When we hear the word “paradise,” we tend to picture a tropical island. It’s quiet and peaceful, aside from the sound of waves crashing on a pristine beach. Maybe there’s a hammock involved.
But not all paradises are created equal. So, in the spirit of island getaways, here are four destinations that offer four distinct versions of paradise. Whether you prefer sea kayaking, scuba diving, or just chillin’ beachside with plenty of rum in hand, these trips fit the bill.
Ideal for – Scuba diving & Snorkeling
The main attraction here is crystal-clear. The water surrounding this iconic island in the South Pacific is some of the clearest in the world. Hundreds of species of tropical fish populate the waters, and which also act as breeding grounds for manta rays.
Getting to Bora-Bora has never been easier. Air Tahiti now flies direct to French Polynesia from New York and Los Angeles, flying to Papeete, Tahiti first and then tacking on a 40-minute flight to Bora-Bora.
Swimming with manta rays may sound a little sketchy at first, but the locals aren’t shy about feeding — or even petting — the rays sharing the water. No scuba gear is required for this activity; a snorkel and a mask are all that’s needed.
Scuba divers are rewarded with a wider variety of fish, plus the aquarium-like sensation of bright, clear water at substantial depths.
2. Baja California
Ideal for – Sea kayaking, whale-watching & Camping
If your imagined paradise features more wildlife than people, Baja’s a great spot to turn that into reality. The southeastern coast is a sea kayaker’s playground writ large — five major islands can become beachfront campsites in between paddling expeditions.
On the water, you’ll be sharing the scene with pods of bottlenose dolphins, as well as migrating humpbacks and gray whales. They’re not exactly shy, so keep a camera handy (or a hydrophone, if you’re into eavesdropping). Brown pelicans and California sea lions are also abundant, feeding on the schools of fish that populate the Sea of Cortez.
Starting in the city of La Paz, and ending up in Loreto, a curious kayaker could easily spend three weeks soaking in the scene. The islands of Danzante, Monserrat, Santa Catalina, San Jose, and Espiritu Santo offer great beach camping, and the fishing is usually reliable.
3. British Virgin Islands
Ideal for – Snorkeling, Sea kayaking & Sailing
Sometimes it’s the simple stuff that makes all the difference. In the BVI, it starts with the sand — soft, white sand that feels good between your toes. You don’t even have to recline to relax. Of course, the water’s not bad either, and the steady 15- to 20-knot winds make sailing a breeze.
The island of Tortola, the largest in the BVI, is a great place to get started. You can charter a boat, or check out the party scene at the infamous Bomba’s Surfside Shack in Little Apple Bay.
Another popular island is Jost Van Dyke, which boasts plenty of palm trees (and hammocks!), mountain paths to explore, and a vast array of bars. The nearby Dog Islands are part of the BVI National Parks Trust, and offer stunning snorkeling and diving.
The coral reef surrounding the atoll of Anegada is the most colorful in the BVI, and because it’s relatively far-flung, offers more privacy than many of the other islands.
4. Islas Los Roques
Ideal for – kiteboarding & windsurfing
This archipelago off the coast of Venezuela is a National Park. It’s pristine, largely uninhabited, and just 45 minutes by air from Caracas. You can leave your wetsuit at home — the water often exceeds 80 degrees in temperature.
The main island of Gran Roque offers places to stay overnight, including inns right on the beach. While the water and beaches both fit the paradise bill, the big attraction on Islas Los Roques is the steady breeze.
The consistent east-northeasterly trade winds make for one of the best kiteboarding and windsurfing spots in the Caribbean. If you don’t want to bring gear, or are new to the sport, Vela Windsurf Resorts on neighboring Francisqui Island has everything you need.
Many of the islands are so close together you can reach them via kiteboard. Not a bad way to find your own private paradise.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.