As bona fide island experts, here are 15 incredible island escapes to put on your bucket list… by Claire Trickett10th October 2017
I learned a new word today. Thalassophile: a person who loves the ocean; a lover of the sea. Driven by a constant need for Vitamin Sea and the soothing sound of the waves, thalassophiles live for that warm sea breeze, salty air, sun-kissed hair and the silky sand between their toes. They constantly crave those limitless ocean views, they love being in the water and they have a curious fascination with the underwater world. Does any of this ring true for you? If the sea is your happy place, then this blog is for you.
When &Beyond started out, way back in 1991, we soon became globally recognised as a leader in luxury safaris. More than 25 years later, we are now one of the world’s leading luxury experiential travel companies, operating on three different continents: Africa, Asia and South America. Most people know that we own and operate 29 award-winning lodges and camps in Africa, but perhaps not everyone knows that we also design personalised luxury adventures in 15 countries in Africa, 5 in Asia and 4 in South America. Not only that, but we are bona fide island experts with three exclusive island properties (which one best suits you?) within our lodge portfolio, as well as a growing collection of far-fetched islands within our tour operating portfolio.
For 26 years, our core company ethos of caring for the land, wildlife and people has remained at the heart of everything we do. This philosophy of care now extends to the earth’s water too, with the launch of our Oceans Without Borders initiative, which aims to connect our three tropical island destinations and plays a significant role in the conservation of 2 000 km (1 243 miles) of wild African coastline.
So let us help cure your thalassophilia with the luxury of an island holiday. Here are 15 incredible island escapes to choose from – ok, so they aren’t all ocean-based, but we think you’ll love them all the same.
Once a pirate hideout, the tropical Seychelles is a magnificent archipelago of 115 exotic islands that are home (strangely enough) to the world’s largest seed pod (15 kg), the world’s heaviest land tortoise living in the wild (300 kg), the world’s largest land crab, the world’s smallest capital city and 11 rare and endemic birds, including the rare bare-legged Scops owl. Of course this island paradise is also renowned for its pearly white beaches, turquoise water, coral reefs, lush rainforests and towering palm trees.
When he first set foot on this island paradise, Mark Twain is said to have quoted an islander as saying, “From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” As romantic as it is exotic, this veritable Garden of Eden was formed by volcanic activity and is world renowned for its crystal-clear water, sun-kissed shores, snow-white beaches, sparkling lagoons, sugar cane plantations, tropical vegetation, coral reefs, rainforests, waterfalls, and of course, the captivating seven-coloured earths of Chamarel. Interestingly, the national bird of Mauritius, the Dodo, is a now-extinct species of flightless bird that was found nowhere else in the world.
Another Indian Ocean paradise, the Maldives is an island nation that consists of 26 enchanting ring-shaped atolls made up of 1 190 colourful coral islands that are teeming with marine life. The lowest and flattest country in the world, it is here that you will find those dreamy, bucket list-worthy overwater beach bungalows. It is a barefoot utopia, blessed with warm azure waters, swaying palm trees, blue lagoons, powder-soft sand, world-class scuba diving, year-round whale-watching and bustling fish markets. Of course global warming does remain a threat to this low-lying nation, which is why the Maldives government held the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting, garnering global attention and raising much-needed awareness for climate change.
4. Sri Lanka
Affectionately known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean and the teardrop of India, Sri Lanka boasts long stretches of golden sand, warm aquamarine waters, flourishing tea plantations, undulating sand dunes, sacred monuments, mysterious caves, world-class spas, irresistible food and the wildlife haven of Yala National Park. Formerly known as Ceylon until the 1970s, this island nation is the world’s fourth largest exporter of tea, specifically the Ceylon variety, and is therefore popular among tea connoisseurs. Tea and traditions aside, Sri Lanka is also a surfer’s paradise.
5. Easter Island
West of mainland Chile and stretching far across into the depths of the Pacific Ocean lies the mysterious Easter Island, the world’s largest open-air museum and one of the most remote communities on the planet. The 800+ eerie moai – giant monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui more than 800 years ago – continue to capture the eyes and lenses of photographers from around the world. Come and capture the golden sunrise as it gently rises behind the Ahu Tongariki, the largest and perhaps most famous ahu (stone platform) on the island.
6. Chiloé Island
Forming part of Chile’s picturesque Lake District, Chiloé Island is the second largest island in South America. Densely forested and somewhat shrouded in mystery, this rugged island is a verdant oasis blessed with abundant rainfall and radiant rainbows. It boasts wild untouched landscapes, rolling hills, morning mist, remote beaches and eerie old wives’ tales and cultural myths involving forest gnomes, witchcraft, ghost ships and alluring mermaids. It is also home to Chiloé National Park, which Charles Darwin detailed extensively in his book ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’. Be sure to check out the palafitos (wooden houses built over the water on stilts) and tuck into a hearty bowl of curanto (a traditional meat, potato and seafood stew).
7. Galápagos Islands
Scattered along the Pacific Ocean on either side of the equator, this magnificent archipelago of volcanic islands is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. Considered one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations, these islands inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galápagos Islands are one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, with 97% of its islands forming a protected national park. Half of its land species, and one fifth of its marine species, are endemic to the Galápagos.
8.Floating Islands of Uros
The world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca in Peru is a must-see. The largest lake in South America, it sits high in the majestic Andes Mountains, boasting a glorious view of snow-capped peaks reflected in cobalt waters. Once inhabiting the banks or islands of the lake, the Uros people were forced to take refuge from the invading Incas. The lake’s permanent islands could be easily occupied, so tribesmen innovatively used layers of buoyant totora reeds to create floating islands, which could be moved out of harm’s way. Today, the Uros live on the 40+ self-constructed floating islands on Lake Titicaca.
9. Zanzibar Island
Another exquisite, tropical and sun-drenched Indian Ocean island steeped in culture and history is Zanzibar Island. It is also known as the “Spice Island” due to the aromatic and tantalising variety of spices grown on the island’s many plantations. Stone Town, a World Heritage Site, boasts a labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling marketplaces, beautifully carved wooden doors, breathtaking mosques and grand Arab residences. Another must-see attraction on the island is the Jozani Forest Reserve – home to the rare Kirk’s red colobus monkey and endangered Aders’ duiker.
10.&Beyond Mnemba Island
Best described as a barefoot beach paradise, &Beyond Mnemba Island is a small, private island off the warm, tropical shores of Zanzibar. It boasts just ten beachside bandas and you can walk the entire circumference of the island in a mere 20 minutes. This (literally) heart-shaped island nirvana is by far one of the most romantic, relaxing and carefree places in the world. Just think of yourselves as Robinson Crusoe-like castaways, with luxury accommodation, world-class service and unexpected spoils around every corner.
11. &Beyond Vamizi Island
Although an equally luxurious and romantic retreat for couples, &Beyond Vamizi Island in Mozambique is more geared towards families and small groups of friends travelling together that crave their own space, the privacy to do what they want when they want, and the friendly, helpful yet unobtrusive service of their own personal chef, butler and housekeeper. Relax and truly unwind in one of the island’s six spacious luxury villas; each with its own unique character and charm. Explore the long, seemingly-endless stretches of beachfront. Swim in the crystal clear waters. Scuba dive one of the world’s top dive sites, Neptune’s Arm. Kayak the calm waters of a mangrove forest. The options are endless.
12. &Beyond Benguerra Island
&Beyond Benguerra Island in Mozambique boasts a balanced blend of island romance, sunny adventure-filled days, mouth-watering Portuguese fare and just the right amount of privacy. Swim, snorkel and scuba dive to your heart’s content. Steal away on a catamaran cruise. Ride horses along the beach and into the ocean or try your hand at deep-sea or fly-fishing. Take a scenic helicopter flip over the turquoise archipelago and spot a rare dugong if you’re lucky. Toast the sunset on an unforgettable traditional dhow cruise. Your days will be filled with adventure, and your nights filled with island romance. The best of both worlds.
13. Livingstone Island
A World Heritage Site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Long before the Scottish missionary and explorer Dr David Livingstone ‘discovered’ the Victoria Falls in 1855, the local Batonga people had named them Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘the smoke that thunders’. Livingstone named the Falls after his queen. It is said that he stood on a small rocky outcrop in order to see the waterfall in all its glory, a spot that was later declared Livingstone Island. Not for the faint-hearted, but certainly one for the bucket list, take a daring dip in Devil’s Pool, a dramatic natural rock pool right on the very edge of the Falls.
14. Robben Island
Not all islands are renowned for their breathtaking beauty or adventurous appeal. Some are known for their sombre past; places where history buffs and concerned citizens can pay homage to historic moments and turbulent times. Robben Island is one such island. It is home to one of South Africa’s oldest prisons, which once imprisoned some of the country’s most famous political prisoners and freedom fighters. Now a World Heritage Site, a guided tour of the island sheds light on the late Nelson Mandela’s struggle for democracy. It was here on Robben Island that Mandela, prisoner number 46664, served 18 of the 27 years he spent behind bars before the fall of apartheid.
15. Seal Island
Just off the scenic shores of False Bay in Cape Town is a large granite rock that is inhabited by countless curious Cape fur seals. The thriving colony is said to be 60 000 to 70 000 strong, so it comes as no surprise that the rocky outcrop has been affectionately named Seal Island. Travellers and wildlife lovers from around the world flock to this island to watch the cavorting seals, yet the island has also attracted the attention of great white sharks. Seal Island is said to be the only place in the world where great whites consistently breach out of the water to catch their prey, mainly the unsuspecting seals.