The 11 Top Islands to Visit in 2024
Islands have long held a special place in travelers’ hearts. It could be argued that as long as there has been leisure travel, from the accessible to the exclusive, islands have topped the hearts and minds of people looking for an escape. For some, the main draws are nice weather and beaches. Others prefer cold-weather islands that bring a rugged sense of individualism. Certain islands and island chains are perennial favorites for travelers from the United States, like Hawai’i and Puerto Rico — and it’s easy to say there’s never a bad time to start planning a return trip. Yet 2024 can be the year you decide to venture farther afield. There are islands more accessible than ever thanks to new direct flights this year, as well as islands that are rugged wonderlands filled with nature and outdoor adventure. Wherever you choose to go on this list, it’ll be immediately clear why islands and travel have always been so closely linked.
Contributors: Suzie Dundas, Morgane Croissant, Nickolaus Hines, and Eben Diskin.
An island off the coast of Iceland, Heimaey (pronounced “hei-ma-ei,” meaning “home island” in Icelandic) is mostly known for the devastating Eldfell volcano eruption in 1973. The eruption lasted more than six months, forcing the inhabitants to evacuate, destroying homes, and covering the island in ash and lava. But many of the islanders came back that same year and helped rebuild. Today, 4,300 people live on beautiful Heimaey. When it comes to international tourists, however, few make it all the way there.
Fifty years after the eruption, anyone can hike to the top of Eldfell. While you need hiking boots and a warm and waterproof jacket, the hike is short and fun. To learn about the island and the events of 1973 in more detail, hire a local guide through Viking Tours. If you prefer to explore Heimaey independently, you can extend the hike by going to the top of Helgafell, another volcanic cone, and make your way to the volcano museum afterward.
If you’d rather skip the hike, make sure to still check out the black stave church by the harbor. It’s a replica, not the real deal, but it’s still very impressive. Afterward, pay a visit to the Sea Life Trust located in the visitor center across from the harbor. Pay your entrance fee in cash (cards are not accepted) to see rescued puffins on the mend, as well as Little Grey and Little White, two beluga whales who came from a Shanghai water park to retire in the natural bay, which is the world’s first beluga sanctuary visible from the top of Eldfell.
As if that wasn’t enough, the best part about Heimaey is its Puffin Patrol. In August and September, baby puffins (known as pufflings) launch from the cliffs where they were born a few months earlier to reach the ocean where they’ll spend winter. They are meant to follow the light from the moon, but artificial lights from Vestmannaeyjar (the only town in Heimaey) disorient them, and that’s when the Puffin Patrol does its miracle work. The volunteers that make the patrol, mostly children, go about the town at night with flashlights looking for pufflings who lost their way before capturing them and taking them to Hamarrin, the official puffin release area.
Heimaey is easily accessible from mainland Iceland. There is a ferry running between Landeyjahöfn (two hours from Reykjavik by bus or car) and Vestmannaeyjar seven times per day. The ride is only 45 minutes, but take seasickness pills with you — the waters can be very choppy in this part of the world.
Jamaica has long been one of the most influential Caribbean islands when it comes to culture and food in the US. Not to mention music — a connection that is going to be all the more in the spotlight with the biographical movie Bob Marley: One Love coming out in February. Going there, whether it’s your first visit or your hundredth, brings everything to life.
Even regulars to the island’s various resorts have something new to embrace in 2024. There’s the recently opened, adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Blue Waters, an Autograph Collection resort in Montego Bay, and the Ocho Rios adults-only all-inclusive Sandals Dunn’s River (which also offers a stargazing concierge). Princess Grand Jamaica between Montego Bay and Negril will open in April for a new all-inclusive, family-friendly option. The historic Falmouth will see the opening of Riu Palace Aquarelle, while the exclusive luxury resort Bluefields Bay Villas on South Coast is adding more villas with a grand collection called The Suites and Skylark Negril Beach Resort got an expansion in 2022. Classics, of course, never go out of style, like the luxury resort Round Hill Hotel & Villas.
For an experience you can’t get back home, the boutique Rockhouse Hotel has a spa and bathhouse that makes it unlike anything else in the world. A new psilocybin south bath experience takes place weekly at the Rockhouse Farmhouse near the properties new hydroponic greenhouse. At Jamaica Inn, a new “farm to skin foraging” program lets guests gather ingredients for spa treatments and beauty products.
For the traveler looking to stay in the city, there have never been better options. The luxurious ROK Hotel Kingston, Tapestry Collection by Hilton opened in 2022 and has already won numerous accolades. Courtleigh Hospitality Group’s New Kingston properties (The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, The Knutsford Court Hotel, and The Jamaica Pegasus), offer reliable accommodations in prime locations.
And new Kingston City Guided Tours are available for an inside look at the capital’s culture. There are the immersive murals along Water Lane depicting the musical history of the city, and the National Gallery of Jamaica for a longview look of the island from colonial times to the present. Stop by the studio of acclaimed ceramicist Allison Sinclair of Sinclair Ceramics for a gift made with Jamaican clay to take home.
This is the year for traveling deeper and extending a trip to go beyond the famous beaches. Mix a city visit with the water at Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay near Kingston. The Southern Coastal Highway Project makes it easier and faster to get to parts of the island that see less visitors but are no less appealing: St. Thomas in the majestic Blue Mountains (famous for its history, culture, and, of course, coffee) and the 70-foot-tall Reggae Falls in Morant Bay.
Island Routes has curated itineraries to experience the flavors of Jamaica, from coffee and hiking through the Blue Mountains to farm-to-table meals while a Rastafarian band plays. Pretty Close gives travelers the chance to dine in the forest by waterfalls. Or if you’re the type who likes to make their own itinerary, visit for a coffee tasting and tour at Creighton Estate in St. Andrew and don’t miss the chocolate-making experience at Pure Chocolate Company in Ocho Rios.
France has almost 1,300 islands and islets along its coast, but there’s one that stands out from the rest: Houat. Houat (pronounced “wat” and meaning “duck” in Breton), is located off the coast of Brittany, in the northwest of the country. However, staring at a map does not guarantee you’ll see it without a great deal of zooming-in. After all, Houat is only 1.9 miles long and just under a mile wide.
Houat is one of the only 30 inhabited islands of Metropolitan France, but with only 216 permanent residents, you won’t run into a lot of people during your visit (if you don’t make your way there in the height of summer, that is.) And you certainly won’t be disturbed by the sound of cars – there are none. To explore, rent a bike or walk. Without much physical effort, you’ll get to see a few forts, prehistoric monuments, the one tiny town and its church, and many beaches, rocky cliffs, and stunning viewpoints. If you want to be thorough and see all the best spots, walk the coastal footpath that circumnavigates the island.
While the island is often windy, it’s also often sunny and cloudless in spring and summer, making for scenery that seems straight out of a brochure for a Mediterranean vacation: the sky is intensely blue, the ocean incredibly clear, and the beaches of fine, white sand could easily fool you. The water is rarely warm, but that shouldn’t prevent you from taking a dip.
Being so tiny and peaceful, there are no resorts on the island, only small inns, bed and breakfasts, and locally-owned hotels. One of the coolest places to stay on Houat is La Boîte à Poisson, a glamping site located on a large grassy expanse in between two beaches.
If you want to island hop in this part of France, you can easily go from Houat to its sister island Hoëdic (pronounced “uh-dik” and meaning “little duck”) by ferry. Hoëdic is just as peaceful and scenic as Houat, but a little smaller.
Getting to Houat requires taking a cheap 45-minute ferry from the town of Quiberon on the mainland. The ferry is operational year-round. In summer, the options to get to and from the island are more abundant.
At first glance, Svalbard appears to be rather inaccessible. It’s located above the Arctic Circle, closer to the North Pole than to continental Europe. Svalbard (often grouped with the more southerly Jan Mayen) is the northernmost permanently populated place in the world, and there’s a reason people choose to live here year-round: It’s full of opportunities for adventure, from dog sledding and snowmobiling to venturing through subterranean ice caves.
Dogsledding is the closest thing Svalbard has to a national sport. You can book full- or half-day dog sledding excursions, which allow you to feed and harness the dogs yourself and drive them through the rugged white tundra. Many excursions include a brief stop for lunch and a warm drink at a wilderness cabin, where you can enjoy the views and speak to the guide about Svalbard’s dog sledding culture.
Snowmobiles on Svalbard seem as common as cars elsewhere. You can join a guided tour or rent one on your own, though a tour is advisable if you’re inexperienced. Some guided tours bring you into the mountains, where you’ll gear up and descend on foot into glittering ice caves. Hitting the tundra via snowmobile is the ultimate Svalbard adventure, just make sure it’s equipped with a working GPS system, and don’t go too far from the main town of Longyearbyen. The harsh conditions are part of the archipelago’s allure, but they can also be dangerous if you don’t proceed with caution.
Jaques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium,” and when the most famous oceanographer who ever lived says a place is amazing, well, you probably want to listen.
At more than 700 miles long, the Sea of Cortez (also called the Gulf of California) parallels Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. But when Cousteau visited in the 1980s, it was one particular part of the sea that left him in awe: the area around Espiritu Santo Island, just off the coast of La Paz. The uninhabited islands are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and a national park.
On Isla Espiritu Santo, conservation trumps all. The only lodging options are eco-friendly domed glamping tents, with strict caps on how many people can be there at one time. The island’s Balandra Beach has been rated the most beautiful beach in Mexico, and with its warm turquoise water, huge stretches of sand, and tight regulations on how many people can visit at once, it’s worth booking a boat trip from La Paz to visit. Your options for how to explore the islands range from paddleboarding to hiking to kayaking or birdwatching, but it’s the marine life around the islands that truly earns its place as one of the best islands to visit in 2024.
The waters around Espiritu Santo and the surrounding islands are among the most biodiverse in the world. Thirty-nine percent of all marine mammal species in the world are represented in its waters, as are 30 species of dolphins and whales (of 90 in the world). Also endemic to the area are giant mobula rays (some longer than 10 feet across), five species of sea turtles, several species of shark, and more than 900 species of fish.
In the winter months, tourism is all about the creatures that surround the islands. You can take tours to watch migrating gray whales, or feel dwarfed by the size and beauty of whale sharks as you snorkel alongside them. Scuba divers will feel overwhelmed with options for dive sites, but should try to do at least one dive to see the schooling hammerheads at El Bajo; their population was severely impacted by overfishing, but ongoing marine protection efforts are promising.
But if there’s one experience not to miss in the water around Espiritu Santo, it’s getting in the water at the sea lion colony at Los Islotes. There are hundreds of sea lions in the water who are used to divers. The sea lions are often referred to as “puppies of the sea,” and they’re just as playful as the name suggests. Expect young seal pups to swim up to you (or down to you, if you’re diving), and do everything they can to encourage you to play with them. They’ll tug on your fins, spin in front of your face, and flip their fins against your hands until you have no choice but to play (and really, why wouldn’t you?). The idea of swimming with sea lions may sound scary, but once you get in the water, you’ll realize it’s more of a heartwarming experience than a frightening one. Note that the sea lion colony is closed to divers and snorkelers during the breeding season each summer.
As if the islands weren’t magical on their own, there’s one more reason to visit: La Paz. La Paz is the closest town to the islands and it’s the antithesis of busy, party-focused Cabo San Lucas. La Paz is more focused on nature, and the tourism offerings reflect that. Travelers can stay at hotels like Hotel Marea, with a massive private beach about a 15-minute walk from downtown for rates starting in the low $100s per night. The highly rated Cortez Club offers eco-focused outdoor adventures, including scuba diving, whale watching, and whale shark tours; and restaurant options range from the oceanfront Casa Marte to the laid-back Biznaga Baja Bistro. It’s easy to spend your days exploring Isla Espiritu Santo and your evenings in La Paz sipping mezcalitas in the ocean breeze.
There’s no bad option when choosing which Greek island to visit. Islands like Santorini, Mykonos, and Corfu are certainly popular for a reason, but for a vacation with fewer crowds, check out the island of Paros. Located in the center of the Cyclades island group, Paros combines the whitewashed architecture Santorini is famous for with the beaches and fishing villages that define Greek island culture.
Getting to Paros is easier than it might look. The island has a small airport for seasonal flights from major Greek cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, but most travelers get there via ferry from the port of Piraeus near Athens. You can also get there via a boat from Naxos, one of the closer islands to Paros.
Start by exploring Parikia, the largest town in Paros where you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, hotels, and a traditional Cycladic windmill. Spend some time wandering the cobbled alleys, admiring the old arches and the contrast between the whitewashed houses and the colorful bougainvillea that adorn roofs and windowsills. Pay special attention to the Panagia Ekatontapiliani (also known as the Church of 100 doors), which is the oldest church in Paros dating back to 326.
You don’t have to stray too far from the city to find Krios Beach, one of the island’s most beautiful stretches of sand. The large beach is lined with tamarisk plants that offer shade, as well as a touch of extra natural beauty. From the shore you’ll have views of Parikia, as well as access to amenities like umbrellas, loungers, snacks, and drinks.
For many travelers, New Zealand’s South Island has long been a dream destination that’s difficult to reach. That’s changing in 2024. United Airlines now serves the first direct flight between the US and the South Island, flying from San Francisco to Christchurch.
If you don’t mind driving on the left side of the road, a road trip is the best way to get around and maximize your sightseeing experience. Start by heading from Christchurch to Marlborough, one of the best winemaking regions in the world. Marlborough has over 1,000 miles of coastline, perfect for hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking. And when you’re done, you can go wine tasting in the restaurants and hotels near Blenheim.
The Queen Charlotte Track, a 45-mile trail, runs along the bays and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds, a network of coastal valleys. Start by taking a boat from Picton to Ship’s Cove, the trail’s starting point, before walking to Anakiwa. It’s a long, multi-day hike that’s designed for all skill levels and brings you through some of New Zealand’s most lush and diverse scenery, including coastal forests.
New Zealand’s second-largest national park is also on the South Island. On the west coast, northeast of Karamea, Kahurangi National Park isn’t just visually stunning, it’s also comparatively crowd free. It’s known for its Heaphy Track, a four-to-six day walk through verdant forests with nīkau palms, bordering the seas of the west coast.
If you want to enjoy the scenery but aren’t a keen hiker, ride the TranzAlpine for one of New Zealand’s most beautiful train journeys. The TranzAlpine takes you across the South Island, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea and through the beautiful Southern Alps in just five hours.
The Canary Islands are to British vacationers what the Caribbean islands are to US sun-seekers. This set of Spanish volcanic islands off the coast of northwestern Africa are known for black and white sand beaches, the active Mount Teide volcano, a lively party scene, and good old-fashioned nature. Each of the seven islands are distinct in character, with some more conducive to outdoor adventures and others more appropriate for resort chilling and late-night partying.
Tenerife is the largest and best known island in the archipelago. Its center is dominated by Teide National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain at 12,200 feet high, and the third-highest volcano in the world. If you’re the kind of person who shivers with excitement at the thought of climbing an active volcano, you can hike up to the top via the Montaña Blanca trail. You can also drive up to the foothill of the volcano, but won’t be able to drive the entire way. Whether you hike or drive, you’ll have sweeping views of the surrounding rocky landscape and the black-sand beaches beyond.
Playa De Las Americas, on the island’s west coast, is where you’ll find most of the island’s beach resorts, as well as an abundance of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The Papagayo Beach Club combines DJ beats in an open-air luxe beach club atmosphere.
For a more nature-based trip, head to Fuerteventura, the second-largest of the Canary Islands. Moving at a slower pace than Tenerife, with some of Spain’s most stunning natural beauty, Fuerteventura is known for its beaches and opportunities for outdoor adventure. The beaches, like Playa de Sotavento de Jandia are full of lagoons and pink-hued sand, and are particularly popular with kitesurfers. Hike the summit of Cardón, a huge slab of rock in south-central Fuerteventura, for the best views of the island’s many valleys, or go hiking through craters and ancient lava fields in Los Volcanes National Park.
Few travelers know that you don’t actually have to fly to mainland Europe to visit Portugal. The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just over a five-hour flight from New York (if you plan around the limited direct flights available). Due to their singular location, the Azores have some of the most dramatic geography in the world, with huge lake-filled calderas, waterfalls, and steep green hillsides. Picture a more tropical Iceland, and without quite as many tourists.
The largest island in the archipelago is São Miguel, known for its volcanic landscape, thermal springs, rich marine life, and colorful capital of Ponta Delgada. The best way to experience the island’s natural beauty is by renting a car and taking a little road trip. Start on the west side with Lagoa das Sete Cidades — two lakes divided by a narrow road. There are plenty of lookout points offering stunning views of the area. Then, check out the thermal baths of Termas da Ferraria on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, either taking a dip or simply strolling along the basalt rocks.
Making your way to the eastern part of the island, visit the Miradouro Despe and Miradouro da Pona do Sossego — two lookouts that are perfect for watching the sunrise. The east coast is also known for its lighthouse of Farol do Arnel, lording over the small seaside homes lining the shore, and farther inland the Salto do Cagarrao waterfall. You can reach the waterfall via a 2.5-mile hike on the Salto do Prego Waterfall Trail.
While the Azores are largely defined by their dramatic natural beauty, you could spend a whole weekend simply exploring the capital of Ponta Delgada. Stroll the Jardim António Borges, one of the biggest green areas in the city, where you’ll find a 19th-century garden replete with amazing trees, as well as wandering geese, chickens, and cuddly cats. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Azorean Pineapple Plantation, located in the city of Ponta Delgada. You’ll be able to taste the pineapples that grow there, whether as juices, pastries, jam, liquor, or simply sliced with a little lime squeezed on top.
Menorca might not be as well known as its larger Balearic Island counterpart, Mallorca, but that has its own upsides. The island’s resorts and cities aren’t as heavily trafficked, and it hasn’t yet become the cruise ship hub that Mallorca is – indeed, Menorca means “smaller island,” while Mallorca means “bigger island.”
When Menorca eventually does start garnering the same kind of attention as Mallorca, it’ll be because of its beaches both rocky and sandy, miles of farmland dotted with forts and castles, and the temperate climate that defines the entire region. The capital city of Majon overlooks a massive harbor, and is defined by architecture dating back to the 13th century, as well as its Georgian-style mansions and medieval streets.
Resort-style getaways are how many travelers experience Menorca, but it’s not the typical all-inclusive resort experience. Menorca’s hotels have a much more local feel with restaurants that spotlight traditional cuisine. And there are plenty of opportunities to leave the resort and explore other beaches and hiking trails. This is particularly true of Villa Le Blanc, located on Santo Tomas Beach. The hotel’s aesthetic was inspired by the architecture of the island’s villages, with Menorcan arches, whitewashed walls, and the traditional use of tiles, and the restaurant specializes in bisques using freshly-caught fish from a local market.
A few minutes from the hotel, you’ll find a scenic walkway running along the coast that leads to a beach where dozens of sunbathers of all ages lay out in the nude. If you’re not in the mood to bare it all, keep following the walkway until you reach a hiking trail that goes inland for seven miles through the woods along quiet creeks and up scenic hillsides. Maybe by the time you’ve completed the out-and-back trek you’ll find skinny dipping refreshing.
In 2024, Turks and Caicos is easier for travelers to get to thanks to expanded non-stop flights from Virgin Atlantic (twice-weekly flights from London Heathrow), Delta (from Minneapolis-St. Paul and Boston), and Southwest (direct from Orlando).
Here, stress-free vacations are de rigueur from the resorts (including all-inclusives that even those who like to go their own way will appreciate) to the beaches to the cultural connections. Nature enthusiasts seeking seclusion and an upscale stay have a natural fit at Pine Cay Resort, located on a private island on the edge of the world’s third-largest barrier reef. Families will enjoy Beaches Turks and Caicos with its 45,000-square-foot waterpark, abundance of restaurants, and 12 miles of beach access. The private island of Ambergris Cay is a luxurious all-inclusive boutique with 17 bungalows and eight villas. Club Med Turkoise is an adults-only escape with an on-site infinity pool, live music, the gorgeous Grace Bay Beach, and easy access to wall-diving. Or take it all in at Blue Haven and its sister property Alexandra Resort.
Appealing as the resorts are, getting off the property to explore the islands, water, and culture is what really makes a Turks and Caicos trip worth booking in 2024. There’s unparalleled snorkeling around Bight Reef (also referred to as Coral Gardens after the nearby resort), diverse formations at Smith’s Reef, and the secluded beauty of Malcolm’s Road Beach. Humpback whales can be seen from boat charters as they pass the islands on their annual migration from December to February. While the water is an obvious draw, the true spirit of the islands can be found on land.
On the food and culture front, the weekly Thursday Island Fish Fry at PTV Stubbs Diamond Plaza in Providenciales is a popular even with more than a dozen food and souvenir vendors, live music, cultural performances that finishes with a junkanoo (procession of costumed people dancing to drums, cowbells, and traditional instruments).