Tropical, remote and hassle-free, the Cook Islands are the ideal South Pacific retreat. Polynesian culture meets coral lagoons, lush jungles, craggy mountains and blazing white beaches to create a dream-come-true land where time slips away and days laze by languidly. Most don’t leave the islands of Rarotonga and Altuataki, and it’s easy to see why. From snorkeling with neon fish to hiking mountains to dancing all night, these naturally endowed tourist hot spots have got the gig down. But head out into the other islands, and you’ll discover underwater caves, traditional villages, coffee and taro plantations, and an infectiously laid-back way of life that’ll get you saying, “Ah.” Development has been kept in check, although some call the islands the “Hawaii down-under,” but you’ll encounter far fewer hassles, and way lower prices than other big-name getaways. It’s all enough to create an island paradise that lives up to all your castaway fantasy.