Underrated Tropical Vacation Destinations To Add To Your Bucket List

When it comes to planning a tropical vacation, most travelers flock to well-known paradises such as Bali, Hawaii, or the Maldives. These destinations undoubtedly promise sparkling seas, pristine beaches, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant cultures to immerse yourself in — but there's a whole world of underrated tropical destinations that exist beyond these famous spots, and they are just waiting to be explored! So, if you're seeking to escape the crowds or discover a hidden gem, it's time to expand your horizons and add one of these lesser-known tropical locations to your bucket list.

From far-flung volcanic islands with lush jungles to unspoiled beaches with incredible diving spots and coral reefs, these underrated tropical destinations promise to redefine your idea of the perfect tropical vacation. They offer natural beauty, sunshine, and opportunities for adventure, but without the overwhelming tourist presence and steeper price tags. Ready to trade the ordinary for the extraordinary? These destinations deserve a spot on your travel wishlist.

Jeju Island, South Korea

This volcanic island, which lies 80 miles southwest off the coast of the Korean peninsula, is South Korea's only tropical destination. The emerald seas, hot climate, and sandy beaches make it a popular destination among Korean honeymooners. The veritable paradise is only a one-hour flight from South Korea's capital city, Seoul. But, despite its busy airport and beautiful scenery, Jeju Island is still relatively undiscovered by international travelers. Along with its natural beauty, the island is also a haven for traditional Korean culture, from the Jeju Folklore & Natural History Museum to the numerous restaurants serving up spicy seafood stew or barbecued black pork.

Created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the island is home to Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature for its unique and unspoiled beauty. You can explore the colorful lava tubes at Geomunoreum — described by UNESCO as one of the finest systems of lava tube caves in the world — or hike to the top of Mount Hallasan, the dormant volcano at the heart of the island that forms Korea's tallest mountain. During the hike, you can enjoy panoramic views of waterfalls, craters, and interesting basalt and lava rock formations as you go. Down at the shore, the beaches are the perfect place to relax under the warm sun or catch a glimpse of the diverse marine life with a snorkeling adventure in the clear waters.

Palawan, Philippines

The most sparsely populated region in the Philippines, Palawan is an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands of various sizes, stretching all the way to Borneo. It's often overshadowed by more popular destinations in the Philippines, such as Boracay, partly because it is relatively remote and harder to access — the beautiful beaches of El Nido, for example, require a five-hour land transfer from Palawan's main airport. However, this tropical destination is well worth the effort it takes to travel there, and fewer tourists means that it better maintains its pristine natural beauty.

Known for its stunning limestone cliffs, crystal-clear waters, and azure lagoons, Palawan is a paradise for nature lovers and divers. Head out to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea for an incredible range of colorful corals, rare fish, and the chance to swim alongside turtles. You can also take a boat tour along the Puerto Princesa Underground River — this UNESCO World Heritage site is a unique subterranean world of stalagmites, stalactites, and wildlife, including crabs, birds, and bats. If you'd rather explore under your own steam, try island-hopping by boat or kayak around Miniloc Island to look for secret lagoons and beaches, where you can swim or paddle through holes in the limestone rocks and discover a wonderful hidden world.

Gili Islands, Indonesia

If you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life and disconnect from technology, the Gili Islands are the perfect place with a slower pace. Thanks to the absence of motor vehicles, this tropical destination is the ideal environment for relaxation and unwinding. You can only get around on foot, bike, or by a traditional horse-drawn cart known as a cidomo. Located off the northwest coast of Lombock, these three tiny islands are the epitome of paradise and a world away from the touristy shores of nearby Bali.

Although each of the islands has a slightly different vibe, there's something they have in common — some of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia. White sandy shores stretch along the coastlines, and the calm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. For travelers seeking the most serene experience of all, the smallest of the three, Gili Meno, is the quietest and most tranquil. A little over a mile long, the island has a local population of around 500 inhabitants and even fewer tourists. Spend your days on the sand and your evenings sipping a drink at one of the handful of beach bars while admiring some of the world's most magical sunsets.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is another stunning, and thoroughly unspoiled, tropical vacation spot in Indonesia. Part of West Papua Province, it is Indonesia's most eastern archipelago and consists of four main islands — the name Raja Ampat translates to "'The Four Kings" — as well as more than 1,500 smaller islands and cays. It is a paradise both above and below the water, with thick jungles on land and vibrant coral gardens below the surface of its vast ocean territory. According to the Nature Conservancy, over 75% of the world's marine species live in these millions of acres where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, making the crystal-clear waters here a scuba diving heaven. You can encounter turtles, dolphins, lionfish, giant clams, manta rays, barracudas, shoals of tuna, and much more.

But it's not just the underwater sights that make Raja Ampat such a beautiful destination. It is also home to pristine stretches of sand, limestone karst formations, colorful birds-of-paradise, and incredible views over the scattered collections of atolls that dot the turquoise seas. There are also a diverse range of accommodation options, depending on your budget and preferences, from homestays in authentic bungalows and luxurious spas to liveaboard boats offering themed trips and excursions.

La Digue, Seychelles

Smaller and less crowded than the neighboring islands, La Digue is a haven of beautiful beaches, traditional Seychelles culture, and laid-back calm. Cars are carefully restricted here, meaning the island is almost motor-free, and the best way to explore is by renting a bicycle. Everything is within easy reach on two wheels, and you can immerse yourself in the slower pace of island-living for the duration of your stay. There isn't an airport, either, meaning that your first glimpse of this tropical paradise will be from the water on a boat ride from busier Praslin, and the palm tree-lined beaches, white sandy shores — often completely devoid of footprints — and distinctive granite boulders will take your breath away.

There are very few amenities and attractions on La Digue, but you won't need them. There's a range of simple yet comfortable accommodation options, such as traditional guest houses and small hotels, but it's all about sun, sea, and sand once you've settled in. Anse Source d'Argent is regularly considered one of the best beaches in the world and a must-see for vacationers to La Digue. This vast stretch of shimmering sand, which is easy to reach with a bike, is the ideal place to get away from it all and simply take in your surroundings.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Located approximately halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, the beautiful Cook Islands should be on every tropical vacation bucket list. Yet Aitutaki, in the southernmost group of islands, is another destination that has been overshadowed by its more popular and famous neighbors, such as Rarotonga, and remains off the beaten path for many travelers. This romantic South Pacific paradise is formed on a triangular coral reef, with 15 little islets, known as "motus," that are scattered around a stunning turquoise lagoon.

Although it's a quieter alternative to more crowded Pacific destinations, Aitutaki doesn't skimp on luxury. There are boutique and luxury resorts with overwater bungalows offering direct access to the lagoon, private villas, and fine dining options. Unsurprisingly, Aitutaki is gaining a reputation as a honeymoon destination. After a hike up Maunga Pu, the main island's highest point, you'll have the best views over the water and atoll, allowing you to truly appreciate the seclusion and romance of this idyllic corner of the world. For ultimate seclusion, you can also hire a water taxi to set out across the lagoon to find your own private beach on one of the uninhabited islets or sandbars.

Andaman Islands, India

This remote string of islands in the Bay of Bengal is actually closer to Myanmar and Indonesia than the rest of India. Set roughly 800 miles from India's mainland, the Andaman Islands receive far fewer visitors than other destinations in India — but they're worth the effort, and the relatively low number of tourists is a big part of their appeal. The only point of entry is Port Blair, the capital of the islands, which is served by domestic flights from India, but from there, it's easy to hop aboard a boat or a catamaran in search of the incredible sugar-white beaches that make the Andaman Islands such a paradise.

The Andaman Islands offer world-class scuba diving as the tropical seas are a haven for sharks, rays, turtles, and schools of snapper; the islands are also home to India's only substantial coral reef system among the islets of Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park. Although Havelock Island has the best range of accommodations and eateries, the smaller and more secluded spots have even more appeal. Highlights include Interview Island, a nature sanctuary, and the isolated Little Andaman, home to mangroves, teal waves, and excellent surfing.

Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Of all the tropical destinations on this list, Tofo Beach is the ideal one for budget travelers. It's been a popular spot with backpackers for a while, but it has remained sleepy and undeveloped — and cheap. You can get real value for money at Fatima's Nest Hostel — with bungalows and hammocks right on the sand — or enjoy a slice of luxury on a modest budget as you can get a lot for your money here. 

Despite Tofo's small size, there are plenty of dive operators offering snorkeling and scuba excursions, and Tofo is one of the only places on the planet where you can swim or dive with whale sharks year-round. On a longer vacation, you could also get certified and complete your PADI here among the diverse marine life. Stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking are also popular ways to explore the bay and catch a glimpse of humpback whales or a turtle swimming alongside you. Afterward, enjoy a local rum or sample hearty curries in one of the laid-back bars that line the edge of the beach. 

San Blas Islands, Panama

Located off the northwest of Panama, in the Caribbean Sea, the San Blas Islands are about as close to cast-away fantasies as you can possibly get — pristine beaches, warm water, shady coconut palms, and hardly any other people. Many islands are completely uninhabited, while others are home to the indigenous Guna people, who have protected their islands fiercely from mass tourism, and continue to carefully control the access and numbers of visitors each day. This ensures that the islands have remained completely unspoiled and a haven for their traditional way of life. Accommodations typically include eco-friendly lodges, made from local natural materials, and the common method of transportation is by charter boat and traditional canoe.

Because of the lack of tourist infrastructure, this isn't the place for travelers seeking boutique resorts or lots of facilities; but if you want to truly switch off from modern life and immerse yourself in the basic tranquility of this tropical paradise, there may be no better place on the planet. Take plenty of books with you — and a torch, for when the generator is turned off in the evenings — and simply enjoy the bliss. At night, without light pollution, you can see an incredible number of stars, and the ocean's bioluminescence can seem equally unworldly.

Pemba Island, Tanzania

Although Zanzibar is a bucket list destination in Africa for many, most tourists head to the largest island, Unguja, and so Pemba, its smaller sister, has remained a hidden gem. As it is just off the beaten path, Pemba offers a quieter and more peaceful atmosphere, as well as a host of authentic experiences. There are several stunning architectural sites to visit, such as the ancient tombs of Ras Mkumbuu and the ancient ruined town of Chakawa, both nestled in the verdant jungle. The main town, Chake Chake, is also home to the Pemba Museum, where you can learn about the local history and culture that has been influenced by mainland Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.

In the local markets, the island's inhabitants are eager to invite you to try the fresh fruits and produce. The Zanzibar archipelago has long been known as the "spice islands," and you can visit spice farms or book a cookery lesson to find out more about the history of the spice trade and how the products are grown on the island today. Pemba also has a strong local reputation for magic and the spices play a role in the medicines and spells of the ju-ju traditions.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is renowned for its natural beauty and biodiversity, and the Nicoya Peninsula is no exception. It may have a slower pace of life than some of the country's more touristy hotspots, but it is home to just as many beautiful beaches and wildlife-rich rainforests. Stretching out into the Pacific Ocean, the relatively narrow, 80-mile-long peninsula is dotted with small bays and islets, with most of its towns concentrated along the coast. Depending on the shape and geographical positioning of the beaches, you can enjoy a wide variety of activities: snorkeling and swimming in calm seas, as well as bodyboarding and surfing. In fact, Santa Teresa, on the northern tip of the peninsula, is considered one of the best surf towns in Latin America

The Nicoya Peninsula has also been identified as one of the world's "Blue Zones" — an area where people live measurably healthier, longer lives than they do elsewhere. As a result, it has become a hub for yoga and wellness, attracting practitioners and enthusiasts from all over the world. Thanks to the serene environment and connection to nature, the small, laid-back towns of Nosara and Mal Pais are ideal places to visit if you want to take part in a spot of yoga and meditation, with everything from week-long retreats to hour-long classes on offer.