For the last few years, it seems like everyone has been to Bali. The must-visit spot of 2019, it’s no surprise to see why, with its lush rainforests, laid-back vibes and dreamy beaches.
Yet, the tide is changing, and tourists are looking elsewhere to soak up their island fix.
Whether you want to explore the lesser-known islands of Indonesia, venture into the Pacific or discover a hidden gem in the Gulf of Guinea, we’ve rounded up the world’s best hidden and unsung islands primed for your next holiday.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands lay among neighbours French Polynesia, Samoa and Tonga. While most visitors flock to Raratonga, the discerning traveller knows Aitutaki is the place to head to get an even more unspoilt slice of paradise. The island is home to just 1,800 inhabitants and also claims to have the ‘world’s most beautiful lagoon’, incredible white sand beaches, endless palm trees and some of the world’s bluest water.
Wa Ale in the Lampi Marine National Park, Myanmar
It would be easy to miss Myanmar’s far-flung islands for neighbouring Thailand or even India’s increasingly popular Andaman islands nearby. But this cluster of islands off the cost of Myanmar is an untouched paradise. One of the islands in particular, Wa Ale sits in the Lampi Marine National Park and is home to the Wa Ale Island Resort which is lined along a kilometre stretch of beach. A must-visit for access to its two private beaches alone, the resort caters to adventure travellers as well as sun worshippers with tropical forest treks, kayaking through mangroves and diving in the islands caves.
Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Planted off the southeast coast of Vietnam, the Côn Đảo Islands are known for their marine life, coral reefs and postcard-worthy beaches. A group of 15 islands, the largest is Con Son which is partially covered in tropical forests, with plenty of hiking routes and boasts a number of scenic spots for a swim.
San Cristóbal Island, Ecuador
Just off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands have long been at the top of many bucket lists. One of these islands, San Cristóbal, is the quietest of the three main islands resulting in a tranquil vibe. The port town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is a laid-back hub but it’s what’s in the waters surrounding the island that makes it truly special. Whether you want to snorkel with sea turtles, dive with hammerhead sharks or swim with sea lions, there’s an abundance of aquatic activities to do here.
While Santorini and Mykonos get all of the Cycladic spotlight, Kimolos is a little-known member of the Cyclades. Located next to Milos, it has all the trappings of a Greek island – the picturesque architecture, delicious food and dreamy beaches – without the tourists.
Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Located in the Besut District of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands comprise of five islands. The two main islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, and three smaller, uninhabited islands, Susu Dara, Serengeh and Rawa which lie off Kecil. The waters here are crystal clear, making swimming, snorkelling and diving popular activities on these islands. On land, visitors will find a number of hiking trails through the island’s jungle where they can spot wildlife such as leaf monkeys and monitor lizards.
São Tomé and Príncipe
Floating in the Gulf of Guinea, just off the coast of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe sits neatly next to the equator. While both islands are filled with lush green landscapes, Príncipe is particularly beautiful with its rocky and sand-covered beaches and boundless jungle. Just 13,000 tourists a year visit these islands, meaning a secret oasis awaits anyone who visits.
Yaeyama Islands, Japan
Japan isn’t a country generally synonymous with ‘tropical islands’, but the Yaeyama Islands is a hidden oasis off the southern tip of Japan and next to Taiwan. Here, you’ll find nearly-empty white sand beaches surrounded by strikingly blue waters. A local ferry makes hopping between each of the islands easy, and it’s also a great dive spot for any ardent divers.
Vanuatu, Pacific Islands
Sitting pretty next to Fiji, Vanuatu is a small nation in the Pacific made up of 83 islands, all with pristine beaches and surrounded by turquoise waters. Here, you can also find a number of stunning ‘blue holes’. These inland blue holes are made when the rain from the mountains flow into limestone caves then to underground streams which resurge to create freshwater springs coloured the most striking shade of blue. The weather here is warm all year round, but avoid summer if you can as it’s the island’s wet season.
Tucked away between big Caribbean players like Barbados and the British Virgin Islands, Dominica is a mountainous island with picture perfect beaches. Home to hot springs and tropical rainforests, Dominica is an eco-lover’s paradise with volcanoes, endless diving spots and even its famous boiling lake. The island is still recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, but a visit here will help to funnel income back into the local economy, helping the island with its recovery efforts. Check out our full Dominica destination guide here.
Forget Bali, there are plenty of other Indonesian islands primed for exploring. Bunaken, located just off the coast of North Sulawesi, is a relatively untouched area of Indonesia and is perfect for scuba diving fans. Divers will find 300 types of coral and 3,000 species of fish here as its part of the Bunaken Manado Tua Marine National Park.
Lord Howe Island, Australia
Once described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘so extraordinary, it’s almost unbelievable’, Lord Howe Island in Australia is a fantastic alternative to the much-hyped Whitsundays. Situated between Australia and New Zealand, Lord Howe Island has only been discovered by tourists in the last three decades after Qantas began operating flights there in 1991. For any visitor now, they should expect exceptional walking trails, azure waters home to a stunning coral reef and incredibly friendly locals looking to welcome you to their home.
Ulleungdo, South Korea
Located in the East Sea, between South Korea and Japan, Ulleungdo is Korea’s hidden gem. The only way to reach the island is by a three-hour ferry ride from Gangneung, but once there, expect towering hills covered in lush greenery, an abundance of coastal walks and waterfalls to discover.
Stewart Island, New Zealand
One for nature lovers, New Zealand’s third island, Stewart Island is located just below the South Island. With a permanent population of just 381, most who settle in the town of Oban, the island is perfect for hikers as 85 per cent of the island is covered in the Rakiura National Park. The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, and takes around three days to complete. There are plenty of other outdoor activities to do here as well, like fish, dive and kayak but definitely pack a jumper or two as the weather tends to be chilly.
Riau Archipelago, Indonesia
Home to the ultra-luxe Bawah Reserve, the Riau Archipelago is an Indonesian group of islands just off the coast of Malaysia. The main reason to travel here, other than its stunning and remote beaches, is to visit the Bawah Reserve hotel as it is spread over six islands of the archipelago. The Reserve has also just undergone a revamp making it one of next year’s most exciting openings.