There are an estimated 180,497 islands in the world, from uninhabited tropical paradises to freezing penguin colonies in the Antarctic to bustling metropolises like Hong Kong. Each year, millions of people trawl through sites and guidebooks in their quest for the perfect island getaway. And when they get there, they discover that more than a few other people have had the same idea. So we’ve asked the travel experts over at Insight Guides to pick out five of the most underrated – but amazing – islands in the world.
According to Greek mythology, Odysseus spent seven years wandering this island, and it’s not hard to see why. This sleepy little island has a steadily declining population, as the young move inland to the city. Their loss is your gain. One side of this island is covered with picturesque beaches near the town of Saplunara, while the other is a lush national park with two saltwater lakes, a charming monastery, and abundance of beauteous walks. The island of Mljet is just a one-hour journey by boat from the resort town Dubrovnik.
A little brother to St. Kitt’s, this smaller, less developed isle is often overlooked — mistakenly. The landscape of this largely unspoiled island is dominated by Nevis Peak, which stands at 3,232 feet tall. Dense, verdant rainforest carpets the slopes of the mountain and pushes out as far as the coast, where it’s met by pristine white sandy shores. There are a handful of hotels and resorts on the island and an 18-hole golf course.
Frequently forgotten in favor of its hip southern sisters Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Chang fully merits its place on this list. One of Thailand’s largest islands, Koh Chang is mainly uninhabited – the mountainous center of the island is consumed by dense, rocky jungle, waterfalls and hiking trails. “Koh” means island and “chang” means elephant – the island has a large pachyderm population. The isle’s varied coastline hosts beaches and secluded luxury resorts. There are several smaller islands to the south, such as Koh Mak, Koh Rang and Koh Klum, which are all worth exploring too.
Spain has so much more to offer than Mallorca, Majorca and Ibiza. The Guardian named the Cies Islands as the best beach in the world, but despite this accolade, they remain largely underrated. Comprising three islands off the northwest coast of Spain, this archipelago is reachable by ferry from several Spanish ports during summer months, including Vigo. With an official population of just three, the islands are a protected marine reserve; there are just three hotels and a handful of restaurants. Upon arriving, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the tropics: The sand is powdery white and the sea is turquoise and crystal-clear. The islands are among the most idyllic in the world, with the half-mile-long, 300-foot-wide Rodas Beach the main attraction.
Just off the east coast of Puerto Rico’s main island, Vieques is another island often overlooked in favor of its larger neighbor. It’s the place to go for nature and peace and quiet. With a population of just less than 1,000, the island’s natural beauty has been left unscathed by the lack of major development – there are no high-rise buildings or built-up areas, and there are just a handful of hotels and restaurants. One of the isle’s main natural attractions is the bioluminescent plankton, which can be seen in the ocean at night, glowing an alluring range of colors from neon green to electric blue.