ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA, THE WORLD IS HOME TO ROUGHLY 900,000 OFFICIAL ISLANDS.
And while some are celebrity-level private (hello Richard Branson!) and others have been historically off-limits (howdy North Sentinel!), that leaves about 899,998 islands that are up for adventuring.
Today, we break down our top island idylls, from Mexico’s whale-shark-infested Revillagigedo Islands and Yemen’s alien Socotra landscape to going on an Arctic safari off the coast of Canada.
Click PLAY to watch
BEST FOR: WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS
Known as the ‘Galapagos of Mexico’, these islands off the coast of Baja California Sur are a UNESCO-listed, fully protected, marine wonderland.
We’re talking sharks, dolphins, manta rays and humpback whales. There’s even a handful of fish species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Throw in crystal waters, four epic volcanic islands and a migratory channel for whale sharks and hammerheads, and you’ve got yourself an oceanic experience worthy of David Attenborough.
Scuba dive Isla Socorro, keeping an eye out for giant manta rays.
BEST FOR: ALIEN LANDSCAPES
You ever heard of the mega successful blockbuster, Avatar? Lol, of course you have.
Well, some of Pandora’s otherworldly landscapes are based on this super unique island in the Arabian Sea. Interestingly, Socotra is both one of the most remote islands in the world AND has historic evidence of human habitation dating back over 2,000 years. It’s home to the famous Dragon’s Blood trees, ancient tombs and cave sites, plus over 700 endemic plant species. It’s so close to being its own planet, it’s not funny.
Trek the incredible Hajhir Mountains (best in October and November).
BEST FOR: SELF-PROFESSED DIRTBAG CLIMBERS
If you say the words ‘crag’, ‘belay’ and ‘chimney’ all on a regular basis, then Kalymnos is the island for you. No doubt.
Considered one of the world’s best rock climbing spots—because of its infamous (and craggy) limestone cliffs—Kalymnos is equal parts stunning beauty and world-class slab routes. Throw in views across the Mediterranean and as many gyros as you can handle, and this sounds like a bucket list climbing experience.
Head to sandy hamlet, Masouri, for beach views and a Byzantine fort when you’re feeling too gassed to climb.
BEST FOR: AN ARCTIC SAFARI
Baffin is immense. It’s actually the fifth largest island in the world. So if you’re craving vast, Arctic steppe and grand fjords, head here stat.
Sirmilik National Park is affectionately known as the “Yosemite of the North” where you can spy snowy owls, narwhal and polar bears. Or head out to the ice floe to spy a few beluga whales swimming the freezing waters.
Tuck into a Baffin surf-n-turf freshly caught Arctic char and some roasted caribou. Maybe even a little muktuk (whale skin and blubber) if you’re feeling adventurous.
Click PLAY to watch
BEST FOR: A KNOCK AROUND GAME OF FOOTBALL
Name a more epic football pitch, we’ll wait. Henningsvær Stadium sits on a small rocky outcrop on the southern tip of Austvågøya, Lofoten archipelago’s largest island.
Whew, what a mouthful. And while this pitch is only used for amateur football (imagine the cost of flying teams out on the regular!) it’s become a bona fide social hub for the fishing village. If you dig cold weather island life, getting up close with the Northern Lights AND football—pack ya boots and get here.
Try rakfisk (fermented fish), but only if you’re brave.
Click PLAY to watch
BEST FOR: UNDERWATER ADVENTURES
Perched on the edge of the world's longest saltwater lagoon, Uepi Island also hosts Uepi Island Resort — a boutique paradise with six bungalows scattered throughout the island's tropical rainforest.
But it’s below the water where this island really comes to the fore. Bordering the 2,000-metre-deep ‘The Slot’, the diving here is world-class and super crowded (just not with other divers). You gotta share these waters with plethora of incredible marine life.
Not a diver? Not a problem! A jump off the jetty and into the depths of The Slot with just your mask and snorkel is enough to join the reef sharks swimming through this marine wonderland.
Swim with the angelic ocean manta rays. You won’t regret it.
BEST FOR: GHOST STORIES
Smack dab in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon is this hella haunted islet. Back in the 1800s it was used as a quarantine station for people with the Bubonic Plague (or people who were thought to have come in contact with the plague).
Then in the 1930s it was an island asylum featuring mad doctor-type experiments, then said mad doctor was found dead at the bottom of the bell tower. The tower was removed but some locals reckon they still hear it peal, while other locals swear 50% of the island’s soil is made of human remains.
Poveglia is thought to be so haunted that access is restricted, so we recommend jumping on a boat and circumnavigating the island to sense its foreboding presence.
Ask locals in town for their best ghost stories before you go.
BEST FOR: A SLICE OF AFRICAN HISTORY
Lamu Island, part of the Lamu Archipelago off Kenya’s far north coast, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And for good reason.
This island is considered by eminent researchers as the “cradle of Swahili civilisation”. It became a super important religious centre, attracting Swahili and Islamic scholars, and has been inhabited for over 700 years. It’s also crazy beautiful, home to perfect beaches, has a no-car rule and an Old Town that is perhaps the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in all of East Africa.
Sail on a traditional dhow boat… what a vibe.
BEST FOR: HARDCORE REMOTENESS
If you want to escape, you can’t get much further than Tristan de Cunha. This island’s closest mainland city is Cape Town, and that’s still a six-day journey by ship depending on the weather.
A British Overseas Territory, this island has around 300 permanent inhabitants and the only way to get to Tristan da Cunha is either by cargo ship or expedition boat. And even then you need permission, plus a special permit, to visit. But once there you can play spot the albatross, go hiking or check out the active volcano with its heart-shaped crater lake.
Hit The Albatross Bar after a big day of adventure — the world’s most remote pub.
BEST FOR: CULTURE AND ADVENTURE COMBO
You would think 1,833 square kilometres would be difficult to keep a secret, but South Korea seems to have managed. I mean, have you heard of Jeju Island, the slice of paradise just a 75 minute flight from Seoul?
Koreans know this island well, but have managed to keep it all to themselves; the volcanic craters, the underground lava tubes, the pretty forests and the decent swells. Explore all of these and feast on beer and fried chicken while you’re at it – you’ve earned it.
Go with one of Inside Asia’s epic Jeju tours, where you might get a glimpse of the incredible ‘haenyo’, Korea’s free-diving sea women.
BEST FOR: A ONCE-IN-A-BUCKET-LIST WHALE EXPERIENCE
Located in the Ha'apai Island group in the centre of the Tongan archipelago, Uoleva Island is long on soft sand deserted beaches and perfect crystal clear lagoon, but Uoleva's real charm is its proximity to the migrating humpback whales’ 'nursery'.
From July to October the surrounding waters are where these majestic mammals mate, give birth and educate their young on how to survive. Breakfasts on the island are regularly interrupted by a "thar she blows" from a guest spotting a whale either spouting, breaching or lobtailing in the distance. Then begins the rush to the boat to swim with them, more often than not without another tourist in sight.
Stay at one of the three completely isolated, off-grid "resorts" (we're talking a handful of fales with perfect water views).
Click PLAY to watch
BEST FOR: THE PERFECT WAVE
Bruce Brown’s seminal 1968 film 'The Endless Summer' follows two Californian surfers on the hunt for "the perfect wave". The film concludes not in Hawai'i, California, or Australia, but in Senegal — on N'gor Island, a tiny little islet just off the coast of bustling Dakar.
The miniature island bears the brunt of the North Atlantic swell, giving rise to (at most recent count) 21 breaks for every kind of surfer. It’s only a ten-minute boat ride from the capital, but that ten minutes is enough to immerse yourself in a different world; eat, sleep, surf, repeat.
Stay at N'gor Island Surf Camp, for easy access to the beach, gear and a great crowd.
Click PLAY to watch
BEST FOR: NIGHTLIFE... OF A DIFFERENT KIND.
We love the stars here at get lost, and who would have thought that just 25 minutes (flight time... less than an episode of 'Pokemon') from Tokyo you can get some of the most stunning star-gazing in the world.
The Oshima islands are a chain of volcanic islands south-east of Honshu. Izu Ōshima specifically is an incredible spot covered in small black volcanic rocks. Very Mars-like, very wow. During the day, take on the black desert known as Ura Sabaku, and at night, curl up in a sleeping bag and listen to an astronomer tell you the stories of the sky.
Climb Mt. Mihara and gaze out over the black desert landscape.