When one thinks of islands, often the same famed hotspots come to mind: Bali, Santorini, or Maui. However, the world is sprinkled with lesser-known islands that offer just as much beauty and culture, minus the throngs of tourists. If you’re in search of tranquility, unique cultures, and untouched beauty, these hidden gems might be your next travel ticket. When you might be planning your next vacation, consider a visit to one of these balmy paradises.
1. Saba, Caribbean
The Unspoiled Queen
Known as “The Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean, Saba is a volcanic island that rises dramatically from the sea. Unlike its neighbors, Saba isn’t about sandy beaches but rather lush forests, hiking trails, and a stunning underwater world.
- Visit Mount Scenery, the island’s highest point, for breathtaking views.
- Dive into the Saba Marine Park, home to diverse marine life and vivid coral formations.
2. São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa
Located off the coast of Central Africa, these twin islands are a biodiversity hotspot. The mix of dense rainforests, cocoa plantations, and golden beaches makes it a multifaceted destination.
- Explore the Obo National Park with its endemic bird species and lush vegetation.
- Enjoy a cup of locally grown cocoa on the plantations, some dating back to colonial times.
3. Tuvalu, Pacific Ocean
Polynesia’s Hidden Gem
One of the world’s smallest countries, Tuvalu consists of nine atolls and offers an authentic Polynesian experience without commercialization.
- Witness traditional Polynesian dance and music, performed with local pride.
- Participate in a local ‘fatele,’ a community celebration filled with dancing and feasting.
4. Aitutaki, Cook Islands
The Lagoon of Dreams
Lesser known compared to its sister island Rarotonga, Aitutaki boasts a turquoise lagoon filled with marine life, making it a haven for snorkelers and divers.
- Take a lagoon cruise, stopping at small motus (islets) for secluded picnics.
- Engage with locals and learn about their Maori heritage.
5. Côn Đảo Islands, Vietnam
Asia’s Overlooked Pearls
Formerly a prison island during the French colonial period, Côn Đảo today is synonymous with rugged landscapes, sandy coves, and clear waters.
- Visit the Côn Đảo National Park, home to diverse fauna like the black squirrel and the bow-fingered gecko.
- Soak in the tranquility of Dam Trau Beach, surrounded by jungle-clad mountains.
6. Gili Meno, Indonesia
Beyond Bali and Lombok
While Bali and Lombok might draw the majority of tourists, the Gili Islands, especially Gili Meno, offer a more serene escape. This car-free island is all about coral-ringed beaches and laid-back vibes.
- Walk around the entire island within an hour, taking in different beachscapes.
- Dive to witness the underwater sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor, an attraction for both marine life and divers.
7. Iles de la Madeleine, Canada
North America’s Uncharted Waters
While most tropical paradises lie near the equator, the Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is a unique find. Its distinct red cliffs, sand dunes, and lagoons make it stand apart.
- Explore the cliffs that change hues during sunset, creating a mesmerizing canvas.
- Engage in windsurfing and kiteboarding, popular activities given the island’s windy conditions.
8. The Islands of Alaska
America’s Last Frontier
When you think of islands, tropical destinations might come to mind, but Alaska’s archipelagos offer a different kind of island allure. With its sprawling forests, wildlife, and indigenous cultures, islands like Kodiak and the Aleutians provide a raw, untouched beauty, easily witnessed on a 2024 Alaska cruise. The Inside Passage, a coastal route filled with islands, offers a glimpse into quaint coastal towns and fjord-like channels.
- Visit Admiralty Island, known as the “Fortress of the Bears“, for a chance to see one of the densest brown bear populations.
- Explore the native Tlingit culture on the Haida Gwaii islands.
- The Aleutian chain, a group of over 300 volcanic islands, presents both historical significance from World War II and unique wildlife spotting opportunities, from sea otters to orcas.
While these islands lack the typical palm trees and sandy beaches, they offer a richness in culture, biodiversity, and serenity that few places can match. If the tropical islands provide warmth and leisure, Alaska’s islands offer adventure and a profound connection with nature.
Conclusion: The Allure of the Unknown
As travel enthusiasts, the allure often lies in the unknown, the places that haven’t been hashtagged to oblivion on social media. These islands, with their unique cultures, landscapes, and stories, offer an escape from the typical. These tropical paradises promise intimacy and a peek into an unaltered way of life. Whether it’s the remote atolls of the Pacific or the dramatic landscapes of the North Atlantic, the world is full of islands waiting to be explored, loved, and, most importantly, respected.