10 great tickets to a warm and sunny island paradise

Ditch that hat, scarf and parka. The first day of winter is fast approaching, so start planning now for a warm-weather island getaway. Steve Davey, author of Unforgettable Islands to Escape to Before You Die, shares his picks with Kelly DiNardo for USA TODAY.

Bali Indonesia

This Indonesian island features palm-tree-fringed beaches, bustling villages, exotic crafts and, well, much more. "You can be hiking through rice terraces in the morning and lying on a beautiful beach in the afternoon," Davey says. "It's a cultural haven of temples and temple festivals. Every day seems to be a festival day, and the food is glorious." bali-tourism-board.com

Huahine French Polynesia

The French Polynesian islands all feature beautiful landscapes of dramatic peaks and turquoise lagoons. And this idyllic getaway is no exception, though it's much less renowned than nearby Tahiti. "The lesser-known Huahine maintains a vibrant sense of community, where you can still hang out in local bars and restaurants, as well as relax on an idyllic beach paradise," Davey says. "The lagoon is full of all manner of tropical fish, and you can even snorkel with rays and reef sharks." go-to-tahiti.com/islands/huahine/huahine.asp

St. Lucia

This volcanic island in the Caribbean is more mountainous than most islands there. "It is a laid-back yet stylish island, dominated by the twin peaks of the Pitons," Davey says. "The steep slopes of the Pitons are covered in lush rain forest." In addition to snorkeling, diving and other water-based activities, there are various trails through the rain-forest-covered mountains. The island also features a now-dormant volcano, which visitors can drive into and see the steamy sulfur springs.stlucia.org

Yasawa Islands Fiji

"Usually you have to spend serious money to enjoy the best beachside properties, but in the Yasawa Islands you will find a range of midrange and even backpacker places right on the waterfront," Davey says of this chain of about 20 islands in the South Pacific. "The islands themselves are craggy and verdant green. Right at the end of the chain is the fabled Blue Lagoon from the film of the same name." bulafiji.com

Islands of Phang Nga Bay Thailand

Most of the islands in Phang Nga Bay, off the west coast of Thailand, are uninhabited but reachable by boat. "Some of the islands are tiny, and others are towering crags of scoured limestone, resembling those melted wax candlesticks popular in '70s bistros," Davey says. "Take a boat and explore these islands, and you can lounge on a beach on your own all day, kayak into a lagoon or meet local sea gypsies, who farm tiny birds' nests for the Chinese soup market." Also worth a stop: James Bond Island, featured in the film The Man With the Golden Gun. phuket.com/island/phangnga.htm

Aitutaki The Cook Islands

"The pearl of the Cook Islands has to be Aitutaki, which has the most perfect lagoon in the world," Davey says. The entire South Pacific island is set within a lagoon, enclosed by a barrier reef. Come for the snorkeling, swimming or just relaxing by the clear waters. "The iridescent turquoise waters are dotted with tiny, sand-fringed islets. This is a place that redefines paradise." cook-islands.com

Cousine Island The Seychelles

This private island in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa is a nature reserve, known for its birds, marine life and severe restrictions on tourism. "Cousine is a boutique resort of four chalets on a tiny, ecologically unique island in the Seychelles," Davey says. "All of the profits are put into the preservation of the island and research by the resident naturalists. The only time you will have to share the perfect curve of beach is when the turtles come out of the sea to lay their eggs." cousineisland.com

Eleuthera The Bahamas

"Less developed than much of the Bahamas, Eleuthera boasts some of the best beaches in the Caribbean and a quiet, rustic charm," Davey says. The island, the first permanent settlement in the Bahamas, also offers snorkeling and diving among the coral reefs and shipwrecks. "And it is home to one of the most perfect beach-bar restaurants you will find anywhere. Tippy's has a small wooden veranda overlooking the beach and a predictably good choice of rum." 800-224-2627; bahamas.com

Lord Howe Island Australia

This dot off the east coast of Australia "is a quiet, laid-back ecological paradise, with many endemic plant species, deserted beaches and fine walks," Davey says. The crescent-shaped island protects a coral reef and lagoon, while the island itself features subtropical forests and two mountains made from the remnants of lava flow. lordhoweisland.info


"People are tremendously important to an unforgettable island, and Vanuatu is reputed to be the most friendly place in the world, inhabited by the happiest people," Davey says. This island nation in the South Pacific was a model for James Michener's fabled Bali Hai. "There is fantastic diving here. And naghol, or land-diving. This forerunner of the modern bungee jump involves locals throwing themselves from towers, held only by vines around their ankles." vanuatutourism.com