Culebra, Puerto Rico
No bananas grow here, bur the island is still called La Isla Chiquita, a nickname for a little island just east of the Puerto Rican mainland whose coat of arms features a sceptre and a snake. As if that weren’t cool enough, Culebra’s most attention-grabbing feature is its day-glo blue waters, made particularly clear and brilliant by the absence of any run-off. And with its miles of sandy beaches, some evocatively peppered with disused American military hardware, this is a mighty pleasant isle to run off to. This onetime pirate’s lair is now the domain of nesting green sea turtles and savvy visitors who know that it’s just an easy ferry ride from Fajardo (on Puerto Rico) that transports them to this Caribbean dream.
Ile d’Orleans, Quebec, Canada
It may be located just over three miles from Quebec City, but Ile d’Orleans is without question a treasure island. Its long and slender form parked in a wide section of the St. Lawrence River gives it a Manhattan-style aspect, but in every other it’s the polar opposite. Peaceful and green, Ile d’Orleans is like a microcosm of the Quebecois countryside, and it packs quite a bit of history. The ancient Huron called it “Minigo,” meaning “Enchantress.” Jacques Cartier stepped ashore in 1535 and was also presumably enchanted, not least by the wild grapes he found growing on the island. French colonial history runs deep here, in spots like Le Manoir Mauvide-Genest, built in 1734 and now a heritage museum. Drive along the meandering roads and stop to buy some of the sweetest strawberries you’ll find anywhere. From one point you can see the Montmorency Falls. Get to the island via the Ile d’Orleans Bridge from the mainland.
Fakarava, French Polynesia
Overshadowed in popularity by neighbors Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea, Fakarava is a pristine Polynesian island enveloped by a coral reef and blue lagoon waters. It’s part of a UNESCO nature reserve and rich in natural fauna, offers pink-sand beaches, and is rife with rare aquatic life that includes loach, meru, and barracuda – not to mention hammerhead and tiger sharks. Not surprisingly, scuba diving is this undiscovered island’s top draw, but other attractions include the ancient village of Tetamanu (www.tetamanuvillage.pf), where you’ll find a Catholic church made of coral that dates back to 1874, and pearl farms, where rare black pearls are shelled.
Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands, a stunning volcanic archipelago just off the western coast of Lazio, midway between Rome and Naples. But it’s still pretty small, just 5.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide (at the widest). Foreign visitors remain something of a rarity, but many Italians, including some famous fashionistas are known to frolic on the island. Here, visitors spend warm lazy days at pristine beaches such as Chiaia di Luna (Half Moon Beach), and scuba dive to discover such underwater treasures as sunken ships and coral beds. According to Andrea Sertoli of Select Italy, which can customize tours to Ponza and neighboring islands, “everyone runs to Capri, but Ponza has escaped mass tourism and remains a secret gem.” Avoid the craziness of Naples by taking a ferry from Terracina or Formio instead.
Surin Islands, Thailand
The Surin Islands are located some 43 miles offshore from Thailand’s Phang Nga province, which is centered on the mainland’s Andaman Sea coast. Cinema buffs may recognize the area’s exquisitely chiseled rock formations, which seem to rise straight up from the sea, from the James Bond classic The Man with the Golden Gun, part of which was filmed on an island in Phang Nga bay. But the Surin archipelago, which numbers five islands, takes unspoiled and exotic to the next level: the whole chain is a national park, famous for its pristine coral reefs. One of the best scuba spots in these parts (or anywhere, for that matter) is Richelieu Rock, a reef with a wealth of purple corals discovered by Jacques Cousteau. Here the likes of parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, and whale sharks, the so-called “kind giants of the sea,” abound. For those who prefer to stick to the shore, the islands offer plenty of bleach-white sandy beaches and other placid charms. You can take a nature hike on the largest of the Surins, Ko Surin Nuea, but look out for flying lemurs. To get to the Surin Islands, take a ferry from points along the Phang Nga coast.
Kenya’s oldest living settlement, Lamu boasts golden sands fronting the Indian Ocean, tiny villages, and a breezy, slow-moving pace of life. It’s an undiscovered island that offers a glimpse into the past – a place where donkeys are the main mode of transportation and residents still keep their arms and legs covered out of respect while out in town (it is strictly Islamic). The rich atmosphere and history alone makes Lamu worth the trek, but so do its beaches: Shela Beach offers the best swimming, while excursions to ruins and coral reefs could have you snorkeling alongside frolicking dolphins.
Monhegan Island, Maine
Though artists have sought out this remote, car-free destination for over a century, Monhegan largely remains an undiscovered island. Full-time residents number around 75, whose main occupation is fishing or lobstering supplemented by an artists’ colony and tourism. Visitors who make the hour-long ferry ride from the Maine mainland can discover firsthand the beauty and simplicity of the village and surrounding landscape. Lobster Cove in particular draws nature lovers for its bird-watching and coastal views. Don’t miss the Monhegan Museum (www.monheganmuseum.org), housed in what was once a lighthouse and residence – it showcases the history of the community and boasts an extensive collection of local artwork. There are a handful of quaint inns and cottage rentals to choose from, though note that some accommodations are only open May through October.
Les Saintes, a spectacular cluster of eight undiscovered islands situated just off the coast of Guadeloupe and accessible only by ferry or private yacht, is the very essence of French West Indies life – without the crowds, to boot. Terre-de-Haut is the most appealing of them all, with its attractive beaches, mouth-watering Creole cuisine, and laid-back French-speaking locals; it also has the most options for overnight accommodations of Les Saintes’ islands. Beach bums will love the powdery white sands of the palm-lined Plage de Pompierre, while the spectacular underwater world of colorful reefs and exotic fish (attracting divers as renowned as Jacques Cousteau) makes scuba diving and snorkeling another huge draw. Rent a golf cart or motorbike to get around (you won’t find much in the way of cars here) and zip around to a different beach at dawn, midday, and dusk.
Water Island, USVI
Water Island is located a stone’s throw (okay, a five-minute ferry ride) from Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands located on the island of Saint Thomas, but in some respects it’s a world away. With fewer than 500 acres, Water Island is the smallest of the USVI. Like other islands in the group, it was a Danish possession before it passed to American hands. Historically, its freshwater ponds – a rarity in these parts – made the island a popular spot for pirates. These days, you can indulge your buccaneer spirit with a swim at Honeymoon Beach or a ramble among the ruins of old cotton plantations. You can camp on the island or ramp up the comfort level with a stay at the Water Island Cottage and Apartments, located on the scenic seaside Providence Point.
The spectacular underwater world of colorful reefs and exotic fish (attracting divers as renowned as Jacques Cousteau) makes scuba diving and snorkeling another huge draw. Rent a golf cart to get around (you won’t find much in the way of cars here) and zip around to a different beach at dawn, midday, and dusk.
Part of a remote tropical archipelago in the midst of the Pacific, Yap is the most intriguing destination in the island nation of Micronesia. Having managed to escape most outside influences, like colonization and mass tourism, the undiscovered island’s traditional way of life remains both authentic and distinct: Legends are portrayed in colorful dances; village women dress in grass skirts, the men in brightly colored loincloths; and ancient stone money discs are still used as local tender (though the U.S. dollar is the official currency). Spend your days hiking among the island’s rolling green hills, mangrove forests, and antiquated stone paths or, go off and explore the ocean’s coral reefs and swim with dolphins and magnificent manta rays.