Uncharted Isles

On these seven islands, you're guaranteed to get there before anyone you know.

By , Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008, 12:00 AM

WALES
Skomer Island
The secret is out about Skomer—among birds, anyway. Nearly half a million puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and razorbills build nests in the lichen-covered cliffs of the 721-acre nature reserve off mainland Wales. The birds far outnumber the dozen or so humans on Skomer, just a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Martin's Haven (Dale Sailing, 011-44/1646-603-123, $18 round trip). Crisscrossed with hiking trails, the island is protected by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. A maximum of 250 people may visit per day, but there's only room for 15 overnight guests in a converted barn (shown here) where scientists conduct most of their research (011-44/1239-621-600, welshwildlife.org, $139). If you visit between May and July, when the majority of birds are nesting, you'll hear the eerie serenade of the rare Manx shearwater; there are more than 200,000 of them on Skomer. "They have this really wacky call, like a crazy chicken crossed with a pigeon," says Jo Milborrow, the island's wildlife warden. "The legend is that they're the souls of sailors." —Amy Laughinghouse

NICARAGUA
Corn Islands
Even the pirates of the Caribbean took a vacation from plundering, and to this day, their hideaway has remained a fairly hidden treasure. Forty miles off mainland Nicaragua, the Corn Islands are still populated by the descendants of buccaneers. On Great Corn Island—one-hour La Costeña flights depart daily from Managua (011-505/263-2142, from $164)—the only attractions are sand and sea, including a reef that surrounds a 400-year-old Spanish galleon. "If you get bored here, then you don't know how to unwind," says Jeff Johnson, an expat from Washington, D.C. "Not doing anything is the point." Great Corn is a metropolis compared with the 1.4-square-mile Little Corn Island. The $6 ferry from Great Corn drops you off near the two best places to stay: Hotel Los Delfines (011-505/820-2242, hotellosdelfines.com.ni, from $50) and Casa Iguana, which relies on solar power because of spotty electricity (casaiguana.net, from $35). Despite the wonky infrastructure, Little Corn has pockets of sophistication: Paola Carminiani serves up a taste of her Italian homeland with three-course dinners at Farm, Peace & Love (farmpeacelove.com, $15). Just bring a flashlight so you can find your way back through the jungle. —Paul Katz

GREECE
Kíthira Island
Mythical characters dwell everywhere on Kíthira, just eight miles off the tip of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Here's the pool where Aphrodite bathed. Over there, you can see the cave where Helen and Paris are believed to have sought refuge. Except for the six weeks starting in mid-July, Kíthira is a sleepy place with compact medieval villages that are home to ancient grain mills, Byzantine chapels, and cheerful wooden beehives that are painted yellow, blue, or white. (Kíthira's thyme-scented honey is so coveted that the annual production sells out within weeks.) Lodging on the island consists of small hotels and inns. In the whitewashed capital of Chora (shown here), the 12-room Hotel Margarita faces the sea (hotel-margarita.com, from $111). An even better base for exploring is one of the villages in the center, such as Mitata, where a beekeeper has opened Aplinori, an inn where guests can learn how to make honey and cheese (011-30/27-36-033-010, from $79 including breakfast). One-hour Olympic Airlines flights to Kíthira depart daily from Athens (800/223-1226, olympicairlines.com, $263 round trip). —Ann Banks

AUSTRALIA
Rottnest Island
The name Rottnest is unsuitable for such a beautiful place—after all, the island has more than 60 white-sand beaches. Blame Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh, who discovered the island in 1696, mistook the marsupial quokkas for rats, and named the place "rat's nest." After a 70-year stretch as a penal colony, the island, 12 miles off mainland Australia, has become a popular day trip from Perth (rottnestexpress.com.au, $66 round trip). The best way to tour the salt lakes in the interior is to rent a bicycle through Rottnest Bike Hire (rottnestisland.com, $17 per day). The reefs around the island are great for snorkeling; Oceanic Cruises leads excursions to shipwrecks off Kingston Reef (oceaniccruises.com.au, from $22). Most visitors come just for the day, but there are lodgings—cabins and bungalows (shown here) managed by the island authority (rottnestisland.com, from $41). Before heading back to catch the ferry, stop for some Victoria Bitter beer and a platter of fish, scallops, and oysters at the Rottnest Tearooms Bar & Café (011-61/8-9292-5171, rottnesttearooms.com). —Justin Bergman

FRENCH POLYNESIA
Fakarava Island
The island's single road wasn't paved until 2003, in anticipation of a visit by then French president Jacques Chirac (he never arrived, nor did he give a reason why). But that certainly helped put Fakarava on the map—unlike its more populated neighbors Bora-Bora and Tahiti, Fakarava is home to about 500 residents. In the center of Rotoava village is the Relais Marama, the one pension in town with oceanfront bungalows (relais-marama.com, from $106). For divers and snorkelers, the northern Garuae Pass and the southern Tumakohua Pass have pristine coral reefs that are accessible through outfitter Te Ava Nui (divingfakarava.com, from $80). You'll have to travel for a full day to get to and from Tumakohua—the pass is only reachable by boat—but it's worth the trip. The nearby village of Tetamanu has a church built entirely out of coral, as well as several black-pearl farms that give free tours. A pension on the outskirts of Rotoava, Pearl Guest House Havaiki, will even allow you to snorkel to its oyster farm with the owner and keep any pearls you find (011-689/93-40-15, havaiki.com, tours from $40). One-hour flights to Fakarava depart from Papeete, Tahiti, once daily (airtahiti.com, from $437 round trip). —Lynwood Lord

INDONESIA
Sumba Island
Legend has it that Sumba's first inhabitants descended a ladder from heaven, but as soon as their feet hit the ground, they started battling. The natives' reputation convinced European traders to avoid the island in southern Indonesia, leaving it relatively undeveloped for centuries. The warrior culture lives on in the annual Pasola ritual war festival held each February and March, in which horsemen from various tribes joust using spears. For more mellow activities, the island's southern coast has great surfing—12-foot swells are not uncommon—and a community-minded (although expensive) resort called Nihiwatu. The hotel has day trips to nearby villages, where you can chew betel nut with the locals, buy colorful ikat cloth, and volunteer at a clinic funded by the resort (nihiwatu.com, day tours from $25). The more affordable Sumba Nautil Resort is down the coast (sumbanautilresort1.com, from $116). One-hour Transnusa Air Service flights to Sumba depart from Bali (transnusa.co.id, $207 round trip). —Susan Crandell

PERU
Amantaní Island
Few places have a welcoming committee quite like the one on Amantaní, an island in Lake Titicaca: Aymara Indian women wearing embroidered black tunics line the dock and wave to visitors as they disembark from the ferry arriving from the city of Puno. After living in relative isolation for centuries, residents on the island began to allow overnight stays about 10 years ago. There are no cars or roads, and quinoa and barley are grown by hand—as they have been for centuries—on hillside terraces. Stone hiking paths lead to the island's two highest peaks, Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Pachatata (Father Earth). During the Fiesta de la Santa Tierra each January, the residents form dual processions from temples built atop Pachamama and Pachatata to the main village, also called Amantaní, where everyone dances late into the night. Tour operator Edgar Adventures will arrange farmstays with several families that take turns hosting visitors (edgaradventures.com, $27 including the four-hour ferry ride). "The Aymara live simply on what they produce," says guide Fredy Manrique. "It made me realize that you can be happy with very little—that you don't necessarily need to have big houses and cars." —Justin Bergman

ISLAND ESCAPES

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