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Updated: 9th February 2024
Who doesn’t love the island life? Whether you want to lounge poolside with a coconut in hand, lose yourself in a book backed by lapping waves, or head inland for a rugged adventure, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of amazing islands to visit across every ocean.
But if you’re like me – an island addict with restless feet – you’ll be seeking entertainment after your stint soaking in the sun. And I don’t mean animation in the hotel bar. Marvelling at penguin colonies, hiking around bubbling volcanoes, or delving deeper into a remote community’s culture are the kind of experiences I want from an island – a far cry from lazy days spent sunbathing on a typical luxury island escape.
Sure, the Maldives, Bora Bora and Tahiti are all spectacular (and expensive). However, I’ve sidelined them here. Instead, for my picks of the best islands to visit, I’ve focused on those where I found something a little special beyond the sands.
Oh, amore mio. Sicily is hands-down the best island to visit in Italy. And while The White Lotus might have put the Mediterranean’s largest island on many a bucket list as it showcased the silver-screen-worthy sands of Cefalù, luxurious resorts (it’s bookable, by the way) and water’s so shimmering they were fit for an iconic gay murder scene, this island isn’t only sun, sea, sand and… sex.
Sicily is a living time capsule for human civilisations: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines – and all the others who have been and gone. This island has been seducing seafarers for millennia. Their stories, flavours, architectural styles and sects have stacked high, creating something of an open-air museum. In Syracuse, the remains of both Roman and Greek Amphitheaters coexist. At Villa Romana del Casale, you’ll find what UNESCO call “the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world”. And, as you traverse atop the Valley of the Temples, ancient Greek architecture transports you to some six centuries before Christ himself.
Then, you’ll meet the two main sibling cities, both boasting distinctive personalities. The island’s capital, Palermo, is sexy, sassy and sometimes overwhelming. On the ‘big brothers’ boisterous backstreets, Ballaro Market will introduce you to the island’s finest flavours. Stock up on street food staples, arancini and pani câ meusa, before partying all night. On the flip side, sister Catania is a little more ‘classical Italian’ in demeanour. That is, of course, until you glimpse Mount Etna – one of the world’s most active volcanoes – providing a bellowing backdrop to her Baroque. Just like those myth-laden ceramic heads, be prepared to start a passionate love affair with Sicily. Hopefully, with just your mind blown rather than total decapitation.
Reasons to visit Sicily
If you’re craving a Caribbean vacation full of relaxing beaches, rum punches and luxury resorts – you’re in the wrong place. Dominica has those, yes. But here, on the so-called “Nature Island”, your days are far more likely to be filled with spine-tingling canyoning adventures, exotic bird watching on multi-day hikes or kayaking alongside sun-baked black sand beaches. This is the untouched Caribbean at its best, and the best things to do in Dominica are fully focused on nature.
With a distinct lack of luxury resorts – although some high-end eco-minded options are appearing – a holiday here is all about palm-fringed beach bungalows and low-impact stays. This leads the island to organically invite a more laid-back crowd and far fewer tourists – unless the occasional cruise ship is in port. Exploring jungle-shrouded waterfalls, cloud-defying lofty lakes, or meeting and learning about the island’s original inhabitants in the Kalinago Territory are just some of Dominica’s highlights. Add in the chance to spot the resident sperm whale population, witness endemic birds, and ride rickety wooden boats down the Indian River to rum-pouring Bush Bars, and you’ll feel like a castaway pirate. Fitting, as Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed right here on one of the Caribbean’s best islands to visit.
Why I fell in love Dominica
The Falkland Islands
At South America’s edge, the vastness of Antarctica looming beyond, The Falkland Islands house some 500,000 pairs of breeding penguins. Five species of these flightless birds can be found across the numerous unique islands that form this hauntingly beautiful archipelago. Photographing the Falklands is an absolute dream, but it’s much more than just a camera-friendly, penguin-peppered wild isle. Out on these barren landscapes, where sheep could be your only companions for hours, you’ll experience a solitary, isolated and remote escape without the need for an expedition ship.
Yes, the Falkland Islands often conjure up bleak photos of an even bleaker war. But look a little closer, and you’ll find colour aplenty. Dazzling, paper-white sands are lapped by every cerulean shade conceivable. Albatrosses, gulls, pintails, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and whales all vie for your penguin-focused attention. Spend a couple of days at Saunders Island’s rural cabin lost amongst penguin colonies, see an army of fluffy chicks at Volunteer Point, or kayak alongside seals and shipwrecks, and you’ll soon see the Falklands are kaleidoscopic. Having spent two weeks in The Falkland Islands, I’m convinced these are some of the most amazing islands to visit for both peaceful reflection and unrivalled awe.
Reasons to visit The Falkland Islands
São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Surf-ready black sand beaches, geothermal hot springs begging to be bathed in, lofty hikes around crater lakes, and whale watching aplenty – welcome to São Miguel, a real-life Eden halfway between Europe and Canada. São Miguel is the largest of Portugal’s nine-strong Azores archipelago and is arguably one of the best islands to visit in Europe for both adventure and relaxation. Imagine a kind of Switzerland meets New Zealand, one that has been shaped by volcanic activity, aggressive Atlantic swells, and rock-chiselling waterfalls. Some might call it the ‘Hawaii of Europe’, but the Azores are far less developed. And that is very much their adrenaline-led charm.
Trek to the Boca do Inferno viewpoint for panoramas over a glistening two-colour volcanic lake. Ride the swell at surf favourite Praia de Santa Bárbara. Snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of the Vila Franca do Campo islet. Experience the geothermal activity of Furnas. Then, tackle the towering waterfalls on a canyoning adventure. For some softer adventures, spot whales and dolphins on a marine biologist-led boat tour, soothe yourself in serene geothermal pools, or take a stroll through the Gorreana Tea Factory – one of the only plantations in Europe. São Miguel is as zen as it is heart-thumping.
Things to do in The Azores
The Faroe Islands, Kingdom of Denmark
The eighteen main islands that form the far-flung Faroe Islands archipelago, almost halfway between Norway and Iceland, have been shaped by fierce winds and roaring Atlantic waters. In the 9th century, Norse settlers arrived to try to tame these once-volcanic islands, and until this day, the archipelago’s seafaring sagas and inhospitable conditions have prevailed. But the Faroes are far from underdeveloped: futuristic buildings contrast with their traditional turf roofs in Tórshavn, award-winning chefs play with the ocean’s bounty, and underwater tunnels and ferries keep communities connected.
For years, it had been a dream of mine to visit the Faroe Islands, expecting a wild and barren land. And while to some degree it is, when I finally visited last year, I fell in love with the hospitality and cosy nature of this remote lifestyle. There might be more sheep and seasonal puffins here than humans, but that all adds to the island’s ethereal charm. There are plenty of jaw-dropping, camera-ready moments, such as the dramatic fjord-hugging village of Saksun, the ocean-tumbling Múlafossur Waterfall, and the headland trail around Sørvágsvatn Lake. But what I fell in love with the most was the way of life out here. There hasn’t been a day since I said a tearful goodbye that I haven’t found myself wishing to return.
Postcards from the Faroe Islands
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
How do you make a typical tropical island in Southeast Asia even more dramatic? By adding some sunbathing dragons into the mix. Indonesia lauds many of the world’s best islands, bragging around 17,000 in total. But it’s Komodo National Park where you’ll find some of the nation’s most unique islands, housing the endemic Komodo Dragon, a giant monitor lizard. Much of the protected park is uninhabited and focused on wildlife encounters. And stumbling upon one of these mind-boggling species, some of which can grow up to three metres in length, far overshadows the pink sand beaches and jaw-dropping isles you’ll cross on the boat ride to reach the lizards. But don’t get too close: Komodo Dragons would have no qualms about eating a human for lunch if provoked.
Luckily, you’ll be touring the island with a well-trained guide. Unluckily, in recent years, the entry permits for the park have sky-rocketed in price. These tightening of restrictions have the aim of preserving the species, but it could equally be argued that protection is being used as an excuse for extreme profit. Still, money aside, visiting Komodo is one of the best things to do in Indonesia to see these Dragons in all their dominating glory. Once you’ve got your heart thumping, slip away to safety at Padar Island for incredible panoramas or pink-tinged beaches for a dose of tanning. Better still, get back on the boat to scuba dive or snorkel. If you’re as lucky as I was, you might jump overboard to find yourself surrounded by circling Manta Rays.
Indonesia travel guide
Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), Australia
If you’ve never heard of a Quokka before, I’m sorry. Meeting one fast became a new life goal as soon as I learned about these smiley, cute critters. But it gets even better. The location to say hey to these adorable marsupials is one of the best islands to visit in Australia – glorious Wadjemup, also known as Rottnest Island. After just a short boat hop from Perth, Western Australia’s capital, you’ll arrive at this car-free island. Slow jaunts on foot or by bike will bring you to salt-white sands and turquoise bays, and laid-back cabin stays will keep you here. Many people come to satisfy their Quokka obsession, but it’s also just a top-notch island for a holiday. Not that it’s always been an island. Thousands of years ago, this idyllic speck was attached to the mainland.
Once you’ve met a Quokka or two and got that selfie – don’t get too close, don’t feed them, and follow Wadjemup’s preservation code – slink off to The Basin’s breathtaking bay to sunbathe, swim, snorkel or SUP. There’s also history and culture to dive into. Learning about the Whadjuk Noongar people, the traditional owners of the land, and how Aboriginal leaders were imprisoned here in the 19th century will give a better understanding of Western Australia’s past.
A weekend in Perth & Rottnest Island
Sado Island, Japan
Sado Island is the polar opposite of Tokyo. There are no skyscrapers or fast-paced living here. Instead, traditions rule supreme, temples dot the interior, and the rugged coastline is a far cry from the capital’s urban sprawl. After riding the speedy Shinkansen train to Niigata, followed by the hydrofoil to Sado, slowing down is obligatory. Once a hive of gold mining activity – a fair chunk of Japan’s wealth originated from here – the closure of Sado’s mines saw the island’s industrial glory days dwindle, and it became something of a time capsule. The mines are still there, but nowadays, on a walk deep underground, you’ll be met by mechanical models of workers (hey, it’s still Japan!) staring at you rather than real employees.
Above ground, the time warp aura continues. Eerie displays of school desks linger in the island’s museum, weathered wooden temples have been reclaimed by nature, and millennia-old lava forms punctuate the coastline – best seen from a traditional round tub boat. Nowhere is the old ways of life more present than in 200-year-old Shukunegi Village, a cluster of wooden homes and welcoming, ageing residents. But what is old is new again at the Taiko Center, home to the world-acclaimed historical drumming practice. Taking a drumming class and breaking Sado’s silence was one of the best things I did on Sado Island. If you want to slip away to a land that time seems to have forgotten, this is one of Asia’s best islands to do so.
Escape to Sado Island
Tucked away off the southeastern African coast, Mauritius might seem more like a honeymoon destination than a unique island escape. And sure, the pristine sands around Grand Baie and Tamarin Bay are ideal for sunbathing while sinking a chilled, local Phoenix beer. But there are countless other things to do in Mauritius that don’t involve kayaking in crystal-clear waters or lounging on sun-kissed bays. Something I quickly learned when a cyclone skimmed by on my visit, resulting in some fast-thinking changes of plans. Instead, I filled my days in Mauritius by going well beyond the beaches.
Hiking in the mountains, monkeys alongside, I found a lush landscape that rivalled the shimmering shoreline. At Bois Cheri Tea Factory, I kayaked across a tranquil lake, picked leaves, and enjoyed a mist-shrouded cuppa. In Grand Bassin, a sacred lake lined with Hindu statues, I delved into Mauritius’ religious and cultural side. Lastly, after traipsing to offbeat waterfalls and marvelling at magnificent Le Morne Brabant – the island’s towering mountain World Heritage Site – I rewarded myself with tours and tastings in rum distilleries. Mauritius isn’t just an excellent island for romantic getaways; there’s plenty for the intrepid, too.
Best places to visit in Mauritius
Moskenesøya, Lofoten, Norway
Picking a favourite Lofoten Island is no easy task. Norway’s beloved archipelago of dramatic volcanic rocks piercing the North Atlantic is spectacular from head to toe. But at a push, I’d argue that Moskenesøya, the island at the end of Lofoten’s tail, is the best island to visit in the archipelago. Simply because the further you get from the mainland, the more lost at sea you start to feel.
Getting here is half of the adventure. I took the scenic train across the Arctic Circle, before traversing the whole archipelago by bus, admiring every cinematic inch of these mystical isles. There’s also a ferry from Bodø, one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture 2024, which is free for food passengers, making exploring Norway’s Nordland region super easy. From the turf-roofed red cabins of Reine, backed by jagged peaks to the sensational white Arctic beach lapped by the cleanest of waters, every second on Moskenesøya will send shivers down your spine.
The Chinampas, Mexico City
I can hear you screaming the question from here: how can there be islands in Mexico City? Well, indulge me here. These are some of the more unique islands on this list. The Chinampas are artificial farming islands and an absolute engineering feat – the first to be built pre-date the Aztec empire, likely constructed around 1200 CE. But this isn’t the only lake-based building work in the city. In fact, nearly all of Mexico City is constructed atop Lake Texcoco – or rather, where it used to be. Drained by the Spanish following their invasion, it was their way of tackling flooding and giving more land for settlement. However, before the colonisation period, the Aztecs already had much more advanced technology and controlled the water levels by canals, ridges, and embankments.
So impressive are the Mesoamerican Chinampas that they form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listing of the city. Once inside the gates protecting the natural zone where migratory birds and age-old farming practices reign, you’ll be able to witness how these timeless techniques continue until this day. The nutrient-rich mud is still scraped from the canals and used to fertilise the island’s soil that, at one time, was responsible for feeding the whole city’s population. Sure, you could just come to Xochimilco to ride the colourful boats and sink cold beers. Or, you could also go inside the protected area, meet the multi-generation farmers who keep this practice alive, and learn a little more about Mexico City’s incredible contribution to civilization.
Mexico City’s Chinampas
Nisyros Island, Greece
Greece is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best beach destinations and brags some of the world’s finest islands for a holiday. Some, such as Santorini, are so famous they are almost sinking under the weight of tourism. But if you fancy a slightly more offbeat, volcanic isle, turn your attention to Nisyros, one of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands. It’s got all the typical Greek island essentials you could want: whitewashed houses, blue tile work, and tavernas dishing out staples. However, you’ll also have the chance to walk inside a hulking caldera for a proper Aegean-enveloped volcano escape.
In fact, the whole island is essentially an active volcano. Thankfully, the last activity was a steam eruption in 1888. There’s still plenty of surface bubbling to gawk at once you’re inside the caldera, but in eruption terms, it’s remained relatively calm for many years. Stefanos – one of the world’s largest hydrothermal craters – is what makes Nisyros one of Europe’s hidden gems. Walk the rim and then descend into the otherworldly landscape to get a close-up of bubbling sulphur. It’s a smelly and spectacular experience. Yet, once you’re back on the coast amongst whitewashed tavernas, cerulean waves and bougainvillaea framed streets, you’ll almost forget you’re holidaying on a volcano.
Visit Nisyros Island
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Scotland’s mountains and lochs are the stuff of legends. Emerald peaks plummet to castle-flanked bodies of water, and the whole country is cinema-worthy. But it’s also home to plenty of incredible islands, lapped by Atlantic waves and flanked by sugar-white sands. The headliner is absolutely the Isle of Skye, where rugged scenery, craggy coastlines and ethereal waterfalls provide some of the UK’s best adventure holidays. Easily accessed from the mainland by bridge or ferry, the largest of the Inner Hebrides is easy to explore. Too easy, some might say, as in summer, it’s miserably overrun. Come in the low season instead. The chiselled landscapes might be cloudy or grey in winter, but this just adds to the drama.
And boy. What drama there is. Medieval castles and bridges in various states of repair dot the landscapes. Myths of fairies will bring you to a clutch of tumbling cascades. Hiking around Quiraing will take you to the pointed, ragged rock finger of the Old Man of Storr, and cosy pubs with cracking Scottish hospitality provide pints and pies if the showers get too much. Bed down in one of Dunvegan Castle’s cottages for one of the more unusual places to stay in Scotland and end each day with a dram of whisky – this is Scotland at its most storied, after all.
The ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Sri Lanka, has had plenty of news coverage in recent years – from being tourism’s new darling to political and economic crises. Beyond the headlines, however, this will forever be a land of tea-shrouded hilltop villages, ocean-calling coastlines, and wildlife writ large. Sri Lanka is one of the best islands in the world to experience a little bit of everything bundled up into a manageable size. The cuisine is outstanding whether you prefer fragrant curries or fresh fish. Wildlife lovers are spoiled with elephant migrations on land or whale spotting in the deep blue. Meanwhile, nature lovers can take their pick of rambling trails through forests, tea plantations, or along foot-print-free glistening shorelines.
Sri Lanka’s UNESCO attractions are mighty. Whether you’re climbing atop a lofty 1500-year-old citadel and admiring ancient cave paintings in Sigiriya and Dambulla or trying to glimpse the Buddha tooth relic in Kandy, there’s plenty of history to uncover. Then, aboard that magical blue train from Kandy to Ella, you’ll be whisked into a verdant landscape a world away from the crowded capital, Colombo. Then there are the swoon-worthy beaches on the south coast. Yes, some problems persist. Perhaps you’ll want to consider taking a Sri Lanka tour by bike to avoid using precious fuel supplies. But no matter how you explore Sri Lanka, I’m pretty confident you’ll be as smitten with this incredible island as I was.
Things to do in Sri Lanka
Aruba may be best known for its resort and palm-fringed beaches, bustling casinos and sometimes chaotic cruise port, but take a short drive away from these, and you’ll find an untouched landscape ripe for adventures. For its size, this top-notch island certainly packs a punch. After you’ve bathed in the crystal-clear waters of the Conchi Natural Pool, paddled around mangrove-shrouded Mangel Halto Beach, and seen the ribbons of duns from atop California Lighthouse, you’ll be ready to appreciate all the other things to do in Aruba.
Love snorkelling or scuba diving? You can swim with turtles around paradisiacal Malmok Beach or discover wrecked ships and plans on a dive. Want a more rugged adventure? Head deep into the arid landscape of the Arikok National Park, where a cacti-stewed landscape leads to skylight-style caves sporting ancient Arawak cave paintings. Seeking culture? Come during the carnival between January and March, when the streets ring loud with steel drums and swishing, colourful costumes. Or head to the second city of San Nicolas for street art and artisan boutiques. Then, at night, sink into a shoreline bar to sip Aruba Aribas, cocktails crafted from the island’s own rum. Aruba isn’t just one of the best islands to visit for beaches; it’s one of the most incredible islands to visit in the Caribbean overall.
Why visit Aruba?
Rugged, mountainous and oh-so splendid, Madeira was built to be explored. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, this is one of Portugal‘s most beautiful islands. And while it’s very much European, its location closer to Africa ensures a warm and pleasant spring-like climate year-round. Perfect for tackling the web of hiking trails that crisscross this volcanic wonder. Most of these trails track levadas (old irrigation channels), leading you deep into dense fern valleys and waterfalls as you track the ingenious old waterways. Others are more adrenaline-fueled, like the Pico Ruivo hike that hugs serrated peaks high above the clouds. Some are simply mystical, especially when you’re in the mists of the UNESCO-protected Laurel Forests.
Necklacing the island are dark sand beaches, such as waterfall-backed Seixal, lava remnants, and natural swimming pools carved by angry waves into basalt rock. Golden sands are in short supply, but on little sister Porto Santo – reachable by ferry in a few hours – you’ll find a nine-kilometre arc for a more typical beach vacation. But that’s not what Madeira is about. Instead, this island is for looking down on banana plantations from some of the world’s highest sea cliffs, learning about local myths and legends in valleys where nuns were cut off from the world for years, or sinking seriously strong ponchas (rum punches) in fishermen’s haunts. There are pretty flower parades and colourful carnivals, and Funchal, with its palaces and gardens, might just be one of Europe’s most underrated cities. But most of all, there’s nature: emerald slopes and the never-ending presence of the Atlantic’s cerulean swirls.
Madeira in Photos
Mont St Michel, France
Once a monastery and then a convent, Mont St Michel is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in Normandy and, indeed, France. It’s also one of the world’s most unique islands. To get here, follow in the footsteps of pilgrims who have been visiting this high-tide island since the 8th century and cross from the mainland by a bridge. Before, this rocky islet was only accessible by the footpath, which appeared during low tide, hence its strategic defensive position. Nowadays, a new permanent road means that access is now much easier. That said, this coastline is home to the highest tides in Europe, meaning the occasional cut-off can occur. Usually, only in the days after a full moon.
While much has changed since those days, the magic and charm of Mont St Michel – especially the Gothic Abbey which crowns the island – remain the same, and you can even stay overnight on the isle for a rather unique weekend break in France. Touring the UNESCO-listed Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel, which sits atop the isle, is the main attraction. Alongside exploring the walkable ramparts and fortifications, such as La Tour Gabriel and Tour du Nord. There’s also a similar island defence system across the English Channel: St Michael’s Mount, one of the best attractions in Cornwall.
A quick guide to Northern France
Maybe Bali shouldn’t be on a list of the best islands to visit these days, I don’t know. What I am sure of is that Indonesia’s ‘Island of the Gods’ is still one of the most special places on the planet – if you know where to go and plan your trip right. Sure, it can be overrun with fellow tourists, digital nomads, and party animals, but what made Bali so magical in the first place – its people, Hindu traditions, and farming customs – are still very much present. I’ve visited Bali more times than anywhere else on this list, and I still treasure every second I spend here. I avoid Kuta, skip Seminyak, and absolutely don’t suggest coming in the rainy season between November to March. Sure, a lot of websites say it’s a great time to come (mainly because Aussies are on Christmas holidays then), but the rainy season washes so much trash from the rivers to the shoreline that it becomes a huge complaint.
Instead, focus on Bali’s cultural sides. Stay on the outskirts of Ubud in a traditional villa and visit less-touristed traditional temple alternatives (Pura Mengening), watch masked kecak dancing and find serenity in further afield rice terraces (Jatiluwih). Book some nights in Uluwatu, Lovina, and Amed, where you’ll still find pockets of calm, dolphin spotting, and great scuba shipwreck diving. Then, slink away to the Lombok and its smaller islands rather than the Nusa or Gill group. Bali and Indonesia overall are incredible – you just need to find the right spots for you.
Where to stay in Bali
K’gari (Fraser Island), Australia
K’gari is the world’s largest island made wholly of sand – all 120 kilometres of it – making it one of the most unique islands to visit. Everything from plane landings to highways takes place on the sand itself, and a 4WD adventure here is one of Australia’s best experiences. It’s easily visited as a day trip from Hervey Bay, but to really soak up Fraser Island’s unusual setting, plan to stay for a couple of nights at one of the country’s best ecotourism destinations.
Once you’ve had your fill of the never-ending beach, swimming, sunbathing and spotting the Maheno Shipwreck stranded on the sand. Head further along the island to bathe in the naturally formed Champagne Pools or take in an epic sunset from the Indian Headland. There are plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities, from dingos and dolphins to turtles and rays – you might even spot a humpback whale during the migratory period. Inland, you can cross the Central Station Rainforest by boardwalk before lounging on the silica sands of Lake McKenzie, a shimmering, immaculate inland lake. Along with the Whitsunday Islands, K’gari is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Queensland.
Exploring Fraser Island
Jamaica has long been one of the Caribbean’s best islands to visit for sun and sand staples. But as I discovered when I spent a month filming a project in Jamaica with EU Aid, there’s plenty more to uncover. Of course, the pristine resort beaches will always be a major pull to Jamaica, as will the art and music culture. Famed as the birthplace of Bob Marley, his museum in Kingston and the Trench Town & Culture Yard Museum draw in the crowds. But there’s very much a lived culture of the arts, too, thanks to groups such as Kingston Creative, who are bringing new murals and music projects to the downtown area. Even if you don’t visit during April’s carnival, regular events will give you a feel for Jamaica’s lust for life.
Then there’s the growing eco-tourism offering, much of which focuses on preserving the island’s nature and blocking more tourism developments. In Cockpit County, one of the most critical nature and water sites in the nation, eco-stays and hiking trails are creating new income and preservation projects for the local community. And no visit would be complete without learning about the Jamaican Maroons, the freedom-chasing former enslaved native population. Sure, come for all the headline acts, like Dunn’s River Falls, Montego Bay’s beaches, Ocho Rios’ tubing and rafting, and savouring Jerk chicken while sipping Red Stripe. But don’t overlook everything else cultured Jamaica has to offer.
Deciding when to visit Iceland will define how you experience this unforgettable landscape. Come in summer, and you’ll find an island ripe for off-road adventures in the interior, first-rate hikes through gorges to remote campsites, and days that almost never end. Head to Iceland in winter, and northern light sightings, snowscapes around frozen lakes, and firework-heavy New Year’s Eve celebrations will offer a polar contrast to the warmer months. What’s constant, no matter the season, is the jaw-dropping scenery. Iceland could be lifted straight from a blockbuster.
Yes, this is a destination for lovers of the great outdoors and oversized adventures. Hike atop glaciers, venture into ice caves, kayak over mirror-like lakes, and maybe even watch volcanoes spewing magma. When you’re ready for something a little less adrenaline-heavy, thermal hot springs, black sand beaches littered with ice diamonds, and cosy cafes in the capital city of Reykjavik await. Walking behind a heart-thumping waterfall and snorkelling in freezing temperatures between two tectonic plates are just two of my favourite memories from this amazing island. I promise you, it’s unforgettable.
Arrive on any of Fiji’s many islands, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a Bula! welcome worthy of long-lost friends. Out here in the South Pacific, the beaches are, of course, divine. Whether you’re island-hopping between luxury resorts, taking a boat out to a floating bar, island-hopping trip with some local fishermen, or escaping to a sandbar slither, it goes without saying that these are some of the best islands for a beach holiday in the world. Yet, to really do Fiji justice, you need to get beyond the all-inclusive and fancy boat trips and dive into the country’s soul.
Spend a few days sailing around the Yasawa Islands to witness some of the most pristine and best islands to visit across the archipelago. Bathe in Viti Levu’s mud springs for that thermal healing feeling. Experience a traditional Fiji kava ceremony. Explore the trails and peaks of Koroyanitu National Heritage Park. Zipline above the tree canopy. Hunt out waterfalls for bathing. Even if you base yourself on Denarau Island, there are plenty of day trips from Nadi, not just to other islands but also to local communities and villages inland, to learn more about Fijian culture and history.
Explore Fiji on day trips from Nadi
Singapore is one of the most futuristic, clean and contemporary island states in the world. But it’s much more than its over-the-top downtown. You’ve got the gorgeous green spaces around Gardens by the Bay, street food and culture galore in Little India or Singapore’s China Town, and theme parks strung together by cable cars. Singapore isn’t just a country on an island; it’s spread across more than 60 beautiful islands. Many of which retain their distinct personality.
Take Pulau Ubin, one of the best islands to get away from modern-day Singapore. Hop on a traditional Bumboat (not a typo) and head to this overgrown, jungle-like escape. Explore the mangroves, wooden boardwalks and craggy coastline by bike, and you might even stumble across the large lizards that still thrive on this protected island. Then there’s Sentosa, where gorgeous artificial beaches vie for attention with world-class entertainment. Out on Coney Island, forest walks to a handful of secluded beaches are a joy. Singapore’s islands can be as modern or laid-back as you like.
Singapore travel guide
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Saving the best to last… Raja Ampat, an archipelago in the far east of Indonesia, are the best islands I’ve ever visited – especially for scuba diving. Out here, off the coast of West Papua, I was transported to that tropical postcard. You know, the perfect dreamy mix of palms, silica sands, and verdant islands shrouded just a handful of wooden cabins far removed from the modern world. Sadly, in the years since I went to Raja Ampat, a lot has changed. Larger luxury hotels have started to be built and small liveaboard scuba ships are being replaced by larger, reef-damaging vessels. All of this has put pressure on the pristine landscapes and local communities. So if you are considering a visit to Raja Amapt, really think about it – especially as it’s going to take a big chunk of time to get out there.
But once you do arrive, prepare to be amazing. With a mesmerising mix of micro-climates, marine life teeming reefs – reportedly, these are the most diverse scuba diving sites in the world – and well-preserved local customs and traditions, Raja Ampat is incredible in every way. Opt for local, community-led tourism stays such as this lodge on Kri Island or other options on the local homestay portal. Life is laid-back and simple out here, and that’s its appeal. I only had electricity for a couple of hours a day by generator, meals were caught and eaten communal styles, and my wooden hut certainly was sleeping more animals than me. But every morning at sunrise, when I stepped out of the door directly into translucent warm waters teeming with baby sharks, I knew there was no greater paradise on this planet.
How to visit Raja Ampat on a budget
Given the horrific and ongoing humanitarian crises in Yemen, I was torn about whether to include the Socotra archipelago. But, as Socotra is some 600 kilometres away from the mainland and isolated in the northwest Indian Ocean, nearer the coast of Somalia than its home nation, its tourism offerings are vastly different. I haven’t physically been to Socotra, although I have in my dreams countless times. But one day, I hope I will have the chance to explore one of the most fascinating islands to visit in the whole world. The endemic fauna, flora, paradisiacal beaches, and traditional way of life make it particularly interesting. Still, this isn’t somewhere to come for photoshoots and topping up your tan.
Socotra’s ecosystem is delicate, and Yemen’s recent history is complicated – UAE has a military base here – making it a biodiverse and unique island to visit for those with vested interests in the special offering. If you opt to visit Socotra after weighing up the reality, you’ll be rewarded with the chance to see one of the most unexplored and special places on our planet. Check out my friend Nicole’s photo post on Socotra to see more of what I mean, or consider joining one of her tours to Socotra.