When is an island not an island? The answer: during low tide. Some of the world’s most beautiful islands are accessible on foot or by car at low tide. Some even have proper roads that let you access these beautiful spots without a boat. Care is required if there’s no paved surface, however, as the wet ground can often be unstable. And proper knowledge of tide schedules and rip currents is essential to ensure you don’t get stranded.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore these unique places — just be sure to take proper precaution. Seek local advice and never cross unless you know it’s safe to do so; if in doubt, hire a knowledgeable guide to tag along. Here are nine places you can walk or drive to at low tide, so that you can take the path less-traveled.
The reward for reaching Ingólfshöfði is the plethora of birdlife that inhabits this breathtaking nature reserve in southern Iceland. Since the island is only accessible in summer, the only safe way to get there is in a haycart towed by a tractor. Even at low tide the wet causeway is too soft to consider walking or driving the few miles yourself. Once you reach this remote cape, you’ll need to climb up a steep sand dune. The grainy surface is hard work on the legs, but once you reach the top, the rock-strewn, grassy meadows are easier to navigate.
Time it right and you might see puffins, skuas, razorbills, fulmars, and other seabirds that come to nest or feed on this wild and blustery spot. On a clear day, the Öræfajökull glacier can be seen in the distance back on the mainland. Check out the cape’s lighthouse before you turn back.
The Rock, Zanzibar
Opposite Michamvi Pingwe Beach on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean stands a rocky outcrop. It’s tiny — just large enough to accommodate a few trees and a thatched hut, which has been nicknamed the Rock, a popular bar and restaurant. Creating this iconic eatery wasn’t easy; installing electricity and plumbing on this remote outcrop were only some of the challenges.
The result was a triumph: paradisiacal tropical views by day and starry African skies by night. But to enjoy the mesmerizing atmosphere, you have to get there, first. At low tide, simply take off your shoes and walk across the beach; there’s a complimentary boat service for when that’s impractical.
Haji Ali Dargah, India
Haji Ali Dargah is a 19th-century mosque in Mumbai, India. For much of the day, this place of worship appears to float on the water, but during low tide, a path, which was added in 1944, is revealed — enabling the faithful to step across on foot. Once there, you’ll find the tomb of Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.
As the story goes, he was embarking on a pilgrimage to Mecca but died unexpectedly. His casket, they say, floated out to sea and landed in Mumbai. Muslims and non-Muslims alike may visit his tomb, called the Dargah, but don’t expect to have the place to yourself — the memorial is quite popular.
Lindisfarne (Holy Island), England
Only a fool would attempt to cross to Lindisfarne (also known as “Holy Island”) from the mainland without first checking the tide timetable. Twice a day, the North Sea tides rise, breaching the paved causeway and cutting off the island for hours at a time. At low tide, it’s a different story. Take the opportunity to cross and explore this unique and welcoming corner of Northumbria. Keep an eye on the water; seals are often seen close to shore.
Begin your island tour at 16th-century Lindisfarne Castle and the nearby garden designed by renowned horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. Afterward, stroll around the ruins of the medieval Lindisfarne Priory, built to replace the seventh-century monastery founded by Saint Aidan. While you’re there, wander over to St. Aidan’s Winery and try some mead. The tradition of making this fortified wine began with these pioneering monks.
Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand
Close to the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand lies Koh Nang Yuan. This pretty place is cut off from the larger neighboring island of Koh Hang Tao at high tide, but when the tide’s out, it’s possible to walk across the narrow sandbar to reach the island on foot. Once you’ve made it across, make sure you have time to kick back and relax.
The warm water is ideal for swimming and snorkeling; if you have your scuba-diving certification, you can book a diving tour to explore the area’s subterranean corals and underwater caves. If the sea has already covered the beach by the time you’re ready to head back, catch a ride in a traditional longtail boat instead.
Mont St. Michel, France
It was once a rare event indeed to see Normandy’s UNESCO-listed Mont St. Michel cut off by the tide. Centuries ago, the monks that resided in its abbey would have been able to walk across a causeway at low tide, but the path that connected it to the mainland was raised in 1879. Over the years, the surrounding coastal mudflats were drained for pasture land and the Couesnon river’s course was heavily managed, allowing silt to accumulate and alter the landscape.
All that changed in 2009, when a construction project kicked off. The causeway was replaced by a bridge and Mont St. Michel was encircled by the sea once more. In 2015, even the bridge was covered by water during an exceptionally high tide. However, despite these improvements, it’s sometimes possible to walk across; local guides escort visitors over to the island when it’s safe to do so.
Yerra-Bin (King Island), Australia
As the sea ebbs away, there’s a window of opportunity to walk to Yerra-Bin (also known as “King Island”) in Queensland, Australia. At low tide, a sand walkway is revealed, together with an array of shells and bemused mud crabs. It leads to an island conservation park known for its drooping she-oaks and salt-tolerant grey mangroves.
These days, no one lives on the island, but it was once the home of the Phillips family for 16 months in 1903. It was a move borne out of necessity. Their young daughter had contracted poliomyelitis, for which there was no cure at the time, but patients were encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle and swim regularly in warm saltwater. King Island was the ideal place for her recovery.
East Quoddy Lighthouse, Canada
This historic lighthouse, known to locals as Head Harbour Light, is situated close to Campobello Island in the Canadian maritime province of New Brunswick. It’s the older sister of West Quoddy Lighthouse, which is 15 miles away across the border in Maine. East Quoddy Lighthouse dates from 1829. The structure’s distinctive octagonal shape and huge red cross make it a useful navigation aid even for present-day sailors.
Impressive though that is, that’s not what sets the lighthouse apart from other similar structures in North America. What’s special about this one is that at low tide, you can walk to it. Check the tide timetable first, and never try to beat the incoming tide, which rises five feet in an hour. Only cross when there’s no fog in the weather forecast and make sure you don’t lose your footing on the slippery seaweed or wet rocks as you cross for a closer look.
Jindo Island, South Korea
You might be familiar with the biblical story in which Moses lifts up his hand to part the Red Sea, giving Israelites safe passage as they were fleeing the Egyptians. You’re much less likely, however, to have heard about a place in South Korea where a similar thing happens. All you have to do is swap the protagonists for a bunch of festival-goers.
Typically held each April, the Jindo Miracle Sea Road Festival incorporates dance, rituals, fireworks, and even a dog show, but its main focus is to celebrate a natural phenomenon in which the sea level falls by such a significant amount that it appears to part. It reveals a 1.7-mile, raised gravel ridge that leads to the neighboring island of Modo. As many as half a million people turn up to walk across the path, creating a spectacle that’s every bit as impressive as nature itself.