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If you’re dreaming of an island vacation in a far-flung destination, you’re not alone. No, really — you are not alone. When you travel to a well-known island paradise, you end up sharing your vacation with hordes of tourists, crowding the beaches, roadways, and attractions. For this reason, we suggest flying under the radar and traveling to one of the following destinations that are lesser-known, but no less perfect, for the vacation of your dreams.
Ranguana Caye, Belize
When it comes to underrated island destinations, nothing beats your very own private island. Situated off of Belize Barrier Reef, Ranguana Caye is a two-acre island accessible by boat from the beach resort peninsula of Placencia. With three cabanas available to rent overnight and a maximum of 30 day-trippers allowed on the island, Ranguana Caye is a private oasis away from the hubbub of the mainland.
With its crystal-clear water and coral reefs, Ranguana Caye is an ideal spot for snorkeling in the Caribbean’s calm, tropical waters. The island is also home to white-sand beaches that house a sea turtle population, with baby sea turtles hatching on the island during summer.
Rottnest Island, Australia
Just 11 miles off the coast of Perth is Rottnest Island, a hidden gem in Western Australia accessible by ferry. Rottnest has plenty to offer sun and sand lovers, with beaches and bays surrounding the island. Depending on your mood, you can ride the waves at a popular surf spot called the Rotto Box or snorkel the calm waters of Little Salmon Bay.
Home to the “happiest animals on Earth,” known as quokkas, Rottnest offers guests the chance to spot the adorable animals on acres of preserved land. Visitors can also partake in the Wadjemup Aboriginal Tour to learn more about the island’s native history. The walking tour begins with a traditional sand ceremony and shows visitors the island from an Indigenous perspective.
Réunion Island, France
A French island located in the Indian Ocean, Réunion Island is an 11-hour plane ride from Paris — one of the longest domestic flights in the world. But making the trek to this French outpost is well worth the effort, as it offers a unique blend of cultural diversity. French, Creole, African, Indian, and Chinese cultures all play a role in island traditions, mostly reflected in the local food and colorful Creole architecture.
With 40% of the island preserved as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, Réunion is home to tropical beaches, an active volcano, and lush mountains to explore. It’s also a magnet for artists and creators, with plenty of shops and outdoor markets featuring artisans selling handmade wares and other souvenirs.
Holbox Island, Mexico
Pronounced “hol-bosh,” Holbox is an island located off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, not far from the bustling tourist destination of Cancún. However, unlike Cancún and other mainland cities, Holbox Island is without crowds, cars, or high-rises — resulting in a laid-back island vibe that makes for a tranquil getaway.
A 25-minute ferry ride from the town of Chiquilá, Holbox is also a breeding ground for whale sharks, which are large, spotted fish that feed on plankton. Booking a snorkeling trip to swim among the whale sharks is one of the island’s most sought-after activities, as is seeing the region’s bioluminescent plankton glow in the water at night.
A small bay island off the Honduran coast, Utila has a rich history. Once the home of the Indigenous pre-Columbian Paya people, Utila was utilized by pirates as a place to store treasure. In fact, the lost treasure of Captain Morgan is rumored to be hidden on the island — or sunken nearby — with visitors continuing to search for the booty.
In addition to the pirate lore, Utila is a sought-after destination for scuba divers, who flock to the island for its world-class diving locales. As part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world, Utila provides ample opportunities to view the diverse sea life and abundant coral reefs that live below the surface.
Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Magdalen Islands), Canada
Although the Magdalen Islands are a popular destination for Canadians, they remain relatively unknown to Americans. Situated in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence between Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, this archipelago consists of eight islands, seven of which are connected by roadways. Although the archipelago is technically part of the Canadian province of Québec, the easiest way to get to the “Maggies” is a five-hour ferry from the town of Souris in Prince Edward Island.
From hiking on Entry Island to horseback riding on the beaches of Cap-aux-Meules, the Magdalen Islands provide no shortage of outdoor activities. There’s also plenty to do to fill up a vacation, including swimming in caves, touring a cheese factory, and visiting a wildlife reserve on the coastline.
Egadi Islands, Italy
An archipelago located off the coast of Sicily, the Egadi Islands are home to three major islands — Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo — in addition to two islets, Formica and Maraone. Although each island has its own distinct vibe, the archipelago is characterized by its sleepy fishing villages, cobblestone streets, and jagged cliffs set against the stunning Mediterranean Sea.
Of the three islands, Favignana is the most popular, as it offers a consistent ferry service from Sicily and plenty to do, including cycling, swimming, and sunbathing on the beaches. The other two islands are more remote and will offer a quieter experience, with the hills of Marettimo a particular favorite of hikers making the trek to see Roman ruins.
Mustique Island, Caribbean
Although Mustique Island is named for the world’s most annoying insect — the mosquito — this small, private island in the Caribbean is a premier destination for the rich and famous. As the preferred vacation destination of the late Princess Margaret and the chosen honeymoon spot of singer Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra, this tiny island has drawn the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Tommy Hilfiger, to name a few.
If you don’t want to book a room at the island’s singular hotel, the Cotton House, villas are available to rent and can cost upwards of $3,000 per night. Despite its ritzy reputation and expensive accommodations, the island is actually known for its laid-back, casual vibe. After the sun goes down, most people flock to Basil’s Bar, an island mainstay since the 1960s, known for its live music, sand floor, and rum punch.
If you’re planning a beach vacation, it’s unlikely that Germany is at the top of your list. But a visit to Rügen Island in the Baltic Sea may change your mind about Germany as a seaside destination. Rügen is known for its beauty and charm, filled with century-old seaside resorts that line the long, white-sand beaches. Although it’s the largest island in Germany, Rügen is easy to traverse due to its 100-year-old narrow gauge railway connecting the resort towns.
Rügen is also home to the smallest national park in Germany, Jasmund National Park, known for its imposing, white-chalk cliffs that tower over the sea. Visitors can enjoy the national park’s many trails and bike routes, or take a boat around the island to view the spectacular coastline.
Marquesas Islands, South Pacific
Although this archipelago was once home to the famous artist Paul Gauguin, the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific continue to fly under the radar. Located 932 miles northeast of Tahiti (roughly a four-hour plane ride), the Marquesas are a grouping of 12 islands, six of which are inhabited. Each island is filled with the magic of the South Pacific, with lush mountains, turquoise bays, black-sand beaches, and majestic waterfalls.
As the largest of the islands, Nuku Hiva is a great home base, with plenty of ways to explore, including hiking, horseback riding, and renting ATVs. The island of Hiva Oa is excellent for seeing archeological sites, including the largest tiki statue in Tahiti and ancient petroglyphs depicting “fish men.”
Burgh Island, United Kingdom
This small island off the coast of Bigbury-on-Sea has long been a draw for Agatha Christie fans — the famous mystery writer once holed up on the island to write two of her novels. But well before Mrs. Christie visited Burgh, the 26-acre tidal island was frequented by smugglers, who used the destination as a safe haven for stolen goods. Its history and natural beauty on the rugged English coast make Burgh Island an enticing place to visit.
It’s also easy to reach, since it’s only a mere 270 yards from Bigbury Beach during low tide. Guests of the swanky Burgh Island Hotel, which has been renovated to reflect its former Art Deco style, can access the island at high tide via a sea tractor, a unique invention that carries guests high above the water.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Located in the Arctic Circle, the Lofoten Islands are an archipelago offering the best views that Norway has to offer, with towering fjords, sandy beaches, and charming fishing villages. Although ferries are available to travel to some of the more remote locations, many of the islands are connected by bridges, which means the best way to see the Lofoten Islands is by car.
In addition to driving the scenic roadways, hiking is a must for visitors to Lofoten, with several trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints. The islands are also a popular spot to witness the northern lights, due to the archipelago’s northern latitude. For a traditional Norwegian experience, make sure to stay in a rorbu, a cozy fisherman’s cabin on stilts available for overnight rentals.
Mou Waho Island, New Zealand
Here’s a brainbuster for you: Mou Waho Island is located in a lake, on an island, in a lake, on an island, in the ocean. Found on New Zealand’s South Island, Mou Waho is situated in Lake Wānaka, a glacial body of water formed during the last Ice Age. Although there are no accommodations on the small island, it’s a must-visit for Arethusa Pool alone — the island’s crystal-clear lake is ideal for picnickers and swimmers alike.
Offering spectacular views of the brilliant blue Lake Wānaka, hiking to Tyrwhitt Peak gives visitors a better understanding of Mou Waho’s unique geography. The only way to reach the island is by boat, with half-day tours offered by Eco Wanaka Adventures. Mount Aspiring National Park is also nearby to extend the trip.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Located northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific, Aitutaki is one of the smaller islets in the Cook Islands. Located in an 80-square-mile lagoon, the tropical island is secluded, private, and undeniably stunning. Featuring dazzling blue waters and pristine, white-sand beaches, Aitutaki is the kind of getaway most people dream of.
A 50-minute plane ride from Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, Aitutaki is home to several beach resorts, such as the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort, which features bungalows located directly over the water. In addition to sailing, swimming, and sunbathing, guests can book a water tour to learn more about island culture and cruise around the lagoon.
A one-hour ferry ride from the city of Split, Solta is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Croatia’s mainland. Home to an abundance of secluded bays that surround the island, Solta has plenty of small, quiet beaches that remain blissfully uncrowded for most of the year.
The traditional fishing village of Maslinica makes an excellent home base, with a hotel located in a 300-year-old castle and a quiet pebble beach within walking distance. On the northeastern shore of the island, the oldest and largest village, Stomorska, boasts a picturesque waterfront, complete with wooden fishing boats, open-air cafés, and restaurants serving the catch of the day.
As one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, Menorca certainly isn’t as high-profile as Ibiza or Mallorca. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When compared to its sister islands, Menorca offers the same beauty but is smaller, quieter, and less ritzy, which makes it somewhat of a hidden gem for international tourists.
A draw for nature enthusiasts, Menorca offers a wide range of activities for intrepid travelers, including hiking trails in the island’s interior, circuitous cycling routes, and cave kayaking. Visitors to Menorca should definitely make the trek to the Taulas, Stonehenge-like monoliths that date back 3,000 years, before hitting up the Cave Bar, a death-defying establishment carved into the side of a towering cliff.
Navarino Island, Chile
When it comes to Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago’s eponymous island is usually chosen over Navarino, a lesser-known island located across the Beagle Channel in Chile. But Navarino Island has plenty to offer its visitors, including the chance to visit the "Southernmost City on Earth" — a title that was rightfully bestowed upon the island’s port city, Puerto Williams, in 2019.
Located six miles south of Ushuaia, Argentina, Puerto Williams is also home to the Yaghan people, an Indigenous community that has resided in Patagonia for thousands of years. For a deeper look into the history of the island, the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum tells the story of Navarino’s original inhabitants. The island is also regarded highly by adventure seekers, many of whom make the grueling, 53-mile trek across the rugged mountain range, Dientes del Navarino.