10 Great Islands You've Never Heard Of!
You escape to an island for that splendid sense of isolation. The problem is, lots of other travelers have the exact same idea. These days, getting away from it all requires some creativity
What you'll find in this story: Island escapes, secluded vacations, unique vacation ideas, island getaways, islands in Australia, Panama, Scotland, the Azores, France, Mexico, Fiji, Croatia, Brazil and Japan
Australia, Kangaroo Island
When white men first set foot on the 1,738-square-mile island off the south coast of Australia, they were able to stroll up to kangaroos and club them for food (hence the island's name). Because there were no natural predators, the kangaroos didn't have the instinct to flee. Today, Kangaroo Island remains free of foxes and dingoes and serves as a sanctuary for hundreds of species of animals and birds. Koalas, kangaroos, sea lions, penguins, and wallabies can all be seen at close range. The wildlife is so spectacular that the unspoiled beaches, craggy rock formations, and eucalyptus forests get second billing.
Kangaroo Island is a 30-minute flight from Adelaide (011-61/2-6393-5550, regionalexpress.com.au, $90 round trip), or 45 minutes by ferry from Cape Jervis (011-61/8-8202-8688, sealink.com.au, $41). Rather than booking transportation and exploring on your own, it's smarter to buy a package that includes lodging and a tour. Many animal habitats aren't marked, and even from a moving vehicle a good guide can point out echidnas--small porcupine-like creatures--and other animals that you'd probably never see. Adventure Charters, one of the best operators, charges $610 for air from Adelaide, a full day of touring, one night and dinner at a top B&B, and a classic "barbie in the bush," with grilled fish under a canopy (011-61/8-8553-9119, adventurecharters.com.au). Or try the Wayward Bus, which is geared more to backpackers and includes one night in a motel, meals, and two days of touring for $234 (011-61/8-8410-8833, waywardbus.com.au). --Margaret Borden
Panama, Isla Bastimentos
Blissfully lost in the Bocas del Toro region of northwestern Panama, Bastimentos comprises almost everything that's not underwater in a 51-square-mile marine preserve speckled with reefs. Just off adjacent Zapatilla Cay, ribbons of light ripple over 30-foot walls of coral. The four-mile stretch of Playa Larga serves as a critical nesting site for four species of sea turtles. Monkeys gambol in the rain forest, to a sound track of toucans and oropendolas. The region is particularly known for the tiny scarlet-vested poison dart frogs that hop around the forest floor. (They're harmless as long as you don't ingest the venom or allow it to enter an open wound.)
Daily one-hour flights from Panama City land in Bocas, a funky seaside town that blends Caribe creole with Afro-Cuban patois (Aeroperlas, 011-507/315-7500, aeroperlas.com, from $60 each way). From there, grab a water taxi ($5) for the 10-minute trip to Bastimentos. Beaches and snorkeling sites are everywhere, and boatmen will take you to countless reefs for a couple of hours for around $15. Or negotiate for a ride to the Ngobe village, where curious children swarm visitors, local artisans sell tribal carvings, and guides lead hikes through the forest. At the end of the island opposite the pier is the ecoresort Al Natural, where a boat ride transfer, three meals a day, use of kayaks and snorkel gear, and a private cabana start at $75 a night per person (011-507/757-9004, bocas.com/alnatura.htm, no credit cards). On a tiny island just off of Bastimentos, Coral Cay Cabins offers a similar package but with two meals a day and use of a wooden canoe (011-507/626-1919, bocas.com/coralcay.htm, from $75 per person). --Jeff Hull
Scotland, Isle of Harris
The isles of Harris and Lewis--one landmass divided by a narrow isthmus and the vagaries of clan history--sit on the edge of the Atlantic abyss. Tip to tip, the land measures 60 miles, but driving from one end to the other on its twisting one-lane roads while dodging wayward sheep can take the better part of a day. The rugged granite ridges, humped green mountains, fishing villages, mysterious ancient ruins, and serene lochs are all somewhat de rigueur in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. It's Harris's sparkling sands and a sea as cobalt as the Caribbean that come as a brilliant surprise.
The ferry ride from Skye takes about two hours (Caledonian MacBrayne, calmac.co.uk, round trip from $30, $148 with a car). Five miles south of the port at Tarbert, the Sandview House B&B stands above a long crescent of soft, sandy beach (6 Scarista, 011-44/1859-550212, from $96 double). The hosts' first language is Gaelic, as it is for most people in the area. All bedrooms have a view of the sea, and corncrakes--among the world's rarest, most secretive birds--occasionally strut by the window during breakfast. Wrap yourself in thick tweed and make way to the south of Harris, where the mountains and empty moorlands invite hikers. Stop in for tea, a plate of risotto, or a crock of scallops at the luxurious Rodel Hotel, built at land's end in the shadows of the 500-year-old St. Clement's Church (011-44/1859-520210, rodelhotel.co.uk, rooms from $200, full meals about $50). Over on Lewis, the Standing Stones of Callanish--huge slabs arranged in the shape of a cross--would probably be as famous as Stonehenge if they were on the mainland. --J.H.
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