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.
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.
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.
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. Find out why Tayrona made our list of the best places to travel in 2020 here.
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
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.
Rough Guides has paired with local experts in Croatia to offer personalised holidays – find out more!
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.
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.
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.
With Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips we can connect you with a local 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.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays © Tanya Puntti/Shutterstock
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.
Navala village, Viti Levu island, Fiji © Don Mammoser/Shutterstock
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.
Find out more here about travel to Madagascar with Rough Guides Trips
The Tsingy Rouge stone formation in northern Madagascar © Chr.Offenberg/Shutterstock
Top image: Island of Maui, Hawaii © Joe West/Shutterstock