11 of the most exotic places to travel in the world

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Lucy McGuire

When you’ve had your fill of history, culture and man-made wonders, sometimes sun, sea and sand is all you need. Whether you're after some serious escapism or want to marvel at mother nature, Lucy McGuire picks some of the most exotic places to travel in the world.

1. Maui, Hawaii

With a legendary surf scene and golden crescent beaches that span more than 120 miles, there are attractions everywhere you turn in Hawaii. Maui, known as "the Valley Isle", is a favourite for its misty peaks, gorgeous sunsets and bamboo forests. Relax on Kaanapali Beach or see at the red sands at Kaihalulu – it’s like no other beach in the world.

Where to stay

Best Hostel: Tiki Beach Hostel

Best Beachfront Hotel: Napili Kai Beach Resort

What to do

Best to stay active: 5h Waterfall and Rainforest Hike

Best to relax: Luxurious sunset cruise

Maui, Hawaii, seen from above © Joe West/Shutterstock

2. Puerto Rico

With a tropical climate, secluded palm-fringed beaches and topography as varied as a patchwork quilt, Puerto Rico is arguably the most exotic island in the Caribbean. Spot tree frogs in the dense jungle of El Yunque, take a night-time swim in the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and the country's abundance of beautiful golden sands.

Where to stay

Best for spa & golf: Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort

Best budget option: Chalet Olas del Sol

What to do

For water enthusiasts: Kayaking in Fajardo

For hiking: A guided tour to El Yunque

El Yunque national forest in Puerto Rico © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

3. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

Fuerteventura might just be the most interesting island in the Canaries, thanks to its deserted beaches, crystal-clear water and hippy vibe. Steady trade winds make it prime territory for watersports, or if you’re looking for an all-over tan, join the naturists who flock here for its famed nudist beaches.

Where to stay

Best for families: AluaVillage Fuerteventura

Best for spa & wellness: Royal Palm Resort & Spa - Adults Only

What to do

Best for spectacular landscapes: Dune Buggy Tour

Best for ocean tours: Dolphin & Whale watching tour

Fuerteventura's desert-like interior © leoks/Shutterstock

4. Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Azure water, swaying hammocks and hidden beaches can all be found in Colombia – a country that until recently has escaped the tourist trail. Hike through Tayrona National Park, an eco-traveller’s dream destination. It’s the perfect place to stay in a beach hut, feast on exotic fruits and explore beautiful lagoons.

Where to stay

Best for beachfront: Senda Casa Tayrona Los Naranjos

Best hostel: Viajero Hostel Tayrona & Ecohabs

Tailor-made trips

If you're thinking of visiting Colombia – let us know. We can pair you with a local expert to plan and book a fully personalised trip.

Tayrona National Park in Colombia © streetflash/Shutterstock

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    5. Vis, Croatia

    The secret’s out; the Croatian island of Vis has some serious pulling power among island hoppers, thanks to its dramatic cliffs and exotic beaches. This gem in the Adriatic is a short boat ride away from the Croatian town of Split, yet its secluded coves would look right at home in the tropics. Take a boat to Stiniva, a hidden beach that’s often heralded as the best in Europe.

    Where to stay

    Best to stay in the historical center: Hotel San Giorgio

    Best Sea Front: Mira Sea Front Guesthouse

    Tailor-made trips

    Rough Guides has paired with local experts in Croatia to offer personalised holidays – find out more! You could take a sailing trip along the Adriatic coast or explore the Dalmatian coast from two bases.

    Be prepared for spectacular beaches on Vis © ninopavisic/Shutterstock.com

    6. French Polynesia

    French Polynesia is a place where emerald lagoons sparkle and the exotic scents of vanilla, coconuts and Tiare Tahiti flowers fill the air. Yes, it's as beautiful as you've heard. You won’t be able to cover all five archipelagos (a total of 118 islands), so head to Maupiti: "the untouched island". Its beaches are whiter-than-white, it’s sprinkled with mystical caves and Mount Te’urafa’atiu offers breathtaking views.

    Where to stay

    In Bora Bora: Maitai Bora Bora

    In Tahiti: Vanira Lodge

    What to do

    In Bora Bora: Shark & Snorkeling Safari

    In Moorea: Half-day 4x4 Safari Tour

    French Polynesia has that true "pinch-me" quality © Daboost/Shutterstock

    7. The Yucatán, Mexico

    This southeast corner of Mexico which separates the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea has all the ingredients for an exotic holiday. Explore Tulum’s wide beaches, cool off in unique limestone cenotes and swim with whale sharks off Isla Holbox. The Mesoamerican reef just offshore – the world’s second longest – boasts a wealth of marine life.

    Where to stay

    In Tulum: Casa Malca

    In Playa del Carmen: Palmaïa - The House of Aïa Wellness Enclave All Inclusive

    What to do

    In Tulum: Visit the archaeological zone and a cenote on a guided tour

    In Playa del Carmen: Visit world-famous Chichén Itzá and save time by skipping the lines

    Tailor-made trips

    Consider combining the Yucatán with a visit to Mexico City or head to Chiapas and the famous Sumidero Canyon before relaxing on the white sandy beaches of Playa del Carmen. Contact our local expert today for your personalised quote.

    Caribbean coast and mayan ruins in Tulum. © DC_Aperture/Shutterstock

    8. Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

    This paradise island off Cambodia’s southern coast is one of the Gulf of Thailand’s most exotic places. It’s starkly different to the tourist town of Sihanoukville (where you catch the ferry), as you’ll find no traffic and very little development, except for a few rustic beach huts. Go night swimming with bioluminescent plankton off M’Pei Bay, take a rainforest hike or sip a coconut in a hammock on Saracen Bay.

    Where to stay

    Best for families with children: One Resort

    Best budget choice: Sarasea Resort

    Tailor-made trips

    With Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips we can connect you with alocal expert in Cambodia to plan your ideal holiday

    Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia © Nebula777/Shutterstock

    9. Whitsunday Islands, Australia

    The brilliant white and blue hues of the Whitsunday Islands have become an iconic exotic location for travellers exploring Australia. Located off coastal Queensland, it’s home to the World-Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef – a dream for serious divers. With hiking trails and secluded beaches, it’s just as beautiful above the water. Visit between July and September to catch a glimpse of the migrating humpback whales.

    Where to stay

    Hamilton Island Beachfront: Reef View Hotel

    Best for on a budget: Palm Bungalows

    What to do

    Best for active travellers: Snorkel, raft, and bush walk - all on one day

    Best views: Scenic flight from Airlie Beach

    Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays © Tanya Puntti/Shutterstock

    10. Fiji

    When it comes to exotic holidays, Fiji is hard to beat. A country blessed with gorges, mangrove forests, waterfalls and natural pools, it's the jewel of the South Pacific. There are over 300 islands in the archipelago and its marine parks offer incredible soft coral diving. It’s also where five different turtle species, spinner dolphins and the rare Fiji crested iguana all call home.

    What to do

    Best for culture enthusiasts: Untold Broadway Show entrance - a contemporary story about ancient Fiji

    Best for nature experience: Fijan Nature & Waterfall Experience

    Tailor-made trips

    Get to know Fiji with a local expert: Fiji Forever is just one sample itinerary that can be modified and quoted according to your preferences.

    Navala village, Viti Levu island, Fiji © Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

    11. Madagascar

    Home to otherworldly landscapes and one of the Earth’s most unique eco-systems, few places match the Eden-like quality of Madagascar. Explore Tsingy forests, a series of vertical limestone rocks dubbed the "Forest of Knives", or head to Masoala National Park, packed with unique plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth.

    Tailor-made trips

    Thinking about heading to Madagascar? Have a look at our Wild Madagascar itinerary and contact your local expert today to receive your personalised quote or send in your details and have the expert craft and quote an itinerary according to your preferences.

    The Tsingy Rouge stone formation in northern Madagascar © Chr.Offenberg/Shutterstock

    Top image: Island of Maui, Hawaii © Joe West/Shutterstock

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