Think you've been to every sandy strip on the planet? We bet these nine secret islands will surprise even the most well-traveled adventurers.
Holbox Island, Mexico
Off the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, this secluded strand is a three-hour ferry from Cancún’s crowded shores, but it feels a world away. The car-free island is all about embracing a low-key, boho-barefoot vibe. For the ultimate R&R, check into CasaSandra Boutique Hotel, which has breezy palapa-roofed casitas with hammocks and a seafood-heavy (read: lots of ceviche!) Mexican-Caribbean restaurant.
Desroches Island, Seychelles
If your idea of paradise is having an island all to yourself then look no further than Desroches, a 40-minute flight from Mahé, the capital of Seychelles. The island is remote—there are no restaurants or shops, and almost no other human in sight—except for the sole 5-star resort, of course. Bunk down in your own sprawling villa, which overlooks nine miles of white-sand beach and has its own tropical garden and plunge pool. Not exactly roughing it, if you ask us.
Côn So’n, Vietnam
The largest of a 16-island archipelago, Côn So’n remains super under-the-radar—despite being just an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Here, it's all about the untouched nature (picture: craggy granite cliffs, windswept sands, turquoise waters). And while there aren't any shops or bars, the luxe Six Senses provides over-the-top perks to keep you occupied. We’re talking personal butlers, a serene spa and even private guides who will give you a tour of the island’s hilltop lighthouse and crystal-clear lagoons.
Santorini. Mykonos. Crete. Greece is home to 227 inhabited islands across the Aegean and Ionian Seas, yet these three steal the spotlight every time. But Skopelos, just an hour ferry ride from Skiathos, is an equally beautiful and less crowded alternative with an unspoiled coastline, charming blue-roofed tavernas and Byzantine-era monasteries. Rent a private villa with terraces overlooking the cerulean Aegean at Adrina Resort & Spa (trust us, you’ll never want to leave). The terracotta-tiled buildings in Skopelos Town house romantic garden restaurants like Perivoli and Antolia, where locals come to listen to live rebetika music. On the northwest tip of the island, the quaint village of Glossa offers the best water vistas, especially at Agnanti, whose cliffside deck is the perfect spot for Greek classics like kleftiko (leg of lamb) and stifado (beef stew).
Scrub Island, BVI
Don't let the name fool you—this small inlet near Tortola is as lush and dreamy as islands get. Until a few years ago, it was uninhabited and relatively undiscovered. But that all changed when Scrub Island Resort, an Autograph Collection opened its doors. Featuring three private beaches, a dive shop, marina, and award-winning spa, the property has all the trappings of a quintessential tropical escape. Bliss out with the island rock massage in an open-air pavilion overlooking the Caribbean.
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Culebra, Puerto Rico
If you're looking to avoid a long-haul flight to your next exotic island escape, Culebra is the ticket. While its sister, Vieques, grabs all the attention, we love Culebra for its laid-back ethos, 10 untouched beaches, lush wildlife preserves, and tiny central town of Dewey. The canary-yellow cottages at Club Seabourne is our crash pad of choice. From there, you can hit the crescent-shaped shore of Playa Flamenco to snorkel with sea turtles and tropical fish, before lunch at one of the beachfront shacks that serve standout Puerto Rican street food like pinchos, chicken kebabs and alcapurrias (fried plantain stuffed with crab or beef). Or try Zaco’s Tacos, which dishes up mean pork belly, seared tuna and carne asada tacos alongside hibiscus margaritas.
Jicaro Island, Nicaragua
If there were a place to unplug, unwind and get off the grid entirely, it’d be Jicaro—a tiny isle in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, 10 minutes outside Grenada. There’s not a single TV set on the entire island and you’d be hard-pressed to find a WiFi signal, but there are more than enough attractions to keep you busy. Paddle out to the surrounding freshwater lake to spot howler monkeys, lake turtles and many of the area’s 87 bird species (don’t forget your binoculars!). Or, for a more adrenaline-filled excursion, zip line through the jungle canopy at 100 feet above the forest floor. When you're ready for a break, retreat to Jicaro Island Ecolodge, which has sustainability tours, lakeside yoga classes, and an uber-organic restaurant with ingredients sourced from its own garden.
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Desert Islands, UAE
For travelers craving something different for their next island escape, consider the Desert Islands in the UAE. Set 150 miles east of Abu Dhabi, these Arabian Gulf islands can easily compete with those of Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Make the Anantara on Sir Bani Yas your basecamp, with its 64 Arabian-chic rooms, and explore the wadis (dry river beds) and mangroves surrounding the grounds. You’ll quickly find the area is full of surprises, from the colorful reef where you can snorkel to the resident flamingos (which can be seen on a game drive through a nearby wildlife park). Just make sure not to visit in the summer, when temps often hit a sweltering 130 degrees.
Lummi Island, Washington
In a remote archipelago in the Pacific Northwest, Lummi Island is home to more orca whales and harbor seals than people. On the isle’s banks The Willows Inn is the place to stay—a cluster of seven intimate suites and eight cottages and, its crown jewel, the James Beard Award-winning restaurant run by chef Blaine Wetzel. To create the 20-course tasting menu, the cooks turn to the island, foraging for seaweed on the shore, picking berries off the property's bushes and fishing the Puget Sound for Dungeness crab and Sockeye salmon (that they then roast in the smokehouse and serve in a sizzling cedar box).