10 enchanting islands one HAS to visit
There’s nothing quite like an island. It’s something to do with the feeling of being surrounded by an ocean, completely cut off from the rest of the world.
You can feel completely detached from the you that ‘you’ are when you’re on a mainland, carefree, living purely to enjoy the beauty of it all.
On every island I’ve ever been to, the pace of life on an island is slower, and I’ve found it hard to bother with worrying about the things that normally occupy my brain.
If you’re in need of a bit of downtime, or just want to spend some time contemplating a little patch of land in all its glory, pack your bags & head over to one of these islands for your next big adventure.
In no particular order, here are a few of my favourites…
1. New Caledonia
This gem of the Pacific is everything you could possibly want out of an island escape. Whether you’re a waterfall junkie, can’t get enough of those picture perfect tropical beaches, or adore snorkelling, you’re sure to find your happy place here.
But it’s not just the natural beauty that will win you over. There’s an awful lot of cultural history going on too.
The first settlers, the Kanak people, arrived over 3,000 years ago, and the island is now a mix of the original culture with people of European and Asian descent, as well as people from other Pacific islands.
The best part, at least in my book, is that the average temperature is a dreamy 25°C.
2. Isla Holbox – Mexico
This island is one of the best-kept secrets on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. People flock to Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, but much fewer people make the journey up to the north of the peninsula to take the ferry over to Isla Holbox.
The dusty streets are ruled by the golf buggies that are the only vehicles on the island, and all of the buildings are impossibly quaint.
The shallow, crystalline waters are just impossibly perfect, gently lapping at the gently sloping beaches.
Take a boat trip out to the Ojo de Agua sinkhole, rumoured to be the fountain of eternal youth. Dance the night away in the few small bars on the island, which come alive with salsa and reggaetón music on a nightly basis.
One thing I love about this place is that wifi is practically non-existent, which, although it’s frustrating for the digital nomads among us, does mean you can completely check out of life.
3. Tioman – Malaysia
I have never seen anything like the snorkelling off this Malaysian island. Jumping into the water here is like jumping into an aquarium, no word of a lie.
It’s pricey by local standards, but treat yourself to a stay at the Japamala resort on the water’s edge.
Take a walk along through the jungle, through a local village, then climb up to the impossibly beautiful waterfall, something straight out of the film ‘South Pacific’. You’ll probably only have to share it with a monkey or two.
4. Gili Trawangan – Indonesia
Speak to anyone that’s been to Indonesia and their eyes will probably glaze over when you mention ‘the Gilis’. These three drops of heaven are just off the coast of Lombok, and can be reached from there or from Bali.
The crystal clear waters are home to graceful sea turtles and white sandy beaches ring the whole island. Make your way over to the far side of Gili Trawangan from the main village to watch the sunset behind Mount Batur on Bali and have your picture taken on the famous swing.
If there’s anything more instagrammable on this planet, I’m yet to find it. Fill up on delicious local snacks at night food market in the village, where long trestle tables are set up and travellers from all over the world make friends.
5. Morro de Sao Paulo – Brazil
This is my pick for the best of Brazil, although there are still a few on my list that I’ve been told is even better, although for very different reasons!
This one’s for the party animals among you. It teams a great night out with a beautiful beach to sleep the caipirinha hangover off on. It’s just off the coast of the fascinating city of Salvador, and reached by a short ferry trip.
Find yourself a hostel, make some friends and get ready to dance the night away to the biggest Latino tunes.
Enjoy the beautiful beaches and sit under the shade of a palm tree whilst sipping on a coconut, occasionally ambling down to the water for a dip. Try the delicious tapioca and deep-fried pasteis, followed by an acai. You might never leave.
6. Island of the Sun – Peru/Bolivia
This is a bit of a different one, as it’s an island in a vast lake, rather than in the sea. But I couldn’t leave it out!
I’ve never been quite so enchanted than when I set foot on this island and stepped back in time. The communities still live from subsistence farming and speak the indigenous language Quechua, rather than Spanish.
You pay the communities for access to different parts of the island, where you’ll find the ruins of ancient temples that people used to come from all four corners of the Incan empire to worship.
Related: Overnight in the land of the sun
Climb to the top of the highest mountain and marvel at the panoramic views.
Stay a night in the northern village, where there’s very little electricity and the stars will leave you awestruck, and then walk to the south of the island to get a boat back to the shore and carry on your adventure
7. Whitsundays – Australia
Although I could, technically, have put Australia itself on this list, I don’t need to tell you how captivating the mother of all islands is, and I couldn’t sum it up in so few words.
I’ve gone for something a little smaller for the Australian entry, but I have to admit for cheating a little.
That’s because the Whitsunday Islands are actually made up of 74 individual islands, just off the coast from Airlie Beach, in Queensland.
The main focus is Hamilton Island, where plenty of swanky houses cluster on the slopes with stunning ocean views, and everyone gets around in golf buggies, just like in Mexico, but a little more upmarket.
Take boat trips out to the neighbouring islands, all shapes and sizes, some covered in rainforest and some mere drops of sand in the ocean, and go diving or snorkelling on the astonishing barrier reef. Heaven.
You couldn’t get much further away from Australia, literally and figuratively. The only thing these two have in common is the colour of the water.
Malta couldn’t have a more interesting history if it tried. It’s in the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa, and its strategic position has meant it’s been hotly contested over the years.
It passed through the hands of the Romans, Moors, French and British, amongst others. You can see the evidence of all these cultures in the structures they left behind them, and the awe-inspiring Hypogeum dates back an incredible 5000 years.
Valetta, the capital, was used as King’s Landing, which will get any Game of Thrones fans amongst you even more excited. Plenty of tours will happily show you spots you’ll remember from the record-breaking series.
9. Orkney – Scotland
And now for something completely different. Summer never gets particularly warm in the Outer Hebrides, and winter can be cruel, but that doesn’t make the Outer Hebrides any less stunning.
The Isle of Skye is the biggest honeypot, so much so that prices have rocketed and it can be hard to find somewhere to lay your weary head. Orkney is a great alternative.
It’s actually made up of 70 smaller islands, the largest one known as Mainland.
Explore archaeological sites, enjoy the lively folk scene in the main town on Stromness and take trips to other islands, the coastlines of which are peppered with beautiful beaches that rival the Mediterranean, although just a few degrees colder!
10. Galapagos Islands – Ecuador
Is there anything more exciting than the idea of setting foot in the Galapagos Islands? If you have even the faintest interest in natural history, this is something you have to see before you die.
The volcanic archipelago in the Pacific ocean is one of the very best spots in the world for seeing wildlife, as Charles Darwin himself discovered when he visited in 1835.
1000km off the coast of Ecuador, I’m not going to lie, this won’t be a cheap holiday, but it’ll be one you’ll never forget.
Img Sources: Kg. Tekek Jetty by Adib Wahab – cc by nd 2.0, At Tioman island by _paVan_ cc by 2.0, Morro de Sau Paulo by Francisco Osorio – cc by 2.0, main square area in Isla Holbox by Gideon – cc by 2.0, Isla Holbox by Steven Zwerink – cc by sa2.0, Isle of Pines – New Caledonia by Roderick Eime cc by 2.0, Gili Trawangan by Beyond Neon – cc by 2.0, Wikimedia Commons