Endless sunshine, ocean breezes, colourful reefs, shimmering lagoons, sandy beaches and no one in sight… paradise island life encourages you to slow down and appreciate nature.
Beyond the Maldives, Santorini and the Bahamas there are hundreds of lesser-known paradise islands just waiting to be explored. Fulfilling all the idyllic cliches of island life and with far fewer tourists, these are the places you should visit before the rest of the world catches on.
Flores Island, Portugal
Take a four-hour flight west of Lisbon and you’ll reach the rugged coastline, endless waterfalls, bottomless lakes and sky-high mountain peaks of Flores Island. Despite being discovered in 1452, this tiny island (143sq km) remains off-the-tourist-track. Uncover the natural beauty of Poço Ribeira do Ferreiro, where more than 20 waterfalls rush down lush mountains into a stunning lagoon, or head to the unique rock formation of Rocha dos Bordões — its resemblance to a giant pipe organ will take your breath away.
San Blas Islands, Panama
A beautiful cluster of 365 islands (of which only 49 are inhabited), the San Blas Islands or Guna Yala is a tropical paradise located east of the Panama Canal. You could do nothing here other than laze around the beaches, scuba-dive into the crystal-clear waters, or go island-hopping. But for those seeking adventure, there’s birdwatching, rainforest tours, kayaking, sailing, and village tours. The heart-warming hospitality of the locals will stay with you long after you leave.
Côn Đảo, Vietnam
Located off the southern coast of Vietnam, untouched Côn Đảo, a group of 16 alluring islands, is an ideal destination for people who really want to get away from it all. The only inhabited island, Con Son (with less than 5,000 residents), was once a penal colony and is now a haven of endless beaches, hiking trails, and world-class scuba-diving sites. The derelict prisons that once housed Vietnamese political prisoners have tales of their own to tell, too.
Fondly known as the Mamma Mia! island after the beloved movie was shot here, the Greek island of Skopelos is a luxury hideaway with front-row views to the magnificent Aegean Sea. Beach-hopping is a given here, with each small stretch of sand more inviting than the next. The island is perfect for those who love to bathe in lush forest greenery — the pines of Skopelos offer plenty of hiking opportunities. The cliffside Church of Agios Ioannis Kastri (the Mamma Mia! cathedral) is a must-visit, as are the many diving centres surrounding the island.
Gotska Sandön, Sweden
The most isolated island in the Baltic Sea, Gotska Sandön is one of the world’s remotest locations. A protected nature reserve, the island is uninhabited, and its spectacular landscape is dotted with pine forests, dunes and deserted beaches. The few visitors spend their time at Sandhamm (literally, ‘sand harbour’), taking a dip in the warm waters of the Baltic Sea, wandering more than 30km of beach and pine forest, and visiting the three lighthouses (on each corner of the island).
Holbox Island, Mexico
Car-free Holbox Island, situated off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, is unlike other crowded Mexican beach towns. Just 40km long and 1km wide, this remote gem has a charming barefoot, laidback vibe. The warm, calm water makes it perfect for swimming, and if the tides are right you can walk right out to sandbanks in the ocean. Whale sharks surround the island from May to September and due to its isolated location, many exotic birds and creatures such as flamingos and pelicans also call Holbox home.
Torres Strait Islands, Australia
Tucked between Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands comprise 18 inhabited islands (with more than another 100 uninhabited ones). With its one-of-a-kind Aboriginal culture, fascinating military history and remote landscapes, the islands make for a tropical paradise with a difference. Watch a spectacular sunset from Green Fort Hill, try your hand at pearl farming and try your luck fishing, all with no crowds for miles. The waters surrounding these islands are home to many exotic creatures, including sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
Yaeyama Islands, Japan
Secluded beaches, shimmering waters and rich lagoons don’t often jump to mind when you think of Japan. But the Yaeyama Islands, located at the southern tip of the country, are here to surprise you. The three main islands, Iriomote, Taketomi and Ishigaki, offer the best of the best when it comes to pristine beaches, Okinawa culture and dense jungles. Of course, this is Japan, so hot springs are a given. There’s also a bounty of fresh local produce to sample, including beef, seaweed, traditional Okinawan meals, and the famed Japanese Ishigaki salt.
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