Everyone has that one trip in their head, the dream vacation they're saving either money or time (or both) for. It's the kind of escape most people get to take only once every several years— if not once in their life. But when the expectations (and budget) are so high, it can be hard to decide exactly where to go. Of course, there are thousands of excursions to choose from, but we've narrowed the fantasy field down to a handful that offer active options as well as plenty of opportunities to relax and soak up the local flavor. All of these trips are virtually guaranteed to meet your "take me away from it all" urges. So grab your calendar, put your travel agent on speed dial, and get ready to make your vacation dreams come true.
Hit A World-Class Dive Spot
The wildlife-rich waters surrounding this chain of islands in Micronesia (it's a two-hour flight from Guam) make diving here a spectator sport. But there's also plenty to see without strapping on an oxygen tank. Shake off your jet lag by taking a kayak trip to Disney Lake. Top guide Ron Leidich, founder of Planet Blue Kayak Tours, or one of his naturalists will lead you on a daylong journey that involves paddling around Palau's famous Rock Islands and into a secluded lagoon you can access only at low tide—through a tunnel ($90; samstours.com). Once inside, you’ll abandon your boat and snorkel around the perimeter. You won't be able to help gaping at the Technicolor coral "forests" you'll be hovering over.
Although there are plenty of ways to explore these islands, the diving will really wow you. Sign up for an outing to the renowned Blue Holes with Fish 'n' Fins (from $130 for a two-tank dive; fishnfins.com). You're apt to see barracuda, turtles, and reef sharks as you descend anywhere from 45 to 120 feet down one of four openings that have formed in the barrier reef (you exit through a cavern).
Finally, you can't leave Palau without experiencing Jellyfish Lake. A 45-minute boat ride from the town of Koror, the landlocked lake is filled with millions of stingless jellyfish. You'll snorkel out into the water and float as the gelatinous creatures swim by you.
Details The beachfront Palau Pacific Resort, on Arakabesan Island, boasts unobstructed views of the sunset (from $350; palauppr.com).