7,100-square-foot oceanfront Jack Nicklaus signature golf course is carved right into the underlying black lava, which serves as occasional bunkers.
No. 7 Couples Tower Isle, Jamaica
This Jamaica property, the first Couples resort, set the standard for all-inclusive hotels when it opened over 60 years ago. Recently renovated to the tune of $30 million, the hotel now offers 20 new rooms, a dive pool, and 10 spa treatment suites. Reserve the top floor Ocean Junior Suites and you’ll have balconies with sea views, flat-screen TV's, and king-size beds.
No. 8 Halekulani, Oahu
It’s all about service at this recently renovated 5-acre Waikiki Beach beauty, which has existed for nearly a century. Breakfast is a highlight: at the open-air dining room at Orchids restaurant, paddle straight for the Hawaiian specialties: pipi kaula beef jerky, marinated ahi tuna poke, lomilomi cured salmon, Waimanalo roast suckling pig, local Kula tomatoes, and Big Island goat cheese. The Halekulani kitchen also whips up the Pacific’s best popovers. Once you’re thoroughly stuffed, book a traditional Polynesian spa treatment like Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage.
No. 9 Kahala Hotel & Resort,Oahu
This Oahu classic—fresh from a major renovation—now has thoughtful in-room details (Frette linens; chenille robes; oversize showerheads) in addition to a dolphin-filled lagoon and views of Diamond Head. But it’s the hotel’s storied history that makes this 1964 colossus such an icon. It was here, at what was then a Hilton and known as the Kahollywood, that Richard Burton and Liz Taylor hid out from the paparazzi in a private cabana.
No. 10 Four Seasons Resort Lanai, TheLodge at Koele
An English country manor sensibility pervades this 20-acre central-highland property on sparsely populated Lanai. The 102 rooms and suites have verandas, many fronting the perfectly manicured lawns where croquet and lawn bowling are played. Spend your days on jeep tours, hiking, horseback riding, or skeet shooting, then unwind by the enormous stone fireplaces in the hunting lodge–like Great Hall, sumptuous with dark rich wood, skylights, and libraries and sitting rooms in the wings.
No. 11 Couples Swept Away, Jamaica
The all-inclusive vacation is a grown-up affair at this refined adults-only resort. The 312 airy wood-and-tile rooms and suites are spread out over 17 acres of gardens along Negril's Seven Mile Beach, on Jamaica’s western shore. A recent $7 million expansion added nice touches, such as an infinity pool. Be sure to try the “Hummingbird,” a local favorite drink made with coffee liquer, strawberry, banana, rum, and milk.
No. 12 Couples Sans Souci, Jamaica
The award-winning spa has a mineral pool and a hidden, spring-fed grotto at this cliffside adults-only resort in Ocho Rios. Although Ristorante Casanova’s Jamaican fusion menu is beloved by travelers, it’s the casual Bella Vista restaurant, right on the beach, where you can get the best jerk chicken on the island. Check into a one-bedroom beachfront suite, which has sitting areas and views of the ocean from balconies or patios.
No. 13 Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club,GA
Forty country-style rooms and on-site access to a legendary golf course—complete with a roaming bagpiper come evening—are the draws at this genteel lodge just off southeastern Georgia’s Atlantic coast. Suites and living rooms are more than 1,000 square feet and have water or golf course views, plus 24-hour butler service. For those looking for serious relaxation, guests have access to the amenities of the lodge’s sister property, The Cloister, including its 65,000-square-foot spa.
No. 14 Four Seasons Resort at JimbaranBay, Bali
Luxurious and dramatic, this Four Seasons sits atop a cliff at the southern end of Jimbaran Bay. The 147 thatched-roof pavilions are furnished in carved teak and upholstered in tropical batik fabrics; some have kitchenettes, and all have gardens, and terraces with private plunge pools that staffers sprinkle daily with frangipani blossoms. Views from them spill out over the sea and the soaring peak of Mount Agung, and many have private access to the resort’s private, white-sand beach, with its arsenal of water sports (catamarans, windsurfers, and canoes).
No. 15 The Cloister, Sea Island,GA
A mansion set on 1,000 acres of a barrier island along the Black Banks River and the Atlantic Shore make up this storied hotel, which has long been a favorite of the East Coast Establishment. Return guests often prefer to unpack the Beach Club Suites, which have kitchens, fireplaces and balconies and are set close to three pools, an ice cream parlor, movie theater, and children's center. Other hotel activities include a 90-minute tour ($100 per person) of the salt marsh onboard the Cloister Belle, a restored antique yacht, to see oyster beds and live shrimp.
No. 16 Discovery Shores Boracay,Philippines
Imagine 88 rooms on a tiny island known for powder-white-sand beaches, where kids learn the Filipino versions of hopscotch and tag and climb up a bamboo pole in a popular local game known as palosebo. Yes, this is Discovery Shores, new to the T+L 500 in 2011. Is the Boracay’s White Beach truly the finest spot of sand in the world? Guests of this island hotel have the chance to find out.
No. 17 Sandy Lane, Barbados
Long the chosen Caribbean retreat of the silk-cravat and shih tzu-in-a-satchel set, this hotel uses its house Bentley for airport transfers. With its three golf courses, well-known children's program, beach assistants ready to clean your sunglasses, a five-bedroom villa, and 112 marble-floored rooms—with plasma-screen televisions, no less—what more could you want?
No. 18 Hayman, Great Barrier Reef
Hayman is one of the Great Barrier Reef’s big resorts, with 234 guest rooms, 500 employees, and five dining venues. Capitalizing on a sensational crescent of beach, a luxury resort opened in the 1950s and flourished for two decades before a 1970 cyclone. After the resort reopened six months later, 650,000 trees and shrubs were introduced to the island; of the 1,000 palms, 22 form a glamorous avenue. Rooms fronting the seven-times-Olympic-size swimming pool—so gigantic it loses 1,500 gallons of water in evaporation and runoff per day—have terraces that jut into the water, so you can jump right in from your bed.
No. 19 Four Seasons Resort Maui atWailea
A favored hideout for Hollywood types in search of a Polynesian interlude, the 380-room resort caters to every pleasurable whim. Stroll in a traditional Hawaiian healing garden to the renovated spa, where you can soothe sunned skin with an avocado mask in a treatment room for two. The resort also customizes spa packages—think coconut, pineapple, and kukui nut–based therapies—for its guests. Those who are looking for a little more activity can snorkel, scuba, or take yoga classes for free, in a place where most resorts charge extra.
No. 20 InterContinental Bora Bora Resort &Thalasso Spa, Bora Bora
Book one of the 80 floating bungalows at this French Polynesia luxury oasis, where views of marine life through glass-bottom coffee tables makes it worth the splurge. But who travels all that way to face other travelers? Be sure to book one of the Diamond Otemanu Overwater Villas, which face Mount Otemanu, and not other suites.