Renowned travel guide Lonely Planet ranks the country in fifth place behind only Margaret River in Western Australia, Shikoku in Japan, the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, and Singapore.
The Cook Islands bumps out such slickly-marketed tourism destinations as Central Vietnam, Fiji, Palawan in the Philippines, Beijing and Cambodia.
“A visit to the Cook Islands, 15 tiny islets, far-flung over a swathe of the deep-blue, breezy Pacific Ocean, is bound to rejuvenate even the most jaded,” the judges write.
Tourists Simon Opit and Joyce Chen, relaxing on the beach at Muri, say they have been “blown away” by the authentic hospitality, and the generosity of families they met.
“Compared to Fiji it’s really quiet, there is so much space,” Opit says. “There aren’t 100 deck chairs on the beach, so you can pretty much have the beach to yourself.
“I have been snorkelling so much here and in Aitutaki, there are so many fish to see. I was amazed when I saw a lionfish. I couldn’t count the number of fish.”
They cycled around Aitutaki and did a lot of snorkelling and kayaking, and caught water taxies out to motu that most tourists don’t go to, Chen says. “Our host showed us how to husk coconuts in Aitutaki, the local spear fishers gave us a parrot fish to eat. We felt welcomed.”