Eric-Valenne-geostory/ShutterstockDon't be deceived by the small size of this Portuguese gem in the Azores; although it may be small (only 10 miles at its widest), it's the home of the tallest mountain in Portugal (Ponta de Pico), and actually the largest (though one of the least known) islands in the Azores triangle. Its black volcanic soil has given the local vineyards UNESCO World Heritage designation. It's a perfect destination for crowd-free sipping, strolling, and exploring.
Jicaro Island, Nicaragua
Courtesy-Jicaro-Island-EcolodgeSet on Lake Nicaragua, this private island getaway is about 15 minutes by water taxi from the Colonial town of Granada. Since the entire island is a private ecolodge, it has a secluded Swiss Family Robinson appeal, with thatch casitas built into the lush foliage, surrounded by local flora and fauna. Bonus: Jicaro Island Ecolodge is one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World, and Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua are visible from all of the nine casitas. These are private islands you can rent for your next vacation.
Laughing Bird Caye, Belize
RHIMAGE/ShutterstockTen miles off Belize's palm-fringed Placencia Coast, this tiny (only 1.414 acres) national park is a day-visit hop only, ideal for snorkeling and diving on the coral reef, the largest in the Northern Hemisphere, and spotting, and swimming with spotted Whale Sharks, the gentle giants of sea. Stay overnight at beautiful beachside Naïa Resort and Spa, where speedboat outings to the island and reef leave from the private dock.
Con Dao, Vietnam
Tonkinphotography/ShutterstockThe only inhabited member of the stunning 16-island chain, less than an hour's flight from Ho Chi Min City. Visit Con Dao for the azure water, nesting turtles, and stunning cliffs; stay for the luxurious Six Senses Resort (and don't be surprised if this posh new property means this isn't a secret for much longer).
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Damira/ShutterstockWhile a UNESCO designated heritage site (along with the neighboring Cinque Terre), Palmaria, an island off of Portovenere in the Ligurian Sea, is still off the radar for travelers visiting the Italian Riviera. A nature lover's paradise, the island presents ample opportunities for hiking along its idyllic trails against a backdrop of amazing views of the sea and the watercolor village of Portovenere in the distance. CountryBred tours, who specializes in travel to the region, suggests relaxing over rustic regional fare at a local fish restaurant and cooling off with a glass of crisp white wine from Liguria.
Denis Island, Seychelles
Kerry-Manson/ShutterstockCurved like a wishbone, rimmed by beaches of silky fine-grained sand, covered in coconut palms and takamata trees; Denis truly feels like a castaway island. The island can only be reached by a 45-minute light aircraft flight from Mahé, the Seychelles' main island. If you're not content to doze on the beach there are plenty of activities, from deep-sea fishing, diving and snorkeling to canoeing, sunset cruises, and guided nature walks. Audley Tours can help book the only hotel on the island, a chic ecolodge, where you take off your shoes when you arrive, and you won't need to put them back on until it's time to leave. For other getaway ideas, don't miss the beaches with the clearest water in the world.
Peanut Island, Florida
Thomas-Barrat/ShutterstockOff the eastern coast of The Palm Beaches, Florida, the island is a family sanctuary, which features snorkeling, overnight camping, and swimming. One unique attraction: You can take a tour of the John F. Kennedy Bunker, a historical reminder of the Cold War of the 60s. The best way to visit is by taking a water taxi from nearby Sailfish Marina or Riviera Beach Marina for an island paradise with no passport required.
Kamalame Cay, Bahamas
Courtesy-Kamalame-CayTo reach this private island resort, you'll first need to fly to Nassau, then grab a cab to a smaller commuter airport, hop a puddle jumper for a 15-minute flight to Fresh Creek, then grab another cab to a boat, and voila, you're at Kamalame Cay! Why go through all the trouble to get to this 96-acre hideaway across the turquoise inlet from Andros? Well, it's an oasis of lush tropical foliage and deserted white sand beaches with unfettered access to the Andros Great Barrier Reef and some of the world's finest coral gardens. Oh, and there's award-winning designed individually designed West Indies cottages and gourmet food and beverages that all add up to an upscale, vacation island paradise.
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St. Pierre, France (Canada)
Erika-J-Mitchell/ShutterstockA piece of France... in North America! Just 12 miles off the southern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador lies France's only remaining claim in North America: The tiny archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Travelers in search of a unique culture and way of life need look no further than these little-known islands, where the smell of fresh baguette fills the narrow streets each morning and locals (of Basque, Norman, and Acadian descent) greet one another with a kiss on each cheek—far from the customs of their Canadian neighbors. The smaller of the region's three major islands, Saint-Pierre is home to most of the archipelago's inhabitants. In this quiet harbor town, you'll find mouth-watering bakeries, a wide variety of French wines and cheeses, and quaint boutiques filled with European products.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Courtesy-Haig-PointThis island with no bridge, no cars and no crowds is a unique destination for a family beach getaway. Located between Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, GA; deeply rooted in area Gullah culture, it's accessible by boat only, making it a truly secluded oasis. Golf carts and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation to traverse the 5-mile-long island (although horseback riding along the 3 miles of golden beach is a popular activity). Island visitors can stay at Haig Point, with two unique, historic lodging beachfront options—The Strachan Mansion or The 1873 Lighthouse—overlooking the Calibogue Sound, a 13-mile-long stretch of curving waterway abundant with natural wildlife that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Port Royal Sound.
Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
peter-szikinger/ShutterstockThese tiny, white sand coral cays, about 8 miles off the coast of Honduras, are what tropical dreams are made of: Nothing but turquoise water as far as the eye can see and pristine nature in a protected reserve. There's amazing diving and snorkeling in the clear waters around the surrounding reefs. Plan on staying at the low key, but perfectly located, Plantation Beach Resort.
Niyama Islands, Maldives
Craig-Wood/ShutterstockOff the beaten track with uncrowded waves and enviable surf breaks, NIYAMA Private Islands Maldives comprises two luxurious, playfully named, twin private islands, Play and Chill. At Play, both of which are still undiscovered secrets in the beautiful Maldives. At Chill: Relax on the beach and at the sybaritic spa. And Play, surf, snorkel, dive, and jump into the sparkling sea.
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Filippo-Bannino/ShutterstockLocated off of the coast of Trapani in western Sicily, Favignana is a favorite destination for local Sicilians while being relativity unknown to foreign visitors. The island is easily connected to Sicily via hydrofoils and private boats, and is coveted for its untouched landscapes and crystalline waters, which many believe to be some of the best for snorkeling and scuba diving in Italy. For wine aficionados, a trip to Favignana wouldn't be complete without a stop at the island's only wine producer.
Gaya Island, Malaysia
Buzov-Evgeny/ShutterstockSmall Gaya Island in Malaysia is set within the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and boasts pristine sand beaches, a lush rainforest, and secluded luxury, making Gaya Island an ideal off-the-beaten-path destination. Surrounded by crystal clear waters and views of Mount Kinabalu, Gaya Island Resort here features spacious villas styled after traditional Sabahan architecture and opportunities to try the island's unique subaquatic experience off the coast.
Lummi Island, Washington State
Edmund-Lowe-Photography/ShutterstockNot all secret islands are in sunny or exotic locations; the proof of which is this 9-square-mile Puget Sound paradise, where you can both watch the Pacific's amazing sealife including Orcas, and sample local seafood delicacies such as salmon and shrimp.
Courtesy-Azura-RetreatsQuilalea Island is a private, uninhabited island paradise surrounded by the pristine waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago marine sanctuary. The only way to visit the special island is to stay at Azura Quilalea Private Island, a relaxed, castaway-style resort that with seafront villas from where you can snorkel the island's shores, dive from the main beach, kayak the mangroves, or relax in a hammock beneath the giant baobabs on the island.
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Anacapa Island, California
Courtesy VisitVenturaPart of the Channel Islands, a National Park, just off the coast of Orange County, Anacapa Island is actually comprised of three islets, only accessible to each other by boat, which total combined are only 700 acres (smaller than NYC's Central Park). It's the resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals, so you'll know when you've arrived when you hear the bellows barking of sea lions. Like the sea lions, you'll be interested in exploring Anacapa's rich kelp forests which offer fascinating kayaking, snorkeling, and diving.
Islay Island, Scotland
photoNN/ShutterstockThe southernmost island of the Scottish Hebrides, this green Gaelic isle is known as the "Queen of the Hebrides, and is where Ardbeg Scotch is made. One of the highlights of visiting the remote farming island is touring the distillery to see where the single malt -- which has protected status in Scotland—has been crafted since 1815. Of course, while you're here, you'll want to sample the storied whiskey. Stay the night at Seaview Cottage right on the distillery's property on the rocky shores of South Islay.
Anticosti Island, Quebec
Pierdelune/ShutterstockAnchored in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Anticosti Island is an 8000-square-kilometre (3000-square-mile) natural gem, home to more than 160,000 white-tailed deer, but nearly uninhabited by humans. The island was purchased in 1895 by the wealthy French chocolate maker, Henri Menier. He introduced foxes, beavers, moose, and white-tailed deer to the island. Today, Anticosti is a paradise for nature lovers, who can explore deep canyons, clear rivers, grottoes, falls and fossils in Anticosti National Park.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Darren-Tierney/ShutterstockA 30-minute ferry ride takes visitors from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to one of the best tarpon fishing spots in Central America. Not that many people know about the fly-fishing paradise—and the 1,600 locals like it that way.
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Aldabra Islands, Seychelles
Bodler/ShutterstockIt sounds a bit like a magical incantation "Abracadabra," you say, and up rise the "Aldabra" Islands, on the far far (700 miles away far) southwest edge of Africa's Seychelles Islands. Why come so far? It's the world's largest coral atoll, with more than 300 unique plants and animal species above ground, and a world of colorful reefs and aquatic life down below the waves, not to mention a giant sea turtle population of nearly 150,000,
Gilligans Island, Puerto Rico
Javier-Cruz-Acosta/ShutterstockYup, you read that right, a real-life "Gilligan's Island" is located right off Puerto Rico's southwest coast, just off of Guanica. Rent a kayak (a roughly 20 minute strong paddle) or jump a local speed boat (a quick 2-minute journey) from Copamarina Resort to this hidden spot that feels like it was custom made for rest and relaxation among the mangroves, including a stream that runs down the center of the island for real-life lazy river ride.
Okunoshima Island, Japan
Jesse33/ShutterstockDon't worry about wrapping your tongue around the Japanese pronunciation, just call this off-the-beaten-track spot what the locals do: Us Agi Jima or Rabbit Island. During World War II, this secluded island near Hiroshima was used for military testing, some of which was conducted on rabbits (we know, don't focus on that part too much). When the war was over, the military pulled out, and the rabbits were free to frolic in peace. Today they romp around the island, and you're free to visit and bring carrots and snacks (but no dogs or cats) or a day of bunny love.
Niue, South Pacific
Brian-S/ShutterstockNot just an island, but an independent country—not that you've ever heard it. Niue remains a secret in the South Pacific due in large part to its location: It's 1,400 miles northeast of New Zealand, 240 miles east of Tonga, and 560 miles west of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. But it's also one of the worlds largest emerged coral atolls, a saucer shaped island that emerged from an isolated volcanic cone. It's a pristine Eden: Almost a quarter of Niue is virgin rainforest, full of native birds and plant life with the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area, a huge pristine tropical rainforest, that occupying 20 percent of Niue's land area. Bonus: Although its teeming with diverse flora and fauna, there are no poisonous animals, spiders or insects living on Niue.
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Sable Island, Nova Scotia
Kat-Grant-Photographer/ShutterstockWild horses roam Sable Island, one of the reasons it became an official Canadian National Park in 2013. It's thought that these mustangs are descendants of ones brought to the country by the Acadians in the mid-18th century. Though this coastal island is only accessible by boat or plane, its pristine beaches and natural beauty, and of course the opportunity to see rare wild horses in their natural ecosystems. Here are more natural wonderlands where you can see wild horses in North America.
Rottnest Island, Australia
Victor-MaschekFirst the good news: This island is full of tiny, kangaroo-like marsupials called Quokka. The bad news is that the early Dutch sailors who discovered the island thought they were rodents, and called the island basically "Rat Nest." Don't let that deter you from visiting this Western Australia gem, about a 90-minute ferry ride from Perth to see the little hoppers.
Lillian-Tveit/ShutterstockErase all thoughts of tropical islands with palm trees and warm breezes before you set off for Svalbard, where the temperature is definitely frigid, and polar bears swim in the icy Arctic Ocean waters. Which is exactly why you come to this remote northwestern Norwegian island, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. In this island of ice-covered fjords, glaciers, and soaring mountains, there are more polar bears here than humans. It's also the perfect location to spot another wonder of the winter: The Northern Lights.
sangriana/ShutterstockAlthough many of Greece's better known islands may seem like water wonderlands, Alonnisos is only one of two actual marine parks in the country, and home to the endangered Monk Seal. Not only is the island filled with natural beauty, there's also more than two dozen churches, some dating back nearly 500 years, to explore as well.
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EugeniaStA paradisiacal Aeolian Island off of Sicily offering unspoiled natural beauty along with some sweet boutique lodging options, and stunning views of its awe-inspiring neighbor Stomboli with its simmering volcano. Spend your time here boating around the island to swim and sunbathe along its secret coves of pristine turquoise waters and pebbly shores. CountryBred can arrange local wine and caper tastings (two highlights of the local gastronomy).
Ile d'Ouessant, France
Stephane-Bidouze/ShutterstockEurope's westernmost island is a step back in time, where you can rent a bike to explore craft shops, boulangerie, and the island's five lighthouses, located near the port of Stiff (which is also where to hope a ferry back to the Brittany mainland).