I have an affinity for islands. I just love em, whether they are tropical island paradises, emerald green hippy havens, or quaint and historic, dripping with Maritime charm. And the more offbeat islands are, the better. I like ‘em unusual, I like ‘em off the beaten path, and I love islands with strong and unique personalities – just like mine.
There is something special about islands. Maybe it’s because they are enclosed in their own bubble, shielded by a moat of water that protects them from the outside world. I think this barrier of water makes the communities that live on islands more close-knit. The separation is tangible, you can literally see it.
I have visited many, many islands over the years, and one of my goals when starting the World on my Necklace back in 2014 was to showcase, along with travel, my love for islands and hiking.
So I wanted to share my pick for the best offbeat islands to visit. All of these offbeat islands are islands that I have been to myself and loved, and although they all get some tourism, they are still relatively undiscovered in the grand scheme of things.
Here we go!
The Best Offbeat Islands to Visit
1. Denman Island, Canada
One of my favourite places in the world, Denman Island was always going to feature on my list of best offbeat islands. I volunteered on Denman Island in the summer of 2013 and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind ever since.
Denman Island is located in the Northern Gulf Islands, between the mainland and Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The island has largely been overlooked by travellers, and therein lies its charm.
‘Town’ consists of a handful of rustic wooden buildings that house a general store, a bistro, and a hardware store. There are a few B&Bs and Guesthouses, but things are quiet here, even in the height of summer. Come in Autumn and it will likely just be you and the eccentric but very friendly locals.
With hiking trails through temperate rain forest, driftwood strewn beaches where you can spot whales and bald eagles, a couple of crystal clear lakes to swim in, and a lot of peace and quiet, Denman could be the offbeat island retreat you have been looking for.
2. Dominica, Caribbean
Known as the ‘Nature Island’ of the Caribbean, Dominica has managed to escape the hoards of tourists and garish development that have plagued so many islands in this part of the world. There are no resorts here, and Dominica is all the better for it.
Dominica is located in the windward islands of the Caribbean, and although the French held islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique lie to its north and south, Dominica is English speaking.
Dominica is one of the friendliest countries I have ever been to, and the natural attractions – WOW. Rainforest covers this largely undeveloped island – lush and thick. Wild black sand beaches dot the rugged coastline and brilliant waterfalls can be found inland. There are numerous natural hot springs that are perfect for soaking, surrounded by greenery, along with the second largest boiling lake in the world.
This volcanic island is a must visit to see the real Caribbean, away from the package holiday crowds. Dominica definitely belongs on any list of best offbeat islands to visit.
3. La Gomera, Canary Islands
La Gomera is the relatively unheard of little sister to popular Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.
The Canaries are a chain of volcanic islands that belong to Spain and are locaed off the coast of northern Africa. They are very popular with package tourism, especially from the UK. The reason that La Gomera has stayed under the radar despite the popularity of the nearby islands is because, like Dominica, it doesn’t have any white sand beaches.
What it does have is incredible food, striking black sand beaches backed by palm trees, a world heritage listed cloud forest, and an interesting culture that has stayed intact, and involves a non-verbal language of whistles that is still used today.
Mountainous La Gomera has stunning views from many points on the island, with terraces of banana palms sloping steeply down to the deep blue ocean, and sleepy villages perched wherever a strip of flat land could be found.
La Gomera really stood out to me as being unique and interesting culturally, as well as being wildly beautiful. An offbeat Island with so much to offer.
4. San Blas Islands, Panama
The San Blas Islands of Panama are spread out along the north coast of Panama like a pearl necklace, linking Panama to the north west coast of Colombia. There is no ferry system to this remote island archipelago, to visit the San Blas Islands you will need to arrange a tour or hire a boat to take you there.
The Kuna people call this island chain home, a colourfully dressed indigenous tribe that are autonomous from the rest of Panama. Their villages cover some of these small islands, while other islands are deserted. Some are so tiny that there is only room for a couple of palm trees and a fringe of white sand beach.Sailing between them, lounging on deserted beaches, and staying with the friendly Kuna is an amazing way to experience Panama off the beaten path.
If you have been dreaming of a Robinson Crusoe experience, the San Blas Islands could definitely fulfil that dream.
5. Grand Manan Island, Canada
A beautiful island of picturesque lighthouses, bobbing lobster boats, houses decorated in painted buoys, fake seagulls and fishing nets, quiet coves with pebbled beaches, and incredibly welcoming locals: Grand Manan is an east coast maritime stereotype come to life, in a good way.
Located just over the border from Maine – in New Brunswick, Canada – Grand Manan is home to locals who are fiercely proud of their little piece of the world. There are people from all walks of life who call this little island home, salt of the earth fishermen through to millionaires who moved to Grand Manan because they wanted a slice of the quiet life.
Grand Manan Island is a fantastic place to spot whales passing from shore, from high up on sea cliffs looking out to sea. It’s a place for quiet reflection, to reconnect with nature and your surroundings. And maybe you will be lucky enough to get a free tour of the island from the Mayor himself, like I did.
If you are looking for a stunning East Coast island steeped in Maritime history, avoid the crowds at Bar Harbor in Maine and head to this offbeat island in Canada instead.
6. Kangaroo Island, Australia
Kangaroo Island is a large island located a short distance off the South Australian coast. It is an island that doesn’t make most people’s Australia itineraries but in my opinion, it is the most beautiful place in Australia.
This island is home to a dizzying array of native Australian animals and is perhaps the best place in Australia to see these unique creatures in the wild. Kangaroos and wallabies cover the island, large populations of New Zealand and Australian fur seals spread out on the rocks and beaches of the east coast, dolphins frolic in the waves, and echidnas shuffle along the side of the road.
Deserted beaches of pure white sand and iridescent turquoise water rival any in the rest of the country for beauty. Hiking trails lead along sea cliffs past unusual rock formations, past windswept lighthouses, and to private beaches. Nature here is untamed but strikingly beautiful.
Multiple Wineries with tasting rooms, delicious locally produced and crafted cuisine, and delectable honey from rare bees rounds out any Kangaroo Island experience.
7. Kalanggaman Island, Philippines
Kalanggaman Island in the Philippines is uninhabited and can only be reached by private boat or tour from either Leyte or Malapascua Island. It is a vision of paradise with its long white sand bar that reaches out like a finger into the swimming pool waters that surround the island.
Hermit crabs lazily wander the shoreline, and tiny waves lap the bleached white sand beach. A handful of day use pagodas and a basic restroom are the only manmade structures on the island.
It is possible to camp overnight on this national park island, and if you do – it is possible that you will feel like the last person in the world. A true offbeat island – at least for now.
8. Kawau Island, New Zealand
Kawau Island, located off the coast north of Auckland is popular with yachties and is home to four species of wallaby that were introduced from Australia – one of the only places in New Zealand to see them outside of a zoo.
The island only has a couple of short roads, no town centre, and there are very few places to stay here, in fact, most people that visit by daily ferry service only do so for the day, to hike to secret beaches and ruins of old copper mines, and to visit the 1860s palatial home and park-like gardens of one of New Zealand’s first Governor Generals, George Grey.
So if you have the chance to stay on this peaceful offbeat island – take it. It may just be you and the locals.
9. Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, Caribbean
Just south of the main islands of Guadeloupe – Grand Terre and Basse Terre, the small island group Les Saintes is mostly visited by tourists on day-trips. There are nine islands, two of which are inhabited and connected to Basse Terre by daily ferry.
Le Marigot, the small town on the most populous island, Terre de Haut, is distinctly French and very quaint, with small stone buildings housing creperies and bistros lining the pedestrian friendly main street. Fort Napoleon sits on a hilltop overlooking town, offering stunning views of Terre Haut and the surrounding islands, as well as housing a small but interesting museum.
There are a number of peaceful beaches with incredibly clear water where you can relax and cool off, best visited early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the day-trippers.
To really get off the beaten path, visit the neighbouring island of Terre de Bas, home to the golden sand Grande Anse beach, and numerous hiking trails over the mountains of the island.
You can’t go wrong with whichever offbeat island of Les Saintes you choose.
10. Nacula Island, Fiji
Nacula Island is one of the remote Yasawa Islands of Fiji, a chain of approximately twenty volcanic islands reached by small plane or boat from Nadi.
There are no roads, street lights, or shops on this mountainous island, only a handful of basic backpacker resorts and local villages that paint a picture of the traditional way of life before the arrival of tourism nearly 30 years ago.
Nacula Island truly is a paradise. Coconut palms line the white sand beach. The water is translucent, like liquid blue-tinged glass. The snorkelling is fantastic, you can just walk off the beach and instantly be in an underwater world of vibrant reefs that support a diverse array of rainbow coloured fish.
If you are looking for a remote South Pacific offbeat island to get away from it all – this place definitely fits the bill.
Bonus: Antelope Island, USA
I couldn’t do a list of offbeat islands without adding the starkly beautiful Antelope Island in northern Utah to the mix. Antelope Island is a Utah State Park and other than a couple of campgrounds and small restaurants, it is undeveloped and wild. Desolate and otherworldly.
There are a number of hiking trails where you can spot the local buffalo, mule deer, big horn sheep and pronghorn antelope, as well as gaining altitude for the best views of the moon-like environs of the island and the white salt plains of the Great Salt Lake.
Antelope Island is also a fantastic place to swim in the Great Salt Lake and to witness its incredible buoyancy, with beach access in a handful of places on the island.
So there you have it, my picks for the best offbeat islands to visit. Make sure you get to these offbeat islands before they are discovered.
Have you been to any of these offbeat islands?
Photos of Kawau Island sourced from Flickr Creative Commons. All other photos are my own.