12 Affordable Private Island Resorts
Pelican Beach ResortBelize
Price: Doubles from $258, including meals.
What to Expect: Location, location, location: 15-acre South Water Caye is one of the few islands directly on top of the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. The resort’s five wooden Belizean-style cottages—on stilts, with verandas on the east and west sides to capture the trade winds—and five large lodge guest rooms are designed with lots of windows for views of the waves breaking over the massive reef.
What to Do: Snorkel, dive, kayak, or take one of the resort’s boat tours to nearby islands, other snorkeling sites, or the Frigate Bird Sanctuary. Don’t miss the guided nighttime snorkel in the protected cove off the south beach; it’s a chance to see corals (closed in daylight) open their delicate polyps. Or book a day trip to the ancient Mayan sites of Xunantunich and Cahal Pech (two-hour drive, $98) or to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s first jaguar reserve (45-minute drive, $82), through the resort’s annex on the mainland.
Getting There: The resort arranges transportation by boat to and from the island for guests.
Insider Tip: Heron’s Hideaway and Kingfisher are the more private single-room cottages. If you like to see the sunrise, opt for Heron’s Hideaway, with its large east-facing over-water veranda. If you prefer sunsets, choose west-facing Kingfisher.
Who hasn’t fantasized about jetting off to an ultraluxe private isle, like Turtle Island in Fiji, where a staff of 100 caters to the whims of just 28 guests? Or swooned with envy over gossipy guest reports from Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson’s sybaritic Caribbean resort, where weekly rates start at $23,500 per couple?True, these out-of-reach vacations are only for the super-wealthy. But what if you could have Necker-like island seclusion for as little as $100 a night? Well, you can.
Island resorts aren’t just private playgrounds for the rich and famous; they’re also for the budget-conscious traveler. From Belize to Papua New Guinea, Travel + Leisure combed the globe to find some of the most affordable and private tropical island resorts, many of which accommodate no more than a dozen guests, feature dishes made from fresh local ingredients from the garden and sea, and offer some of the best snorkeling in the world. Take that, Brangelina!
All of these private islands are similar in their casual style and stunning locales, but their focus and amenities vary. Angler-centric Whipray Caye Lodge, on the Belize Barrier Reef, is a magnet for those looking to hook prize barracuda, yellowtail, and king mackerel. At Tanzania’s Chapwani Private Island, guests scout small African antelope, fruit bats, and other wildlife, while still being within a short boat ride from Stone Town, an ancient spice port, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Caye Chapel Island Resort in Belize is the only resort on the list with an airport and golf course. At the other extreme, guests take a 40-minute boat ride through jungle to get to laid-back Robinson Crusoe Island in Fiji.
One of the biggest trends in island resorts, not surprisingly, is snorkeling and diving. Three small, lush islands linked by white sandbar beaches make up the Nangyuan Island Dive Resort in the Gulf of Thailand—where rates start at just $100 a night, and where sea turtles and whale sharks make regular appearances at its 15 dive sites.
“One of the best parts of my job is watching the look of sheer joy, discovery, and amazement on the faces of our guests as they finish their first snorkeling experience,” says Roderick des Tombe, a managing partner for another dive destination, Tiger Islands Village & Eco Resort, on Macan Island in Indonesia, which is surrounded by a stunning coral seascape.
Closer to home, the Cooper Island Beach Club and Pusser’s Marina Cay—both surrounded by calm waters in the British Virgin Islands—are big with boaters and those simply in search of sun, sand, and potent rum drinks.
No matter which tropical island resort you choose, one thing is clear: you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a luxurious getaway. After all, it’s hard to put a price tag on watching the sunset from a deserted, palm-fringed beach.