Though these islands share a geographical vicinity, they are set apart by their cultures, climates, and activities. And whether you lean toward challenging yourself with athletic adventures in Belize, learning about civilizations past on Chile’s Easter Island, or exploring the wildlife-rich Galápagos archipelago, you will find your version of a life-changing experience.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, 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.
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in Belize were big again with T+L readers. The former, Belize’s largest island, is a favored spot for divers who flock to the Hol Chan Marine Preserve (as well as those who prefer not to wade further than their ankles into the crystalline Caribbean). “I spent most of my time underwater,” raved one reader. “Amazing reefs for diving.” On Caye Caulker, bird-watchers gather in the mangrove-dense forest, while divers explore the marine reserve. All can meet in the literal middle, thanks to a narrow channel called the Split, which divides the island and has a beach and a bar.
You won’t find a humming bar scene on Easter Island, the remote 63-square-mile isle famed for its towering moai, stone statues likely created between the 13th and 16th centuries. About 900 are left on the island, and readers described seeing them as “unforgettable” and “incredible.” And you’re certainly not going to Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands — a wildlife-rich volcanic archipelago that many choose to explore via cruise ship — for the nightlife. Here, it’s about what you do during the day: visitors get up close to penguins, sea lions, leatherback sea turtles, marine iguanas, whales — the list goes on. “If you’re interested in natural history, put the Galápagos on your bucket list,” said one reader. “We feel very fortunate to have experienced this journey,” added another. “And hope it is preserved for future generations.”
You can look at pictures of blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos, and you can read about their mating habits. But you haven’t lived until one of these large birds — with no sense of personal space — has walked across your feet because you are between it and its destination. Talk about redefining rush hour. Here, the separation between nature and people seems to vanish, reminding us of our shared place in the world. Curious sea lion pups engage snorkelers in play, blowing bubbles at their masks; prehistoric iguanas lie basking on rocks, and whales and sharks gather close. The Galápagos has won top honors in this category for 15 years straight — and with experiences like these, it’s easy to see why.