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12 Tickets to Paradise: Aitutaki, Cook Islands
What makes the perfect island? Having it all to yourself. These 12 adventure oases are guaranteed to transport you well beyond the masses.
Text by Meg Lukens Noonan    Map by Pietari Posti

Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Explore a Polynesian Atoll

BASE CAMP: Etu Moana

Kayak between islets straight out of a Gauguin masterpiece.

You may want to kiss the tarmac when you step off the plane from Rarotonga, but not because the 136-mile (219-kilometer) trip to this vaguely triangular Cook Islands atoll in the middle of the South Pacific was harrowing. Instead you'll likely feel you've landed in the very place you've dreamed of most of your life. The translucent blue lagoon dotted with palm-spiked motus (islets), the smiling locals, the frangipani-scented air, the plink of ukuleles—yes, Aitutaki is the calendar art you have hanging on the fridge back home.

Map: Aitutaki, Cook Islands

GAME PLAN: Unpack your bags at the two-and-a-half-year-old Etu Moana, a cluster of eight Polynesian-style boutique villas—all with elevated king-size beds facing the water, flat-screen TVs, kitchens with stone countertops, and private gardens with outdoor showers. Start the day with star fruit and pawpaws by the pool, then grab a kayak and paddle into the reef-splotched seven-mile-long (eleven-kilometer-long) lagoon. Stash your boat on a deserted beach, then snorkel above cobalt blue starfish, giant clams, and yellow barrel sponges. Spend another day biking down banyan-tree-shaded back roads or walking to the top of 407-foot (124-meter) Maunga Pu, the island's highest point, for a stunning view.

In the evenings head inland to Café Tupuna for the best (or first) chili mud crab experience of your life, then catch a kone—the Cook's local drum dance—show at the open-air Samade on the Beach. You may be so taken that you actually volunteer to be the chump they teach to dance.
THE VITALS: Etu Moana ($425, including kayaks, snorkeling gear, and bicycles;

Wild Islands: 12 Tickets to Paradise
Aitutaki, Cook Islands Maldives
Eleuthera, Bahamas Molokai, Hawaii
Barbados Seychelles
Cayos Cochinos, Honduras St. Kitts
Guadeloupe Sumba, Indonesia
Isla Holbox, Mexico Vieques, Puerto Rico

All Adventure Islands

Cover: Adventure magazine

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