Whether you want to live the island life with a coconut in hand or head inland on a jeep for some incredible adventures, there are countless spots dotted throughout our oceans which will oblige. Here I’ve rounded up some of the best island vacations you can enjoy, and many of them won’t break the bank, unlike more luxury island vacations.
I have no shame in admitting I’m an addict for the island life, but as someone who tires quickly of lazy days in the sand, I’m often looking for something a bit different. These unique island escapes each offer something special. Whether it’s a wildlife-based exploration, a fascinating geographical element, or a slice of culture you won’t find elsewhere, here is some inspiration from my past five years of travels.
1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
In the far east of Indonesia, off the coast of West Papua, a mesmerising mix of micro-climates, marine-rich reefs, dazzling sunsets and local traditions awaits.
Raja Ampat, translated as the four kings, is a collection of Islands making up this archipelago. A remote adventure, during my time here we were limited to a few hours of electricity a day from a clapped out old generator, but the perfect sunsets and reef sharks swimming beneath our feet more than made up for any luke-warm beers we had lugged over from the main port.
Getting to Raja Ampat is quite a journey, once you’ve taken the one or two flights to Sorong, West Papua, a three-hour ferry connects you to the island of Wasier before smaller boats ferry you to remote island homestays. With some of the most diverse underwater conditions you’ll find, it indeed is a scuba divers paradise. So say goodbye to your phone signal, grab your mask, and head to one of the most unspoilt beauties in the world.
2. Rottnest Island, Australia
Off the coast of Perth, in Australias seemingly never-ending stretches of coastline and uninterrupted nature, Rottnest Island is slowly becoming famous world round.
This may be down to its car-free way of living, with bikes being the go to get around, or perhaps the crystal clear waters and tropical vibes. But really, I think the main reasons is the adorable Quokkas that call Rottnest Island home.
Often referred to as the worlds happiest animals, thanks to their tendency to have a beaming smile and readiness for a selfie. Cycle the island, spot these cute critters, and enjoy some of the freshest seafood in the Pacific. Teamed up with a visit to Perth, one of the most remote cities in the world, and you’ve got yourself a sampler of Western Australia that might have you hooked for more.
The island nation of Mauritius, tucked away off the south-eastern African coast might conjure up ideas of untouched beaches and honeymoon escapes, but there is much more to discover beyond the beaches.
Mauritius was truly one of the most surprising destinations of 2018 for me, I knew the sands would be white, and the lapping waves would be calling, but it was the island adventures that really surprised me.
From crashing waterfalls without a soul in sight to rum distilleries and cocktails for days, there are countless reasons to visit Mauritius. None other than the hospitality and warmth of the locals. To start to get a true sampling of the island life, leave the resort and head to the central market in the capital of Port Louis before venturing off to explore the monkey-ridden hikes, tea plantations and religious temples. A bevvy of new AirBnB options are also making Mauritius a more affordable destination than many would imagine.
4. Isle of Skye, Scotland
While Scotland is home to countless islands, there is more than one reason why the small but stunning Isle of Skye has become so popular.
In fact, it has become so popular that over tourism has started to become a real problem here, so plan your visit to this Scottish isle during the offseason.
The island is linked by ferry or bridge to the mainland, and you’ll find a variety of attractions that are all crowd pleasers. From the incredible views that a hike around Quaraing, a set of towering rocks, to the magical and mystical fairy pools and fairy glen, the island provides ample opportunities to enjoy Scotlands famed nature and landscapes.
5. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
There are countless reasons that Indonesia is my favourite country, and Komodo National Park is one of those. A testament to the vast variety of wildlife and adventures that span Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, here you can come face to face with dragons.
While later in 2019 tightening of visitor permits, and another planned entry hike to the quite substantial conservation fee are due to come in, it’s still somewhere well worth visiting.
The Komodo dragons, a giant lizard which can grow to 2.6 metres in length, may look docile while lounging around, but when they pick up the pace, a single bite can kill. The dragons are residents on a few of the islands and must always be visited with a local guide. Other islands in the park, such as Padar, are free of the big beasts, but offer incredible panoramic views from their highest points.
Charter a private boat or join a tour to see some of the islands in one day, or take a liveaboard for a more extended adventure. Most boat trips kick off from Labuan Bajo, Flores, accessible by air from various Indonesian airports.
6. Nisyros Island, Greece
A little gem I had no idea I was going to discover in 2018 was Nisyros Island. Mainly because after meeting a bunch of strangers at Edinburgh Festivals this summer, I was invited to gatecrash a trip to Kos a few weeks later.
While Kos Island is a relaxing beach resort retreat, the small town of Karamedema where I stayed is the launching point to Nisyros. Unlike most islands, this tiny dot in the Aegean Sea is actually an active volcano and how often can you say you slept at one of those.
Nisyros Island is quite small which makes the whitewashed villages that circle the volcano crater the ideal place to switch off and escape reality. Complete with those white streets, blue paint, and hanging flower pots, you get all those Greece vibes, while feeling like you have stepped back in time by at least 30-years. Tours to the crater allow you to walk across it and admire the bubbling sulphur fumes that rise from the cracks at close up proximity.
7. Whakaari / White Island, New Zealand
Continuing the volcanic theme, but one the other side of the world is Whakaari. One of the hidden gems of New Zealand’s north island is this White Island, a short helicopter or boat ride away from the mainland.
This certainly isn’t somewhere you’ll be checking in for the night, but if you find yourself exploring Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand), then Whakaari is a fantastic day trip.
Around 50-kilometres off the north island, the majority of this active volcano is actually underneath the water level, which makes arriving to this geothermal beast quite a sight. The inner crater is a fascinating mix of multicoloured sulphur stains, bubbling pools of hot mud and a dangerous lake of acid. The journey to the volcano by boat is just as rewarding, as dolphins and whales can often be spotted playing along the route to Whakaari.
8. Sri Lanka
The pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is basking in its moment on the world tourism stage. While I’m sure plenty has changed since my visit in 2015, the sheer beauty and charm of the country surely won’t have.
While politics have been heightened in the past, other than a situation in late 2018, the island is opening up, and restricted parts of the north are now accessible.
A ‘standard’ route around Sri Lanka will take you from the misunderstood capital of Colombo to the cultural triangle of ancient ruins, citadels on towering rocks and national parks offering Elephant safaris. From here, the city of Kandy is home to the Buddha tooth relic and a starting point for the famous slow train that will whisk you off the lush, and cooler, hill country and tea-plantations.
Find yourself an empty beach in the south to round off an island escape that offers numerous unforgettable experiences.
Aruba may be best known for its resort and palm-fringed beaches, bustling casinos and sometimes chaotic cruise port, but drive five minutes away from these, and you’ll find an untouched landscape ripe for adventures.
It may be a small island, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to outside activities. From the rugged beaches and incredible snorkelling to the slightly deeper scuba diving adventures around shipwrecks and sunken aeroplanes, the water life here ticks all the boxes.
The Arikok National Park also provides numerous activities, from historical cave paintings to a cacti stewed landscape with roaming goats and donkeys and off-roading adventures.Culturally, the Aruba Carnival, which runs from January to March each year is the big draw. As the streets come alive with colourful and bejewelled outfits, and steel drums and brass bands ring out through the streets, the passion and hospitality of the locals shine. Fear not though, for if you visit outside of these months the Thursday festivals in San Nicolas, the second city which is being revived through incredible street art and colourful facades, will give you a taster that will leave you wanting to return.
10. Socotra, Yemen
I was torn whether to include Socotra, given the horrific and ongoing humanitarian crises in Yemen. But, given Socotra it is some 600 odd kilometres away from the mainland, floating in the sea nearer the coast of Somalia than its home nation, I have decided to.
While the island has been cut off from tourism for some years, and the landscapes have likely changed since the UAE have set up a military base here, there is no denying it is one of the most unique and biodiverse islands in the world. While I haven’t visited personally, it has been on my bucket list since my good friend Nicole who visited many years ago introduced it to me. Many describe it as an alien island, thanks to the unique landscapes, trees, dunes and crystal clear waters: it is one unique island adventure you will never forget.