From history and cultural diversity to local cuisine and live music, the best travel is frequently off the beaten path (or trail or shore). Here is our shortlist of the top culture-inspired travel destinations in the most beautiful islands in the world, so you can get cultured — while staying near the sea.
Local rum and sega dancing | Bel Ombre, Mauritius
First up, the gorgeous tropical shores of Mauritius. This small island nation is nestled in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar. It is a sought-after destination for its balmy white-sand beaches and plunging, jungle-fringed waterfalls.
But its lesser-known rich and diverse culture is just as fun. A vibrant mix of the traditions of four continents, Mauritius lets you tour temples and mansions. Take a day trip to check out the Chateau de Labourdonnais on the north shore, a restored colonial mansion showcasing antiquities and artwork and the history of the island’s sugar cane industry. Try sugarcane-created Mauritian rum near the picturesque Seven Colored Earths. See a local Sega show, a lively performance of the official dance of Mauritius with Creole singing and music.
Lei and live music | Oahu
Ah, Oahu. The very name conjures images of swaying palm trees, crystal-clear waters — and stunning technicolor sunsets. But savvy travelers know there’s fun to be had away from the beach. Immerse themselves in the diverse cultures of Hawaii and the Pacific at Bishop Museum, or tour the iconic landmark of Pearl Harbor. Gain hands-on experience with a 2-hour adventure voluntourism tour at Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve (and receive up to 25% off your stay at Outrigger!) — or learn to dance (or play the ukulele or make your lei) with complimentary local classes. Check out more live music and award-winning musicians at iconic spots like Blue Note Hawaii and music-under-the-stars local favorite Kani Ka Pila Grille.
Temples and Muay Thai | Thailand
From exploring ancient temples to sampling local delicacies, Thailand is an array of cultural treats. Known as “wats,” the country’s temples are architectural marvels and home to some of Thailand’s most important cultural artifacts and religious relics, from Wat Burapharam in Surin in Thailand’s northwest to the Wat Phra Yai on Koh Samui, home to a 12-meter-tall golden Buddha statue. Looking for more adventure? Try a Thai cooking class or a Muay Thai gym class to sample the grace and skill of this unique sport yourself.
Kings and coffee | The Big Island
Welcome to Hawaii Island, where the aloha spirit thrives amidst a rich tapestry of cultural traditions. Here, the land is alive with the energy of ‘ohana (family), and a kaleidoscope of cultural activities celebrates the island’s diverse heritage. For a taste of traditional Hawaiian culture under the stars, try Kona’s newest luau show. Savor Polynesian music, with rhythmic drums and a big feast. For a little more history, take a guided tour of the historic villages of Kaukulaulau and Keauhou Bay, the birthplace of King Kamehameha III, the third king of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Wander the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park park, a sacred site of restored temples and historic structures. Or sample the flavors of traditional Hawaiian cuisine at a local farmer’s market — or one of the island’s 650 coffee farms and plantations.
Kava and fire walking | Fiji
Bula vinaka, and welcome to Fiji! This tropical archipelago has some of the most breathtaking landscapes and a warmth in its people that permeates every interaction. Take part in a traditional Fijian village experience with a kava ceremony with local villagers. Indulge in this delicious national drink made from the root of the kava plant — as you watch traditional dances, songs and storytelling. Or watch a Fire Walking performance, an indigenous Fijian tradition that dates back to the 1500s.
Whales and banyan trees | Maui
Between December and May each year, humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii to breed and birth their young, and Maui is one of the best places in the state to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Book a tour to see these incredible animals in a safe and exciting way, then head back to land and explore the small town of Lahaina to see the old whaling village and the historic Banyan Tree. And turn beachgoing into a cultural experience just by hanging out at Kaanapali Beach, rich in history and heritage alongside eclectic local shops.
Melting pot and whale sharks | Maldives
Yes, there’s more to the Maldives than just its picture-perfect scenery. The smallest country in Asia, this island nation is also a melting pot of cultures, with influences from India, Sri Lanka and Arabia. Try unique dishes with lots of flavor like a chili mud crab platter (great for sharing!) or local favorites like whole Maldivian lobster. Or, for a little off-land culture, hang out in the sapphire seas with the "gentle giants" of the Indian Ocean: the whale sharks.