While the secret is out about popular islands like Bali and Santorini, these islands are still under-the-radar—but not for long. Escape the crowds of tourists on these 10 idyllic islands the locals love (and you probably never heard of).
When thinking about Japan, subtropical jungle, mangrove swamps, and white beaches that rival the Caribbean probably don’t come to mind. But the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are a beachy paradise where pineapples and sugarcane grow. Known as one of Japan’s best diving spots, the underwater world includes coral reefs, dolphins, sea turtles, and manta rays. If the Japanese want to leave their buzzing cities like Tokyo or Osaka, they escape to these very laid back islands where many locals still work on pearl farms or in potteries. Although six million Japanese mainlanders come to southern Okinawa, including the Yaeyama Islands, for a beach vacation every year, few international tourists travel this far off the beaten track.
Although it’s part of Colombia, Providencia feels like a laid-back Caribbean island. English, Spanish, and English Creole is spoken by the locals who are still living by their own traditions and customs, far away from Colombia’s capital Bogota. Providencia’s unique culture, snorkeling spots, and untouched beaches draw people looking for an intact slice of paradise. The ocean surrounding the island has the world’s third-largest barrier reef filled with coral reefs, sponges, and countless exotic fish. Providencia is void of mobile reception, fast food and hotel chains, and designer stores. Less is more.
THE ISLES OF SCILLY
What might be Britain’s best-kept secret, the Isles of Scilly are a sub-tropical (yes, you read that right) paradise with 35 white sand beaches, exotic plants, and azure blue waters – and only a 15-minute flight from the mainland. The community of around 2,200 people, spread over five inhabited islands (there are 140 all up on the archipelago) mostly work in tourism and agriculture. There is an abundance of bird life and snorkeling safaris to encounter sharks, seals, and dolphins. Getting to the islands and staying there can be rather expensive, but once you’ve arrived, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different world as life on the Isles of Scilly has hardly changed at all over the last few decades.
With nearly 40 square miles, Sylt is thelargest North Frisian island. Called the “Côte d’Azur of Germany” and quite similar to the Hamptons, this is where the country’s rich and famous mingle. The island has a warm microclimate thanks to the gulf stream, white, windswept beaches and mud flats from the surrounding Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site since 2009. If you have the money, you’ll be spoilt for choice between spa and wellness facilities, golf clubs and Michelin-starred restaurants. Nature lovers will enjoy the varied bird life and unique landscape which includes sand dunes and heathlands. The special climate and salty, iodine-rich air are supposed to be very beneficial and locals have been flocking to Sylt since the 19th century.
GREAT BARRIER ISLAND
Great Barrier Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, is a large, forest covered island with less than 1,000 inhabitants. It’s a favorite (long) weekend getaway for New Zealanders who want to experience a slower pace of life. Due to its remoteness (3.5 hours by fast ferry or 30min flight), modern amenities are scarce, though accommodation options include luxury eco-lodges, and houses have their own power generators. The island particularly attracts hikers and campers with its beautiful walking tracks through native bush and past natural hot springs. Great Barrier Island is pest free, offering a perfect environment for rare birds like the North Island kaka parrot. A number of popular events like the Fitzroy Mussel Fest or the Great Barrier Garden Tour are held annually.
For the rest of the best secret islands you probably don’t know about, including Parisian’s escape of choice Ile de Re, visit Fodor’s.