You think of an island getaway and you’ll probably think of big-shot isles of the world that certainly have a place on any travel bucket list, but there are unknown, secret islands hidden all around the globe that you can visit — if you know where to look.
Check out these ten secret islands that will surprise even the most well-traveled adventurers:
Torres Strait Islands, Australia
The Torres Strait Islands are a world unto themselves. Almost 300 islands dot the ocean like stepping stones from the northern tip of Cape York to Papua New Guinea. Very few are inhabited – and only a handful permit visitors – but intrepid travellers who venture to Australia’s northernmost outpost will be rewarded with a glimpse into a fascinating culture, stunning landscapes and a slice of history.
Two of the oldest cultures on Earth meet in the Torres Strait Islands. Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders are of Melanesian descent, but have interacted with Aboriginal people from Tropical North Queensland for tens of thousands of years. The result is a rich and vibrant culture with strong traditions of dance, colourful headdresses, masks, carving and printmaking.
Holbox Island, Mexico
Isla Holbox is a fantastic place to spot wildlife. Lying within the Yum Balam reserve, Holbox is home to more than 150 bird species, including roseate spoonbills, pelicans, herons, ibis and flamingos. In summer, whale sharks congregate nearby.
Off the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, this secluded strand is a three-hour ferry from Cancún’s crowded shores, but it feels a world away. The car-free island is all about embracing a low-key, boho-barefoot vibe.
Yaeyama Islands, Japan
The Yaeyama Islands lie at the very southern end of the Japanese archipelago, about 400 kilometers from Okinawa Main Island. Widely known for their natural beauty, gorgeous beaches, superb diving, and lush vegetation, the entire area is a jewel of nature valuable enough to be designated as the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park to preserve it for future generations.
The region is famous for its rich musical heritage of song and dance, as well as for period piece village settings, such as Taketomi Island, where the time has seemingly stopped. It is well worth digging a little deeper into the traditional life of the Yaeyama Islands because there is a rich heritage, and it epitomizes a kind primitive cultural beauty that harks back to a distant time.
Îles du Salut, French Guiana
Îles du Salut, known in English as the Salvation Islands, this archipelago was anything but that for prisoners sent here from the French mainland by Emperor Napoleon III and subsequent French governments. The three tiny islands, 15km north of Kourou over choppy, shark-infested waters, were considered escape-proof and particularly appropriate for political prisoners.
In the elapsing seven decades, the islands have become a relaxing delight – a place to escape to. Île Royale, once the administrative headquarters of the penal settlement, has several restored prison buildings, including a restaurant and guesthouse, while the smaller Île St Joseph and Île du Diable are both overgrown with coconut palms.
Ulleungdo, South Korea
Nicknamed Mystery Island for its mystical energy, Ulleungdo is believed to have been formed following volcanic eruptions over 2.5 million years ago.
Midway between South Korea and Japan, this rugged volcanic island is said to have no pollution, no thieves and no snakes – in other words, this is perfect hiking country. Ferries run daily from the mainland to the tiny port at Dodong-ri, where trails climb to the rocky summit of Seonginbong Peak (984m).
Ulleungdo is peaceful and pristine, a natural refuge that’s home to towering volcanic peaks, fascinating rock formations, cedar wood forests, juniper trees, a few tiny fishing villages and a reputation as South Korea’s most spiritual destination.
San Blás Archipelago, Panama
If you’re looking for soft white sand, crystal clear water and plenty of sunshine, then you’ve found the place.
The San Blas Islands extend along Panama’s southernmost Caribbean coast and are part of the Comarca de Guna Yala. The archipelago is composed of some 400 islands, and spreads across 226 kilometers (140 mi), stopping just shy of the Colombian border. The islands are postcard-perfect and famous for their pearl-bright beaches and serene atmosphere.
Penghu Islands, Taiwan
Administered from Taipei, the 90 islands of the Penghu archipelago are – within Taiwan at least – for their glorious scenery and ‘touching nostalgia’, which translates to unspoiled traditional Taiwanese culture. Away from the capital, Makung, this is a land of ox-carts, fish-traps, stone-walled fields, basalt cliffs and ancient temples dedicated to the sea goddess Matsu. If sun and sand are more your cup of shochu, the beaches and windsurfing are pretty impressive too.
Penghu, once known as the Pescadores, is an archipelago of islands known for surf, sea, sand and sunshine.
Bay Islands & Hog Islands, Honduras
In their heyday, the islands of Roatán, Utila and Guanaja were home to 5000 cutthroats, brigands and buccaneers, including the infamous Henry Morgan.
These days, the Bay Islands are better known for their beaches, diving and laid-back tropical vibe. You can turn the volume down ever further at the nearby Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) – 13 languorous coral cays and one secluded resort in a sea of brilliant blue.
Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Con Dao Islands, also known as Con Dao National park, are an archipelago of 16 mostly uninhabited islets just off the southern coast of Vietnam, each of which offering expansive beaches shaded with evergreen trees. Great for savvy travellers looking to escape bustling city life, the main island also boasts miles of coastal roads, hiking trails and a wide range of outdoor activities.
These islands are a natural wonderland of dense jungles, jade-coloured waters and white-sand beaches, home to dugongs, dolphins, turtles and spectacular coral reefs.
Ssese Islands, Uganda
If you’re looking for a place to slow right down, Ssese’s lush archipelago of 84 islands along Lake Victoria’s northwestern shore boasts some stunning white-sand beaches. There’s not much to do other than grab a good book and relax. There are canoes for hire, but swimming is not advised due to the risks of bilharzia, and some outlying islands have the occasional hippo and crocodile.
Most guesthouses on the beach have nightly bonfires, which is a great way to relax with a few drinks after enjoying one of Ssese’s famous sunsets.
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