By Rachael Funk
Nothing can ruin a much-needed getaway like hordes of tourists, all jamming into the same cramped spaces, shouting to be heard, and generally sucking all the joy out of the trip you've looked forward to for ages. If you're tired of the crowds and a virtually tourist-free getaway appeals to you, here are a few of the world's secret islands.
One of Italy's best-kept secrets, the island of Marettimo is a quiet paradise off Sicily's western tip. This sleepy island has managed to remain unspoiled by the foibles of modern convenience; you won't find many cars on the westernmost of the Aegadian Islands. What you will find is an abundance of spectacular coastal scenery, swimmable sea caves, and the remains of an 11th-century church built by Byzantine monks. Simplicity, authenticity, and peaceful charm are the hallmarks of this 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 rising from the middle of Lake Wanaka. A sanctuary for native birdlife, the area is protected by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as a scientific reserve. Hike to the top of this enchanting island for unbeatable views of Lake Wanaka's raw beauty. On the way up, you'll likely be greeted by a curious Buff Weka. These feisty, chicken-sized birds are flightless and nearly extinct in the mainland but are slowly repopulating on Mou Waho (it's slow going – they mate for life!). The crowning glory of Mou Waho is Arethusa Pool, which is located near the island's summit. Take a leap into the water, but don't forget your camera!
Magdalen Islands, Canada
Affectionately known as "the Maggies," Canada's Magdalen Islands are a wonderland of red dirt cliffs carved out by wind and sea. Some have described the landscapes of the islands as a mix between the green hills of Ireland and the golden beaches of Cape Cod. Mostly inhabited by the descendants of shipwreck survivors, the isolated islands are full of brightly painted homes, family-friendly activities, and coves and caves waiting to be explored. Gourmands will delight in the island's incredible seafood, cheese, craft beers, ciders, and brandies all made locally.
Saba, Lesser Antilles Chain
Just south of St. Maarten, this Dutch Caribbean island is a satisfying mix of lush tropical rainforest and idyllic towns speckled with flowers, fruit trees and a lot of wild goats. Boasting some of the world's most enchanting dive sites, Saba is growing in popularity every year, but still remains relatively unknown to the outside world. The volcanic island, which is 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 no roads and no vehicles (aside from boats, of course), you can't get much more tranquil than this. Get back to nature on this island shaded by pine and carob trees while you breathe in the jasmine air and feel the sun warming your skin. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the breadth of the island but there's plenty to see, do, and eat. Indulge in a five-star meal al fresco, snorkel the crystal clear waters or explore the remains of a crusader castle built by knights-turned-pirates in the Middle Ages.
Navarino Island, Chile
Remote and wild, this backpacking paradise will thrill adventurers with the southernmost trekking route in the world. Beyond the island's single village, you can explore the rugged landscapes and rich biodiversity which helped the area earn its moniker, "the end of the world." The Dientes de Navarino mountain range is covered with Magellanic forests, peat mud flats, lakes, and lagoons.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Fernando de Noronha is one of Brazil's marine national parks and is so exclusive, only 420 tourists are allowed on the island at a time. Renowned for the best beaches in the country, the island charms all who are lucky enough to visit it. Nestled in a volcanic archipelago of 21 islands, Fernando de Noronha is a daydream to behold. White sand beaches encircle the island which is full of craggy cliffs, thunderous waterfalls, and swimming holes galore. The warm, emerald water is filled with dolphins, turtles, and, according to consensus from the locals, harmless sharks.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
A little-known treasure, Koh Lipe is referred to as the Maldives of Thailand. This tropical daydream is the place to find bright turquoise water and soft sand beaches. Here, you won't find international chain hotels or cars, just warm, clear water, friendly locals, and some of the country's best snorkeling.
One of Greece's little-known islands despite its claim to fame as the place where the famous Venus de Milo was discovered, Milos is the place to be if you're craving spectacular sunsets and even better food. Located about halfway between Crete and Athens in the Aegean Sea, this island is the ideal place to experience the authenticity of Greece without the crowds. The beaches here have gained notoriety for their beauty, with dazzling white rocks jutting out over the brilliant sea. The island is chock full of hidden treasures such as early Christian catacombs, the cliffs of Kleftiko which were famous for hiding pirates, and plenty of land to explore on the back of an ATV.
North Stradbroke, Australia
This unpretentious island is a 30-minute ferry ride from Brisbane. A whale-watcher's dream, North Stradbroke sees the most concentrated migration of humpback whales in the area, with hundreds passing through between the months of June and November. Year-round, it is the ideal place to spot dolphins, turtles, manta rays, and other exciting marine life. The sand island only sees about 24,000 visitors a year and holds only a few small settlements which means few crowds to avoid. Don't miss a visit to the tea-stained Brown Lake, where tea trees surrounding the lake have turned the clear water a murky brown. If you're lucky, you may get to see the ocean glow at night thanks to the bioluminescent plankton that light up the waves.
Rosario Islands, Colombia
Off the coast of Cartagena, the Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario) are a popular day trip and worlds away from the bustling city life. The archipelago of 30 islands has such a pristine ecosystem, it is now a national park. You can of course expect crystal clear Caribbean waters with the added bonus of unbeatable Colombian food, kayaking, snorkeling, and plenty of hammocks to kick back in and sip something cool while you soak up the sun. Schedule the boat ride back to Cartagena in the evening, and you can literally sail away into the sunset.
Yaeyama Islands, Japan
The most remote destination of the Okinawa archipelago, the scattered Yaeyama Islands are a little-known tropical paradise in Japan. A draw for locals on holiday and divers, these special islands are the ideal place to take the trip of a lifetime. The tropical climate bids visitors to explore the exotic locale, rich with unspoiled nature and culinary excellence. Go for a dive in Kabira Bay to see the vibrant life under the sea or relax on Kaiji beach in the southeast, famous for its star-shaped grains of sand. Rent a bike to get around, or catch a ride on a water buffalo-drawn cart!
This article was created in collaboration with Great Value Vacations.
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