Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Admit it: You never even knew there was an island called Aitutaki until you booked your South Pacific cruise. That’s because this tiny speck of an atoll — the second most visited of the Cook Islands — flies below most travelers’ radar. Those who do stumble upon it quickly realize that it offers a chance to decelerate, with nothing to do but listen to the gentle lap of ridiculously blue waves and savor the unparalleled serenity.
What We Love
The Lagoon: This sleepy atoll’s vast and tranquil reef-protected water mesmerizes with its pure and endless shades of blue — in part because there’s not much else to distract you.
The Dancing: Don’t tell the Tahitians, but no one shakes their hips and beats a drum like the Cook Islanders. Watching a high-energy dance performed by the island’s grass-skirt-clad residents is a highlight of a visit here.
Best Known For
One Foot Island: Some tours of Aitutaki’s lagoon make a stop at this secluded reef islet with its own legend and commemorative passport stamp. (Parts of "Survivor: Cook Islands" were filmed here, too.)
Snorkeling and Diving: Skim the surface or go deep — the choice is yours, but the rewards are equally enjoyable as an abundance of tropical fish, stingrays, sea turtles, and reef sharks frequent Aitutaki’s waters.
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Who It's Best For
Beach Bums: An ideal day on Aitutaki involves an umbrella, a towel, a cooler, and some sunscreen.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Don't Expect to Shop: While a few locally made handicrafts — a carved wooden statue of the Cook Islands’ amply endowed fertility god Tangaroa, for example — are sold on the island, the best Aitutaki souvenirs are photographic memories of its surreal beauty.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.