When it comes to an island vacation, that usually means Hawaii or the Bahamas for most people—depending on which coast is closer. But why go with the boring, old traditional vacation package of mai tais and cabana rentals?
Here are a few truly offbeat island you won’t want to miss. They’re obscure, but not too obscure to be accessible by plane or boat.
#1: The Falklands
Just off the coast of Argentina, surrounded by the cold water of the South Atlantic, is a hotly contested island which even instigated a war between the UK and Argentina. But don’t be worried—that war is long over, and now the rugged terrain and cliff-lined coasts of the Islas Malvinas are the perfect destination for nature-loving rough riders. The biggest town is Stanley (2,900), but the main residents of the island (the ones who get all the press), are the extensive populations of penguins, seals, and albatross.
#2: Skellig Michael
If you’ve ever wondered what life was like for Medieval monks who elected to live a life solitude in the middle of nowhere, you won’t be disappointed by a trip to Skellig Michael, a remote rocky outcropping off the bigger “Emerald Isle” (Ireland). The island was occupied by Christian Monks from the 6th to 13th centuries, who left behind stone ruins, meandering paths, and dizzying stairways. Not to be missed are the unique stone beehives that were part and parcel of Celtic architecture. Though the island is remote, it’s popular, receiving more than 11,000 visitors per year; the Irish government has capped the number of daily visitors at 180.
Though the name sounds like a ferocious pirate or viking warrior, it’s actually the name of an island far off the coast of Norway (and it fittingly means “cold shores”). Svalbard is even closer to the North Pole than it’s more popular cousin, Iceland. The houses of the main town, Longyearbyen, are iconically colorful against the almost-eternally winter backdrop. It’s a great place to catch the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) a colorful, shimmering display in the night sky caused by colliding gas particles. Most of the 3,000 residents of Longyearbyen are foreign—perhaps attracted by the low crime rate (you can’t live there unless you have a job and an address).
The amazing thing about Male, the capital of the Maldives, is that the city literally covers the entire island. It’s population is almost 100,000, but surprisingly it’s only the 8th most densely populated island on the planet. Though the Maldives are less popular than the islands of the Pacific, it’s still home to many tropical resorts…you know, the ones with thatch-roofed homes lifted out of azure waters by stilts. They aren’t all local mom-and-pop operations either; Westin, Fairmont, and the Four Seasons all have hotels there.
#5: Tristan da Cunha
What do you do with a French general who has already escaped from exile, returned to Europe, and mustered up an army to once again take the world by storm? Send him to a remote island in the middle of nowhere. Or rather, in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re willing to take a six-day boat ride or a biweekly flight from South Africa, you can visit one of the most isolated communities on Earth, and the place where Napoleon spent his final years. The 250 inhabitants of St. Helena are subjects of the British Crown, who once had to evacuate them under the threat of an impending volcanic eruption. But don’t let that stop you from hiking the incredible rocky landscape or swimming with whale sharks!