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Palawan, The Most Beautiful Island In The World, Is Sheer Perfection

11/24/2014 07:00 am ET | Updated Jul 07, 2016

It's hard to believe the Philippines are an under-appreciated tropical travel destination, especially with their extraordinary hiking, diving, beaches and of course -- islands that are THIS beautiful.

And while we'd like to visit every single island in the Philippines, there's one island in particular we're zeroing in on -- Palawan, a hidden piece of paradise that was recently named The Best Island In The World in the Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards.

This isn't the first time Palawan has ranked top in the world, and it's easy to see why. There, beautiful blue water mixes with emerald green, jungle-filled mountains that appear to rise up from the ocean, and small fishing villages dot the island. Together with its neighboring islands, it creates the Palawan province, aka paradise.

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Described as "the last frontier," Palawan has artifacts that date back 50,000 years. The island is accessible by either boat or airplane -- it's about an hour and a half by air from Manila-- although you can also get there from Iloilo and Cebu. Many say the ideal time to head to Palawan is between about October and May, so we suggest booking tickets ASAP.

palawan phillipines

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High points include island-hopping around the Bacuit archipelago for the cliffs, sinkholes and lagoons, venturing to Puerto Princesa for its culinary delights and staying in one of Coron's luxury hotels.

palawan phillippines

palawan phillippines

Incredible (and rare) wildlife can be found on the islands, from purple crabs and Philippine mouse-deer to Philippine pangolin and beautiful butterflies. Just be sure to avoid the creepy-looking Palawan bearcat at night.

We suggest heading into the water and going below the surface. Palawan has some of the best spots to scuba dive in the world -- barracuda-filled shipwrecks, for example, line the bottom of Coron Bay.

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If diving sounds too scary, try a tour of Palawan's subterranean river (which UNESCO calls "one of the most unique" in the world) or take a bangka boat to travel between the islands.

Once you're back on land, hop on a "tricycle," one of the preferred methods of transportation on Palawan. We're pretty sure that after all the biking, swimming and exploring you'll do -- you'll never want to leave.

palawan phillipines

  • No. 20 Captiva Island, Florida
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    This island off southwestern Florida is best known for its seemingly endless inventory of pastel seashells—250 different varieties—covering the sand.  But unlike its more bustling sister island—where seashellers do the “Sanibel Stoop”—Captiva visitors do the “Captiva Crouch.” Prime shelling season runs from May through September, but year-round, the sunsets are fabulous from Alison Hagerup Beach. Perhaps because shelling is not terribly strenuous or sociable, the island did not rank highly for its wealth of activities or friendly locals. To boost your chances of having the most pristine sand to yourself, stay at the South Seas Island Resort, where you can take a quick boat ride to the even quieter beach of Cayo Costa State Park.
  • No. 19 Bermuda
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    Despite its bevy of green diversions—namely, golf— this classic British island still dazzled readers with its pink sand, found on beaches like John Smith’s Bay or Elbow Beach. Readers also raved about The Reefs Resort, set among limestone cliffs, ranking it at No. 3 among all Caribbean hotels. Going underwater exposes even more of the islands’ beauty—like the snorkeling at Church Bay, or peering at the dramatic formations at Crystal Caves. And while the upper-crust reputation may have contributed to its so-so standing in the value category, it’s hard to argue with the island’s easy access, off the coast of North Carolina.

  • No. 18 Turks and Caicos
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    This archipelago southeast of the Bahamas no doubt secured its spot thanks the snowy white sands like those on Grace Bay Beach—and indeed the nearby Grace Bay Club made readers’ top 10 of Caribbean resorts. And while these 40 coral islands did not make the survey’s top 20 for romance, it does offer a wealth of family-friendly options, like the condo-style Ocean Club resorts. Turks and Caicos also ranked at No. 6 for dining in the Caribbean: For a lunch-and-beach experience away from the tourists, take a seat at the picnic tables of Da Conch Shack and Rum Bar, off scenic Blue Hills Beach in Providenciales. 

  • No. 17 Nantucket
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    Many readers might be forgiven for thinking that the most beautiful things on Nantucket come on a plate: it ranked at No. 1 in the world for island cuisine—like the lobster with carrot-truffle dumplings at elegant Topper’s, the spicy fried oysters at The Proprietors Bar and Table or the “deconstructed clam bake” atStraight Wharf Restaurant. To work up an appetite, try hanging ten at Surfside, Cisco or Miacomet beachesor taking a jeep out toGreat Point, where you can fully appreciate the island's wild side—marsh grasses and seemingly untouched sand dunes.  Such well-preserved beauty comes at a price, of course: Nantucket ranked in the top 5 for feeling expensive.

  • No. 16 Kiawah Island, South Carolina
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    A 20-mile drive from Charleston, this barrier island offers a consistently uncrowded experience, since most of its starfish-dotted beaches are reserved for private owners or resort guests (and there’s just one resort, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which features the plush Sanctuary Hotel). The island does offer one public beach: the Kiawah Beachwalker Park, which has 10 miles of sand overlooking both the Atlantic and the Kiawah River, and which is edged by pine trees, live oaks and magnolias. From mid-May through October, you might also see one of the island’s nearly 300 loggerhead-sea-turtle nests along the dunes. The island ranked at No. 15 for romance, apparently for both reptiles and mammals.

  • No. 15 St. Bart's
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    This French-speaking Caribbean island is famous for its A-list (and rather pricey) ambiance: it ranked last in the survey for feeling like a bargain. But the beaches—all public—act as the great equalizer. St. Jean Beach is where you go to see and be seen, but for fewer crowds, try Grande Saline, the cliff-ringed Anse de Gouverneur or Colombier, which is reached only by boat or scenic goat path. For well-rendered cuisine—the island took the silver medal for dining—tuck into the Creole menu at Le Grain de Sel, or the Provencal-influenced L’Esprit Salines, helmed by Jean-Claude Dufour and overlooking Saline Beach.

  • No. 14 Santorini
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    Set against the bright blue waters of Aegean Sea, the beaches of this Greek island offer a variety of colorful contrasts: the red-rock formations of Red Beach, the black sands of Perissa Beach and the white stones (and nude sunbathers) of Vlychada. The island also ranked at No. 3 for activities—like scuba diving, snorkeling, or tasting the white and dessert wines from vineyards likeKoutsoyannopoulos Winery and Wine Museum, near black-pebbled Kamari Beach. For great sea views, stay at Katikies Hotelin Oia, which overlooks the Caldera cliffs, or the adults-onlyPerivolas, built into three-century-old cliff dwellings. As a testament to the gorgeous sunsets, the island also ranked at No. 5 for romance.

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