Best Secret Islands on Earth
Bahamas: Sampson Cay and Exuma Cays
Partially protected from commercial activity since 1959, the Exuma Cays are normally the domain of cruisers—and a few privileged landowners such as Johnny Depp. But guests at Sampson Cay have access to the area’s thriving patch reefs and isolated islets. At the Sampson Cay Club (877/633-0305; sampsoncayclub.com; doubles from $275), the five modest villas include wide patios that are perfect for watching the sunset. While the limestone karst terrain may be rugged, every path ends on a stretch of secluded white sand.
Belize: Caye Caulker
There’s nary a traffic light on this laid-back island—a five-mile strip of land that’s a 15-minute flight from Belize’s main airport. Head to Shark Ray Alley to snorkel among nurse sharks and stingrays or go scuba diving at the underwater caves of Blue Hole. Aboveground, try the curried lobster at the roadside Jolly Roger’s Grill (Ave. Hicaco; 011-501/664-3382; dinner for two $25). On the eastern side of the Caye, Seaside Cabanas (501/226-0498; seasidecabanas.com; doubles from $105) has 10 rooms and six colorful cabins, each with its own roof terrace for taking in those amazing Caribbean views.
Don’t expect to see much night sky here: in summer, daylight shines for up to 21 hours on this rocky one-mile hideaway in Breiðafjörður Bay. Lush meadows and multicolored timber houses dot the scenery, and the mainland’s Snæfellsjökull volcano is always within eyeshot. In town, Flatey (354/555-7788; hotelflatey.is; doubles from $180) stays true to simple Scandinavian design (blond-wood furniture; whitewashed walls), and the downstairs restaurant turns into a live-concert venue for local talent at night.
India: Andaman Islands
These 550 atolls in the Bay of Bengal have all the prerequisites for an idyllic getaway—with an added dose of culture. You can still see a few ancient indigenous tribes. The island of Havelock, a two-hour ferry ride from Port Blair, is arguably the most appealing, thanks to its bone-white beaches. Book a sea-facing villa at the new SilverSand Beach Resort (91-3192/282-493; silversandhavelock.com; doubles from $130) and ask the staff to take you on a trek to the Kala Pather forest.
Indonesia: Gili Trawangan
Searching for the Bali of, say, 1970? Head to Gili Trawangan, a tiny island near Lombok dotted with countless waterside cafés. No motorized traffic is allowed here—the best way to get around is to rent a bicycle or use your own two feet. The daily agenda involves nothing more than fishing, diving, or kicking back with a cold beer at Scallywag (South Beach; 62-370/645-301; lunch for two $30). On the southern coast, Vila Ombak (hotelombak.com; doubles from $150) has 115 airy oceanfront rooms.
Diving enthusiasts flock to Mabul, off the northeastern coast of Malaysia, where the exotic marine life is on a par with the Galápagos—native sea moths, bobtail squids, and the elusive paintpot cuttlefish are just a few of the inhabitants. At Sipadan Water Village Resort (6-089/784-227; swvresort.com; doubles from $365), the 45 stilted bungalows are cooled by constant sea breezes.
This tiny Mediterranean island is where Odysseus was “held captive” by Calypso after the Trojan War. Take one look at the landscape, and it’s no wonder he stayed seven years. Rolling hills, crumbling castle walls, and a Bronze Age fortress are some of the most endearing features. Check in to Hotel Ta’ Cenc & Spa (Cenc St., Sanat; 356/2219-1000; tacenchotel.com; doubles from $260), with 85 stone bungalows overlooking the sea. From there, it’s a short drive to Dwejra Bay, where you can take a dip, then munch on pastizzi at Tapie’s Bar (St. Francis Square; lunch for two $20).
Locked in a shallow lagoon, this fish-shaped island has served as a paparazzi-free bolt-hole for Prince William in years past. With its verdant valleys and numerous islets, it’s a haven for hikers and kite-surfers, too. Stay at the beachfront Mourouk Ebony Hotel (011-230/832-3351; mouroukebonyhotel.com; doubles from $205), with 34 Creole-style rooms. For freshly caught seafood, don’t miss Coralie la Diffe’rence (Countour Oblasse; 230/832-1071; dinner for two $40).