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Which of the world's island escapes is right for you?

On the lookout for secluded beaches, top-notch food or rejuvenating spa experiences? We shine a spotlight on some enduring island classics and offbeat alternatives.

Sumba is known as the ‘forgotten island’ of Indonesia due its remoteness and sense of seclusion.

Photograph by Tania Araujo
By Sam Lewis
Published 15 May 2022, 12:00 BST

Some travellers dream of eating a zingy salad and chargrilled lobster on an empty beach in an African archipelago. Others crave the promise of primordial adventures and the anticipation of jumping down the face of a vertiginous waterfall in a tropical jungle. Many dream of indulging in time for themselves, to take yoga classes overlooking an electric blue sea or chant with monks in a spiritual setting. Whether you’re looking for an island that has carved a reputation for being a foodie destination or an enchantingly different, lesser-known haven where you can soak up the seascape, much of the world has now reopened for travel and that dream destination is back in reach.

Dominica’s dramatic cliffs are abutted by deep forests and secluded coastal coves.

Photograph by Courtesy of Secret Bay

1. Dominica, Caribbean

Best for adventurous travellers

If the views of jagged peaks from luxury resort Secret Bay’s magical treehouses send your pulse racing, wait until you try the activities on Dominica, home to nine volcanoes, dense rainforest and 350 rivers and waterfalls. Scramble, abseil and climb steep rock faces surrounding some of the island’s most beautiful waterfalls, plunging feet first into pristine pools in the heart of the tropical forest on a canyoning expedition. Or saddle up for a canter along the coastline watching the ocean for whales or dolphins. Night snorkelling and scuba diving are on offer too, as well as sedate hiking trails that lead to hidden beaches and hot springs or the chance to go standup paddleboarding along the resort’s river surrounded by native birds and wildlife. And if you’ve worked up an appetite, join a foraging and cooking class with a local chef to learn how to cook sustainable, freshly caught seafood.

How to do it: Seven nights B&B including flights from £3,586 per person

Or try... The Azores

This far-flung archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic is made for adventure. São Miguel is the largest, and now easily accessible via direct flights with low-cost airlines and, more recently, British Airways. Its landscape looks like it hasn’t changed in millennia and the surrounding waters teem with life. Take a sea safari to spot whales and dolphins, surf the waves or explore the dramatic interior by mountain biking, trekking or kayaking. Adrenaline sports such as paragliding and canyoning can be organised independently or by Furnas Boutique Hotel, which is built on and around naturally occurring thermal waters. 

How to do it: Two nights, based on two sharing, from €220 (£185). 

2. Galápagos, Ecuador 

Best for wildlife-watchers

Follow in the footsteps of Darwin and explore this biodiverse volcanic archipelago where blue-footed boobies nest on the ground, flightless cormorants hop from rock to rock, penguins play and marine iguanas soak up the sun. While most tours take in a variety of islands, the largest, Isabela, is home to one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. It’s not every day you’re able to wander around the slopes of the world’s second biggest active volcanic crater. Punta Vicente Roca on the west coast is the place to scuba and snorkel among turtles, sea horses, frog fishes and the elusive ocean sunfish, which can grow to weigh more than 2,000kg. For some of the best views, stay at the safari-style Scalesia Lodge on the slopes of a volcano overlooking a forest and coastline.

How to do it: Wexas Travel features three nights’ full board at Scalesia as part of an island-hopping tour with prices from £5,735 per person including return flights, excursions/cruising, three nights’ full board at the Finch Bay Galapagos hotel and three nights’ B&B accommodation in Quito. 

Or try... Guana Island, British Virgin Islands

Not far from Tortola, the 850-acre forest-clad Guana Island is an unpretentious paradise, crisscrossed by hiking trails that reveal native wildlife including flamingos, tortoises, turtles and giant iguanas at every turn. Accessible only by boat or helicopter, the private island has 15 charming cottages, which means only 30 guests on its seven secluded beaches at any one time. It’s the perfect destination for those seeking solitude among an almost completely untouched wilderness.

How to do it: Seven nights from £3,299 per person, all-inclusive, with flights and transfers. 

Enjoying a wellness treatment on the island of Koh Samui.

Photograph by Kamalaya Koh Samui

3. Koh Samui, Thailand

Best for spa seekers

A firm favourite among travellers looking for a sublime spa retreat with warm weather and idyllic beaches, Thailand has a reputation for delivering wellness programmes that combine pampering treatments with meditation and holistic health, as well as wholesome food. Nestled in a valley with views overlooking the southern coast of Koh Samui, adults-only Kamalaya is considered one of the best. The brainchild of a Canadian who spent over a decade living in the Himalayas under the tutelage of a yogi master, there’s a real sense of spirituality and calming energy with result-driven programmes combining naturopaths, traditional Chinese medicine doctors, yoga teachers, fitness trainers, massage therapists and mentors. In between treatments, guests can attend lectures and workshops, or simply relax in the grounds of the resort overflowing with lush, tropical foliage, cascading streams and an idyllic beach.

How to do it: Seven nights’ full board including a Destress Asian Bliss programme but excluding flights from £3,115 per person

Or try... Sumba, Indonesia

Just an hour from Bali, Nihi Sumba has long been popular with surfers and those seeking barefoot luxury and it now has a growing reputation as a wellbeing destination. Offbeat spa experiences include a spa safari — a 90-minute sunrise trek over rolling hills, through rice fields and a traditional Sumbanese village to meet a therapist in a private cliffside bale by the sea for a treatment. While yoga classes predominantly take place on an outdoor pavilion, there’s also the option to try it on a horse to help calm anxiety and stress. Alternatively, guests can simply watch the animals — every morning, they’re released from their stables to gallop freely along the beach and swim in the sea.

How to do it: From £900 per person per night. £100 for the spa safari. 

4. Soneva Fushi, Maldives

Best for foodies

A handful of restaurants serve up the very best of international, Asian, plant-based and seafood specialities at this luxury resort in the Baa Atoll, but those looking for the ultimate gourmet getaway should time their visit to coincide with the rotating programme of visiting Michelin star chefs. This year, the star-studded line-up includes Chapter One’s Mickael Viljanen (1-15 July), Kong Hans Kælder’s head chef Mark Lundgaard (15-30 July), Northcote’s Lisa Goodwin-Allen (19-28 October), and Chantelle Nicholson (25 October to 10 November). But it’s not just the food that’s impressive, but where it’s served. Each restaurant has a fabulous setting with Flying Sauces taking it up a notch or two. Here, diners glide along a 655ft zip-line through the leafy jungle to reach a treetop table and open kitchen set 40ft above the ground with exceptional views over the sparkling ocean. Take the leap for breakfast, high tea or dinner for an elevated dining experience like no other. 

How to do it: Prices from £4,449 per person based on two sharing a villa with pool for five nights including return flights from Heathrow and seaplane transfers.

Or try... Majorca

For those who believe good food to be a key ingredient of a memorable holiday, then Majorca — with 10 Michelin star restaurants — is an island worth visiting. But you don’t have to stay in Palma to sample the incredible food of one of the island’s most acclaimed chefs — El Vicenc de la Mar opened this year in a beautiful bay on the north of the island at the foot of the Tramuntana mountains. Here, star chef Santi Taura, best known for his 12-course tasting menu at DINS at El Llorenç Parc de la Mar in Palma, has set up a new restaurant. Expect traditional Balearic cooking with modern flair using seasonal products and a cultural story to each dish.

How to do it: Rooms from €400 (£333) per night. 

Dining in style on Mnemba Island.

Photograph by andbeyond.com

5. Seychelles

Best for beach bathers

Synonymous with sweeping powder beaches and dazzling cerulean seas, Seychelles is the place to dive, without crowds, amid graceful turtles; wander through a jungle blanketed by coconut groves; or to gaze into the knowing eye of a 200-year-old giant tortoise. The archipelago of 115 islands has prolific rare and endangered species of plants, lizards and birds as well as some stunning picture-postcard beaches. For one of the best, head to the tiny coral island Desroches, just a 35-minute flight from the main island of Mahé. With eight miles of soft, white sand beaches, every guest can get that elusive castaway fix, but for those craving more activity, there are plenty of leisure activities on offer, too, from world-class diving and fishing to exploring nearly 10 miles of cycling trails.

How to do it: Seven nights starts from £5,050 for a one-bedroom pool villa on a B&B basis with two nights free at its sister hotel on Mahé. 

Or try... Mnemba, Zanzibar

Ringed with powder-white sand and immaculate coral reefs far from the crowds, Mnemba island is famed for its blue waters, palm trees and spectacular sunsets. This roughly triangular island is just 1,640ft by 0.9 miles in size — a mere blip in the ocean that’s home to andBeyond Mnemba Island. This is a glorious shipwreck fantasy with life’s little pleasures conveniently at hand with a restaurant and just 12 rustic chic beachside bandas tucked into the tropical forest a few steps from the ocean. It’s a place to relax or explore the sea, a marine conservation area and important breeding ground for the endangered green turtle. Dive, snorkel and swim among hundreds of species of fish, dolphin and stingray and even humpback whales between August and November. Or just sit with your feet in the sand and watch the sun rise.

How to do it: Prices from $1,320 (£1,000) per person per night, on an all-inclusive basis, based on two sharing. 

Published in the 2022 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK) The Islands Collection

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