Paradise overlooked: The best islands you’ve probably never heard of
By Rachael Funk
Nothing can ruin a much-needed getawaylike hordes of tourists, all jamming into the same cramped spaces,shouting to be heard, and generally sucking all the joy out of thetrip you've looked forward to for ages. If you're tired of thecrowds and a virtually tourist-free getaway appeals to you, here area few of the world's secret islands.
One of Italy's best-kept secrets, theisland of Marettimo is a quiet paradise off Sicily's western tip.This sleepy island has managed to remain unspoiled by the foibles ofmodern convenience; you won't find many cars on the westernmost ofthe Aegadian Islands. What you will find is an abundance ofspectacular coastal scenery, swimmable sea caves, and the remains ofan 11th-century church built by Byzantine monks.Simplicity, authenticity, and peaceful charm are the hallmarks ofthis island along with impossibly fresh seafood, wild-growing herbs,and the glittering sea wherever you turn.
Mou Waho, New Zealand
Mou Waho Island is a hidden gem risingfrom the middle of Lake Wanaka. A sanctuary for native birdlife, thearea is protected by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as ascientific reserve. Hike to the top of this enchanting island forunbeatable views of Lake Wanaka's raw beauty. On the way up, you'lllikely be greeted by a curious Buff Weka. These feisty, chicken-sizedbirds are flightless and nearly extinct in the mainland but areslowly repopulating on Mou Waho (it's slow going – they mate forlife!). The crowning glory of Mou Waho is Arethusa Pool, which islocated near the island's summit. Take a leap into the water, butdon't forget your camera!
Magdalen Islands, Canada
Affectionately known as "theMaggies," Canada's Magdalen Islands are a wonderland of red dirtcliffs carved out by wind and sea. Some have described the landscapesof the islands as a mix between the green hills of Ireland and thegolden beaches of Cape Cod. Mostly inhabited by the descendants ofshipwreck survivors, the isolated islands are full of brightlypainted homes, family-friendly activities, and coves and caveswaiting to be explored. Gourmands will delight in the island'sincredible seafood, cheese, craft beers, ciders, and brandies allmade locally.
Saba, Lesser Antilles Chain
Just south of St. Maarten, this DutchCaribbean island is a satisfying mix of lush tropical rainforest andidyllic towns speckled with flowers, fruit trees and a lot of wildgoats. Boasting some of the world's most enchanting dive sites,Saba is growing in popularity every year, but still remainsrelatively unknown to the outside world. The volcanic island, whichis also home to a medical school, is known for being safe, friendly,and teeming with life under the azure waterline.
Sovalye Island, Turkey
A 20-minute boat ride from Fethiye,this uninhabited island is steeped in Byzantine history. With noroads and no vehicles (aside from boats, of course), you can't getmuch more tranquil than this. Get back to nature on this islandshaded by pine and carob trees while you breathe in the jasmine airand feel the sun warming your skin. It takes about 45 minutes to walkthe breadth of the island but there's plenty to see, do, and eat.Indulge in a five-star meal al fresco, snorkel the crystal clearwaters or explore the remains of a crusader castle built byknights-turned-pirates in the Middle Ages.
Navarino Island, Chile
Remote and wild, this backpackingparadise will thrill adventurers with the southernmost trekking routein the world. Beyond the island's single village, you can explorethe rugged landscapes and rich biodiversity which helped the areaearn its moniker, "the end of the world." The Dientes de Navarinomountain range is covered with Magellanic forests, peat mud flats,lakes, and lagoons.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Fernando de Noronha is one of Brazil'smarine national parks and is so exclusive, only 420 tourists areallowed on the island at a time. Renowned for the best beaches in thecountry, the island charms all who are lucky enough to visit it.Nestled in a volcanic archipelago of 21 islands, Fernando de Noronhais a daydream to behold. White sand beaches encircle the island whichis full of craggy cliffs, thunderous waterfalls, and swimming holesgalore. The warm, emerald water is filled with dolphins, turtles,and, according to consensus from the locals, harmless sharks.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
A little-knowntreasure, Koh Lipe is referred to as the Maldives of Thailand. Thistropical daydream is the place to find bright turquoise water andsoft sand beaches. Here, you won't find international chain hotelsor cars, just warm, clear water, friendly locals, and some of thecountry's best snorkeling.
One of Greece's little-known islandsdespite its claim to fame as the place where the famous Venus de Milowas discovered, Milos is the place to be if you're cravingspectacular sunsets and even better food. Located about halfwaybetween Crete and Athens in the Aegean Sea, this island is the idealplace to experience the authenticity of Greece without the crowds.The beaches here have gained notoriety for their beauty, withdazzling white rocks jutting out over the brilliant sea. The islandis chock full of hidden treasures such as early Christian catacombs,the cliffs of Kleftiko which were famous for hiding pirates, andplenty of land to explore on the back of an ATV.
North Stradbroke, Australia
This unpretentious island is a30-minute ferry ride from Brisbane. A whale-watcher's dream, NorthStradbroke sees the most concentrated migration of humpback whales inthe area, with hundreds passing through between the months of Juneand November. Year-round, it is the ideal place to spot dolphins,turtles, manta rays, and other exciting marine life. The sand islandonly sees about 24,000 visitors a year and holds only a few smallsettlements which means few crowds to avoid. Don't miss a visit tothe tea-stained Brown Lake, where tea trees surrounding the lake haveturned the clear water a murky brown. If you're lucky, you may getto see the ocean glow at night thanks to the bioluminescent planktonthat light up the waves.
Rosario Islands, Colombia
Off the coast of Cartagena, the RosarioIslands (Islas del Rosario) are a popular day trip and worlds awayfrom the bustling city life. The archipelago of 30 islands has such apristine ecosystem, it is now a national park. You can of courseexpect crystal clear Caribbean waters with the added bonus ofunbeatable Colombian food, kayaking, snorkeling, and plenty ofhammocks to kick back in and sip something cool while you soak up thesun. Schedule the boat ride back to Cartagena in the evening, and youcan literally sail away into the sunset.
Yaeyama Islands, Japan
The most remote destination of theOkinawa archipelago, the scattered Yaeyama Islands are a little-knowntropical paradise in Japan. A draw for locals on holiday and divers,these special islands are the ideal place to take the trip of alifetime. The tropical climate bids visitors to explore the exoticlocale, rich with unspoiled nature and culinary excellence. Go for adive in Kabira Bay to see the vibrant life under the sea or relax onKaiji beach in the southeast, famous for its star-shaped grains ofsand. Rent a bike to get around, or catch a ride on a waterbuffalo-drawn cart!
This article was created in collaboration with Great Value Vacations.