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Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Rarotonga, and Tonga have conjured up romantic images of an earthly paradise since European sailors brought home tales of their tropical splendor and uninhibited people in the 1760s. My own love affair with the South Pacific doesn't go back quite that far, but when I did wash ashore, I quickly understood why these remote outposts came to have such a reputation. These are some of the most beautiful islands in the world -- if not the most beautiful. They are blessed with some of the most gorgeous beaches the planet has to offer, and their lagoons offer some of the globe's most fabulous diving and snorkeling.

Picking the best of the South Pacific is no easy task. I cannot, for example, choose the friendliest island, for these islanders are among the most welcoming folks on earth. Their fabled history has provided fodder for famous books and films, their culture inspires hedonistic dreams, and their big smiles and genuine hospitality are prime attractions everywhere in the South Pacific.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.