Islands Under the Radar
Looking for your own private paradise? You probably haven’t heard of these islands, but trust us, you’ll want these “secret islands” all to yourself. Just don’t bring a crowd, please.
PalauWhile the Republic of Palau is picturesque, it’s what’s underwater that makes this island so special. This group of Micronesian islands, also known as “The Black Islands,” has crystal-clear water and diverse marine life, making it one of the best scuba-diving spots in the world. 960 1280
Skopelos, GreeceWant to escape the touristy Greek isles of Santorini and Mykonos? Head east of mainland Greece to the island of Skopelos. Often referred to as the greenest island in the Aegean Sea, this lush Mediterranean oasis is less commercialized than some of the more popular Greek isles. It also served as a filming location of Mamma Mia. 960 1280
Favignana, ItalyThis butterfly-shaped island off the west coast of Sicily is home to a rocky coastline and crystal-clear water. Those who’ve discovered the island’s charms often enjoy tuna fishing, snorkeling and diving, as well as the chance to feast on the island’s traditional seafood dishes. 960 1280
XXXX IslandThe ultimate mancation destination? XXXX Island. Once known as Pumpkin Island, this 15-acre patch of land off the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef has been temporarily renamed by the popular Aussie brewer, which leased the island in 2012 for the next 3 years. Marketed as a "bloke’s island," the XXXX has been turned into one big man cave – with, what else, unlimited beer. 960 1280
Lofoten Island, NorwayMajestic fjords make this archipelago off Norway a Scandinavian gem. This group of islands, home to charming fishing villages, lies above the Artic Circle (on the same latitude as northern Siberia and northern Alaska), but has a much milder climate due to Gulf Stream currents. Head here between May to early August for 24 hours of daylight. 960 1280
Aran Islands, IrelandWhen you think of Ireland, island hopping probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But off the western coast of Galway lie these beautiful rocky islands where you’ll find traditional customs still intact and the islanders still speaking Irish. 960 1280
Socotra Island, YemenRoughly 250 miles off the coast of Yemen, this magical group of islands has an other-planet vibe with bizarre-looking, rare plant species. Intrepid travelers who make it here will be rewarded with pristine beaches alongside landscapes of sandstone and limestone. 960 1280
Vis, CroatiaA small island in the Adriatic Sea, Vis is an unspoiled paradise located off Croatia’s coast. Until 1989, it was still part of Yugoslavia and closed to tourists. Now it’s a dream destination for those seeking a remote romantic getaway or an off-the-beaten path adventure. 960 1280
Monhegan Island, MaineThis small, rocky patch of land off the coast of Maine totals a mere 1 square mile of unspoiled natural beauty. Monhegan is mostly known for its artist colony that sprung up here in the mid-1800s. The island is only accessible by boat, and there are no cars or paved roads here. 960 1280
Isla Robinson Crusoe, ChileWhere’s the most famous deserted island in the world? Four hundred miles off the coast of Chile sits the real-life island that inspired the story of the shipwrecked sailor Robinson Crusoe. Now the isle’s population is about 500 and mostly clustered in the island's only village, San Juan Bautista. 960 1280
Koh Surin Nua, ThailandLooking for an island getaway in Thailand -- that’s not trampled by tourists? Consider this pristine island in Thailand's Mu Koh Surin National Park. You won't find high-end hotels or crowds here -- just small bungalows and camping under the stars. 960 1280
Andaman Islands, IndiaThis group of more than 200 islands in the Bay of Bengal belongs to India but is geographically closer to Thailand and Myanmar. Powder-white, uncrowded beaches, lush forests and exotic marine life make travel to these remote islands worth the trip. 960 1280
Rabbit Island, CambodiaA 30-minute boat trip will take you from Cambodia's coastal city Kep to Rabbit Island. Just a little over 1 square mile in area, this tiny gem in the Gulf of Thailand has 2 unspoiled beaches ideal for swimming and getting away from the chaos of mainland Cambodia. 960 1280
Flatey, IcelandIn the Westfjords of Iceland, dubbed “the most famous unknown place in Iceland,” lies this mostly uninhabited island. With charming houses dating back to the 19th century, this island is brimming with history. Visit in the summer for a quiet spot to experience Iceland’s midnight sun. 960 1280
From the air, the Hana Highway looks like a zigzag line drawn by a three year old. It twists and turns for 52 miles and takes anywhere from two to four hours to traverse depending on how many cars you meet on the one-way bridges. In fact, there are 54 bridges and 600 curves to make sure you're paying attention. And please do, because in addition to the traffic, the flowing waterfalls, plunging pools, scenic rainforests and the town of Hana are well worth the drive. 960 1280
There are rewards in life that are all the sweeter because of the effort it took to get there. Hana is such a place. Separated from the rest of Maui, you'll feel as if you stumbled upon the land that time forgot. Spend a few nights in Hana and soon you'll have trouble remembering where you came from and wondering why you'd ever go back. 960 1280
Every evening on the northernmost cliffs of Maui's Kaanapali Beach, a cliff diver lights the torches then dives off Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock. This dramatic show is a reenactment of a feat performed by Maui's revered King Kahekili. Surrounded by restaurants, the ceremony also takes on a modern twist, signaling the end of the day and the start of your own private celebration. 960 1280
Maui has always been a magnet for those who love the sea, from Hawaiian voyagers to whaling ships and modern-day catamarans that glide upon the water. Complete your Maui vacation with a few hours offshore, tacking up and down the coastline with the West Maui Mountains in your view. Add a splash of champagne or a frosty mai tai and there's nothing else like it. 960 1280
It doesn't matter how old you are when you walk through an ocean, the little kid in you comes out to play. Fantasy mixes with reality as you come nose to nose with wide-eyed tuna and white-tip reef sharks. Yellow butterfly fishes flutter like leaves around coral, while slick stingrays glide by without a care in the world. 960 1280
Molokini is a small, crescent moon-shaped atoll off the coast of Maui. It's in a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District, which means fishing is prohibited, so it's teeming with life. Take a snorkel or scuba tour and you'll be treated to a kaleidoscope of over 250 colorful varieties of tropical fish. Tours are available out of Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. Insider tip: Early morning is best because the water is clear. 960 1280
Maui might be for lovers, but it's also for golfers. And if you love golf, that's even better still. There are 14 courses on Maui, with several ranked at or near the top of the 'world's best' list. The PGA TOUR's Hyundai's Tournament of Champions is held here each year, so you never know who you might see on the course. 960 1280
Little St. Simons IslandOf Georgia’s four barrier islands, the Golden Isles comes closest to an unspoiled paradise. The island has been privately owned longer than the United States has been a country. Today, the descendants of the most recent owner oversee the maintenance of the island’s 100,000 acres.
Island attractions: Overnight accommodations for up to 32 guests 960 1280
Sanibel IslandA young visitor does the “Sanibel Stoop.” Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast attracts travelers with its large number of seashells that wash up on the beach. The island is also home to more than 6,000 residents, but don’t expect any stoplights here. Locals are fiercely protective of the island; more than half the island is composed of wildlife refuges.
Island attractions: Shell collecting (peak season May to September) 960 1280
Kiawah IslandWelcome to the “happiest seaside town in America.” That’s the motto of South Carolina’s Kiawah Island -- its world-class golf courses are a big reason why. Kiawah is home to five award-winning golf courses, including Ocean Course designed by Pete Dye. The course, located on Kiawah’s easternmost end, hosted the 2012 PGA Championship.
Island attractions: Beachwalker County Park 960 1280
Galveston IslandLook, Forrest, it’s Bubba Gump Shrimp! Load up the kids and head an hour’s drive from Houston to Galveston Island. The island is just 27 miles long and 3 miles wide, but big on family entertainment. At Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, enjoy rollercoaster rides, carnival games and Bubba Gump Shrimp’s first-ever Texas location.
Island attractions: Moody Gardens, Seawolf Park, Stewart Park, Schlitterbahn 960 1280
Bald Head IslandTake a 20-minute ferry ride from the town of Southport to reach Bald Head Island. Located at the tip of North Carolina’s Cape Fear, the island unfolds at an easy pace: No cars are allowed here, just golf carts -- and your two feet -- to get around. Kick back in a vacation rental, enjoy wine and music festivals, and take part in an annual fishing rodeo.
Island attractions: Bald Head Island Marina, Bald Head Island Golf Course, Island Retreat Spa and Salon 960 1280
St. George IslandLove oysters? Head to Apalachicola Bay on St. George Island. The estuary is one of several outdoor pleasures on St. George, located off the Florida Panhandle. Along with oysters, the island offers great fishing spots for grouper, scallops, flounder, redfish, snapper, mullet and trout.
Island attractions: Bird-watching on St. George Island State Park 960 1280
Cedar KeysThe cluster of islands known as Cedar Keys near Florida’s mainland offer a laidback experience, and the city of Cedar Key is among the star attractions. The tranquil fishing village comes with a small-town Florida feel and wood-frame homes like this. Come lunchtime, swing by Tony’s Famous Cedar Key Clam Chowder, known for its signature dish.
Island attractions: Nature sites such as Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge 960 1280
Hatteras IslandEnjoy kiteboarding on Hatteras Island, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The barrier island off the state’s coast is known for windsurfing and sport fishing -- earning it the nickname, “the blue marlin capital of the world.”
Island attractions: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge 960 1280
Ship IslandWalk through the shimmering quartz sand of Ship Island, one of two barrier islands located off the coast of Mississippi; you’ll find Fort Massachusetts on the island’s western end. The fort was built following the War of 1812, and has stood the test of time and nature's fury; it faced Hurricane Katrina with minimal impact.
Island attractions: Fishing, swimming and tours of Fort Massachusetts 960 1280
Grand IsleLouisiana’s only inhabited barrier island is home to 1,500 residents who make their living from the seafood and oil industries. While the effects of the BP oil spill will be studied for years to come, the dolphins have returned, the waters washing up on the shore are clear, and the annual Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo (one of America’s largest saltwater fishing events) continues.
Island attractions: Fishing -- more than 280 species in surrounding waters 960 1280
Marco IslandWhat do Shania Twain, Leighton Meester and Alan Jackson all have in common? They all have homes on Marco Island. Located on southwest Florida’s Gulf coast, Marco Island entices visitors with white-sugar sand beaches and amazing marine life like this bottlenose dolphin.
Island attractions: The largest of Florida’s 10,000 Islands, Marco offers miles of beautiful beaches. 960 1280
Georgia's Cumberland IslandBefore you dismiss this as a boring woodshed -- look closer: John F. Kennedy Jr.’s nuptials took place inside this structure, known as the First African-Baptist Church, in September 1996. The small, one-room church was established in 1893, rebuilt in 1937, and is located on Cumberland Island’s northern end.
Island attractions: Greyfield Inn, Plum Orchard mansion 960 1280
Florida KeysThe expansive Seven Mile Bridge is your gateway to the Florida Keys. As you cross the bridge, linking the Middle and Lower Keys, get ready for a breathtaking sight: the Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Keep going and you’ll reach the “southernmost city in the continental U.S.A.,” Key West.
Island attractions: Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum 960 1280
Dauphin IslandWe can’t forget Alabama. Of the dozens of islands off Alabama’s coast, Dauphin Island is among the star attractions. The barrier island, located 3 miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay, is home to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and 164-acre Audubon Bird Sanctuary, making it a great getaway for the whole family.
Island attractions: Shell Mound Park, Fort Gaines 960 1280