In the dead of winter, basically nothing sounds better than a beach. Whether you like to scuba dive, surf, spot wildlife, or just laze about in the sun, a sandy sojourn is pretty much always the ticket to rejuvenation during the hibernation-and-hygge-heavy months. (Which are also great in their own way!)
And because so many people think about heading somewhere warm when the temps drop, buzzier beaches tend to be overrun with tourists this time of year. So, if you’re looking for a great escape, sans crowds, consider taking a chance on somewhere you (and most people you know) have never been.
These 11 under-the-radar-islands should take you beyond daydreaming about warmer weather—the pictures are inspo enough to get you to a beach blanket, stat.
1. Nosy Ankao, Madagascar
“Head to the Northern coast of Madagascar and you will find a fusion of The Galapagos Islands and the Caribbean,” says luxury travel company Black Tomato‘s co-founder Tom Marchant. “The very off-the-grid little island, Nosy Ankao, is teeming with amazing wildlife—80 percent of which can be found nowhere else on Earth—and over the summer, travelers can watch humpback whales off the coast in the shallow waters.”
The island’s newly-opened hotel Miavana offers an infinity pool, which looks right out onto the Indian Ocean, helicopters to take you to nearby islands, and a museum called the Cabinet of Curiosities, among other amenities. The property is comprised of just 14 solar-powered villas, and is located in a protected area. One recommended activity includes a three-hour walk along the beach to an abandoned lighthouse, from which you can see epic views stretching in all directions. Oh, and lemurs can be found nearby, too.
2. Palau, Micronesia
Palau is located in the Pacific Ocean, (sort of) near the Philippines. Though it’s still relatively off-the-radar for most Americans, it’s so overwhelmingly popular with tourists from other countries that the government halved the number of flights coming in from China in order to cut down on the footprint of tourism. In another similar measure, the country recently instituted the “Palau Pledge,” which visitors must sign before entering the country. It reads: “I take this pledge as your guest, to protect and preserve your beautiful island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully.”
There’s much to protect, too. Lonely Planet calls the area surrounding it the “Underwater Serengeti,” and the country became host to the first shark sanctuary in the world in 2009. Diving is popular here, as is snorkeling and kayaking. WWII relics and museums are also a draw, as are the island’s dense jungles.
3. Coral Caye, Belize
Maybe you’ve heard of Turtle Inn, the Belizean getaway owned by the Coppola family. But perhaps you’re less familiar with its newer resort offering, Coral Caye, which Marchant describes as an “airy bohemian sanctuary where tranquil Belizean waters lap against isolated shores.” The private island, which sleeps 10–12 people in the two cottages on site and in tents, totals just two acres.
There are no televisions or phones (in case you’re on an analog travel kick). Wi-Fi is spotty here, too, and all services are provided by just one staff member including cooking, (light) cleaning, and just about anything else you may need. “Mornings are spent snorkeling amid a thriving reef, afternoons unwinding with an al-fresco massage, and evenings dining beneath the stars—a lesson in the art of island living,” says Marchant.
4. Pantelleria, Italy
This island, long an in-the-know secret of sorts, was made famous (ish) thanks to its part in the 2015 film A Bigger Splash starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. Yet despite the added attention, it remains significantly less traveled than other Mediterranean destinations. “Travelers won’t find signs of commerciality or tourism anywhere on the island, making it one of the most relaxing and luxurious holiday destinations available in Italy,” says Marchant, who suggests staying at the hotel Sikelia and exploring the surrounding bays and natural volcanic wonders.
Don’t expect white (or pink or black) sandy beaches here; the island’s edges are made up of hidden coves that are best explored via private boats (Sikelia offers them.) You can also mud bathe in the middle of a volcanic crater, steam in a natural hot sauna, and visit ancient tombs. And, if you imbibe, you must try a glass of the island’s ultra-sweet passito wine—or two.
5. Sifnos, Greece
Sifnos is home to the picturesque white-washed villages you may be looking for in order to impress your Instagram followers, but the island also boasts secluded beaches, hundreds of churches, and a culinary scene that is quietly becoming world-renowned. Head here “for authentic Greek island life, cuisine, and a welcome escape from the crowds of Mykonos,” says Marchant, adding it’s one of the most secluded Greek islands.
Elies Resort will arrange culinary tours around the island’s main town of Apollonía. “You can taste your way through tempting dishes such as chickpea balls, Mastélo (lamb cooked in red wine and spices), and the sweetest honey pie,” Marchant says, adding that the hotel also offers traditional cooking classes. “Or head to Manolis, home to the best clay oven on the island where you can taste divine slow cooked lamb and, if serendipity strikes, even observe a local wedding.”
For your sand and soaks, he recommends Vathi Beach, “one of the most picturesque beaches on Sifnos. The bay is protected from the Aegean wind, which makes for a perfect climate and calm waters for swimming.” Marchant also suggests Chrisopigí beach, where you can swim in the shadows of the monasteries above.
6. Il de Ré, France
Some of the oldest and most prestigious vineyards in France can be found on this island, which Marchant describes as one of the “chicest” in Europe. Virtually unknown to most travelers, Île de Ré sits just off the west coast of France. This world-renowned wine capital is a summer getaway for Parisians, and yet, it’s not as fancy as you might expect. Instead, visitors come to ride bicycles—one of the only ways to truly explore the island—shuck (and snack) on fresh oysters, and stroll along secluded beaches.
“Stay at Villa Clarisse, an 18th-century mansion dedicated to luxurious relaxation that seamlessly preserves the soul of the traditional houses that make up its island location,” Marchant recommends.
7. Mallorca, Spain
“For something completely unlike the massively popular Ibiza, head to the unfettered Mallorca, also part of the Balearics with azure blue water and sublime beaches,” says Marchant. “Hole up at the magnificent Hotel Cap Rocat, a former military fortress located in a secluded bay of Palma de Mallorca and relax and revive.”
Island activities include swimming in the Mediterranean, visiting the quaint street markets of Palma, cycling through the hills of Tramuntana, dining at award-winning restaurant The Sea Club, exploring the famous Dragon Caves, and maybe rubbing elbows with Chelsea Handler, who owns a home here.
8. Providencia, Colombia
This island off the coast of Colombia isn’t accessible from the mainland—it can only be reached via a tiny, 20-seat plane or a 3.5-hour long catamaran ferry ride from the better-known island of San Andreas. This has, as you might imagine, kept it from becoming famous or even popular, which means it’s also unspoiled by tourism.
You won’t find any major, all-inclusive resorts here. Life on Providencia is decidedly low-key, without the bells and whistles of societies that are designed to support tourism. Visit Crab Cay, a tiny island within the island, and be sure to stop for a snorkel. If you visit during the Black Land Crab migration in early May, it might feel like the end of times as hundreds of giant crabs scuttle from the woods to the beach to lay eggs. Talk about an Instagram for the ages!
9. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
For a truly unique (and exclusive!) vacay, visit this island, off the Northwest coast of Brazil. Just 420 visitors are allowed on it each day, according to Travel+Leisure, and it was declared a National Park in 1988. As might be expected, swimming, diving, snorkeling, and hiking are all popular on Fernando de Noronha, as are the hundreds of spinner (read: acrobatic) dolphins who put on daily shows en masse. The island is also rumored to have once been a pirate’s lair.
There are no resorts here—guests must instead stay in family-run inns called pousadas.
10. Palawan, Philippines
Okay, so “under-the-radar” might be a bit of a misnomer for Palawan considering it was named the best island in the world last year and, long before that, Jacques Cousteau called it the most beautiful place he’d ever explored. Still, it’s relatively new to global tourism and has yet to achieve a high-profile status as a hotspot for beach-thirsty tourists.
Perhaps confusingly, Palawan is actually the name of an archipelagic province that happens to include an island also called Palawan. Essentially, it’s the entire cluster of islands that’s worthy of admiration for their powder-white beaches and gorgeous seas replete with diverse marine life and a number of WWII shipwreck sites. In fact, you can even rent some of these islands—just for you and your friends or family—on Airbnb. If that sounds a bit rustic for your taste, Amanpulo is indisputably the best-reviewed resort in Palawan, though there are many options for all budgets and tastes.
11. The Azores, Portugal
Mainland Portugal is having a moment, but its magnificent Azores islands have thus far managed to avoid over-hype from the blogger-buzz machine. This archipelago boasts a brilliant landscape that’s home to hot springs, volcanoes, caverns, grottos, and everything in between.
The land and its natural resources are largely protected, making this a desirable destination for those wishing to practice sustainable tourism. The islands are, amazingly, also home to or visited by a third of the world’s dolphins and whales. For a more in-depth look at the ocean’s offerings, diving is a good bet, and this is one of the best spots for scuba in the Atlantic, according to Lonely Planet.
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