30 Secret Islands to Visit for the Ultimate Secluded Vacation

You think of an island getaway, and certain heavy hitters likely rush to mind: Bali, Hawaii, Santorini. The big-shot isles of the world certainly have their place on any dream travel list, but there are secret, unknown islands hidden all around the globe that you can visit — if you know where to look.

Those wanting to get far off the grid can head to Rodrigues, an itty-bitty volcanic dot in the vast Indian Ocean, hundreds of nautical miles from neighbors in any direction. Mystery lovers could opt for the Nordic island of Sandön, where the foggy, forested landscape has inspired many a crime novel (perhaps you'll read one there for a real thrill). Prefer something closer to home? On North Carolina's Outer Banks, there's an island so remote, most state residents have no idea it exists.

Whatever your daydream, you'll find a destination to match it on our list of relatively unknown islands around the world.

01 of 30

Vietnam: Côn Đảo

Con Dao
Andrea Fazzari

The Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc might be considered a mini Phuket, but those looking to get far off the beaten path head to Côn Đảo, a little-known archipelago off Vietnam's southeastern coast. An hour-long flight from Ho Chi Minh City brings you to Côn Sơn, the largest (and only inhabited) member of the 16-island chain. Here, soaring granite cliffs border deserted beaches and crystal-blue water — imagine a tropical Amalfi Coast without the crowds. Most Côn Sơn accommodations are hostel-like budget spots, though there are a handful of boutique resorts, like the upscale Poulo Condor Boutique Resort and Spa and Six Senses Con Dao. Rent a motorbike or hire a private guide to take you to the area's most remote spots, including a 19th-century hilltop lighthouse and the spectacular Dam Tre Bay lagoon.

02 of 30

Indonesia: Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan
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Searching for the Bali of, say, 1970? Head to Gili Trawangan, a tiny island near Lombok dotted with laid-back cafés, surf schools, and dive centers. No motorized traffic is allowed here, so it's up to your own two feet to walk or bike everywhere you go. The daily agenda involves nothing more than fishing, diving, or kicking back with a cold beer at Scallywags or Le Petit Gili, a charmingly ramshackle bar and eatery. On the southern coast, Pondok Santi Estate has thatched-roof bungalows scattered about the 17 acres of tropical grounds, a one-time coconut plantation. Hop the ferry to Mount Rinjani, an active volcano on Lombok.

03 of 30

Portugal: Pico

Pico
Courtesy of Pocinhobay

When Columbus made his world-changing expedition, Pico was considered a last outpost before you, well, fell off the earth — and the island still feels almost as remote as it did in 1492. Those who make the ferry or flight are met with wines unlike anywhere else and footpaths weaving through beautifully eerie lava landscapes. In the middle of a UNESCO-designated vineyard is the PocinhoBay, where six chic basalt bungalows take in views of the Atlantic. For dinner, head to Ancoradouro to sample regional specialties such as polvo guisado (stewed octopus).

04 of 30

Sweden: Sandön

Sandon
Courtesy of Sands Hotell

There's a reason Swedish crime writers Stieg Larsson and Viveca Sten chose Sandön as a setting for their thrillers: the island is covered in a forest of moss and pine trees, and light fog dependably shrouds the windblown beaches. Check in to the modern Sands Hotell or the sweet eight-room Missionshuset Bed & Breakfast both in the lone Sandön village of Sandhamn. At Sandhamns Värdshus, a historic restaurant and pub open year-round, feast on classic Swedish dishes such as house-marinated herring and pytt i panna, a traditional hash with fried egg and beets. Rent a mountain bike from Sandhamnsguiderna and pedal through the forest to Trouville, Sandön's best stretch of sand.

05 of 30

British Virgin Islands: Scrub Island

Scrub Island
Courtesy of Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina

The name may suggest otherwise, but a trip here hardly constitutes roughing it. Once a pit stop for explorers, this island was virtually uninhabited for decades — until the luxe Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina opened its doors. What to expect? Spacious hillside villas, sea kayaking, and island-hopping day trips. Hike to the top of the island for an unforgettable sunrise.

06 of 30

Greece: Skopelos

Skopelos
Alamy

An hour ferry ride from Skiathos (or 15 minutes on a high-speed boat), the island of Skopelos is so picture-perfect (hidden coves, blue-roofed tavernas, hundreds of Byzantine-era churches) that Hollywood chose its Kastani Beach as a set for "Mamma Mia." Nearly every room at the seasonal Adrina Resort & Spa and its sister property Adrina Beach Hotel look out onto the turquoise Aegean. After a dinner of lobster pasta and slow-cooked lamb kleftiko at waterfront The Muses, walk along the beach-hugging road to the open-air Mercurius Cocktail Bar or the hilltop Anatoli for ouzo and live rebetika music.

07 of 30

Belize: Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker, Belize
Jim West / Alamy

There's nary a traffic light on this colorful, laid-back island — a five-mile strip of land that's barely a 10-minute flight from Belize City. Water activities are the name of the game here: snorkel among nurse sharks and stingrays or scuba dive in the underwater caves of Blue Hole. Aboveground, try the meat pies and rum cake baked daily at Reina's, or whole grilled lobster and jerk chicken at Dee N' D's, a Caribbean barbecue spot right on the water. On the eastern side of the caye, the beachfront Colinda Cabanas has 14 brightly painted suites and cabanas, all with kitchens and outdoor space, tucked amid the palms and almond trees.

08 of 30

Iceland: Flatey

Flatey
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Don't expect to see much night sky here: In summer, daylight shines for up to 21 hours on this one-mile, car-free hideaway in Breiðafjörður Bay. Lush meadows, multicolored timber houses, and incredible birdlife dot the scenery, and the mainland's Snæfellsjökull volcano is always within eyeshot. In town, Hotel Flatey stays true to simple Scandinavian design (blond-wood furniture, whitewashed walls), and the downstairs restaurant is a superb spot for local, fresh, seafood-centric fare. Swing by Iceland's oldest (and smallest) library, built in 1864.

09 of 30

Malta: Gozo

Gozo
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This tiny Mediterranean island is where Odysseus was "held captive" by Calypso after the Trojan War. Take one look at the landscape, and it's no wonder he stayed seven years. Rolling hills, crumbling castle walls, and a Bronze Age fortress are some of the most endearing features. Check in to the upscale Hotel Ta' Cenc & Spa overlooking the sea from the island's highest point. From there, it's a short drive to rugged Dwejra Bay, where you can take a dip and gaze upon the famous limestone arch. Head to the ancient village of Xangra for a hearty meal of fish soup, pasta with rabbit sauce, and fig ice cream at Oleander Restaurant. Bring home handblown objéts d'art from Gozo Glass.

10 of 30

India: Havelock Island

Andaman Islands
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Bone-white beaches and crystalline water make Havelock Island perhaps the most appealing of the 500-odd islands and atolls in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Make a cottage at the much-loved SeaShell Havelock your island crash pad for days of snorkeling, diving, glass-bottom boating, and jungle trekking. Ocean breezes and down-home cooking take center stage at Anju Coco, a roadside seafood shack and breakfast spot. The mellow atmosphere and 28-page menu require at least one return visit.

11 of 30

Mauritius: Rodrigues

Rodrigues
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With 3,300 miles of Indian Ocean between it and Perth, the nearest civilization to the east, this fish-shaped island is about as remote as it gets. Verdant valleys, numerous islets, and shallow lagoon waters surrounding the island make Rodrigues heaven for hikers, kite surfers, and water lovers. Shack up in one of the island's Creole-style guesthouses, like the three-room Case Corail or the more upscale Domaine de la Paix. For freshly caught seafood, don't miss the down-to-earth Le Marlin Bleu. Spot gigantic Aldabra tortoises and tropical birds at the François Leguat Reserve — before descending into limestone caverns (a welcome respite from the sun).

12 of 30

New Zealand: Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island
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At 104 square miles, "The Barrier" is the largest island off the Kiwi coast, but it's also the most untouched. Spend your days hiking through dense kauri woods or exploring jagged inlets. Then refuel over local seafood chowder at Currach Irish Pub & The Innkeeper's Lodge. The four-bedroom, glass-walled Oruawharo Beach House has spectacular views of Oruawharo Bay; smaller accommodations on the property include a cabin and cottage. Take a scenic stroll to soak in the Kaitoke Hot Springs.

13 of 30

Malaysia: Pulau Mabul

Most Pinned Travel Photos: Mabul, Malaysia
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Diving enthusiasts flock to Pulau Mabul, off the southeastern coast of Malaysia, where the exotic marine life is on par with the Galápagos — native sea moths, bobtail squids, and the elusive paintpot cuttlefish are just a few of the inhabitants. Sleep above the sea at Mabul Water Bungalows, which offers dive packages and has an on-site spa. For local souvenirs, head to Tawau village's Sunday market in nearby Sabah.

14 of 30

Nicaragua: Jicaro Island

Jicaro Island
David Nicolas

You may experience cognitive dissonance upon arriving at Jicaro Island. There are palm trees and thatched roofs, even a shadowy volcano in the distance, but the air has none of the tropical tang you'd expect, and there are no waves or powdery shores. That's because Jicaro is located on Lake Nicaragua (Lago Cocibolca), a freshwater lake near the country's western edge. Ten minutes by boat from the colonial town of Granada, the one-acre island is home to seven luxury treehouse casitas, stylish with their slatted façades and mosquito-netted beds, that are crafted entirely from Nicaraguan timber, salvaged from trees downed in storms. The food is organic and locally sourced, solar power heats the water, and there's a freshwater infinity pool for leisurely afternoons. Spend an afternoon hiking around the cloud forest on the upper slopes of the nearby volcano, Mombacho. You might just zipline down.

15 of 30

Chile: Robinson Crusoe Island

Birds eye view of island with crescent-shaped bay.
Jeremy Richards / Getty

A one-hour flight west of Santiago, this rugged isle earned its fame from the 18th-century sailor Alexander Selkirk, whose wild spell as a castaway here inspired the novel "Robinson Crusoe." The aura of adventure still endures (there's even a rumor of buried treasure). Travelers arrive on a seven-seater plane, then take a 30-minute speedboat ride to the town of San Juan Bautista. At the Crusoe Island Lodge, all 15 rooms are made with recycled materials and wood from the nearby forest. The hotel will organize scuba dives, on which you'll see a centuries-old shipwreck.

16 of 30

Scotland: Colonsay

Colonsay
Anthony Sanger-Davies / Alamy

A two-hour-20-minute ferry ride from the west-coast whisky town of Oban takes you to this distant Hebridean island. Sheep far outnumber people, and those who have made the wildflower-carpeted island home are the sort of characters who would have inspired Robert Burns. Lay your head in the 1750-built Colonsay Hotel, a family-owned, nine-room Georgian inn, with white pebble-dashed walls, sloping slate roofs, and spare furnishings. Meet all the locals at the village hall, where, in the summer, the weekly ceilidh dance is as authentic a gathering as you'll find in the British Isles.

17 of 30

Ireland: Inis Meáin

Inis Meain
Courtesy of Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

The pleasures of Inis Meáin are simple: a walk along the coast to the thunder of Atlantic swells, a tableau of fissured limestone that glimmers in the mist, and the best potatoes you'll ever taste. At the stone-walled Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites, owners Marie-Thérèse and Ruairí de Blacam have equipped the five suites with oversized beds, custom German bicycles, and 30-foot-wide windows looking out onto Galway Bay and Connemara. The real allure is the glass-walled restaurant, where no more than 16 nightly guests can experience deceptively basic fish dishes and homegrown vegetables. For dessert, try the seaweed pudding at An Dún Bed & Breakfast and Restaurant. Hike the mile-and-a-half cliff walk with the Cliffs of Moher as your backdrop.

18 of 30

Sardinia: La Maddalena

La Maddalena
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Think you can't find Caribbean blue waters in the middle of Europe? Set your sights on La Maddalena, an unassuming understudy to some of Italy's splashier islands, like Capri. A 20-minute ferry ride from the northern coast of Sardinia, La Maddelena spoils its visitors with pristine beaches, rare birds, and hidden coves — Cala Coticcio, a short drive from La Maddalena's city center, is said to be one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. At the waterside Hotel Excelsior, a sea-facing terrace is a perfect perch for watching the ferries ply the teal waters. Tour the Compendio Garibaldino, on the neighboring island of Caprera, where the 19th-century politico Giuseppe Garibaldi lived.

19 of 30

United Arab Emirates: Sir Bani Yas Island

Desert Islands
Courtesy of Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara

The roaring traffic sounds of Abu Dhabi, 150 miles to the east, are replaced by the sound of lapping waves on this cluster of Arabian Gulf islands. Sir Bani Yas — with its wadis (dry riverbeds), mangroves, and Christian monastery excavation site — is the only island with overnight facilities of any sort. Luckily, those accommodations are provided by Anantara, a luxurious resort brand with a small collection of Sir Bani Yas hotels. The original, Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, includes 64 chic rooms and an opulent spa.

20 of 30

Newfoundland: Fogo Island

Fogo Island
Courtesy of Foley's Place

This may be the last place you'd expect to find an artistic awakening — it's a fishing community off Newfoundland's northeastern coast marked by craggy shores and miles of blissful nothingness. But thanks to residents Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir and Zita Cobb and architect Todd Saunders, the secluded island has become a cultural destination. The creative trio is behind Fogo Island Arts, a series of four off-the-grid artists' studios. Rent a car to tour the uber-contemporary structures or hike along the five-mile Turpin's Trail, whose gentle path goes beside rocky coastline and grassy meadows (keep an eye out for grazing caribou). Regain your strength on a vintage school chair at Bangbelly Cafe with a homemade cod cake sandwich and a cold can of Newfoundland-brewed Quidi Vidi. Feel like you're in a fantasy film at the architecturally stunning Fogo Island Inn, a modern, sustainable spaceship of a boutique hotel at the edge of the Atlantic.

21 of 30

Washington: Lummi Island

Lummi Island
Alamy

Nature enthusiasts and locavores love this nine-square-mile oasis full of working farms and lush fields on Puget Sound. Stay at The Willows Inn, with views of Orcas Island and, for the patient, some actual orcas. Feast on spot prawns, reef-net-caught salmon, and just-picked greens prepared by the hotel's chef Blaine Wetzel, a Washington native who rose to prominence at Copenhagen's legendary Noma. Don't miss a bike ride (free for guests) to Michael Oppenheimer's Windy Hill Art sculpture park.

22 of 30

British Columbia: Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island
Courtesy of Foxglove Farm

Vancouver Island may have the spotlight, but neighboring Salt Spring is impossibly picturesque (imagine rocky shores, rolling pastures, and sky-high oak trees). Cheese-makers, vintners, and an eclectic group of artists and craftspeople live here year-round. It's precisely that eco-artist vibe that lured Michael Ableman and Jeanne-Marie Herman here to open the sustainable Foxglove Farm, whose three guest rooms (a cottage, a cabin, and a log home) have views of Lake Maxwell. The Saturday farmers' market at nearby Centennial Park showcases works by potters, jewelers, soap-makers, and food producers.

23 of 30

Maine: Southport Island

Southport Island
Courtesy of Ocean Gate Resort

Boothbay Harbor ranks as one of the busiest tourist havens on Maine's Mid Coast, but nearby Southport Island, accessible by a single swing bridge, has a more low-key vibe with old Cape Cod-style colonial houses, small country stores, and winding roads. On the way to town, you'll spot the decades-old Robinson's Wharf, one of the state's most revered seafood shacks, serving fresh lobster, shrimp, and oysters. Snag a table on the dock facing Townsend Gut. A 20-minute walk away, Ocean Gate Resort has free canoes and kayaks for self-paddling tours of the Gut's sheltered waters. Toward the island's far end, the 30-room, oceanfront Newagen Seaside Inn, with clapboard cottages and water-facing hotel rooms, abuts a quaint fishing harbor. This is classic Maine at its best. Plan a picnic on Southport Beach, overlooking Hendricks Head lighthouse.

24 of 30

Colombia: Islas del Rosario

Colombia: Islas de Rosario
Ben Bowes

Cartagena may be a Latin American travel hot spot, but consider venturing off the coast to the Islas del Rosario — a chain of mostly uninhabited islands that are home to mangroves, beaches, and the country's largest coral reef. Stay at the tropical-chic Hotel San Pedro de Majagua on Isla Grande. There, you'll find 17 white-on-white rooms, panoramic Caribbean views, and a restaurant serving fresh-caught snapper, grilled whole. Snorkel and dive the glittering waters, where you can spot butterflyfish, stone bass, sea turtles, and more than 1,000 other tropical species. After the sun sets, take a boat or an evening walk to the Enchanted Lagoon, on the other side of the island, to see thousands of luminescent plankton twinkling in the night.

25 of 30

Spain: La Gomera

San Sebastian city on La Gomera island in Spain
Getty Images

Not even an hour ferry ride from its buzzy big sister, Tenerife, tiny La Gomera is as peaceful as can be. The lushly green Canary Island is a haven for trekkers, with almost 400 miles of walking trails lacing over mountains and misty, subtropical rainforest. When you've hiked to your heart's (or quads') content, get thee to the water. Paddle around the teal waters of pretty, sun-drenched Playa del Santiago in a kayak, or book a boat tour in hopes of spotting pilot whales, dolphins, and other La Gomera underwater residents. The clifftop Hotel Jardín Tecina has far more frills than your average La Gomera hotel, plus head-spinning views of the Atlantic. Plan for at least one meal at the beach-shack-like La Chalana, a local fave serving a daily catch and Canarian specialties. If you need a post-lunch pick-me-up, a barraquito (a Canary Islands coffee drink with condensed milk, lemon rind, and cinnamon — con o sin licor) should do the trick.

26 of 30

Sicily: Filicudi

Filicudi island pebble beach on a hot summer day, Italy.
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Filicudi (along with farther-flung Alicudi) is the least-developed outpost in Sicily's Aeolian chain. Its sheer remoteness and spectacular volcanic landscape have enticed in-the-know Italians for ages. Explore Filicudi's quaint fishing villages and mountain hiking trails (prepare for thrilling sea views) by foot; when you're ready to take your sea legs out for a spin, there are jewel-toned coves, craggy grottoes, and pebble beaches for swimming, snorkeling, boating, and diving. Cap off your day with seafood hauled in from the surrounding Tyrrhenian Sea and a bottle of natural Aeolian wine. On a sunny afternoon, find a palapa-covered sunbed (and a cold bottle of Messina) at Solarium Lidalina to call your own.

27 of 30

Japan: Iriomote Island

Mangrove river mouth and jungle from above, Iriomote Island, Okinawa, Japan
Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

When it comes to Japanese scenery, coral reefs and pineapple fields are probably not part of your vision. But Japan's Okinawa prefecture is home to tropical islands straight out of a castaway fantasy, including one of Japan's best-kept secrets, the jungle-clad Iriomote. This hidden destination has stunning waterfalls, mangrove forests, and the kind of coastline you'd expect from southern Thailand — minus the throngs of fellow sunseekers. Beaches like Ida no Hama are startlingly pretty, with shimmering clear shallows and lush vegetation all around. After a day of snorkeling, diving, and paddleboarding, retire to Pension Hoshinosuna, a humble inn with great views over the bay and offshore islands. Join a guided tour for a day of kayaking through the mangroves followed by hiking through the jungle up to Pinaisara Falls, a dramatic waterfall cutting through the wilderness.

28 of 30

North Carolina: Portsmouth

Aerial view of small Portsmouth Island off the coast of North Carolina
Jennifer Blount/Getty Imgaes

The Outer Banks is a major vacation destination, yet one of its islands is so secluded, even many North Carolinians have never heard of it: rugged Portsmouth, only accessible by ferry or private boat. Visitors dock in Portsmouth village, a once-thriving seafaring port dating to the 1700s, now a ghost town with a cluster of historic buildings — the post office-slash-general store and a one-room schoolhouse — to check out as you please. Beyond the village, miles of pure coastal wilderness await. Sand paths wind past grassy salt marshes, wispy evergreen shrubs, and sky-blue inlets. Natural dunes sling low over wide-open, empty, and amazingly pristine beaches. Look for shells and sea snails, get hypnotized by the powerful Atlantic waves, or pitch a tent right on the sand. On a clear evening, you're in for the starriest night of your life. When you're ready to reenter society, catch the passenger ferry to Ocracoke and set up shop with fried oysters and hush puppies on the roof deck of Howard's Pub.

29 of 30

Zanzibar: Mnemba Island

Blue sky, green water and an empty beach at paradise island, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Christian Aslund/Getty Images

Drifting in an aqua lagoon in the Zanzibar archipelago, Mnemba is nothing short of an island paradise. The petite island is occupied by andBeyond Mnemba Island, a boutique resort with all the tropical trimmings you'd want from an Indian Ocean hideaway: a dive center, a handful of rustic, open-air bungalows, and wide swaths of stunning white-sand beach encircling a forested interior. The sparkling waters are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling over coral reefs, and, at sunset, cruising on the resort's dhow, a traditional Arabic sailboat. Learn about Zanzibar's legendary spices on a tour of Tangawizi, a working spice plantation and cooking school outside of Stone Town.

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Cape Verde: Boa Vista

Sand dunes and ocean waves of Curralinho Beach on Boa Vista, Cape Verde
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All Cape Verde islands have incredible coastlines, but the vast white- and golden-sand beaches of Boa Vista are arguably the archipelago's best. Kiteboarders and windsurfers flock here (as well as neighboring Sal) to take advantage of the sweeping trade winds from Africa. Jeep and quad-bike outfitters stand at the ready for zipping around the shore and giant windswept desert dunes that look like they're from another planet. Scoop up locally made pottery in the town of Rabil.

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