Each year, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hits newsstands with a thud, its photogenic content radiating beauty and emptying our checkbooks. And I'm not talking about the women (though they are beautiful). From the low-lying Maldives and the eco-chic digs in Nicaragua to the down-home charm of our own BBQ-centric Memphis, SI's gang has traveled to some of the most picturesque locales in the world to capture that perfect shot. This year was no different, with even a cold-weather backdrop making the cut for a second year in a row. Take a closer look at the 2011 destinations and get inspired for your next cashing in of saved vacation days. Now if only we were all six-foot models or world-renowned photographers and could get paid to travel...
Peter Island, British Virgin Islands
Like most private islands, Peters offers a limited amount of accommodation. Only 55 rooms occupy this 1,800-acre dreamland, where pampering is the name of the game. It's as if the pearly gates swing open and God himself reaches down from heaven to massage your beach-weary muscles... and that will be $200, please. If you have the cash (and you most likely do if you are considering staying here), book the Falcon's Nest, the bee's-knees of this exquisitely lavish island. Perched at the utmost point (so that you can look down upon the cheapskate minions below), this rentable estate has more rooms than most of our houses do. Amenities set amongst the three separate residences: six suites, seven bathrooms, three half-baths, two kitchens, a master suite with its own foyer, infinity-edge pool, and media room. And with all of this to keep up with, no one would expect you to do it alone. After handing over the plastic, your own personal staff comes to greet you, including a chef, housekeeper, and a chauffeur-driven vehicle.
Laguna Beach, California
Made (even more) famous with those über-popular high schoolers on the hit MTV show Laguna Beach (if you don't know what I'm talking about just ask the next person you see wearing a Bieber shirt, and if you don't know who Bieber is, just give up), this sunny, laidback town has green hillsides charging up behind an idyllic coast where sand and surf are king. With a hip, downtown scene and sunsets just as majestic as they are frequent, it's no wonder artsy types flock here. An hour's drive from L.A., Laguna Beach was the only continental U.S.-based destination on the SI list this year.
Boracay Island, Philippines
Drifting about in Southeast Asia's Philippine Sea is Boracay, a little sliver of land straight from a are-you-searching-for-heaven brochure. Though with the heaven comparisons, cometh the crowds. Vendors trawl the beach for unsuspecting tourists who brave eye contact and shops crowd the beachfront, encroaching on sand space on which overpriced, pay-to-lay beach chairs await. But don't let the gaggle of burnt skin dissuade you, the place itself is magnificent. Take off on day trips to avoid the crowded beach areas. Nearby islands offer world-class diving and snorkeling, as well as a chance to explore an area that is said to have been uncovered by a film crew, and made popular by some peace, love, and happiness-shouting backpackers in the '70s.
Turtle Island, Fiji
Turtle Island is no stranger to money; Hollywood celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, and Britney Spears have all frolicked on the white-sand beaches, clad in Gucci, most likely. The tiny South Pacific island is romance at its best. With a maximum occupancy of 28 guests, and a staff of 100, your every whim is catered to. Upon arrival, each guest is greeted by their own "personal liaison"; on Turtle Island they call these your Bure Mama. She's there for one reason only; to make sure your transition into island life goes as smoothly as possible. Hand-picked and hand-squeezed pineapple mango smoothie at midnight? Done. And if you want to frolic hands-free, just say so. Your Bure Mama will happily act as private photographer for the week. Want a dive instructor? She does that too. If the privacy offered on this tourist-controlled private island isn't up to snuff, breathe easy. There are only 14 villas on Turtle Island, and 14 intimate beaches, offering complete seclusion and the opportunity never to have to run into another couple during your stay.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
If beaches and bikinis aren't your thing, head for the only cold-weather destination on the list this year. Deep in the forest, Banff is a small alpine community set smack-dab in the middle of a national park. Surrounded by looming pine trees and the glorious peaks of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is nirvana for the outdoor enthusiast. Depending on the season, spend your days skiing, mountain biking, hiking, golfing, snowshoeing, cave touring, or heli-skiing. When your muscles have had enough, relax in the natural hot springs that flow freely through this scenic wilderness.
Sentosa Island, Singapore
Just off the coast of Singapore is an island fresh off a $3 billion makeover. On land is Universal Studios Singapore, a kiddy playground with 24 rides, 18 of which can only be found in Singapore. The MegaZip Adventure Park features the 450-meter-long, 72-meter-high MegaZip flying fox, propelling you with some severe force over the jungle canopy nearby. And if you prefer the feeling of weightlessness to flying, try ParaJump, a "simulated parachute landing" that "allows" you to walk off the edge of a perfectly stable platform and willingly plunge 49 feet below. Separated from mainland Singapore by a narrow channel, Sentosa is otherworldly in its surroundings. The manmade beaches offer views of tankers and ships preparing to dock in the world's busiest port. Though a respite from the bustle of its adjacent city, there's plenty action here to be enjoyed.
It's no mystery why Maui made the cut. It's beyond beautiful and a doable flight from most U.S. cities. If you want to have your cake and eat it too, you've found your next vacation spot. Showing up year-after-year on Most Beautiful, Most Romantic, and Best Beaches lists, Maui has a glorious wealth of natural characteristics in which to dip your toes. On the island is Haleakala National Park, the place that Mark Twain once described as "the sublimest spectacle" he’d ever seen. The highest point, the 10,000-foot summit of Puu Ulaula, is the place to view the world-famous sunrise. Take in 360-degree views of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kahoolawe, and the Big Island while the Pacific sun crests the horizon, and you’ll see that Mr. Twain had every reason to be impressed.
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