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10 Ideal Island Getaways

  • Grant Faint/Getty Images

    Sri Lanka

    This teardrop-shaped island off India's south coast is compact and easy to explore. From palm-lined Trincomalee Beach to Kandy's Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka is a now-peaceful haven after a 30-year civil war. If you like wildlife, feed baby elephants in the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage or take a safari tour to see endangered leopards. If history's your thing, explore 19th-century tea, rubber and coconut plantations or head to Sigiriya, a rocky column atop which a 5th-century king built his fresco-adorned palace.

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    Malta

    This 122-square-mile island, part of a Mediterranean archipelago south of Sicily, is rich in history. Prehistoric cultures here built the Mnajdra and other temple complexes. The Phoenicians grew olives; Arabs terraced the agricultural landscape and enriched the cuisine with figs, almonds and spices. Norman conquests gave rise to a Maltese nobility and a European connection that continued under Spanish, French and British rule. Experience this later heritage, including that of the Knights of St. John, in the capital city of Valletta. Tour the 16th-century Grand Master's Palace and see Caravaggio's 17th-century masterpieces in St. John's Co-Cathedral. And take time for snorkeling in the aquamarine waters.

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    Mauritius

    This former French colony, an Indian Ocean island in the Mascarene group, epitomizes tropical bliss. The waters near the western town of Flic en Flac are beautiful for snorkeling. Or you can play a round of golf near Belle Mare Beach in the east. For local culture, head to the busy garment markets in the coastal capital of Port Louis or inland to the Hindu temple beside Grand Bassin Lake. The island also has many internationally acclaimed restaurants — don't miss the local delicacy, dholl puri (a pastry stuffed with a perfectly seasoned paste made of yellow peas).

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    Princes Islands, Turkey

    These nine islands offer an escape from the buzz of Istanbul, just an hour's boat ride north. They were once home to the city's religious minorities, as well as ne'er-do-well Ottoman sultans and other exiles (Leon Trotsky among them). Cars are banned, so the best way to explore the islands is to hire one of the horse-drawn carriages or rent a bike. On the largest island, Büyükada, you're rewarded with not only traffic-free streets, but also stately summer houses and lush forests.

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    Island-Hopping in Croatia

    Why settle for exploring just one island? Croatia has 1,244 of them scattered along the Adriatic coast. They range from the über-chic Hvar — loved by celebrities on luxury yachts — to the unspoiled Cres. Coastal ferries depart regularly from Dubrovnik in summer, or you can opt for a sailing excursion, perhaps visiting some of the more remote islands in the rocky Kornati Archipelago, a designated national park. You can even learn how to sail at the nautical academy on Murter, which is joined by drawbridge to the Croatian mainland.

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    Santorini, Greece

    As your slow-moving ferry approaches Santorini's capital of Firá, you're greeted by the multicolored, vertiginous cliffs of a caldera (crater) topped with those quintessential sugar-cube houses. Some 2,500 years ago, this crater was created by an immense volcano, whose smoldering remains you can see on a boat trip, perhaps stopping en route for a dip in a hot spring. You can also enjoy secluded beaches and beautiful sunsets at the village of Oia, on the island's northern tip, or an invigorating hike to Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins at Ancient Thera. Refuel with a grilled-fish dinner and some ouzo in one of Firá's taverns.

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    Bali, Indonesia

    This culture-rich, immensely beautiful island has been a tourist magnet for decades, but you can easily escape the crowds on any number of peaceful, palm-fringed golden beaches. Take in a mesmerizing gamelan orchestra performance and enjoy a sunset cocktail after exploring the elaborate 9th-century stone carvings of Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave). If you feel energetic, take a four-hour, one-way hike to the top of Gunung Agung — Bali's sacred mountain and highest point (over 10,000 feet).

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    Isle of Skye, Scotland

    This rugged Scottish gem will bring out the adventurer in you. The largest island of the Inner Hebrides archipelago includes your pick of "munros" (mountains of over 3,000 feet) to climb. Or you can just explore the spectacular coast, with its tucked-away bays lined with powdery sand beaches. Elsewhere it's all about touring ancestral castles and whisky distilleries. Early summer evenings here are particularly magical — it stays light until 11 p.m.

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    Anguilla

    Although many of its Caribbean neighbors have become commercialized, tiny Anguilla retains a quiet charm. There aren't any casinos or slick nightclubs; instead, you'll sip rum punch and eat local lobster or crayfish at beach shacks like Smokey's Bar at Cove Bay. At peaceful Island Harbour, on the island's northeastern side, stroll along the beach and watch fishermen haul their catch onto the sands, just as they've done for generations. The Anguilla Arts and Crafts Center sells driftwood carvings by local artists — the perfect souvenirs.

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    Tanzania

    In Zanzibar City, the hub of the main and absurdly friendly island in this archipelago off Tanzania's east coast, the smell of spices emerges from tiny stores in the souks — after all, this is one of the so-called Spice Islands. Traditional boat builders still ply their trade along the busy harbor, and the spires of St. Joseph's Cathedral rise above a jumble of rooftops in the Stone Town historical district. Explore the Old Fort and the House of Wonders museum or head out into Jozani Forest, home to the indigenous red colobus monkeys.

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